This started out as a blog comment response over on The Nerdy Bird’s blog regarding Twilight and if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. I was directed to this from Nerds in Babeland’s post defending sparkly vampires, which I flailed about and responded to on Twitter, after GeekGirlCon tweeted the link this morning.
Caught all that? It’s as convoluted as it sounds.
What it boils down to is this: as far as I’m concerned, Twilight tells girls that their only value is in what an older man thinks of them, and it primes these young girls to accept that abusive relationships are normal, romantic and desirable, when the reality is ever so very different.
I don’t have a problem with emotionally healthy and mature grown women enjoying Twilight as a guilty pleasure – a lot of people scoff at some of my guilty pleasure reading, which includes a paranormal romance series that many people have similar abuse concerns with (Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark – a concern I don’t share for consent reasons that are absent in Twilight, and I can go into in another post if people are really all that curious).
Regardless, what adults read? Is what adults read.
My concern is largely about the message that tweens and teens take away from the Twilight series. Obviously the biggest issue I have is the domestic violence one; everything – EVERYTHING – Edward does shows up as a red flag in DV handouts (something Dr. NerdLove addresses well in his recent Twilight post). And as I mentioned on Twitter, I know of too many young girls who wonder why their boyfriend isn’t as jealously protective as Edward is, or who justify the stalking and abuse because that’s what love is like, just look at Edward and Bella.
I genuinely believe that any teen girl seen reading these books needs to have an adult intervene and make sure she doesn’t have screwy ideas about what a relationship is, because too many girls are grasping on to it – and to be fair, this is precisely what The Nerdy Bird wonders: why are young girls taking that wrong message?
And naturally, being an opinionated soul, I have ideas. 😉
I do think SMeyers got something very right with the book – she tapped into that feeling that I think the majority of teen girls have. That feeling of awkwardness as your body shifts and your gravity changes and you’re suddenly a klutz. The whole roil of hormones, the feeling like an outsider because of the hormones and sudden competition between female friends for the guys and seeing guys through that light of hormones and all the travails and trials that every single teen girl EVER goes through. Except, of course, the one teen girl you wanted to be like – the one with the perfect hair and clothes and everything else that you never were.
Well, in Twilight, that’s subverted – Bella ends up learning that she really is the perfect one that the pretty (vampire) girl wants to be because of her functional uterus and the worship of this perfect male god and on and on.
Which are all the reasons that adults like the books – the understanding and fond remembrance of being THAT girl (and thank god for growing out of it).
And Twilight isn’t the only series that has done this. I think we can probably look back at any time period and find That Series of Books that teen girls latched on to and loved, which probably had similar themes of the to-die-for (just not literally) older guy seeing the beauty and value and inherent goodness in the not-really-mousy girl who just needed to get contacts and change her hair. (It could be those of us from the late 80s and 90s had it in Brat Pack movies instead of books – in this I am not a good example, as I discovered Pride & Prejudice early, and then was busy reading fantasy and scifi novels in my teens, which whoa, want to talk about unhealthy relationships,…)
The difference with Twilight is that it’s the first time (as far as I know) the message has been combined with the ones that come along with the domestic violence flags.
Unfortunately, we know, from research, that the things we see on TV or read subconsciously influences us and tells us this is “right.” The most common example is the so-called CSI effect, but it’s also been tracked in medicine. (People who watch medical shows like ER or Chicago Hope or even Scrubs believe that CPR is much more effective than it is. When asked how they know, they just know that they “learned it somewhere”.) So we in effect have an awful lot of girls getting the idea that these abuse-y, red flag, drama and control and danger relationships are normal, if not ideal (“he’s so protective because he loves me”). There isn’t popular media out there countering the *bad* ideas in Twilight, or giving alternate models of romance for girls to form their ideas – and ideals – on. In fact, I would argue that popular media aimed at this demographic reinforces that ideal – a pretty big change from the ideas teen girls were exposed to in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Or at least, that’s my brief (and yet still too long) blog response on the idea.
(There are other issues I’ll beat on with Twilight, too, like that the only role a woman has is the one the male wants for her, and motherhood. [Some, for example, might want to frame Darcy and Elizabeth’s romance as bordering on an abusive situation, but Lizzy’s life doesnt’ revolve around Darcy – she has her family, her own life, her own dreams and desires that extend beyond marrying. In fact, to the point of accepting she won’t marry, because it’s so important to her to stay her own person.] And that’s not even touching on the really creepy “imprinting why is no one concerned about the pedophilia implications here?” But that’s deviating WAY further than I should – although give me an ounce of encouragement and I’ll go there, too.)