I wasn’t planning on doing a Learn From This about Twilight or even mention Twilight it’s message about relationships. To me, it felt a little too much like beating up a special-needs kid.
Obviously things have changed.
I had been planning to ignore the release of the penultimate movie in the fiction series that JUST! WOULDN’T! DIE1 !! but evidently a number of my readers are planning on seeing it – either against their will2 or with the benefit of some… shall we say chemical enhancement and they have all written in to insist that I write about the damned thing3. And since evidently I am nothing if not a sucker for constant nagging…
Well you win you bastards. Fine. Let’s do this and get it over with4
Twilight is, without a doubt, one of the largest festering cancers inflicted upon the literate -and movie-going – world today.
We’ll ignore the sub-par writing, the fact that Bella is a blatant Mary Sue stand-in for Stephanie Meyer or the fact that it means that Kristen Stewart continues to be convinced that acting consists of “bite your lip” and “dull surprise”.
I shall heroically restrain from pointing out that calling the plot “thin” is an insult to paper and the characters one-dimensional is an insult to spatial relations. I will even not point out the critical research failures that reach almost Dan Brown levels.
Instead, let’s focus on the meat5 of the matter: the relationships and just why this is forming a malignant tumor that will – unfortunately – shape people’s expectations of relationships and how women are supposed to relate to men for years to come.
You’re Nothing Without A Man
Bella’s existence is literally defined by her relationship to men. She’s something to be fought over, angsted over and passed around like a kit-bashed hash pipe at a Phish concert. All of her relationships are entirely dependent on the men in her life, whether father, boyfriend or the platonic-friend-whose-emotions-you’re-not-above-using-to-your-own-ends. Her home town? All about her dad. Her friends? All of them are entirely based on her relationship with two guys.
Quick: Name something that Bella is interested in that isn’t guys. A dream for the future. What she wants to be when she grows up. A freaking hobby.
Wait, motorcycle repair, right? No, that was all about Jacob and Edward. Um… travel? No, same story. Books? Nope: the only books she ever talks about are tied into her lurve for Edward. Movies? Nope.
Future goals? All about her man. No interest in college. No real interest in a career or life outside her relationship.
Oh, and an incredibly violent and painful death. But we’ll get back to that in a moment.
So hey, let’s get to the fact that Bella hates herself. Her entire self-esteem is entirely dependent on her status as “girlfriend”. In fact, when Bella thinks she’s been dumped she has the emotional equivalent of the Blue Screen of Death to the point of becoming suicidal. Over a relationship that is less than a year old. Prior to falling in love with Edward, she sees herself as unattractive, unpopular (despite all evidence to the contrary) and all-around useless at anything except taking care of her dad. Her self-description consists of mousy-brown hair and her klutziness. It’s only until Edward shows interest in her that she starts to feel the subtle stirrings of value.
To Bella – and the young girls reading this – this is the thrill of a man seeing past your unattractive exterior and finding your true self… a man so perceptive that he could find your good points that even you didn’t know you had. To a more jaded eye it’s someone putting the locus of their self-worth entirely in the hands of someone else.
Oh, and did I mention that this is one of the classic ways of controlling women in an abusive relationship? The perceived difference in their standing (Edward is perfect, Bella is lower than a snake’s ass in a wagon rut) gives him leverage over her; he’s so out of her league that she’s lucky he pays attention to her at all… so she needs to accede to him in all things. Keep this in mind too, there will be a quiz later.
There’s Absolutely NOTHING Creepy About Grown Men Wanting To Date 16 Year Olds
This is one of the things that tends to get glossed over as women gush about the dashing Mssr. Cullen is that he’s a grown man who spends most of his time hanging around a schoolyard. A senior citizen, even. By all rights his AARP membership kicked in well over 50 years ago. And he’s interested in a girl who is literally a 1/13th his age. To drive this point home: it’s about the same ratio as a 75 year old man wanting to date a 9 year old.
That’s not a May-December romance, that’s a Mayfly-December romance. But hey, as long as he looks 17, it’s all good, right?
No, not really. Just because his body quit aging, that doesn’t mean his mind didn’t. Time and experience are part of what makes for maturity, not just your physical age. Edward has had over 100 years of life and experience over Bella. Up until the day they met, her life’s biggest moments involved moving to the ass-end of nowhere. His incorporates 6 separate wars, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, the Cold War, Kent State, the Days of Rage, the House Un-American Activities, the Lindbergh kidnapping, the assassination of a president, the Attorney General and two civil rights leaders in the same year, the Bay of Pigs invasion and one of the worst pandemics in modern history.
What, exactly, are they going to have to talk about? Her complete misunderstanding of Shakespeare and classic Victorian literature? Her algebra homework?
Evidently this is a thing for Mrs. Meyer considering that one character falls in love with a two year old and another falls in love with a newborn. And somehow… nobody has a problem with this.
