Unapologetic Twilight Love. (Ok, maybe a little apologetic.)

[Spoilers, yo.  Beware.]

A large chunk of the feminist blogosphere and press hates Twilight with a passion.* (Here’s lookin’ at you, Bitch and Feministing and Ms.)  So do a bunch of my awesome feminist friends.

I get it. I really do.

The romantic hero is a creepy stalker. Friend-boy is in a testosterone war with stalker-boyfriend over who should control the protagonist’s social life. There’s a subplot with a husband who cuts his wife’s face to shreds one day when he’s mad, but that’s OK, because he did it because he loves her so much. Yes.** There’s plenty to dislike, even before you get to the babies-eating-their-way-out-of-uteri bit, and the oh-how-wonderful-it-is-to-be-an-18-year-old-mom bit. And let’s not even start on the Native-Americans-who-are-so-close-to-nature-they-are-actually-part-critter bit.

I have eight years of all-women’s education under my belt.*** I have read every Bitch Magazine published in the last seven years from cover to cover, and sometimes I get mad because it’s not feminist enough. I hate the patriarchy. So these things alarm me.

As a template for a how young women should see the world, Twilight is lacking. ****

But here’s the thing. I love Twilight. I love it. And not because I think Robert Pattinson is hot. (Robert Pattinson, boys and girls, is scrawny and has weird eyes. Taylor Lautner, on the other hand, is smoking, smoking hot. H-O-T.*****But I’m getting distracted.) And not even because it’s about a series written by a woman with a female hero, which has turned into a huge economic phenomenon driven by women and girls, with a movie directed by a woman, although that helps.

I bought the Twilight from the used bookstore near my house one evening, thinking it might be good evening reading during the business trip I was taking the next day. I decided to read a chapter or two before bed. I went to bed about 2 am. After I finished the book.

I had to leave town at 10:15 the next day. The used bookstore opens at 10. I was waiting in the parking lot for them to unlock the door. I read New Moon and Eclipse in my room at the conference center between lectures and at night. I was at the conference for two days. I finished both books before I left.

Then I was mad. I was mad because I thought it was a trilogy, and, let me tell you, the end of Eclipse is pretty crappy, especially when you are on Team Jacob. (I have not bought the t-shirt. I know Team Jacob vs Team Edward is a cheap marketing trick used to sell shit made in sweatshops. I know I lose. I’m still on Team Jacob.)

Then I found out a fourth book was coming. Thank God. I bought Breaking Dawn in hardback. The first day it came out. I do not buy books in hardback unless they are by Barbara Kingsolver, but there I was, in the children’s section of my local independent bookstore, laying down $26.95 for a big book with a glossy chess piece on the front for no discernible reason.

I told my husband not to talk to me, and I read it in one afternoon. I may have actually yelled “Holy shit!” at one point. I know there were also some “I can’t believe she just did that,” and “Awesome”s in there. At one am, lying in a very lukewarm bath, I finished Breaking Dawn.

I recommend Twilight right and left, to everyone from my writing teacher to my boss to my husband. (He loved them, and only complained a little bit about all the time Bella spends going on about staring into Edward’s eyes. Reason #627 I am glad I married him.) I have gone to see both movies. I have not read the leaked Midnight Sun draft, but only because it’s online, so I can’t read it in the bath tub.

Here’s the thing: I don’t like books without strong female characters. A slow plot, OK. Cheesy prose, OK. Misogynist characterizations, very not OK at all. And by this measurement, I think Twilight actually comes out pretty well.

At the heart, this is a story about a girl who knows what she wants. What she wants is good sex and superpowers.

The men in her life keep telling her she can’t have these things, because those things won’t be good for her. They do all sorts of things “for her own good,” including leaving her for noble reasons, valiantly refraining from having sex with her or sucking her blood, then valiantly refraining from having rough sex with her (good married women only like vanilla sex?), and also kissing her without permission (Jacob, honey, I’m looking at you. Why you gotta be that way?).

All of these things end up being not so good for Bella. As a devoted hater of “I’m leaving you for your own good” romance plots, I found this delightful.

