Bella Swan, Kristen Stewart and the Twi-Hater Nation: Part 1

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.

So boom.

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.

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.

News flash.

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.

33 thoughts on “Bella Swan, Kristen Stewart and the Twi-Hater Nation: Part 1

  1. There are a lot of jerks out there. I am always in favor of ANYTHING that gets young people reading; comics, prose books, e-books, magazines. I basically try to ignore the nay sayers but some can be so vocal. I am not a fan of the movies (have not read any of the books). I am not a fan of vampires walking around in daylight and that is basically my only problem . As you stated so well above, these books are mainly meant for girls and young women. There is a place for eveyone though and I am big fan of anything that gets females involved in this male dominated arena.

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    • “I am always in favor of ANYTHING that gets young people reading”

      Amen to that! And yes, I think there can be a place for everyone, or rather, room enough for different kinds of celebration without diminishing others.

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  2. I have very few gripes of the series.
    Jacob is a handsy prat who should have been skinned for his pelt by Bella’s daddy.
    And Bella is SO dang moony.

    Other than that? They’re my fluff to read between deep stuff. They can be fun.

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    • Jacob IS handsy! I so don’t care if you have “werewolf temper”!

      Moony Bella is. I think that is actually why Erika opted out of the third and fourth book. She couldn’t take it anymore.

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  3. I agree with you to a degree–our society certainly has no appreciation for the enthusiasm and power of a young female audience (Bieber fans get a similar antagonism). Or a woman’s

    However, I do think that for a lot of people, it’s just a simple matter of something becoming SO popular that it becomes cooler to hate it. Harry Potter did not get quite as much, but it does get some of this kind of negative attention. And, Bella possesses a lot of that angsty moodiness that you see in HP 5–which DID get a lot of criticism for exactly that reason. True to teen life? Yes. Entertaining? Not as much. Unless you’re a mood teen yourself, a lot of people just don’t have the sympathy for it. And I think that’s okay.

    Also, I can’t not point out that there are other successful YA book series told from a girl’s POV with similar focus on female pleasure: Divergent, for example. Or how about Shatter Me, which is about a girl learning to accept her own body and pleasure? Maybe if these books reached Twilight-level success they’d meet the same hate, but I haven’t seen any of that kind of pushback for them yet.

    Now. On the other hand. I’ve seen Facebook posts designed for that pass-it-on protest type of thing claiming that Twilight demonstrated all the signs of an abusive relationship. Once you get to that kind of fringe extremism I’m right there with you … *someone* just isn’t comfortable with the book on a very deep level and is projecting onto it to fight back. That definitely exists. Just not pursuaded it’s a predominant reason.

    … Did I mention I’m actually a huge fan of Twilight?

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    • I haven’t read Divergent or Shatter Me (I might, now), but I wonder the same as you … how they would be received by the masses? I truly believe this is a thing. It is not isolated to Bella, Kristen and Twilight, but they make for an example where I have seen it hyperfocused.

      If you haven’t already, I invite you to watch the documentary I mentioned above, This Film Is Not Yet Rated. It makes some interesting points about how feminine pleasure is perceived.

      You’re probably right about some of the push-back being due to its popularity alone. I call that the hipster effect.

      “Unless you’re a mood teen yourself, a lot of people just don’t have the sympathy for it. And I think that’s okay.”

      You’re right. It is OK. But not having sympathy for it and vilifying it are different. I see more of the latter.

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  4. “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.”

    Oh. Great. Goddesses. NO.

    My criticism of the character of Bella in Twilight is every bit the opposite of sexist. My revulsion for the character has everything to do with her embodiment of so many anti-feminist archetypes. She defines her life by her relationship with men. She tries to commit suicide both as a reaction to being left by her arguably pedophilic vampire boyfriend and as an attempt to manipulate him into returning. She’s alternately portrayed as an emotional basket case and a Mary Sue. In fact, her Mary-Sueness is inherent (special blood) instead of springing from her own actions (say, hyper-competence or serving as an authorial voice omniscient character or channel for deus ex machina ala early Wesley Crusher). She is a bundle of qualities I would hope my female friends and their daughters would choose to avoid rather than emulate.

    As for Kristen Stewart, I have no dislike for her as a person. I don’t, after all, know her. Her acting style swings between wooden delivery and hammy over-emoting, but I don’t dislike Keanu Reeves nor William Shatner for exhibiting similar traits, so how could I dislike Stewart?

    Meyers’ writing style leaves me cold, but I didn’t get into Anna Karenina either. Personal taste is neither an indictment nor an endorsement of writing quality.