(We’ll ignore that the readers are expected to believe that in the 100+ years since he’d been turned, Edward has never ever had sex. Or a blowjob. Or apparently even masturbated.)
A Woman’s Role Is Marriage And Children. Period.
Remember when I asked about what Bella’s goals are?
They are, in order:
- Get married.
- Have lots of sex.
- Get her throat torn out by a serial-killer and spending eternity as a teenager drinking the blood of the innocent and never having permanent roots in any area for fear of being murdered by the locals and/or causing ecological ruin6.
- Have kids.
By the end of the last book, she’s managed to accomplish all of these. But what else does she manage to do? Well, besides ignite a vampire civil war, anyway?
A part-time job. Graduating from high-school.
The only thing of value that she achieves is have a child. The very fact that she gets pregnant at all is seen as a wondrous miracle that every other female character gushes over; it’s repeated over and over again about the void that the female vampires feel because they’re unable to fulfill their womanly duties and how they’d trade everything in order to be fertile again. They’ll have to settle for eternal youth and beauty, riches beyond dreams of avarice instead… and the un-subtle message that they’ve failed as women.
The only female werewolf is similarly cursed; she’s a “genetic dead end” because she can’t do her womanly duty and provide little werewolves to the tribe. Keep in mind: breeding and childbirth is so important to the werewolves that they choose their mates damn near as soon as the girls are born. Leah Clearwater’s infertility is practically her defining trait, over and above her value to the tribe as a warrior.
Bella on the other hand is special because she’s a mom… so special that her sprog is literal deus ex vagina, so special that the bad vampires want to kill it out of sheer jealousy. Giving birth means that Bella gets it all: the super-sexy husband (who will never go to seed, lose his washboard abs or succumb to the ravages of time), the life of leisure, the wealth of Croesus and the satisfaction of being a mother.
Being a mother without the work, by the way. Because her child is so super duper special that she skips the whole “midnight feedings, screaming and shitting herself” stages and leaps straight to adult-hood in the span of a year… so all Bella ever has to do is provide love and all the motherly wisdom and guidance an 18 year old with only a high-school diploma and no life-experience can provide.
(One might be forgiven for noticing the levels of Stephanie Meyer’s frothy mix of resentment, wish-fulfillment and self-justification dripping from the pages…)
Abuse is Love
And here we get to the elephant in the room: Twilight is a four book, five movie treatise to how awesome abusive relationships are. When it comes to the bad relationship advice propagated by Hollywood, Twilight is the poster-child7.
But don’t take my word for it.
Over the course of the series, Edward threatens Bella’s life, threatens to kill himself, scares her with his driving, damages property when angry, makes all the decisions for the both of them and tries to isolate her from others – especially Jacob Black, his romantic rival. He’s thrown her through glass tables and has sex so violent that she’s covered in bruises and broken ribs. He pushes the relationship further and faster than anyone should be comfortable with – by the time they decide they’re dating, Bella is spending literally almost every moment with Edward.
Oh, and he breaks into her house, watches her sleep without her knowledge and follows her wherever she goes.
But it’s ok… he loves her. He just wants to make sure she’s safe.
Now, keeping all that in mind, look up the warning signs of domestic violence and abusive relationships. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Pop quiz: how many of those moments I list were classic warning signs of domestic abuse? SPOILER ALERT: ALL OF THEM.
But again: it’s ok. Edward would never hurt Bella… intentionally. He can’t help it that she makes him want to hurt her, what with her super-delicious blood and all. He doesn’t mean it. He loves her.
Not, mind you, that Jacob is much better. By book 3, Jacob goes from being a living example of what happens when you get stuck in the Friend Zone to deciding that the best way to make someone love you is sexual assault. Bella doesn’t help matters when – even after punching Jacob and running the hell away she decides that oops, she may have feelings too! Not, y’know, enough to keep her from going back to her other abusive boyfriend of course. Just enough to keep jerking Jacob around a bit longer until Edward’s finally willing to come across.
Keep in mind: Bella literally welcomes this abuse as signs that Edward loves her. She compares Edward and herself to Wuthering Height’s Heathcliff and Cathy, apparently never stopping to consider that Heathcliff is an abusive sociopath. Her fondest wish is her violent death at Edward’s hands!
Ladies and gentlemen: the role-model for young girls around the world. This is what people are growing up to believe is “romantic”.
The only real solace to be had is that the national obsession with Twilight will be coming to a screeching halt once the last movie comes out and girls can model their future relationships after Katniss and Petra instead.
- See what I did there? [↩]
- suuuuure [↩]
- So hard not to use “bloody” instead. I hope you appreciate my restraint [↩]
- That’s what she said… [↩]
- Look, jokes are just about the only way I’m getting through this, ok? [↩]
- Hey, they just feed off animals right? Mostly predators. That makes ’em ok, right? Sure… until you realize what happens to an ecosystem when you get rid of all the top-level predators [↩]
- You know… the one with a black eye who always wears long sleeves and “runs into doorknobs” a lot. [↩]