Lillian DeRitter has put together a response to my post “On Twilight and Taylor Swift“. Lilly is one of my best friends from Carnegie Mellon. She is a Directing Major, and a member of the Humanities Scholars Program. In her 3 semesters at Carnegie Mellon, Lilly has directed for Scotch and Soda, explored Psychology, and will be working Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog for Playground next semester. Lilly talks about the history of movies, the state of television in the west, and, relevant here, gender in culture. (Tiny UPDATE: for a good summary of why Edward Cullen could be considered a stalker, watch this video)
Here is her response:
I’m basically going to go point by point, because you’ve laid things out so nicely already.
I feel like I should begin with a bit of support/clarifications for your top ten arguments, so here I go:
“The lead female character lacks agency.” You can tell this one came from me because it uses my favorite word, quite aptly. Because Bella functions as a Mary-Sue, she can’t be a very active or individual character because she has to act as lens for every teenage girl (and her mom) reading the book. Bella’s only true moment of agency is in Breaking Dawn when she chooses to carry her pregnancy to term. Oh wait…psych! She carries it to term “because it’s Edward’s.” This is a personal pet peeve of mine. People who have children in order to have a living representation of their coupling just creep me out. It’s incredibly narcissistic. Also, she describes the child as belonging to Edward. Bella is willing to let this mini-Edward destroy her just because in some part she is connected to Edward. It’s the ultimate cap on the series’s disturbing romanticism of mortification of the flesh.
“It exults marriage.” Exulting marriage is not the problem. Marriage is not a bad thing. Ill-advised marriage is, but that’s subjective. However, the whole idea of not exploring your sexual compatibility before committing seems ridiculous to me. That’s what makes me nervous about Twilight. Because Edward just basically spring his kinks on Bella on their honeymoon. That’s really not a good idea for most couples, because as much as we all try to be GGG, you at least need to designate a safe word before getting thrown up against a headboard. Can you imagine if all those bumper stickers on facebook said “Edward can pee on me anyday”?
“It promotes Victorian values.” This just goes into social conservatism, see more below.
“Strict gender roles are enforced.” This is where things get particularly icky. Edward is scripted as this bastion of masculinity who should be admired for controlling his destructive, “manly” urges. One of the things that makes vampires so hot is the duality of their gender. They are catlike and graceful (“feminine”) but feed through penetration (“masculine.”) This gender play results in all kinds of hot, fun things when the gender roles get messed with. (Anne Rice and others are big fans of the female vampire, male victim dynamic.) Edward might have worked out better as a werewolf, who are almost always mythologically male and tie in to cultural fears of male power.
“It is anti-feminist.” I will address this in a bit.
“It is sex negative.” Edward basically explains to Bella that if they have sex, he might lose himself and “very easily” kill her. Kill her. Yes, this is a kink for some people, but not the type of thing that should be offered to teenage Mary-Sues. And then suddenly, after they get married, this whole “I could break you” issue goes away? Really? So does Alice break boyfriends too? Because that would be awesome. She’d stop in the middle and the guy would be like “What gives?” and she’d be like “I just had a premonition I would sex you to death!”
“True love is an excuse for self-destructive behavior.” True love is bullshit. That’s really all I have to say. There’s no Wesley and Buttercup in real life, and its extremely unfair to tell people that there is one perfect relationship somewhere for them. Real relationships take comprise. True love doesn’t comprimise.
“It has subversive Mormon morals.” I wouldn’t describe Twilight’s moral issues as solely Mormon, more like straight social conservative.
“It portrays stalking as romantic.” This is the most troubling. Stalking results in people getting killed. It’s a gateway to more abusive behavior, which young women need to learn to identify before they find themselves in a cycle of abuse they can’t get out of.
“Edward is an abusive boyfriend.” See above. He’s controlling, condescending, and possessive. Yes, a little bit of jealousy is hot, but if Bella can’t take care of herself, she should have been given the tools to do so. (Like vampirism, Edward! At times, I have wanted Emmett or even James to just bite her to get it over with. That way Bella would be much less USELESS!)