    I have read analyses of her writing as a sort of anti-sex Mormon metaphor of a perfect, sexless pseudo-passion, rather than a celebration of sex and desire. I’m not sure if I see it, but it’s mostly because I don’t see anything consistently emerging from under the surface story as a coherent metaphor. I try not to read the author’s personal religion nor politics into their work unless, like Ayn Rand, C. S. Lewis, or Robert A. Heinlein, they go out of their way to make it obvious.

    I have absolutely no problem with pro-sex, pro-passion and pro-female literature. I’m just not clear on how the Twilight series fits those descriptions.

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    • Your rant about Bella reads like an Internet meme I have read 100 times.

      I disagree with the notion that Bella is anti-feminist. I don’t think the character is a tent-pole for feminism, either. Why should she be? Why does anyone want her to be?

      A young girl raised by an immature single-parent would exhibit many of the qualities Bella did throughout the stories. So, I find her to be psychologically authentic. She has plenty of good bits, too. She is intelligent, averse to mass consumerism, thoughtful and not afraid to be different. Bella marches to the beat of her own drum. I appreciate that.

      The fact that her drum beats for Edward is very much what first love is like. So, it rings true.

      I’m not sure why such high expectations are placed on Bella or her choices deemed inappropriate. They are quite appropriate to the story. Like it or not.

      I think it is safe to assume from the language in your comment that you have read the series and seen the films.

      “Feel free to have your opinion about it … IF you have read the books and if you have seen the films.”

      My essay isn’t about you. CHEERS!

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    • Oh. Reading your comment again. I have a correction:

      “She tries to commit suicide both as a reaction to being left by her arguably pedophilic vampire boyfriend and as an attempt to manipulate him into returning.”

      The character Bella Swan at no point in the books or the films attempts suicide.

      The scene you are probably referencing is when she cliff dives. She does it for the adrenaline rush, not to kill herself. She also doesn’t do it for Edward’s attention. Edward is in Rio de Janeiro at the time, she has no contact with him, and no way of contacting him … or his family. So as far as she knows he is gone and completely unaware of her choice, albeit a foolish one, to cliff dive into cold water. Because she did not calculate for the current being so strong, she does almost drown. But, Jacob dives in and pulls her out of the water.

      Alice Cullen has the power to see visions of potential futures, but it is subjective as people change their mind. Because Bella’s decision to cliff dive was a rash one AND coupled with the fact that the magic of the werewolves somehow blocks her visions and werewolf Jacob was there saving Bella … Alice only saw a flash of Bella jumping from the cliff and ASSUMED that Bella tried to commit suicide. But … she didn’t.

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      • I’m going to have to disagree with you on this one–she may not have had the mind-set of “oh, I can’t live anymore, I must die!”, but she did it knowing that it was incredibly dangerous and with complete disregard for that danger and the fact that there was a good chance that she wouldn’t survive it. And it’s very clear from the books that the main reason she did the various adrenaline-seeking things that she did was because she got to have a vision of Edward speaking to her any time her life was in danger.

        I see what you’re saying in pointing out that Bella doesn’t necessarily have to be a rolemodel–that she’s meant to be an accurate description of a teen in love. However, I feel like the author, as someone who is NOT a teen in love, should have some responsibility to the teenage girls reading the book to make some indication that the way Bella was acting was not really a good model for other girls. Instead, Bella gets rewarded for her irresponsible actions by basically getting everything she wants. And I think that’s a terrible example for its young readers.

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        • Yes, Bella engaged in high-risk behavior. She did not try to commit suicide.

          The author is not responsible for the young girls reading the books. The parents of the young girls reading the books are responsible for them. AND it is not ONLY young girls reading the books. A LOT of women read these novels, too.

          I quote my friend Bryan, with who I had a conversation regarding this just yesterday …

          I think it speaks to the dearth of female protagonists that every one of them must somehow symbolize the State of Feminism of the Age. You don’t hear people saying that Daniel Craig’s Bond must be representative of the state of the western male. They compare Bond to Bond, not Bond to “men”.

          Bella is not meant to be a role model. Not for women, not for teenage girls. Just because the scenarios in this book spark desire in women and girls … doesn’t mean the Bella has to be, either.

          If a person has read the book and can’t relate to the character, Bella Swan. Fine criticize on the points that don’t speak to you. I think it’s OK to criticize aspects of the character, any female character, but unless she was meant to … not because she isn’t the figurative Wonder Woman.

