Twilight Poll: Anti-Feminism or Fanciful Fiction?

HawkgrrrlMormon 14 Comments

Because of the New Moon movie, Twilight is getting a lot of discussion in the media.  Since the author, Stephanie Meyer, is LDS, a few articles have even taken a swipe at Mormon values, expressing the opinion that the unenlightened choices of the female lead are typical for patriarchal, female-disempowering Mormons.  Read on, and then take a quick poll to share your opinions.

First, a few of the articles with their key points:

  • Entertainment Weekly‘s Owen Gleiberman asks and answers “Edward Cullen, stalker?  Yes, but so is the hero of the Graduate.” His point:  This is a novel about a vampire, so stalking is the least of his sins (he compares calling Edward Cullen a stalker to accusing Dracula of trespassing and sexual harassment).  He also lists many other films and books in which the male character could be accused of stalking (e.g. Say Anything, Pretty Woman).
  • Entertainment Weekly‘s Owen G. talking about “New Moon:  why its girl-driven success is good for the future of movies.”  His point:  most teen movies are geared toward males, so teen movies for females (even unenlightened, quivering female doormats) are a step in the right direction.  He also lauds the lack of consummation as (kind of, in a retro-way) empowering to the female audience.
  • Anita Singh of The Telegraph (a UK-based news source) reports:  “Twilight sequel New Moon is anti-feminist claims professor.”  The point:  New Moon is not only anti-feminist in its themes, but who could expect anything else from such a patriarchal backwards religion like Mormonism?  According to Prof. Sieber:  “This is a film full of gender stereotypes—testosterone-driven male aggression, females who pine away over lost loves, boys who fix motorcycles and the girls who watch them.”  As Anita Singh paraphrases Dr. Sieber:  “Bella’s choices are influenced by Meyer’s background as a member of “the highly patriarchal” Mormon church.”
  • Religion Dispatches bloggers Anthony Petro and Samira Mehta reveal the hidden Mormon theology of the Twilight Series in a post titled:  Big Vampire Love:  What’s so Mormon about Twilight? They include such Mormon parallels as:  sealing and eternal marriage, chastity, and family values.  The post does not beef about sexism or anti-feminism and treats the religious angle with curiosity and respect, not disdain.
  • Graeme McMillan of i09 wrote a post:  Official:  Twilight’s Bella & Edward Are In An Abusive Relationship.  This post shows that the relationship between the main characters in Twilight hits 15 of the markers of an abusive relationship according to the assessment questions from the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Lest I get too far ahead of myself, here’s a list of the anti-feminist traits people have identified in the books:

  • Bella is a typical “damsel-in-distress” waiting to be rescued and only comfortable when in the protection of a man.
  • Bella never drives – only the men drive in Twilight.  They literally are the ones responsible for Bella’s direction and movement.
  • Edward acts not only protectively, but crosses the line into stalker / predator territory. His controlling behavior is abusive.  (I suspect that abusive relationships are more the norm among those of previous generations, bloodsucking vampires, and fictional characters in general:  Edward hits the trifecta on this one.  No offense to Team Edward.)
  • Bella suffers from low self-esteem.  After a breakup, she literally wallows in the mud.  Perhaps critics would have appreciated a nice Aretha Franklin R-E-S-P-E-C-T moment coupled with some cutesy shadow-boxing (a la Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail).
  • Bella gets married straight out of high school, although the men in the books are all college educated.  One wonders what her fall back plan will be should Edward encounter Buffy the Vampire Slayer at some future date.  Slinging hash at the local diner?

Of course, many of the same criticisms (and more) could be leveled at The Little Mermaid (literally gives her voice away at age 16 to ensnare a man with her body language – wanting only to be a “part of YOUR world,” meaning Eric’s world, rather than making her own way) which we know was written by that uptight, patriarchal, right-wing, er, gay, show-tune writing duo:  Mencken and Ashe.

So, time to weigh in with a few poll questions!

[poll id=”86″] [poll id=”87″] [poll id=”88″]

Confession time:  I haven’t read the books or seen the films, so I’m just reporting what has been written in the media here.  Regardless, that picture (above) is hawt!

