Twilight Does Have Elements of Feminism

13 Mar

I am the Queen of Horror. I love scary movies, sci-fi dramas, crime TV shows, and terrifying novels. There is nothing more satisfying to me than being afraid to sleep at night. It actually gives me a weird sense of pleasure to be unsure about my surroundings, worried about what poltergeists might lurk in the night.

A part of me really believes there are terrifying monsters out there that we know nothing about. That belief is what makes the concept of horror so terrifying for me– monsters can be real.

If this isn't a monster, I don't know what is

But just because I love a good scare doesn’t mean that I disapprove of the creative license many authors use to normalize vampires and werewolves, turning my much beloved, blood-sucking Dracula nightmares into the best boyfriends ever.

I’ve never really understood the need to demonize (har-har) pop-culture creatures of the night. Yeah, they lose pretty much all the classic embodiment-of-the-devil Christian symbolism so apparent in early vampire stories. And sure, modern day vampires lack natural drawbacks designed to make plausible the idea that everyone wouldn’t want to be a vampire. I’ll even grant that it’s pretty creepy that a vampire with a hundred plus years would want to date a seventeen year-old.

Can vampires be arrested for pedophilia?

But these criticisms don’t explain the colossal amount of vampire vitriol out there. Let’s take Twilight, quite possibly the most hated of the teen vampire films/novels around.

There seems to be some sense that the plot is too loose, doesn’t make sense, and has many contradictions, ultimately building “vampires” with abilities that don’t make any sense. Funny or Die takes on this criticism by pointing out that if Edward’s sense of smell is so sharp, he should be tearing Bella apart at least once a month. Cue period jokes.

And of course, there’s the well versed claim that if teenagers are going to be reading, they should be reading something good. Like, the stuff adults tell them to read.

I'm sure kids will enjoy reading these... in school

Probably the most damning evidence, from my perspective, is that the books and movies don’t portray a strong image of female agency and womanhood. But I’m not sure I agree with this criticism.

I wouldn’t say I’m a Twihard or anything; I read the books at 23 after participating in several years of tag-along smack talk, basically touting my wannabe hipster, English major cred. That’s right, I made fun of the books without reading them. I’m not proud of it. I give you permission to frown disapprovingly at me.

Done? Okay. So I read the books really fast (I’m trying to regain your respect, here) while flying home from Kansas. And I actually liked them.

I mean, they weren’t that bad. I had heard crazy amounts of criticism, stuff like, Stephanie Meyers doesn’t know how to use a comma, and,  Oh my god, the writing is Just. So. Bad! 

But I didn’t think they were that bad. Sure, it wasn’t Shakespeare, but it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever read. It wasn’t, for example, The Lightening Thief or a Dan Brown novel. Or The Hunger Games. Or The Sookie Stackhouse novels.

There were no hackneyed phrases that made me cringe, which is really rare. Even Philip Pullman used the drink Chocolatl so often it was like an irritating tick. There were also no really glaring plot-holes that I couldn’t look past– although perhaps my sense of disbelief was already so suspended that something sneaked by.

What did strike me about the novels is how poignantly they portrayed the anguish of a first romance, the crazy roller coaster of teenage hormones, and the fear felt by scared-out-of-their-mind parents. That seemed pretty well done to me. And many ladies I know feel that Twilight accurately depicts those tumultuous years.

Moreover, in the final book of Twilight, Bella wins. She is stronger than Edward, more confident than Edward, and willing to fight. And interestingly, it wasn’t even getting her man that made Bella so awesome– in other words, her success didn’t hinge on her marrying Edward. It was only when Bella gained supernatural powers, powers she had been begging for since book one, that she came into her own.

This is significant because Bella’s desire for unearthly, demonic power strongly contrasts with belles from other vampire dramas. Sookie in True Blood wants more than anything to stay a normal, delicate human so she can sunbathe and have babies. Elena in The Vampire Diaries feels the same way– she even lets her father die to save her from the horrific fate of being a super strong, super fast, immortal being.

It kind of seems like all those Twilight haters are a little bit freaked by a lady who wants some power at the expense of kids, her family, and humanity.

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10 Responses to “Twilight Does Have Elements of Feminism”

  1. Herbie March 14, 2012 at 12:15 am #

    I’m glad I discovered your blog, Caitlin. You’re a darn good writer,

    OK, since you’re the “Queen of Horror,” what do you think of “Being Human” on SyFy?

    • Caitlin Garzi March 14, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

      Thanks, Herbie! I was going to include a footnote saying the title was self-conferred, but I’ve decided that footnotes take away from my epic conclusions.

      I actually really enjoyed the first season of Being Human (thank you Netflix!) but I’m finding the most recent season a little repetitive. I guess the dourness of the main characters is starting to wear on me. Especially the werewolf– all he does is complain! I’ve been meaning to watch the British version when I have time.

      I actually am in the middle of Game of Thrones right now. I’ll be finishing the last episode tonight– I feel like it’s going to be pretty scary. I will be hoping for more walking frozen corpses.

  2. sneezinupstrawberries March 15, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    Hmm, interesting. I haven’t read the Twilight novels. I’m kinda not a fiction person. But I did read an article two days ago where the author tore the Twilight novels to pieces for not being pro-feminist. It’s interesting to hear the other side of it. Also, I think it’s funny that you called yourself a hipster. 🙂

    • Caitlin Garzi March 15, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

      After writing this post I perused some of the arguments against Twilight as feminist– I though the comment by LittleBlue here http://bit.ly/yOklyn was a really good one.

      But after reading it all, I still think Twilight has some elements of feminism– and of course, some elements of sexism. I think it’s just been an easy target for complaints by people who like to jump on the bandwagon. You know, people who wouldn’t normally care about feminism but feel entitled to bash the books without reading them (*cough* me two years ago).