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  5. I’m a professional asshole. I make fun of everyone equally (my children, parents, spouse, etc… included) and take my craft very seriously. I’ll sit and laugh along with my son through an episode of Adventure Time, then make fun of the show during the commercial breaks. I consider it practice for my work here in the office. And business is good. Seriously, I’m a geek with below-grade-level social awareness. If I cross the line and don’t look like I realize that I have (usually noted by a flushed red color about the face or me trying to pull my head down into my collar tortoise-style), feel free to take a swing or two. It’s the only way I learn.

    >>>Meyer taps into a youthful intensity with a direct line to my vagina.<<<

    Sitting through the next movie with the Mrs. is going to be interesting to say the least, because that quote is burned into the back of my eyelids now. And in much the same way I can't be introduced to someone named Dolores without giggling like an idiot, I'm going squirm uncomfortably through the entirity of the film. Thanks and love you too.

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  6. Oh Vanessa, we have agreed with you on so many things in the past it hurts that Twilight is now the item that causes me to disagree. A few things. Society has made a bigger issue about Kristen Stewart’s infidelity than Rupert Sanders, but that has more to do with celebrity. If it were, for example say, David Letterman having an affair with a staffer, well, maybe David would get the lion’s share of the attention and blame, despite them both having an equal culpability in the affair. Is it fair? Certainly not. But we all understand that the higher your star rises, the further you have to fall.

    “For those who do actually loathe women, openly or unknowingly, the push-back is severe and unrelenting.” This is one of those arguments that, too me, is just too convenient. It allows you to disqualify any opposing argument, regardless of merits, with the premise that the author of that argument doesn’t even realize they are a card carrying member of the “He Man’s Women Haters Club” (browine points if anyone gets that ancient reference.)

    I will agree though that Kristen Stewart, Stephanie Meyers, and the Twilight Saga as a whole, have done nothing to earn the level of derision that they receive from the hordes of the internet, but who really has? The internet is an ugly place more often than not. And I do have to agree that Sexism seems to be a factor in some of that derision. (Though if i were the “40 year old man deeply in love with [insert girl from Disney Channel here]” that would be creepy. And every comment about why Avengers movie posters kept showing Black Widow from behind and all the other Avengers from the front could also be matched with observations about why Edward can’t put a shirt on. So maybe some of it isn’t sexism but our societal sexual aversion in general, this time coming from a new direction due to mass media finally providing an offering tailored to women and not men.)

    Personally, I certainly don’t hate it. But I am completely disinterested in it. (And I will admit, without watching or reading, and devoid of any context, it is a bit hard to take sparkly vampires seriously.)

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    • *sigh*

      “Society has made a bigger issue about Kristen Stewart’s infidelity than Rupert Sanders, but that has more to do with celebrity.”

      Bullshit.

      Ashtin Kutcher, Brad Pitt, Ryan Phillipe, Jude Law, Ethan Hawke, Charlie Sheen, Jesse James, Kobe Bryant, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eddie Murphy, Frank Gifford, Shaquille O’Neal, Woody Allen, Michael Jordan, David Duchovny, and Peter Facinelli (OF TWILIGHT FAME) are all celebrity cheaters. Sure there was media coverage. But for how long? And NONE of them have received the backlash as vicious as Kristen Stewart has, and most of them were older and married when they cheated.

      “This is one of those arguments that, too me, is just too convenient. It allows you to disqualify any opposing argument, regardless of merits, with the premise that the author of that argument doesn’t even realize they are a card carrying member of the ‘He Man’s Women Haters Club'”

      Like any “ISM” – sexism, racism, elitism, alcoholism … solipsism – most people aren’t aware that they live in that world. They are either in rabid denial, or have convoluted themselves into believing that they are on the side of good. But, I do know a few assholes who are fully aware of their disgust of women … but they fall into the latter category, and don’t believe there is anything off about that. Women being lesser creatures and all. I don’t see anything convenient about any of that … except for the person with the ISM.

      I do agree with the point that there is a current of sexual aversion, particularly in American culture, that plays a role in this. But I believe the aversion here is to female sexuality.

      P.S. Sparkly vampires are hawt.

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      • If I might interject here– a lot of the hate I’ve seen against Kristen Stewart’s “infidelity” is FROM Twilight fans who have projected their love of Edward onto Robert Pattinson and therefore consider Kristen Stewart the luckiest girl in the world for dating him, and subsequently the worst [insert misogynistic slur here] in the world for cheating on him. I’ve seen her get hate from Twilight fans for joking around about Bella and being not entirely enthused about the role– She should feel so lucky that she gets to be Bella!! Meanwhile, Robert Pattinson mocks Edward and even Stephenie Meyer ruthlessly, and fangirls think it’s cute because “Edward hates himself” so it’s cool that RPattz hates him too.

