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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Commentary on Breaking Dawn

This feminist analysis makes some very good points, and the fact that the series is so widely read by young women means that it's very likely influencing their attitudes, whether you think it's pop culture "crap" or not. I like the series, including the final book, and obviously I consider myself a feminist.

I think the appeal has a lot to do with good old-fashioned romance, because Edward is a very old-fashioned figure - polite, considerate, protective, etc. Lots of adult women still fantasize about such a man! The entire romance genre is hugely popular, and profitable, and many, if not most, of these standard romance books (and movies!) portray relationships pretty much exactly like Edward and Bella's (whether historical romance or modern chick lit or young adult fiction).  And portray women/young women desiring the same things criticized by the author of this critical article - a thin body, a good man, children . . .

The other, more disturbing elements of Twilight, oft-discussed, like Edward's attempts to control Bella (though rarely successful) are valid points. Sexist tropes are extremely prevalent in today's books and movies, even if more alternatives exist now compared to when I was a teen. I think this is a valid discussion - I worry greatly about the self image and expectations that my own daughter and other young ladies will develop in a culture that still communicates a very stunted message to them about who they should be.  Though I'm more concerned about the shallow consumeristic role models like the Kardashians, Paris Hilton, and the Housewives of Whatever, than I am about Twilight!  At least young ladies are reading books!

The Bloody, Twisted, Inverted World of Twilight

Violent Vampire Sex, Demon-Babies and Overwhelming Female Desire

by Sarah Seltzer

. . . Every time a new installment of the neverending Twilight film franchise comes out, I have to reassess this massively popular tale that is such a paradox: it’s centered around a young woman’s desire, yes, but it’s a desire for all the wrong things (by feminist standards as well as by normal social ones). There’s no question that Twilight is saturated with sexist tropes--to the point of being disturbing. But there’s also no question that that disturbing element is compelling, too. Deeply so.

There’s a reason teenage girls are obsessed with this story, after all, and it’s not because they’re shallow consumers of pop trash: over the course of four books and five movies, Bella’s needs, wants and impulses are by the strongest power manifested -- stronger than the vampires and werewolves combined. Her inmost wishes are the steady heartbeat that propels the action forward to an absurd degree
She wants to date vampire Edward, she dates Edward--even though he is dangerous. She wants to keep her second suitor, werewolf Jacob, in her life, she keeps him in her life--even though he keeps messing with her relationship. She wants to sleep with Edward (a lot) even though he might accidentally kill her, and she finally gets to, and she loves it. She wants to deliver her dangerous baby despite the fact that it is literally destroying her body and she gets to. Everyone loves her baby, too, including Jacob, who will one day marry it, but that’s another story.
Bella wants to be a vampire even though Edward and Jacob hope she can stay human and have a good human life, but her suicide by demon-childbirth leaves them no choice but to turn her vamp (the final shot of the latest film in which her new vampire eyes open is a stunning one), so now she’s a vampire--and she loves it! And (spoiler alert) in the second installment of Breaking Dawn, her desire to hang with her human relatives despite her new thirst for their blood will win out, as will her desire for the bad vampires to leave her family alone. She ends up being the strongest vampire around, too; now that she’s immortal her desires take physical, supernatural form and allow her to shield her loved ones. But this new power is an afterthought, almost redundant. For the entire series, what Bella wants, Bella gets.
. . . But as for the substance of her wants, therein lies the perversely haunting twist. I’d argue that Bella's desires are direct responses to the patriarchy we actually live in. In fact, Meyer has created for her heroine an inverted version of our unjust society.  In this invented, inverted world, Bella is allowed to want sex, and vocalize it, and initiate it, while her partner is the gatekeeper who makes sure she is safe and married before she gets “hurt.” In her world, the men around her urge her to abort her fetus for her own safety, but she gets to “choose” to deliver it even though it kills her. In her world, her boyfriend can urge her to attend college and better herself while she can push for an early marriage--and be right! In her world, she can reject her body and trade it in for a new one that is agile, strong, lithe. Her choices are consistently to fall into the arms of the patriarchy and trust that it will catch her, and her faith is validated: she gets a perfect husband, angelic child, new body. 

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