      And also the movies haven’t really helped my case. That fourth one was pretty bad.

      But I’ve mostly been running into two counter arguments in regards to this post: that Bella is passive, and that Bella changes her DNA to be with a man. I have responses to both, but I won’t bore you with them! If you ever read the books you’ll have to let me know what you think.

  3. Stephanie March 21, 2012 at 10:50 am #

    Sorry to be “blowing up your spot”, lol.

    I think that when they describe their relationship in terms of addiction and drugs the warning bells are going off.

    While reading the books a few things become clear.

    1) Bella goes from being a smarty pants to being at best lazy. There is a shift in Bella’s attitude. She is hungry for knowledge and proud of her achievements in the beginning, and then something (Edward) happens. This is a troubling idea, especially when you note the intended audience (young girls and young women).

    2) Edward is a stalker. Before they even are terribly in love after two conversations, he sneaks in her room at night. Oh romantic. Again, thinking of the audience this is disturbing. What is more disturbing is Bella’s response. Anything other than alarm is insane. So young girls, stalking is cool… unless you are a girl, that is not romantic. (interesting idea from “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut,” by Valenti)

    3) While Bella may constantly desire the power (which is not a problem), you see her constantly rescued and controlled by men.
    -She leaves her mom due to a step father’s career, and her mother’s child like behavior (which is disturbing how much they describe her as a scatter brained and easily manipulated.
    -She cooks and cleans for her father, who like all stereotypical men cannot cook (in the book at least), in the movie it is the diner and big screens. This isn’t a huge point.
    -After Edward leaves she falls apart, and only feels almost whole when Jacob enters the picture. Even in true loves absence another man can make her almost well. Let’s not get into how Stephenie Meyer makes Bella a weirdo possession in the love triangle where her emotions are easily tricked for kisses and Edward laughs. Love games, but Bella isn’t winning.
    -Edward controls who she can hang out with, uses his powers as well as his families to ensure he has tabs on her. All the signs in the real world of an abusive relationship. She has to barter for freedom, and when she goes off with Jacob we are supposed to feel rebellion. Everything lets us know that Edward knows best, because problems arise when Bella is free to act.
    -The fact Bella goes comatose when Edward leaves is not realistic, nor should we pretend it is normal. First loves are hard, but this is a sick behavior.

    4) The creep spawn of Bella and Edward is not venomous. The females of that “species” is not venomous, but the males are. Again not a huge point, but why the difference?

    All of these behaviors in the real world would be warning signs of abuse and mental illness, but we wrap in them in a package of romantic. I don’t think Bella wanting to become a vampire makes her powerful, but rather it is a way to be with him. From the beginning she wants to be a vampire to be with him, it is not until later that it becomes a matter of her helping protection. She wants to experience Edward. She is willing to leave her family to be with him and his. She is willing to never see them again.

    She becomes pregnant with a fetus that is killing her, but it is his baby so she will let it kill her. Now this is an abortion issue I wont touch, but just that the reason for the baby being so important is because it is his not because it is hers. Her wish is even for a son.

    Also her power did hinge on marriage. She wanted him to change her, he wouldn’t do it with out putting a ring on it. She absolutely wanted him to be the one to turn her, to the point that she married him even though she had a lot of trepidation. In fact after she had said yes she need him to assure her it was right.

    Her desire for power and access to it are through him.

    To criticize Sooki for wanting to remain human is criticizing her choice. To choose babies does not make you less feminist (2nd and 3rd wave?). Elena allowing her father die to avoid being an a vampire is no better then Bella abandoning her father for immortality. During her pregnancy she causes him so much worry, and her allowing him to see her puts his life in danger also.

    Again, thank you for your post. I love things that get my mind going!

    • Hepburn3 April 23, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

      Stephanie!
      Love how you tell it!
      When are you going to start your blog because I mos def wish to read it!
      Yes I totally agree with your review of the Twilight books.
      I have to say that they rather irk me. I mean now young girls/women are stuck with likes of Bella, Sookie, and the Vampire Diaries protagonist when not too long ago we had Buffy.
      Buffy was not perfect by any means but I prefer her over the rest of the vampire loving females of late.

      • Caitlin Garzi May 22, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

        I haven’t watched Buffy yet, but so many people I know love it so much that I think I’ll have to give it a go. Maybe I’ll write another post comparing the two!

  4. Hepburn3 April 23, 2012 at 9:20 pm #

    Caitlin, I am enjoying your blog so far!
    What brought me hear initially was your article about the movie and novel The Help.
    Well thought out points and thanks ever so for writing it!
    But I have to say that I do not concur with your assessment of Twilight and Bella. That series rubs me the wrong way on so many levels.

    But what I would like to ask is this, what do you think of The Game of Thrones, books and tv series?
    Thanks ever so and keep on blogging, learning and fighting the good fight!
    : )

    • Caitlin Garzi May 22, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

      Oh, The Game of Thrones! I have not read the books yet (I bought the first one, but I haven’t yet read it. Soon. Soon.), but the HBO series really rubs me the wrong way. At least, the first season really did. I felt like the women in the series were treated with a casual disrespect that was never fully addressed by any of the characters. I feel that, if there is chauvanism in a series, even if it’s true to the period or whatever (not like that’s a valid excuse for GOT because it’s in a fictional world) it has to be addressed and condemned in some way by a relatively sympathetic character (or several). Otherwise it’s just too easy to see that treatment of women as normal.

      I am planning on writing a more full post about the series, especially in terms of the way prostituition is depicted in the first season. But yeah, short answer– I don’t like the way women are portreyed in the series.

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