Today’s post is by Bonnie Norman, who analyzes speculative fiction works from a lesbian, feminist, and anti-racist perspective in order to foster discussion about the issues that plague SF and society in general. She can be found at her review blog, A Working Title, which also has links to her other writing pieces.
Twilight is the ultimate in deception. Posing as a love story between a girl and a boy, it’s really a rallying cry for codependence and misogynists.
The definition for codependency from Wikipedia:
“Symptoms of codependence may include controlling behavior, distrust, perfectionism, avoidance of feelings, problems with intimacy, excessive caretaking, hypervigilance, or physical illness related to stress. Codependence is often accompanied by clinical depression, as the codependent person succumbs to feelings of frustration or sadness over their inability to improve their situation.”
This definition describes the main relationship in Twilight almost word for word.
Bella Swan is completely dependent and obsessed with the vampire Edward, and vice versa. Any healthy relationship they might have is constantly being undermined by their own negative behavior. How Stephenie Meyer can consciously pass Twilight and its sequels off as a beautiful, if supernatural teen love story is beyond me. Edward stalks Bella, breaking into her room to watch her sleep at night and following her as she goes about her daily business. He never encourages her to make a life for herself beyond what she has now, and his attitude towards her in the book is condescending and controlling.
When Bella first leaves her mother’s house to live with her father, it is a chance for her to start growing into a mature adult who knows how to take care of herself. With her father mostly absent because of work, she has the house to herself and the majority of her free time is her own. Instead, she immediately orients herself towards a new parental figure, that of the ever-present, ever-watchful Edward Cullen. As their relationship moves from infatuation to “true love”, Bella’s personality quickly disappears.
Meyer is sending the message to young girls that the only way to be happy is to fasten yourself onto the nearest cute boy, regardless of the danger to yourself or the possible consequences. Even as Bella is bruised, battered, and broken because of her relationship with Edward, she continues to cling to him, forsaking her own safety and wellbeing. Bella has no ambition beyond being with Edward and becoming the perfect little vampire housewife. As the series progresses through the four books, Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn, we are shown over and over again that the only worthy goal in a heroine’s life is to love a man.
This is one of the most un-feminist books I’ve ever read. A young girl is drawn into an abusive and dangerous relationship with a controlling, moody, and secretive boyfriend. The relationship is idealized, showing that it’s okay that Bella gets injured and nearly killed several times, because of course Edward loves her and he doesn’t mean for any of it to happen. She has few friends outside of the vampire circle, and as the books progress, she loses all of her normal human ones, becoming completely surrounded by people who live dangerous and deadly lifestyles, a lifestyle that she has no way to protect herself from. Bella never learns to stand up for herself or fight back in any way, always relying upon the men around her to protect her. She never grows as a character. Meyer constantly reinforces the idea that girls do not rescue themselves; they wait patiently for their knight in shining armor.
Meyer’s own personal brand of the Mormon religion comes out strongly in the abstinent relationship that Edward and Bella have, as she completely romanticizes physical attraction and even something as chaste as a kiss. Bella is so completely overwhelmed by even the merest touch from Edward that she often faints, leading the readers to believe that intimacy is beyond your control or comprehension.
And once Bella and Edward are married, Bella must actually convince Edward to consummate their union, giving the idea that women are basically driven by hormones and lust while men are calm, cool, and collected. Of course, upon consummation, she is immediately pregnant with an unnatural child, proving that even within the sanctity of marriage sex is generally a bad idea. The birth of that child actually physically kills her; children destroy your life.
The end of Breaking Dawn, the last book, finds Bella happily married and a mother, and there her story apparently ends. She has achieved the highest of her goals at the ripe old age of nineteen, and according to Meyer, there’s nothing left to tell. Once you’re married and have children, you become completely unimportant, with no interesting conflicts left to your life story.
Meyer has irresponsibly trumpeted the joys of codependency, the belief that girls should be damsels in distress instead of controlling their own lives, the dangers of a healthy sexual relationship, the life destroying consequences of children, and the idea that once you are a wife and mother, you become invisible. Twilight and its sequels are nothing I would ever give to a woman or man of any age. If you’re looking for a young adult series that empowers women and men alike, try books by Tamora Pierce or Mercedes Lackey. Avoid anything by Stephenie Meyer.