        My point is, sometimes the misogyny/sexism IS coming from inside the house.

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  7. Pingback: Why ‘Twilight’ is all right with me | Girls Gone Geek

  8. I will start off by saying I have never read the Twilight books and have never felt the need to. Probably because they simply aren’t targeted at me in any way. I -have- seen the movies, although not till they turn up in my local video rental place.

    I am aware of all the things that get written about the books and movies but I don’t go reading them because delving through fanatical devotion and/or fanatical hatred – and everything in between – seems like a waste of time to me. Life is too short.

    I do have issues with it some aspects of it. Vampires are NOT sparkly, or can they go out in daylight. Emo!Vamps are OK but I’m too much of a Buffy fan to get into vamps that can walk around in daylight and sparkle. But still, I sat down at watched the first one. It was OK and I loved the Baseball game.

    But starting with second movie, I started having problems with Bella. All things you said about her in your response to Richard are things I liked about her. But those things started moving waaaay into the background. It seemed to be that all we got was a girl/woman who became so totally focussed on the man she loved that everything else just… fell away. Everything that was interesting about her (to me anyway) was gone. All that was left was a girl/woman who had somehow allowed her entire existence to be about Edward. At least that’s the way I saw it. Which from my point of view is not a healthy relationship in any way, shape or form.

    I haven’t seen Breaking Dawn yet; I will be waiting for the second part to come out on DVD and watching them together. Although I am interested to see what Vampire!Bella is like. Possibly interested enough to actually go and watch it in a cinema.

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    • I see your point about the good parts become white noise to the love triangle and Edward obsessiveness. Particularly in Eclipse. But, again, you’ve watched the movies, and those are the things that you liked or didn’t like … and that’s fair. I don’t much take issue there.

      I also agree that the dynamics of Bella and Edward’s relationship becomes unhealthy, but I also think it’s honest to the story … to the characters. As honest as it can be considering the sparkly vampire fantasy portion of the show.

      The relationship in Mr. & Mrs. Smith was unhealthy. The film was rated PG-13. While still wildly improbable that two assassins would be married and not know that the other is an assassin … that is a tinge more realistic than a vampire, werewolf, human love triangle. Because homo sapien assassins exist on Earth. Somewhere. Personally, I think that film is terrible for many other reasons besides the unhealthy relationship … but are unhealthy relationships not allowed to be a part of young adult fiction? Why does Bella & Edward’s unhealthy dynamic matter to you?

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      • It doesn’t, not really. I personally don’t care one way or the other. I’m just voicing an opinion on a fictional relationship that seems to matter to a lot of people whether they hate it or love it. Normally I don’t say anything but the discussion here caught my attention for some reason.

        I do find it interesting that this particular relationship is so polarizing for people though. It seems to elicit opinions from the extreme ends of the spectrum. I just can’t figure out why its so important to both sides.

        On a side note that has nothing to do with what we are talking about, it’s interesting that Fifty Shades of Grey, which seems to elicit similar levels of opinion from both ends of spectrum, started out its life as Twilight Fanfic. I’m not sure what that means but its the one thing that always seems to come up.

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        • It is polarizing. And it is interesting just how much.

          And while I do consider myself a Twi-hard because I read the books and watched the movies so many times, I tend to go hard when I really enjoy something. Anything. Read my blog posts about Wonder Woman or the fact that I cosplay as Black Canary because I love Birds of Prey.

          I think it’s an obsessive personality type, for sure, that is drawn to the love or hate debate.

          As to the why … I still think it all goes back to sex and desire, who is desiring what, and all the sparks that fly because of it.

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  9. I think this is a great argument, and certainly resonates with things I’ve told many Twi-haters throughout the years, other than, “Yeah I like Twilight. Leave me the fuck alone about it already.” I think my partner put it best when he said, in a perfectly non-hateful way, “Twilight is the literary equivalent of McDonald’s. And EVERYONE has their own McDonald’s, whether it’s Jersey Shore, celebrity tabloids, or Reddit. So it’s stupid to get so judgmental about something that actually makes people happy.” I enjoy Twilight purely for entertainment value, and I wouldn’t have to read so much into it if the haters didn’t.

    That being said, this article doesn’t address why my fellow feminists (and I’m lumping them together in a generalized group here) also hate Twilight just as much if not more than the misogynists. I personally don’t see Bella as an anti-feminist hero, but I sort of get why people think that. To me, Twilight is about Bella’s quest to gain control over her own body – through her sexuality, giving birth even when it was dangerous, and finally becoming a vampire. And if people didn’t have slug through three books of teenage romance prior to her transformation into the matriarch figure she became, they probably would not get as frustrated with Bella as a human female protagonist as they did. I could go on and on, but you elaborated your point very well. Thanks for writing this.