Comments 14

  1. At times I am in awe at how people will spin anything to their own agenda. When was it the job of academia to write about movies and what should happen in them? I know that this is setting precedence, thus the concern, but all the hub-bub will die down in the next year and we’ll be on to the next big thing.

    Since I consider myself a feminist, I’ll watch the movies again, with my critique of feminism in mind and let you know what I think. But I must admit, sometimes I feel people are just looking to try and raise the money grossed by a movie with a female heroine, rather than focusing on discussing the issues.

    Thanks Hawkgrrrl, now I have something new to ponder….as if finals weren’t enough.

  2. I HAD to see the movie with my daughter.

    I’d say you can see it as the critics do, since Bella is young and forgiving, but also as Entertainment Weekly does: it is just a movie aimed at mostly teenage girls or YSA.

    But then maybe Mormon women actually do see their boyfriends/husbands that way -as blood suckers 🙂

  3. Well, I read the Twilight books and enjoyed them so I am biased…

    Just a few corrections:

    First of all, Bella DOES drive in all four books. So to state that she _never_ drives is incorrect.

    Second of all, Bella is accepted into several colleges and Edward, the “stalker” encourages her to go to Dartmouth or wherever she would like to go. He does NOT want her to become a vampire (now this may seem vehement, but if you are going to criticize something, at least do it right). Secondly, Bella does ultimately end up going to college (after Breaking Dawn ends; it is implied). Also, getting married out of high school was not a choice she took lightly; the whole of Eclipse was spent contemplating and deciding that decision.

    Also, as for self-esteem for Bella. Edward, the guy who broke her heart, ends up wallowing in a pit that is even deeper than Bella’s despair; she could at least function, he just went off the deep end.

    Also, after Breaking Dawn and she is “transformed” into a vampire, she ends up saving the day. She takes on the biggest “ruling family” in the vampire world and outwits them and totally pwns them. In Breaking Dawn, there are several examples of Bella’s new strength and speed. I mean, as Stephenie Meyer said, she’s not anti-feminist, she’s anti-human.

    Just my take. 🙂

  4. I have only seen the first movie (can’t stand it) I’ve been forced to watch it about 12 times, My Wife gets some sense of justice out of it because I have made her watch Napoleon Dynamite about 34 times.

    I see Twilight as nothing more than an adolescent fantasy, I like superhero comics and as a kid imagined that I suddenly realised I had super powers, Girls possibly imagined they were swept up by prince charming.

    This isn’t all women, but enough to sell slushy romance novels by the truck load.

  5. Post

    anonymous – you make great points, so thanks for that. The articles claiming it is anti-feminist are really angry about it and don’t make the same concessions. I tend to think you are right, that the author didn’t want to discourage female empowerment, but she had a story to tell, and this is the way the story went.

    On the issue of an abusive relationship, it actually does sound like one – but what else are you going to do? He’s a vampire. She’s considering becoming one. How could that not be construed as abuse? It’s about life and death, literally. But I don’t think that means the author is advocating that teen girls enter abusive relationships with real boys. It’s a vampire book.

  6. I said no, the books/movie won’t reflect on the church but, mostly, because I doubt many people will know of Meyer’s affiliation or bother to reflect on a parallel. But, apart from that bottom line assessment, I think there is real sobering stuff about an institutionalized gender role to think about within the church culture.

  7. Ironically enough, in Eclipse, Jacob (the werewolf) mentions in jest, about abusive boyfriends and control. (At which point Bella tells him to bug off, but oh well…)

    Okay, here is something from her website, a FAQ page on Breaking Dawn. (Now, I have now clue how to do the quote thing where it has the nice gray bar indent, but oh well.)

    Is Bella an anti-feminist heroine?

