Twilight saps girls' agency
I recently swallowed my pride and sanity and watched the first three Twilight movies. My sister, 14, and my mother, 50, have always told me I should and that I'd probably like them. My response has almost always been explosive. I quickly found myself validated tenfold.
It was easy to overlook the horrific acting, directing and writing — such as, "She broke her hand. Punching my face," or "I knew three things for certain. One: Edward was a vampire. Two: I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him"— but something left me incredibly ill at ease. This series has been popular for years, each book selling hundreds of millions of copies and grossing $400 million a year at the box office. Maybe it was those numbers that scared me the most. Or maybe it was that my little sister recently divulged to the family that she's looking for her own "Edward."
I get it. I get the appeal of the fairy tale narrative. I get the whole bad boy but good at heart thing. The whole old-school, sex-must-wait mentality — albeit only waiting until Bella graduates high school and they're married, at 18 and 108 respectively. But what I don't understand is why women adore this series and exalt in their daughters' obsessions when it absolutely undermines any sense of female agency.
The Twilight Saga essentially highlights the story of a girl who begins in a sad situation — the classic divorced parents, moving to a small town, not knowing anyone — and isn't truly happy until she finds her male counterpart. From there it quickly degenerates into a story of her preparations to compromise in whatever way necessary to keep her relationship with this man. This includes, but is not limited to, sacrificing soul, life and asking Edward to change her to a vampire so they can be eternally in love. These are the issues I take simply with the framework of the narrative: A narrative that centers around the helpless female and her need to compromise with whatever demands her bad, stronger, more dangerously handsome counterpart imposes.
To specify, I've heard the arguments made that Edward is a moral good, that Bella is in fact choosing who she wants to be with and that her rejection of Jacob is in fact a show of — as Bella herself once says — strong, independent womanhood. To take them one by one: No. Edward is not a moral good. A man who breaks into a woman's bedroom to watch her sleep or follows her through city streets just in case she needs to be helped — because, let's face it, all women in author Stephenie Meyer's world need saving — should by no means be representative of moral goodness. That is, unless we want to teach young girls there's a certain charm to perverted breaking and entering or that, yes, you will always need that pepper spray in public. Furthermore, the assertion that there's agency in Bella's choice between Jacob and Edward is absurd. Jacob only has to say about three times that Bella loves him and "won't admit it to herself" before she finally asks him to kiss her. Thus, she never truly rejects him. She also never truly chooses to marry Edward, as I get a feeling that it's not so much that she wants to marry him but that when he leaves in the second film she nearly kills herself three times which, I think, would preclude any agency or choice in the matter.
It's as if she never consented to this narrative but is just sitting back, looking pretty and letting it happen to her because, let's face it, it is so darn romantic.
These films and books leave the young girls obsessed with them in a precarious position. The reiteration of the fairy tale ethos is a dangerous one to allow slip through the cracks under the guise of a good, morally sensible narrative. It is counter not only to a modern sense of feminism, telling viewers that Bella will only be happy she compromises her soul for Edward, but a classical sense as well, where this compromise can't even happen on her terms. She is given no empowerment — save for when she punches Jacob, but ends up only breaking her hand, and thus, needs male help. She doesn't have freedom to choose. Even her attempt to turn into a vampire is done on Edward's terms. So, while in Meyer's world it might be OK for 16-year-old girls to sit back and wait for an Edward to tell them when they should marry, when they should have sex and when they should become vampires, I'd rather see my little sister decide these things on her own.
Patrick Danner is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in English and minoring in Italian. His column, "Stoop Musings," runs on alternate Fridays.