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    • Thank YOU for this bit of insight:

      “And if people didn’t have slug through three books of teenage romance prior to her transformation into the matriarch figure she became, they probably would not get as frustrated with Bella as a human female protagonist as they did.”

      Erika (my co-blogger here) and me had this conversation way back when. She read the books around the same time I did, and got very frustrated with Bella about midway through Eclipse … and gave up. I pleaded with her, assured her that Bella finds her power in Breaking Dawn. But, she was done. Fair enough.

      But it makes me wonder how often, if at all, the character is considered as a whole – from start to finish. Because in the end, it is her power that saves them all.

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  10. I think Vanessa has already stated this, but what I find baffling is the weight of responsibility that people have placed on Twilight to be something other than what it is: An entertaining work of fiction spun from the author’s own fantasies. I’ve seen over and over again the argument that Bella is an anti-feminist character, but even if that’s true, why does she have to be a (insert complimentary adjective here) character? Are male characters expected to be written in ways that are considered to be gender-positive? I’m not saying that every person who disliked Twilight is sexist or that the series is sacred. But I don’t see how anyone could deny that sexism fuels some of the more vitriolic criticism and the laser-like focus on the female protagonist. I’m not even a fan, and it’s obvious to me.

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  11. As a female who has read all the books and watched all the movies, I could not disagree with your post more. The impression I got from the story was not one of female power and the realization of female desires, but the story of a young girl whose entire existence becomes about obsession and gaining approval from a man who is 80 or so years her senior, to the detriment of all that was positive about her character before meeting him.

    Bella falls for Edward because he’s handsome and mysterious. But let’s be fair, she knows almost nothing about him. Edward falls for Bella because she smells good to him. Again, he knows almost nothing about her. And yet, for some reason, this results in an instant “true love” that they both will do anything to keep. Her entire existence becomes about being close to him and developing her relationship with him, doing anything she can to please him so that he will stay with her. I see none of the intellect that you attribute to her conveyed through the books and movies. Instead, I see obsession that leads her to seriously endanger her life and sabotage almost every other relationship she has with her friends and family.

    I don’t find this situation at all empowering to women. Bella is constantly in need of rescue by the men in her life. Her entire happiness is based on Edward’s approval. She lies comatose in the woods when he leaves her, then engages in progressively more dangerous behavior just for the chance of having visions of him. She gives up her plans for college in order to marry him.

    While yes, she does eventually come into her own power, the sole reason she gains that power is because Edward chooses to give it to her, not through any achievement of her own. And she had to beg and plead with him for three books for him to decide she can have it.

    I agree that it’s good to get teenage girls reading, however, there are many other young adult series that would present more positive examples for young girls, and I would certainly encourage them to read something else.

    You point out that Bella has no responsibility to be a positive role model for young women–that she’s merely a character and is acting in a way that perhaps a teenager would act, good or bad. I would say, however, that Meyer, who is not a teenager, does have some responsibility to her readers to show in some way that the behavior Bella exhibits is not positive. Instead, Bella is rewarded for her obsession at every turn. I think this sets a dangerous example to teens who perhaps now expect to find their own Edward-like true love, and will follow Bella’s example in placing their entire worth on what that man thinks of them, and doing anything to try and please him.

    (I also think the writing in the books was terrible, and the movies were poorly acted, thus adding to the basis for Twilight-derision, but I decided to mostly stick to the plot here, which I found to be the most compelling motivation to continue with them)

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    • You’ve read the books. You feel the way you feel. I take no issue. I would like to say though, that I did not say that the character of Bella exemplifies female power. I do point to desire, but not power.

      While I do enjoy The Twilight Saga, I am OK with those who do not. What my essay is speaking to is those who do not, who also have not read/watched the series and criticize people for enjoying it.

      For discussions sake, say I agree with your position on Bella and Edward … but still enjoyed it. My enjoyment is my enjoyment. What that may or may not say about me or other people who enjoy the series, posited that they agreed with your take, is an entirely other line of discourse – why would so many be drawn to a story like this?

      I stand by what I said, for better or worse, it taps into a feminine desire that is very real. Which bits of the story are pushing those buttons? Well, I think it would take a bit of discovery to isolate them … but I guarantee there would be some biological/psychological symmetry among fans.

      Is that something to be ashamed of or shamed for? NO.

