Four years ago, a novel about a sparkly vampire and the girl who loves him took the world by storm.
It has been hailed as an achievement for feminism, a step forward, a new page in the fight. A female writer, a female protagonist, a female director for the eventual movie deal. This is what would make it click for young girls seeking a purpose and a fight.
The book, of course, was the first in the Twilight Saga.
When I tell people that I’m an English Lit major, most of them automatically say, “Ooo, have you read Twilight?”
Because I’m a nineteen-year-old girl, and all nineteen-year-old girls like the same things, 100% of the people who ask are not just shocked, but completely perplexed when I politely respond, “Yes, I read it. And I hated it.”
Usually, when a “WHY?!” is demanded after that exchange, I simply say I prefer wizards to vampires, but the truth is much more complicated. Twilight, and the acclaimed author, Stephanie Meyer, are not exactly what they appear to be.
There are some things I don’t like about the Twilight Saga because I love reading (purple prose, dragging plot, clichéd dialogue). But I’ve found seven very good reasons why every feminist should not just hate Twilight, but run from it like the Ann Coulter of literature.
Reason 1- Bella is adored by everyone, especially her father, for whom she cooks and cleans for while he cleans his gun and drinks a beer.
Bella is hardly a realistic heroine. She’s not flawed, unless you count clumsiness, and everyone adores her, despite her rather obnoxious perfection.
To many people- and by “people”, I mean “men”- Bella is ideal. She’s polite, kind, quiet, cooks, and cleans. She’s like a beautiful 1950s housewife-robot without all those icky character flaws and unnecessary conversations!
Let’s look at these stereotypes, too. Bella cooks, she cleans. Her father is a terrible cook who would rather watch sports while cleaning his gum and drinking a beer than help his daughter with a few chores. Early on in the series, Stephanie Meyer makes it pretty damn clear that Bella belongs in the kitchen.
Reason 2- Edward breaks into Bella’s home and watches her sleep before introducing himself even once.
I’d like to reference Jessica Valenti for the six-millionth time in my life. In her fantastic book, “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut,” Valenti discusses in one chapter how men are seen as romantic and women are seen as stalkers. I’ve seen this response to Edward’s behavior a number of time. What he does is just soooo romantic!
Let’s pretend Bella followed Edward home. She waited outside his window until she was sure he was asleep before quietly sneaking in and watching him sleep. And keep in mind- they have yet to exchange any words. How would most people view her actions? Really freaking weird, right?
We should see Edward’s behavior the same way. Edward isn’t being romantic, he’s being creepy- really creepy. Glorifying this kind of behavior isn’t just ridiculous, it’s dangerous. We should be keeping girls safe- not teaching them that obsessive behavior is not just acceptable, but desired.
Reason 3- In book two, Bella falls apart when Edward leaves. She begins recovery when she starts spending time with Jacob.
This one is anti-feminism 101, folks. Bella needs a man in her life. She can’t function without one. It’s exactly that simple.
That will be the first message I teach my daughters. How about you?
Reason 4- Edward frequently dictates whom Bella may be friends with and encourages his family to spy on her and prevent her from disobeying his wishes.
Has anyone else ever read those terribly disheartening stories about girls with abusive boyfriends printed in every teen magazine ever created? They like to include lists of signs of potential abusive boyfriends to make sure we prevent these things.
One of the first things on the list? He tries to control every aspect of your life, including with whom you can be friends and with whom you can hang out.
But Edward just wants to protect her, girls say. He cares about her.
Oh, really? Well, let’s move on to Fact 5 before we finish this discussion.
Reason 5- Edward withholds sex in order to get what he wants. He succeeds.
All Edward wants is a wife.
All Bella wants is sex.
Contrary to what Edward believes, there’s nothing wrong with that.Bella is not some delicate flower that can be sullied or dirtied.
While it’s definitely debatable, I know a good many of us don’t see much merit in purity. Women and men should be respected and loved for their actions, but whether or not they’ve had sex.
You see, Bella can make her own decisions. From when she has sex, to whom she hangs out with- Bella should have control over her life and her choices.
When she’s with Edward? He has the control.
Reason 6- While Edward encourages Bella to have hopes and dreams, Bella would much rather cook and clean and care for their family, and whatever else vampire housewives do.
And here is the real genius in Stephanie Meyer’s plan.
Most of us know Mrs. Meyer is a conservative Mormon who enjoys promoting abstinence in her spare time. Did you know she also promotes the idea that all women really want is to stay home and cook and clean?
In the Twilight Saga, Edward doesn’t push Bella to stay home with him and care for his every whim. He pushes her to do many things, but not that. No, he encourages her to get an education and have a life.
But Bella, Bella, is the one who wants nothing more than to stay home and care for their (eventual) daughter and her adoring husband.
Let me be perfectly clear here. There is nothingwrong with stay-at-home moms. There is nothingwrong with women who want to have families and to be the one to care for them. But there is something wrong when Bella doesn’t want to work outside the home, when Bella’s mother doesn’t work, when Esme doesn’t work, when literally none of the women in Twilight work outside of the home.
No, there is nothing wrong with wanting to care for your family. There is everything wrong with telling young girls that that is their only option. Meyer has said in interviews that feminism is about choice and that makes Twilight feminist literature. Meyer fails to realize that she has the control over her characters. She could have made Bella desire more in life than love, but she doesn’t.
Reason 7- Edward truly loves Bella.
Here is what we learn from Twilight.
Women should want to cook and clean, and stay in the home, forsaking education for family.
Women must expect men to invade their privacy and, what’s more, they must desire this.
Women should accept that they are incapable of making even small decisions in their own lives and they must, instead, submit to the will of a man.
Women must understand they are worthless without a man.
Women must understand they are nothing without a man.
Women must understand they will never with anything without a man.
Women must believe these things are done out of love.
If Reasons 1-6 don’t strike you as a big deal, Reason 7 should be a red alarm.
Stephanie Meyer claims her book promotes feminism because it all centers on Bella’s choices. When I look at Twilight, I see a list of things I will never teach my children. I see a list of warning signs for unhealthy relationships. I see a detailed description of a severely sexist worldview.
I love love. I think love is wonderful, but Twilight is not love, Twilight is not about healthy, equal relationships. Love is about equality. About partnerships. About trust.
When held up to the light, Twilight doesn’t sparkle. Not one bit.
“Love is a temporary madness; you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of eternal passion. That is just being in love, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.”—Louis de Bernieres (via alanajoy)
“Woman is born free, but everywhere is fashion’s slave. Her choices are an illusion: the fashion companies and magazines dictate her purchases to her. She feels compelled to own the latest must-have handbag, believes the key to happiness is the new bondage boot; they’ve told her she’s worth it and without her fashion fix she feels worthless. This, at least, is the story told by those who scoff at fashion. But isn’t that just sour drapes? Isn’t it rather the case that the world of fashion defines the spirit and mood of the age? That the brilliant designers in the fashion houses bring vim and vigour to an otherwise pedestrian world? And that those who somehow think they¹re above it all just end up looking drab and dull?”—
This is true even of people who don’t follow fashion. The decisions of a few editors about the art of a few designers influence ready to wear, high street stuff, and on down the line. It’s absolutely fascinating to me. -matc