Twilight and New Moon: sexual longing in a world of vampire abstinence
Twilight's Edward Cullen and the New Moon movie: What message do they really send?
(Page 2 of 2)
Purity is still the goal. Men, or vampires, are still dangerous and threatening while females are still breakable and fragile. Intercourse still has the potential of resulting in "death," just as it once relegated women to a social death. The only difference is the controls are handed over from the teenage girl to the guy – who happens, in this case, to be totally responsible and upright.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Meyer has tapped into a serious artery of the teen female psyche. Adding to the dynamic is the fact that Bella is a cipher whose only strong impulses are self-sacrifice and vampire lust. She has a glancing appreciation of classic novels and her family, but is easily projected upon by readers, who can imagine themselves in her place and be vicariously wooed.
Bella's other trait – overwhelming clumsiness – approximates adolescent bodily discomfort – the kind that comes from young women's realization that in a patriarchal society their bodies are now perceived as trouble incarnate. Rescuing Bella from her physical mishaps are Edward and her other suitor, Jacob, who happens to be a werewolf. The two of them happily tote her around so much it's a wonder Bella's legs don't atrophy.
It would be a far braver move for Meyer to show Bella's relationship helping her grow comfortable in her body. But instead she goes for the cheaper, more seductive, thrill of suggesting that ungainly, weak female bodies are the most attractive to men, that teenage gawkiness could be made into an appealing vulnerability that brings all the supernatural boys to the yard.
The lure of the books is so strong, even for feminist media critics (I devoured them more quickly than vampires catch their prey), that it's disturbing to resurface and ponder how retrograde Meyer's world is.
Bella's willingness to sacrifice her physical safety, her education, and her family and social ties for Edward – and the well-meaning but stringent control he exerts over her – are reminiscent, as some readers have said, of abusive relationships.
Talking about sex – not just the vampire kind
But teens are unlikely to change their views after reading the books: The hopeless romantics will remain so; the pragmatic readers will feel frustrated with Bella. Same goes for the book's take on virginity. It's doubtful Meyer foresaw how much graphic premarital sex in all kinds of gender and species permutations would appear in online fan fiction.
Though it does appear that "Twilight" readers' moms have found a good opening to talk about sex with their kids. And even better, the books have got teens arguing about gender roles, when to have sex, what defines a heroine, and the meaning of true love.
Taking a look at some blogs and sites that complain about "Breaking Dawn" (the fourth book) and the series in general, one can find feminist arguments galore. But the lively debate generated by the books implies that they may do more good than harm. It's the misogynistic climate in the books that harms their quality.
If Meyer had been able to put her "family values" aside to give Bella more spunk (and maybe a college education?) and generally lighten up on the patriarchal subtexts, the saga would improve aesthetically, and maybe, like the "Harry Potter" canon, reveal truths far beyond teenage wish fulfillment. Literary feminists can hope that J.K. Rowling gets inspired to write a strong, realistic heroine and show Meyer how it's done.
Until then, there's always Buffy.
Sarah Seltzer is a freelance writer. This piece was originally posted at RH Reality Check.