      If it is something that is deemed unhealthy, then by all means, a dialogue to explore that could be beneficial … but not when the perquisite is blame and shame.

      I do firmly believe that Bella has no responsibility to be a role model, but you make the first sound point I have read about Meyer’s responsibility:

      ” … Meyer, who is not a teenager, does have some responsibility to her readers to show in some way that the behavior Bella exhibits is not positive. Instead, Bella is rewarded for her obsession at every turn.”

      A thought-provoking point that makes me think of violence in PG-13 films. A film can garner a PG-13 rating, and thus be marketed to a younger audience, if the violence is not graphic (no blood, guts, and the like). The result is people getting shot on screen, but the severity of the consequences not be accurately depicted. Then it follows, how does the subconscious register that? Does that send a message that you can shoot someone and they won’t die or be severely injured because the visual cause and effect is usurped?

      In the instance of Bella, does her obsessive behavior then subsequent “happy ending” send a message of inaccurate consequences for that behavior? Perhaps. But, I would argue that she does experience negative consequences – her friendships suffer, her relationship with her father suffers, the high-risk behavior leads to physical injury, and she does indeed die when giving birth. I don’t think she is rewarded at “every” turn. But I concede that you make a valid point regarding Meyer’s responsibility that with further deduction could be more sound than my position of Meyer not being culpable.

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  12. I realize that in my previous response I didn’t address the issue of misogyny in Twilight haters. Again, I really don’t think that any hatred or disrespect of women is the source of the majority of the Twilight hate out there.

    I would posit that most Twi-hatred comes not from any prejudice against women, but simply from the fact that many people (particularly those vocal on the internet) feel that the Twilight books and movies are not very good. In your post and responses, you speak at length about enjoyment. I think it bears pointing out that enjoyment differs greatly from quality. I must have enjoyed the books to some extent, since I kept reading them, but while enjoyable perhaps, I honestly feel that they were not terribly good.

    When I look at other franchises that have obtained very high levels of fan popularity, such as Harry Potter, or the Hunger Games, or branching out of YA fiction, things like Star Wars (the originals) or Lord of the Rings, I feel like the main distinction with those books/movies is that they are all relatively high quality. The world and characters in HP and Hunger Games are very well developed, even if they’re not high prose. The production values of all of those movies are very high, and they generally star very high quality actors giving excellent performances of three dimensional characters.

    In contrast, I feel as though the Twilight characters really lacked depth. I don’t really fault the actors in the movies–yes, Kristin Stewart has the same puzzled expression on her face for most of the movies, and Robert Pattinson has the same broody look, but I think they’re decent actors who just had little to work with. While the production values have increased, the make-up in New Moon was atrocious (the entire theatre was laughing when Edward came out with his airbrushed abs), and the pace of Breaking Dawn 1 was so slow I nearly fell asleep.

    Most of the memes I’ve seen comparing Bella to characters like Hermoine, Katniss, or Leia are not about their looks, but rather about the fact that when Bella’s man left, she lay comatose in the woods until someone found her, versus strong female leads who stay true to themselves, display power (whether by being first in their class, an expert marksman, or leading an intergalactic rebellion), and are more likely to save the men in their life rather than being saved themselves.

    I think this comparison actually indicates a lack of sexist origin in the mockery, since these movies with strong women haven’t garnered similar negative attention. In fact, the closest thing I can think of is maybe the extreme disdain I’ve seen for Episodes 1-3 of the Star Wars franchise, in which it’s generally the young male actors who bear the brunt of the mockery.

    A series that enjoys as much popularity as Twilight does is sure to create strong opinions on both sides about its merits. But I think this stems from the quality of the work, not from the fact that it’s about a teenage girl.

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    • I found the Harry Potter series and the Hunger Games to be no better in quality than the Twilight Saga, but different.

      There are more books in the Potter series, so it would follow that the world would be more developed. But I thought it got boring after about the fifth book. Really boring. I do love the character of Hermione for her smarts and wit, though. The Potter films were much more enjoyable to me than the books because the films removed much of the superfluous content.

      I do enjoy the sociopolitical implications of the Hunger Games. Panem is certainly more fleshed out than Forks, Washington. But the writing in Hunger Games falls apart half-way through the second book and the rest reads like a screenplay for an action/war film rather than a novel. I felt like Hunger Games was the train wreck I couldn’t look away from. Reading Katniss endure trauma after trauma to turn into a shell-shocked version of herself was just sad. A sad story is fine, but I find it unsettling that many tout Katniss as the premier young female heroine when ultimately her fate is to all but be destroyed.

