(Spoilers will ensue...)
Twilight. It seems people want to hear my opinion on it, and there is DEFINITELY an opinion. As I'm writing this though, I find myself quite apprehensive. It's been written about and broken down so many times that I can't help but wonder, is it even worth it? Will I just be repeating what's been said a million times already? Nonetheless, here's my two cents (or three, or four, as there is a lot to be said about Twilight).
I'll start off with my own relationship to Twilight. I used to be kind of a 'Twihard'. I started reading the books my freshman year of high school and became quite a fan. I even went to the midnight release of Breaking Dawn that summer. I was merely a blooming feminist at the time and as I was reading the books, I was aware that there were many things wrong there. I knew that Bella was a horrible character, I knew she was no one I should look up to. I knew that it was quite terrible as a piece of literature. Yet I continued to support the series. But I was also taking it at face value at the time. While I was beginning to see the cracks in Twilight, I didn't think past that. After the first movie had been out for a while, my enthusiasm for the series began to die down, and by the time New Moon came out, I was seeing the world through different eyes and suddenly Twilight represented something completely different to me.
Now as I said before, the Twilight books are not good pieces of literature. They are badly written, extremely shallow books so it's hard to act like they are things that can be analyzed. But whether or not she was trying to do it, author Stephenie Meyer put a lot of themes in the book that do represent something larger than they do in the story.
The first and most obvious issue is the protagonist/narrator Bella Swan. She is quite possibly one of the weakest female characters ever created. The problems with Bella are so obvious. She has absolutely no sense of self. She builds her life around Edward. From the get-go she's all about completely living her life for him. She is willing to give up everything. Bella's constant desire to become a vampire is all about him. It has does not benefit her in a way that's separate from Edward. The books make it clear that if Bella becomes a vampire, she can no longer have a relationship with her parents or her friends. This is especially heart breaking when you consider her father, Charlie, who she lives with in the series. Charlie is shown throughout the books fighting to open up to his daughter and finally develop a relationship with her. However, his attempts are generally foiled by all the drama and tension Bella's relationship with Edward brings. Bella is completely okay with the idea of becoming a vampire and rejecting Charlie's attempts indefinitely. She wants to be a vampire so she'll never age, so that she'll be perpetually beautiful for Edward. She's willing to put Charlie's life in danger again and again through her relationship with Edward.
Fans of the series would certainly argue that this is just what it's like to be in love. Love is definitely sometimes about making sacrifices, but the kind of sacrifices Bella is willing to make for 'love' are too much. Her attachment to Edward goes beyond healthy romantic love. When he leaves her in New Moon, she becomes catatonic, and whether or not she acknowledges the true intentions of her actions, she does become suicidal. She becomes reckless to a point of not caring whether or not her actions lead to death. It's understandable to become depressed after a break up, we've all been through it. And in Bella's case, it's her first major breakup, from her first love, which is a pretty intense and uniquely painful experience. However, Bella's depression from losing Edward goes above and beyond the normal healthy reaction someone has from separating from their first love. Bella becomes catatonic because her relationship with Edward was so unhealthy. She believed her life served no purpose other than to serve him. No girl should EVER feel that the best part of her is her partner.
Bella's character also continually represents the classic 'damsel in distress'. Twilight often portrays classic fairytale-like situations where the helpless damsel must be saved by the knight in shining (or in this case glittering) armor. Bella is continually shown as the helpless, delicate creature who gets herself into situations where she can never save herself. It goes beyond the fact that she's just a human and therefore weaker than the vampires/werewolves who save her. Bella is beyond just physically weak and helpless, she's EMOTIONALLY weak and helpless.
Stephenie Meyer seemed to make a weak attempt to redeem Bella in the last book, Breaking Dawn. After she is transformed into a vampire, Bella learns she has the power to create a shield which she uses to protect her vampire family from the Volturi. However, this last minute ability was not enough in my mind to make up for the extremely horrible character Bella had been throughout the rest of the series. She is the ultimate slave to the acceptable passive female model. She doesn't step or speak out of line. She's pure, virginal, mindless, and a slave to her male lover. And with all this in mind, the thought that young girls might be looking to her as a role model is terrifying.
Edward Cullen. He was created to be every girl's vampire dream man. He's supposed to be a universal object of every woman's desire. I mean, who wouldn't want a chiseled, unconditionally loving, stalker boyfriend, right? However, the way I see it, instead of creating the ultimate lover, Meyer created a controlling, patriarchal, obsessive beast.
Where Bella has issues in her complete identity loss caused by her love for Edward, Edward is problematic in the fact that he essentially is the puppet master of the relationship, pulling the strings to create an environment for Bella where she has no choice but to make him her life. The stalking thing is obviously creepy, anyone can see that. Yet it's still supposed to come off as romantic, something that should woo girls. As a victim of a pseudo-stalker myself, I can say that there is nothing about being rigorously followed and pursued that makes me hot and bothered. Edward's obsession with Bella is unsettling. He consistently succeeds in objectifying her. He refers to her as something delicious, something to eat and enjoy (although he never really gets to enjoy her until the end, but we'll get to that). His obsession, 'love', and desire to be with Bella come from a strange place. He can't read her mind, so he knows nothing about her, yet he claims he loves her right off the bat. So he's basing his feelings completely off her physical appearance, and, of course, her scent, which is apparently amazing. Bella is merely an object to him, not a human being with a mind and a personality.
