[Spoilers, yo. Beware.]
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.
** 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.
******Also, sometimes strong women fall in crazy stupid love, and their friends still respect them afterwards. Just sayin’.
*******And over again.