      You see quality in Potter and Hunger Games where I do not. I did enjoy Harry Potter, though.

      I agree, there is plenty of criticism of Twilight from those who find the prose to be poor or the characters unrelatable. I have some of my own. Was it entirely necessary for Meyer to use the word “reverie” so damned much?

      These are semantics. Judging semantics positively or negatively is fine by me.

      But what I see extends beyond semantics and is a special kind of ire directed specifically at Twilight. A vicious ire.

      I have read and listened to rants, comments, essays that have nothing to do with the quality of literature or character development. They insult the series and shame the fans for the reasons I have stated above.

      So, I guess whether or not it is the majority is the point of contention, here. I wrote about the majority of what I see.

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  13. On the one hand, I HAVE noticed the sexism in a lot of the criticism, and you make a poignant argument against it, which I absolutely salute. I can also respect the fact that you enjoy the books, and if you enjoy them, that’s AWESOME, because books should be enjoyed!

    However, you single this out as a “sexist” comment, when I really don’t think it is:

    ““An endless conversation about an immature, moody, generally unlikable, teenage girl’s feelings.””

    The problem is, while I love and would love to agree with all your assessments… I can’t. Oh, I can and will agree til I’m blue in the fact that Hollywood treats female sexuality as being worse than violence and how fucked up that is, and that the derision that is centered on the fact that it is a “girl” story is misplaced and itself quite immature and on some level disturbing. But.

    Thing is, I really, really hated Bella Swan. I should note, I have no problem with Kristen Stewart – I think she’s actually kind of quirky and awesome, and I agree that the media and even some of the fans have treated her horribly (please remember some of the same people “raking her over the coals” have been fans in the past – some of whom seem to have this weird idea that the people who play their favorite couples should be couples in real life and that if KStew decides she’s not happy with RPatz, that CLEARLY there is something wrong with her and it’s her fault as opposed to just shitty relationship luck for two young people still figuring themselves out).

    No, I seriously do think BELLA, herself, the character, is indeed “immature, moody, generally unlikable.” In fact, I just got finished commenting over on Erika’s post about how I was feeling odd that I seemed to be the ONLY person who had ever expressed this, when BOOM, here you go putting a quote up that… actually kind of does express just that.

    I noted for instance, that people are likely to label her “boring” or empty, or to deride her as “self-insert”, or to proclaim her to be a terrible role model, etc., all of which as you note are terribly problematic and verge on, sometimes blatantly are, sexist “critiques”. But I so rarely ran across anybody who actually addressed the fact that as a person, she is selfish, self-centered, thoughtless, passive-aggressive, whiny, and yes, okay, she’s depressed, but she’s so unlikable in other ways that even though I’ve been depressed myself, I find it hard to actually empathize in a positive way. At the beginning of the story she has absolutely everything handed to her -she has a perfectly okay, middle-class life, with easygoing parents who I got the impression were, yes, divorced, but on amicable terms. Her mom has a new boyfriend, sure, but I don’t recall any indication that he was bad, just, you know, the new boyfriend. And when Bella arrives, the scenery is beautiful, and she gets a FREE CAR, and since I was spoiled for it considerably, I also knew she ended up being actually pretty well-received at her new school. But she WHINES CONSTANTLY about all of that, and worse, she’s openly (that is, it is obvious to me as a reader) passive-aggressive and never talks to her parents about the things she should, just likes to martyr herself unnecessarily by making huge life-altering choices like moving, that she’s not happy with, but won’t actually talk to anyone about, including the people who are all like, “are you sure? Because you don’t have to?”. Except it’s not really martyrdom if all you’re doing is moving to a town where EVERYBODY LIKES YOU AND YOU GET A FREE CAR.

    I couldn’t even make it to the part of the story where she meets Edward, because I found her so completely unlikable and not even entertaining to read (because hey, just being a downer doesn’t mean you can’t be witty or charming right? Except to me at least, she isn’t even those things).

    The astounding thing is that as a woman who has been depressed before, and as a young woman who was for a long time quite uncertain what she wanted to do with her life and really did go through a phase in high school where I debated dropping out because it all seemed so pointless and I was just going through the motions? Someone who had her own teenage ennui? I should TOTALLY empathize with Bella. Right? But I don’t. Because she… just… seems… sooooo UNLIKABLE. Shallow, and self-centered, and whiny without actually being clever. If she was “whiny” like Daria – complaining intelligently about the state of society or whatever, it would have been awesome. If she had actually had a hard life, it would have been understandable and I’d probably root for her. But no, she has it SO easy, and is SO self-centered about it, that even as someone who supposedly should empathize… I can’t.