“Love Story” is marriage fantasy, which is different. Especially considering Taylor Swift’s core audience, it makes complete sense that they’re pushing that because twelve year olds really shouldn’t be forced to talk about sex unless they want to. Marriage fantasies are something that usually occurs during latency. It’s a way for children (especially girls) to give a name to the need for connection they feel that is different from a need they have felt before with parents or friends. The chastity is there for a psychological reason. If I were a parent, I’d be much cooler with my preteens liking Taylor Swift and professed virgins the Jonas Brothers than the pop stars I liked as a child, Britney “Oops, I Made A Sexual Innuendo Again” Spears in particular.
Twilight’s adult fans worry me more than the 12 year olds who are still basically playing pretend. The attitude toward sex that Twilight depicts is only appropriate for pre-pubescent individuals. The idea that the perfect boyfriend is over protective in the gentlest terms and abusive in the strongest, truly terrifies me.
There was an article in The New York Times right before the film came out about Robert Pattinson’s appearances at Hot Topic’s around the country:
“Mr. Pattinson continued to stand awkwardly but, somehow, fantastically beautifully at the same time. A local radio D.J. fed him written questions from the audience, but his answers were buried by screaming. “Do you guys care about the questions, or do you just want to talk about nothing?” Mr. Pattinson asked. A young woman in a shirt emblazoned with the Cullen family crest spoke for many: “We just want to look at you.”
What disturbs me about incidents like this is the idea that a character has so much power in these women’s minds, but is still reduced to an object when all is said and done. It’s incredibly demeaning to the actor, and I can’t help but feel like the Twilight books nurture this appearance obsessed view. There are so many descriptions of Edward and the other Cullens’ appearance, each more hyperbolic and poor Blake pastiche than the last. I suppose it’s logical, since Meyer’s vampires are robbed of their usual primary sensory focus as predators, they must pace about majestically like tigers in zoos behind glass. Beautiful, but no true threat.
Yes, parents should discuss books with their children, but in all my ummmmmm 400 times so far selling tickets to Twilight at my local multiplex, the only conversations I’ve overheard are about Pattinson’s features. Especially his hair. Most great works of literature have the dialectical (counterpoint) already built in. Mark Twain was a very smart man to have Huck struggle with the race issue in a way similar to the way an impressionable reader might.
The comparison to Helena, I feel, is not even remotely fair, because Shakespeare also left the dialectal in. Elizabethan dramatists have been depicting abusive relationships for a long time, but they are not held up as ideal. Demetrius does not sparkle in the sunlight and in Midsummer Night’s Dream he comes off as a huge jerk. Both Hermia and Lysander tell him to stop hurting Helena, and when Theseus hears the news, he’s not exactly pleased either. In fact, he is the only one of the four lovers that has to remain drugged in order for the story to have a “happy” ending. Even Helena reacts with disbelief when Demetrius does sing her praises.
As far as the notion of anti-feminism goes, literature can, and often is anti-feminist, because part of choice is depicting all the choices as viable, and then saying that its okay to choose. My problem with Twilight is that I don’t get the idea that Bella gets a chance to choose anything until Breaking Dawn. She has little to no say in when she gets to be a vampire, and Edward makes all the decisions in the relationship “for her protection,” because it’s “not her world.” There are plenty of fantasy heroines who do just fine in their new world, and in general, could Edward be any more of a dick about it? I can’t recall a time where Bella contemplates talking back to Edward, and that’s what worries me. Every healthy relationship has a few, “Shut up, you’re being a douchebag,” moments on both ends. Feminism is about endless possibility. So could Stephanie Meyer hint at the possibility?
Thanks Lilly! I won’t respond to your response, since I think we’ve talked this to death and I’m sure Rick Warren will provide ample fodder for further discussions. 🙂
PS: GGG stands for “Good, Giving, Game“. GGG is a guide to how sexual partners should treat each other, from Dan Savage, the sex columnist for Seattle’s The Stranger.
“You make me feel like a villain in a melodrama — twirling my mustache while I try to steal some poor girl’s virtue.” Bella Swan, Eclipse, Chapter 20, p.452