    When I hear or read theories about Bella being an anti-feminist character, those theories are usually predicated on her choices. In the beginning, she chooses romantic love over everything else. Eventually, she chooses to marry at an early age and then chooses to keep an unexpected and dangerous baby. I never meant for her fictional choices to be a model for anyone else’s real life choices. She is a character in a story, nothing more or less. On top of that, this is not even realistic fiction, it’s a fantasy with vampires and werewolves, so no one could ever make her exact choices. Bella chooses things differently than how I would do it if I were in her shoes, because she is a very different type of person than I am. Also, she’s in a situation that none of us has ever been in, because she lives in a fantasy world. But do her choices make her a negative example of empowerment? For myself personally, I don’t think so.

    In my own opinion (key word), the foundation of feminism is this: being able to choose. The core of anti-feminism is, conversely, telling a woman she can’t do something solely because she’s a woman—taking any choice away from her specifically because of her gender. “You can’t be an astronaut, because you’re a woman. You can’t be president because you’re a woman. You can’t run a company because you’re a woman.” All of those oppressive “can’t”s.

    One of the weird things about modern feminism is that some feminists seem to be putting their own limits on women’s choices. That feels backward to me. It’s as if you can’t choose a family on your own terms and still be considered a strong woman. How is that empowering? Are there rules about if, when, and how we love or marry and if, when, and how we have kids? Are there jobs we can and can’t have in order to be a “real” feminist? To me, those limitations seem anti-feminist in basic principle.

    Do I think eighteen is a good age at which to get married? Personally—as in, for the person I was at eighteen—no. However, Bella is constrained by fantastic circumstances that I never had to deal with. The person she loves is physically seventeen, and he’s not going to change. If she and he are going to be on a healthy relationship footing, she can’t age too far beyond him. Also, marriage is really an insignificant commitment compared to giving up your mortality, so it’s funny to me that some people are hung up on one and not the other. Is eighteen too young to give up your mortality? For me, any age is too young for that. For Bella, it was what she really wanted for her life, and it wasn’t a phase she was going to grow out of. So I don’t have issues with her choice. She’s a strong person who goes after what she wants with persistence and determination.

    Just food for thought…

  8. I have teenage daughters, so, almost by default, I have seen the movies and read the books. Some people really need to step back and read without their pre-existing assumptions clouding their judgment.

    I’m not going to go into a point-by-point refutation, but the whole idea that Bella is a powerless damsel in distress is ludicrous. The movies are like ALL movies that are limited by time in their ability to portray everything that occurs in a book that is too long to be shown in its entirety without those time constraints – so, of course, one story line receives focus and MUCH in the book gets left on the cutting room floor. Since the VAST majority of critiques are written by people who, at most, only have seen the movies, they simply don’t relate accurately to the books.

    Are these books personal favorites of mine? Absolutely not. Are they anti-feminist? I’ll just say it certainly is no more so than “Sex in the City”, imo – which is a fascinating counter-example of trash that often gets classified as pro-feminist.

  9. I have read the first 3 books and watched the first movie. I did think there was some anti-feminist nature but that was not really what bothered me. What really bothered me was that is was written for teenagers and mostly girls read it. I thought that it was just another book that captured an inaccurate portrayal of love. Bella will do absolutely anything to be with Edward and is very, very attached to him. Then Edward totally stalks her and follows her everywhere (usually without her knowledge) so he can protect her. In the real world that relationship would be scary.

  10. I don’t believe Meyer wrote the books with the intent of appealing to anything but emotions. So I can’t say that it’s anti-feminist. Feminism seems to be much more intellectual (or at least a combination of emotion and intellect with a much stronger intellect element), and I’m hard-pressed to find much in the books or the movies that are not primarily emotional. I kind of laugh inside when people try to analyze books like the Twilight series. I can’t see any creative purpose more than emotional entertainment in them.

    Besides, Bella has plenty of freedom to choose (I mean, that Mike Newton guy seems nice enough ;)), but she doesn’t have a whole lot in the way of self-control. After all, her character does seem to stem from the moody, hormone-battered, inconsistent teenager archetype.

  11. Bella “chooses to keep an unexpected and dangerous baby”

    My Wife has read all the books, and after reading this post I decided to discus the themes with her more.