    I was aware it was fluff going in. I just… I had heard all those complaints about her being kind of a submissive to Edward, and since I had also read interpretations that acknowledged that “hey, you know… some women really ARE into submissive stuff, because it’s hot”, I was game for it, even though I’m not submissive IRL, I can still understand getting turned on by it in a fantasy, because hey, fantasy! Right? And if she had been merely “bland” or “empty” as so many people claim… but she wasn’t. Honestly, I’m starting in all over again, making some of the same points I did on Erika’s post. I make most of them better over on that one anyway, so if you really find this reaction surprising, please read that comment (you’ll know it, because it’s a freakin’ novel at the end of the comments, assuming it passed moderation). But anyway, suffice it to say that even while totally turning off the “feminist critic” part of my brain, even while absolutely trying to approach it as a fun, sexy little fluffy fantasy that wasn’t meant to be anything other than a hot, tumultuous little romance, I could not stand Bella Swan AS A PERSON. And thus, I just could not get into the original book. No other reason; literally NO other reason than I just really, really hated the narrator, not because she’s female or Challenges the Status Quo or anything like that, but precisely because she came off as the same spoiled,shallow, self-centered whinger that way too many of us people are nowadays and it was really irritating and frustrating trying to get to Sexy Vampire Edward with her in the way.

    So, without having any other context for the quote ““An endless conversation about an immature, moody, generally unlikable, teenage girl’s feelings.” ? I’m going to have to strongly disagree that it’s in anywhere near the same category as the other, clearly sexist quotes you pulled. Because, to this woman who totally agrees that most of the commentary is disturbingly sexist? To this woman who UNDERSTOOD that it was supposed to be hot for us women and nothing more, and who was willing to just roll with it? To this woman who, I’d like to note, really enjoyed The Host? Yeah, Bella Swan really IS “immature, moody [and] generally unlikable”. To me. Without any sexist elements required, as surprising as that may be.

    In fact, from the bits and pieces I’ve read elsewhere (including the 12-chapter draft of Midnight Sun), and from reading The Host, I can safely say it really isn’t Stephanie Meyer or female desire that throws me; it’s Bella Swan. Every other narrator of hers, I have either been okay with or really liked. If she actually finished Midnight Sun and polished it up, I would read it. If she wrote books from Jacob or Leah or Alice’s POV (oh boy, imagine how trippy that would be), I would read them. And probably really like them. But I can’t stand Bella Swan.

    But hey, on a MUCH brighter note, at least The Host managed to have likable dual protagonists. Despite the fact that by all rights they were “worse” Mary Sues (seriously, Stephanie Meyer… Melanie Stryker… you think we wouldn’t notice? Hee, you scamp!), they were much more interesting and likable, so suffice it to say that while we’ll have to agree to disagree on Bella Swan, I am actually looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation of The Host, and I hope you are too. The book really sucked me in. And the movie looks like it’ll be kind of awesome. :)

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    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

      I wish I still had the link to where I pulled that quote from – in its context I recall it seeming dismissive. So, you’re assessment is fair – that specific line, in and of itself – is not overtly sexist.

      I also think it’s fair that you feel the way you do about Bella. I think she rubs some people that way with no ulterior, underlying spirit – she isn’t likable to everyone. I get it. She annoyed me sometimes, too. Bella is flawed.

      I don’t mean to sound obvious here, but readers are going to have whatever feelings they have about a book, that is why we read books, right? But when it extends to a forum where you are critiquing a film/book/comic as a critic (which is where this quote was) – the self-referential shit isn’t appropriate. So, just saying this is “an endless conversation about an immature, moody, generally unlikable, teenage girl’s feelings” isn’t productive or particularly insightful. It simply dismisses the character without reason.

      Why is she immature? Why is she unlikable? How does that affect the trajectory of the story for better or worse?

      But we didn’t get that. We get this blanket statement about this young girl with no qualification … and there seems to be a lot of THAT in regards to Bella Swan.

      You qualified your feelings above in context to the essay I wrote – very much contributing to the discussion. When you enter into a critical discussion qualification is a part of the process.

      In the case of Bella Swan – there is a ton of dismissal, negativity and vitriol minus the qualification. I think more so than many other popular series. I still believe the root of that lies somewhere insidious.

      I believe there are many people (perhaps not you, perhaps some of those deposed KStew “fans”) don’t fully understand why she makes them so uncomfortable. I think that we expect young girls to be polite, accommodating and engaged (among many other things) – and Bella isn’t those things.

      Why do people need/want/expect her to be so very much?

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