Breaking Dawn, Part 2 opens Nov. 16, and if the past is any indication, the hipster, armchair critics are already crafting withering tweets and curating the Internet’s finest Twilight-bashing content to share. It’s become abundantly clear over the years that, in their own way, Twilight’s most incessant critics are just as invested in this phenomenon as the Twi-hards they’re fond of mocking. The first Twilight novel was published in 2005, but the ire that the franchise inspires is as strong as ever. V. has been an ardent, proud fan. E. is indifferent. But they both agree that the persistent hating is ridiculous, way past its expiration date and not a little bit sexist. Today, V. looks the critics squarely in the eye, and tomorrow, E. explains why she’s had it up to here.
I have heard an innumerable amount of insults being a fan of Twilight. It has mostly died down among my friends, but about four years ago … I was THAT girl. The 30-year-old mom in love with Edward Cullen.
I took the criticism in jest. Mostly. But I noticed something.
Beyond my circle of friends who were disgusted by Twilight (who had not read any of the books, and could only claim boredom from the films), there was an even stronger reaction from all corners of mass media. A reaction filled with derision and the kind of obtuseness you can see from space. Caustic Internet critics choosing insult over critical thought, men on Facebook saying, repeatedly, that they would only see the movies if their girlfriend dragged them to it, prudish language in the blogosphere about how Bella Swan is the embodiment of dysfunction, and in so many comment threads, the seething at the mere mention of Kristen Stewart. And it hit me. This collective hateration of The Twilight Saga books, the films, and in a most viral way, the lead lady of those films, is wildly sexist. At times, it borders on misogynistic.
Sure, there are women who dislike the series. Women can be sexist and misogynistic, too. I have heard the Mormon/abstinence propaganda theory. I have heard how the character, vampire Edward Cullen, is an allegory for abuse. Having read the entire series three times (card carrying Twi-hard here), I don’t think Stephanie Meyer is that deep. Maybe the despots can’t stand Meyer’s writing. J.K. Rowling’s isn’t THAT much better, but her books aren’t told from the first-person perspective of a young woman.
There it is.
Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and most of Breaking Dawn are the narrative of an 18-year-old girl in love. The Twilight Saga is roughly 2400 pages of what teenage love felt like. There is a newness and wonder with which you view the world as you experience the paramount rush of endorphins that will never again feel as powerful as it did the first time. Add in long-worshiped mythical creatures like vampires and werewolves, and for so many, the story becomes irrevocably captivating. It was for me. Meyer taps into a youthful intensity with a direct line to my vagina.
The visceral, negative reaction towards the series as a whole stems from the fact that Twilight caters to the desires of women. There is a palpable level of discomfort and disdain that occurs when you acknowledge the female desire. She is not allowed to want and/or enjoy something with out being criticized for it. Females actually have desires? Yes. Buying POWER, too? Yes. The women can feel PLEASURE? Yes.
In my lifetime, there has been no shortage of media tearing down the psyche of young women. And now, there is a special place in Internet hell reserved specifically for Kristen Stewart because her job is to play the character, Bella Swan. The character whose desire of Edward Cullen AND Jacob Black (count ‘em, two guys at the same time) has resonated with so many women. For those who claim that she is a bad actress, well OK. That bit is subjective, and certainly doesn’t explain why she has become one of pop culture’s favorite punching bags. The hyperbolic defamation of Kristen for her recent tryst in real life with a married man, Rupert Sanders, easily became more popular than the Summer Olympics. Yet Sanders is 19 years her senior and the married one, but he wasn’t being raked over the coals. She was, and still is. However poor her choice may have been, she’s 22. She doesn’t deserve the ire. Neither does Bella. But still, Google garners hundreds of thousands of results for “trampire.”
But before the denial and shaming of feminine desire permeated media, it was a part of our culture. It is a part of our culture. A regrettable one. One not long for this life if I have anything to do with it.
Hollywood is an excellent gauge of culture at large (so are comics), and it demonstrates my point with vivid clarity. Typically, the target audience for movies is male. Nothing riles up the hard-wired, emotional response of a male like seeing a damsel in distress. It leaves an impression. It is common in American film to have scenes with women being physically assaulted and/or raped. Many of these films garner a PG-13 rating. Yet movies displaying a woman receiving oral sex in a safe environment in a loving way gets an NC-17, and is therefore not shown by major theaters which limits profit (see: This Film Is Not Yet Rated). Female pleasure and desire are perceived as offensive and profane, thus denied to mass audiences. But movies that cater to masculine dominance are made readily available to younger, more impressionable minds, and propagated.
The denying of female pleasure (and subsequent forced shame of it) has been going on for so long and is so deeply ingrained into culture that when something shakes it up, it causes discomfort, a break from the norm. And a break from the “norm” elicits push-back. For those who do actually loathe women, openly or unknowingly, the push-back is severe and unrelenting.
It only takes a stroll through the “critics” of Rotten Tomatoes under The Twilight Saga: Eclipse to see what I mean. These quotes are from male reviewers.
“It’s still the equivalent of emotional pornography for teenagers.”
I’m confused. Is there something wrong with that?
Bella Swan, you two-timing Tessie!”
Insult, not a critique.
“124 minutes of listening to teenagers melodramatically espouse the depth of their convoluted passions for each other makes for a pretty dire trip to the movies.”
Insult, not a critique.
“This is the best of the Twilight films. Which is a lot like saying that getting punched is better than being stabbed.”
Insult, not a critique.
“An endless conversation about an immature, moody, generally unlikable, teenage girl’s feelings.”
Insult, not a critique.
“It insults your intelligence from start to finish.”
I’m vastly intelligent. I was not insulted.
“It’s interesting to see each film make Bella into an even bigger creep than previously imagined, with Eclipse turning the indecisive heroine into a mean-spirited provocateur unworthy of all the attention lavished on her.”
WHAT. THE. FUCK. Provocateur? Unworthy? This comment alone testifies to my point.
“Twilight Saga: Eclipse is by far the best of the bestselling Stephenie Meyer novels-turned-movie. Keep in mind, West Nile Virus is similarly the “best” mosquito-borne illness and Portland, Oregon is the “best” city to be homeless.”
Disease? Homelessness? Hyperbole.
“These movies are more about the experience of hearing girls and women who should know better holler at the screen. They could just as well be at a concert.”
We should know better than to enjoy ourselves?
This quote is not negative, but poignant::
“In a universe where almost all CGI-laden, blood-spilling tentpole movies are aimed at ensnaring the teenage male, there’s something to be said for a series of films aimed squarely — and successfully — at teenage girls.”
I can acknowledge that the films of the series have flaws, but I willingly suspend disbelief so that I can enjoy a live-action representation of the source material that I enjoyed so much. It is the source material that has lit this fire in so many girls and women. The hot young actors in the films add to that fire, and that’s OK, too. Feel free to have your opinion about it … IF you have read the books and if you have seen the films. With those being such remarkably big IFs, it becomes blazingly evident that much of the popular opinion regarding Twilight, Bella Swan and Kristen Stewart is inspired by the rejection of female pleasure.
Women and girls have desires. Millions of which have been tapped by The Twilight Saga. It is fun and exciting and beautiful, and we are ALLOWED to be pleased.