    MrsQandA told me of Bella’s choice to keep the baby that might kill her, whether this is an anti-feminist ideal or not, I was disgusted, the natural altruistic tendencies of mothers mixed with a “God will protect me” attitude.

    This Altruistic Idealistic theme perpetuated in the Twilight series really pushes my buttons, do writers have a social responsibility to there readers? (I’m not sure)

    I’m of a pro-choice stance, but if my sweethearts life is at risk, there is no choice to be made (As the patriarch in the home, I’ve told her that 😉

  12. OK, Feminist/Anti-Feminist, not sure. However, my following response might be more revealing as to which side I fall on.

    I label Twilight as “Chick Porn” and, become pretty irate when I hear people claim it is so wonderful because Edward and Bella abstain from sex before marriage. While I agree this is wonderful what about all the other things that Edward and Bella do that would make me as a father of a teenage girl come apart at the seems?

    Why is it chick porn? One of the major issues with young men and pornography is that it creates in them a false idea of what women and sex are about. I believe Twilight creates similar misconceptions in our young women about men. “It is only fiction”, is the normal response, heh, guess what? So is porn. What false ideas does Twilight give to our ever so impressionable daughters? Consider the following:

    1. Men have the ability to cuddle night after night in a woman’s room without ever doing anything about it for well over a year. While there me be a single exception to this rule most of our daughters will not meet a teenager like this

    2. Edward is the most romantic person in the world. Now I recognize that there are some pretty romantic guys out there this is another exception to most rules, especially when you are talking about teenagers.

    Possibly other parallels that can be drawn here but, here are some other things (not necessarily about men) that twilight teaches our daughters are OK.

    1. Lying to your parents is OK as long as it is for some super hot guy. Or lying to your friends, teachers, etc. There is so much lying that goes into what Bella does and she gets a free pass on all that because she is not having sex. Huh? I mean really?

    2. All the other vampires are living together and there is no indication that any of them are married (except possibly Esme and whatever the head honchos name is) but, again it is OK since Bella and Edward are not having sex.

    3. Totally disintegrating because a boy has left you is alright because, he will come back some time and make everything bright and peachy.

    Who knows what else, I forgot to mention that I have read all four books, I have seen twilight and will someday be forced to watch New Moon (still holding out). I found twilight amusing in places but, think that it was more of an unintentional comedy thing going on.

    My daughter would read these books over and over again if I allowed it. While good for a single read I am not sure that I would want any of my children to be that obsessed about any piece of literature.

    Also, if any husband was a completely gaga over any fictional character as I have seen some women get there would be some serious hell to pay. I think the adoration of the whole team Jacob/Edward thing is a bit disturbing coming from any adults.

    Just my two cents.

  13. Post

    RobertM – I’m not sure if I would go quite so far as to say “Chick Porn,” but there are some valid points. I’m not sure teen girls take this stuff literally. I do think most teen girls who think there are romantic Edward Cullen boys out there just waiting for endless non-sexual cuddling will probably shun the boys who don’t meet their impossible standard rather than getting into trouble over it – that’s just my opinion as a former teenage girl.

    On your other points about lessons the book teaches:
    1 – teens are liars. I don’t know whether the book says it’s OK or not, but teens lie all the time and there are usually no consequences. I think it would unfair to expect the author to dole out punishments for lying or to make her teen character be 100% honest. It’s not a morality play.
    2 – I’m not sure I have a major issue with chaste cohabitation. I agree it’s impractical, but it’s probably better than the book glorifying hook ups.
    3 – OK, this one I don’t like at all as a woman – girls should not wallow over some boy. However, from the descriptions, I do think their relationship is not very healthy, but I’m not sure you can have a healthy relationship with a vampire. If Bella had a healthier self-esteem, maybe she wouldn’t be a good candidate for becoming a vampire. Isn’t depression required?

  14. Its me again!

    As someone who just spent a few hours researching Twilight, in an interview, Stephenie Meyer stated that all the vampires have been married. So they aren’t breaking the law of chastity (at this current point in time; I can’t vouch for what they did before the wedding.)

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