Also, in his relationship with Bella, Edward stands as this controlling, patriarchal monster. Looking at the love triangle between Bella, Edward, and Jacob, any tension between Edward and Jacob lies in control of Bella, because of course, she's something to be controlled (does the objectification of this woman ever end?!). When observing the conversations between Edward and Jacob about Bella, it usually runs along the lines of "Bella's MINE!" "No, Bella's MINE!". Bella shouldn't be ANYONE'S. Edward doesn't want her to have anything to do with Jacob not because he's jealous, but because he feels that she is his property, he claims her, and she should be his and only his. He wants to marry her so he can legitimately stake his claim. His relationship with Bella is ALL about control. His constant desire to 'protect' her, aka not allow her to wander out of his grasp, sometimes goes beyond controlling. It becomes manipulative. He once breaks her car so she won't be able to see Jacob. It's scary. His attempts at not allowing her to see Jacob are not his only attempts to isolate her. He criticizes her friends to a point where she no longer sees them, ever. Her friends become his family, and only his family. He takes her away from her father. In true stalker form, he constantly showers her with lavish gifts, romantic words, and engagement ring(s), things which further pull and trap her in their relationship. If Twilight wasn't a romance novel, Edward Cullen would simply be a run of the mill abusive boyfriend.
Now, it's worth noting that Stephenie Meyer is Mormon. And Mormonism is a huge proponent of abstinence. This may or may not have something to do with the pro-abstinence messages sent out in the series, as well as the anti-choice messages (which I'll discuss later). It also may have something to do with the idea of the Cullens, people who live pure lives and therefore are on a higher level than all other vampires. We may never know, but it is worth noting.
Vampirism has been almost primarily about sex for years, decades even. Looking back on vampiric lore as well as vampiric fiction, sex and vampires often go hand in hand. That's why it's strange to see vampires as a medium for pro-abstinence propaganda (yes, I think the anti-sex messages in Twilight count as propaganda). At the same time, considering Edward's pro-patriarchal ideas, it's kind of not surprising, as patriarchy and chaste women also go hand in hand. In the series, Edward refuses to have sex with Bella. He refuses to even kiss her half the time. The thing is, while as a couple they do abstain, in Bella's case it's not by choice. She is vocal about her desire to have sex with Edward. But Edward won't listen. The whole situation is really strange, because Edward insists that if they do have sex, he could kill her. However, after they get married, they have sex, and while the next day Bella is sore and sometimes bruised, the extreme physical consequences that Edward warns her of are non-existent. So, do the vampiric consequences of sex go away once you're married? That's how one could perceive things in the Twilight world. Because in and out of the Twilight universe, marriage is supposed to make sex magical, safe, and basically a-okay, whereas sex outside of marriage is dangerous, taboo, and definitely NOT okay. Twilight is not shy about perpetuating this idea. The series tries to show about relationships can function just perfectly without sex, which isn't always true. But with Edward and Bella, you'd never know that! Sounds like pro-abstinence, pro-marriage, anti-sex propaganda to me.
In the last installment of the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn, Edward and Bella get married, finally have sex, and Bella ends up pregnant with a human-vampire hybrid. Now, this may be some more of Meyer's Mormon ideas coming through, but the reaction to Bella's pregnancy was very much drenched in anti-choice ideas. Obviously, a human carrying a fetus that's even half vampire is dangerous, and Edward knew that. When Bella & Edward discover that she is in fact pregnant, it seems that Edward wants her to abort the child. The whole situation is rather fuzzy but that's what the book implies. Bella is completely shocked by this. She reacts by wondering what kind of 'monster' would do something like that to her precious child. She knows her life is in danger, but it the book makes it clear that what Edward wants is the most horrifying thing ever. It's full of anti-choice rhetoric, and while the whole situation is brief, you can tell what the intent of adding Edward's desire for her to abort the fetus was.
You might say, it's just a book/movie, something meant to be enjoyed and not taken seriously, why care? It's worth caring about because Twilight is wrought with heavy messages that aren't exactly positive things. Twilight's target audience is obviously women, and even more specifically young girls. Young people have extremely malleable minds, and they form their lives and ideals around what they see, often in the media. Consider the lessons people are being taught by the Twilight series:
- Girls should build their lives around boys, because boys and relationships are the important parts of girls lives.
- It's okay to like someone or be liked jut because of your appearance. You don't need to converse with people to make up your mind about them!
- Girls don't need to have voices.
- You're boyfriend/husband owns you.
- Abstinence is ALWAYS the way to go.
- Relationships should always lead to marriage.
- Abortions are for monsters.
- Girls should be passive and weak. It's okay, a man will always save you.
- Young girls in relationships should stop hanging out with their friends and families as their boyfriends are more important anyway.
- Relationships ALWAYS work out like fairytales! Yay!
And so much more...
Especially when we're talking about young girls, are these the kind of ideas we want to put into their heads? Young girls should NOT want to be Bella, they should not look up to gender roles. It's been said before and I'll say it again, Twilight is not anti-feminist, it's anti-woman. I see so many of my peers going into relationships expecting them to work like they do in Twilight, and they get screwed. Because relationships aren't easy, they aren't like fairytales. Furthermore, I see girls with the 'Bella complex' being walked all over and treated horribly in relationships. But they take it. They think it's okay for their partner to be that jealous, or controlling. It's not okay, ever. I won't lie, I have a desire to see Eclipse (online, I would never support that movie in theaters). I still feel a connection to this story. However, I'm smart enough not to let Twilight influence me or my ideas about myself, my relationships, and the standards I hold for everything in my life. If young women can see Twilight and have this same mindset, okay. But knowing that not just women, but men too are seeing these movies and reading these books and allowing that to effect who they are and what they want is really scary.
There are no good lessons to be learned from Twilight. And Edward and Bella should never, EVER be looked up to.