Bella is not too bad on her own, either. I would hang out with her if she were at my school. She’s smart as hell, sarcastic, and she drives a beat-up pick-up truck. She knows the square root of pi. She goes to independent bookstores. She Google-searches things in the middle of the night. She doesn’t want to get married. She says what she thinks. She doesn’t put up with bullshit, unless that bullshit might lead to good sex or superpowers.

A good friend of mine objected to this assessment, because, I quote, “She’s always cooking! And she’s unbelievably clumsy!” To which I could only respond by giving her a long hard look, because, frankly, I resemble that remark. Also, Bella rides motorcycles and goes cliff-diving. I think that makes up for a knack for making good lasagna and a tendency to trip over things. (Strong women sometimes trip over nonexistent things, people. We have bigger things on our mind than where our feet should go.) ******

Her parents are pretty alright too. Mom may be a bit flighty, but she doesn’t forget to talk about safe sex. Dad accepts his daughter’s nontraditional lifestyle, no questions asked. Get off their case, y’all. No one’s perfect.

Best of all, in the end, Bella gets what she wants. And guess what? Not only does she have great sex, and not only does she get superpowers, but she is also the most badass vampire in the history of badass vampires. She doesn’t get all crazy, she saves all the good guys, she defeats the bad guys, she saves the day, and she stops a big vampire war. How? By having a really fucking strong mind. The end.

If she wants to live happily-ever-after with her superpower-wielding daughter and her debatably-hot husband and have amazing sex augmented by her badass superpowers all day long, I say more power to her. If it were me, I might use those superpowers to advance world peace and overthrow the patriarchy, but these are romance novels, so I’ll cut Bella some slack.

One more reason I’m sticking with Twilight – I can’t wait to see how they make a romantic adventure movie out of a book where a baby eats her way out of Mommy’s tummy while Daddy bites Mommy all over and where the big finish involves an invisible telepathic battle.

Until the next movie comes out, I’ll be watching Buffy vs Edward over and over again.******* Because nothing is so awesome that a little feminist criticism can’t make it better.

I can’t wait for Buffy vs Bella. That will be worth watching.


*But some don’t. That makes this one of those opening blanket statements that my sophomore English teacher told me never to make. Sorry, Dr. East.

** Feel free to take a break here. I’ll wait till your nausea subsides. If it ever subsides.

*** Including four years of training in post-modern, feminist literary critique. Boo-yah.

**** Not to rock anyone’s world or anything, but teenage girls are not passive sponges that soak up pop culture. And sometimes, they read trashy shit. Or listen to it. Or watch it. Twilight is just another reason we need to teach cultural critique in middle school, ladies and gentlemen. Just another of many, many reasons.

*****Hot.

******Also, sometimes strong women fall in crazy stupid love, and their friends still respect them afterwards. Just sayin’.

*******And over again.

13 Comments

Filed under Books

13 responses to “Unapologetic Twilight Love. (Ok, maybe a little apologetic.)

  1. Well, now I want to go to Nice Price and buy Twilight.

    Taylor Lautner was super cute in that video clip, by the way. And hot! Holy crap, is that boy physically gifted!

  2. Sal

    You know, its the wierd eyebrows rather than the eyes that really put me of RobPat. Maybe because the overly shaggy thing reminds me of the former Australian Prime Minister so much. Or maybe because they’re just black and hairy and like two big furry caterpillars lurking above his eyes… uugh.

  3. Shannon

    lol, nice… makes me want to try to finish the last book, but I still have bones to pick with the story.

    I do like that she’s a woman that pursues what she wants, but at the same time keep in mind she wants “badass superpowers” so she can spend forever with her crazy emo boyfriend (who’s a bit too controlling for my taste, but he has beautiful eyes and marble skin and sparkles, so that makes it all okay…) =_= Not to mention her lack of caring for how her decisions will affect the other people in her life (e.g., her family) also irks me. True, she’s entitled to leave the nest when she deems ready, and that’s fine, I support that… but I would think that there would be at least a little inner turmoil, or at least more awareness in the consequences of making such a decision.

    But anyway, I’m still watching the movies in theaters, and want to finish the final book just for the sake of argument, so I haven’t exactly banished the twilight world either. ;)

  4. captain bananas

    it’s very important that you recognize how much you enjoy it. as a male, i read the first book in the series with a sort of perverse curiosity. to my surprise, i rather liked it too, except for the dancing at the end. i hate dancing.

    but this is serious knowledge, right? we know we liked it. we know it really wasn’t feminist-friendly. right? you do know that, right?

    in my very important opinion, the big thing to learn is that the patriarchy does not exist because evil people are evil. it exists because there are things about our gender roles that we REALLY like. there are some fantastic possibilities in a patriarchal society–for example, the glory of being a powerful man and protecting your Beautiful Flower, or bliss of being loved and protected by a man who is intensely attracted to you regardless of your behavior–possibilities that are so beautiful that we don’t want to give them up. i personally decided years ago that i did not want to live in a world without gender roles; they’re just too sexy.

    (to clarify, twilight wasn’t written with a sequel in mind. if we assume that it was a complete story, bella would engage in no butt-kicking. her scent would be described as “floral;” she would do little to attract edward other than smell good. sex with edward would certainly be worth pursuing, but bella would do no pursuing at all; she would only receive his advances.)

    • overbear

      Hmm…Let me take this point by point.

      1)Recognizing when I’m enjoying something isn’t so much important as inevitable.
      2)Rock on, men who read girl books.
      3) I think it’s more interesting and complicated than “feminist-friendly” and “not feminist-friendly.” There’s plenty of gender roles in the book, but there’s also a smart, determined woman who won’t take no for an answer. The book wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable for me if I thought Bella was a delicate flower. Ick. Delicate flowers do not drive stick. I really like the whole the-thing-that-you-say-makes-me-weak-makes-me-strong part, because of how it subverts the patriarchy in a very Hildegard von Bingen way.
      4) The patriarchy exists because good people get caught up in bad systems. Patriarchy is ugly and hurtful and not sexy at all. Weak and strong can both be sexy sometimes, but assigning genders to weak and strong just restricts us. Sexy should not be restricted, and it definitely should not be assigned.
      5) If we’re judging Twilight based on Stephanie Meyers’s original intention, we need to go a lot easier on her. Writing a romance novel, especially one starring vampires, usually does not require an author to try to set an Example for the Youth of America about what a perfect relationship is like. As an example of true love and the perfect man for millions of 12-year-old girls, it sucks. As a vampire romance, it’s amazing. Meyer didn’t start out to create an industry, just to write a good story. She did that.

      Once she realized how good, she wrote more, which let us all know more about how she imagined her characters. Some of that was disturbing as hell. Some of that kicked ass.

      (Maybe, like Bella, she should have used her powers for the greater good and written the world’s most exciting feminist novel. But that’s not what she was trying to do, and I have trouble trashing a woman writer for writing something that too many women liked. I simply gently suggest that she donate a huge amount of her profits to domestic abuse prevention programs, and then write a novel where slashing your wife across the face is not forgivable if you love her a lot.)

  5. Jen

    Love you! This was a great read. I’m a 40 yr. old Twilight lover. Not sure how unapologetic, I keep it under wraps mostly .

    Love your sum up of Bella as a girl who wants good sex and superpowers. Never thought of it quite that way, but it’s true.
    BTW, Robert Pattinson is [url=http://i581.photobucket.com/albums/ss259/RobsessedBLOG/New%20Moon/Trailer/OfficialNewMoonTrailerinHD945.jpg]not scrawny[/url] and his eyes are sexy, not weird.

    • overbear

      Thanks! I think I’ll have to admit defeat on one point – not scrawny. But still, not sexy. Still, to each her own. That leaves less people for me to have to push through on my way to see Taylor.

  6. Shivan

    In response to a “As a vampire romance, it’s amazing.” I would have to disagree. I find their romance very unnerving. Should I be in Bella’s position, I would not want to be followed around when going out with friends (first book, at the pier with friends for dinner). I would not want him sneaking into my room at night while I sleep. I would not want my truck dismantled so I can’t visit my bestfriend… Who I am not allowed to visit in the first place, thanks to super-stalker boyfriend. My idea of “vampire romance” is found in the Noble Dead Saga by Barb and JC Hendee, a series of vampire novels written by a husband and wife duo. If you want love triumphing over obstacles, read this series.

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