The top-selling book in 2008 according to USA Today was Stephenie Meyer‘s Twilight. She also took out the next three slots with books from her series on what happens when vampires try not to drink human blood.
Now, most pop-culture phenomenas pass me by in my wee Luddite world, but I decided I give Twilight a flick through. I love sci-fi, I love fantasy, I love exploring how to make ethical decisions in new and interesting ways.
I don’t like repackaging traditional sexist ideas and making them palatable for new waves of young people.
For those of you who have somehow missed the Twilight maximum product coverage phenomena, the story goes a little something like this.
Bella is a young, smart, shy woman who moves to a rainy town in the US to live with her dad. She’s too sensitive to enjoy the petty rivalries and hierarchical fighting in small town USA high school, and we hear lots of her take on her new world.
Enter stage left, Edward. He’s smart, articulate, beautiful and strong. Oh, and a vampire.
They fall in love, despite/because he is more attracted to her blood than any other.
Cue Bella’s descent to page after page of longing and solely writing about how wonderful Edward is and how much she wants to see him, midst various adventures.
Their relationship, as they tend to, becomes physical:
I moved even more slowly than he had, careful not to make one unexpected move. I caressed his cheek, delicately stroked his eyelid, the purple shadow in the hollow under his eye. I traced the shape of his perfect nose, and then, so carefully, his flawless lips. His lips parted under my hand, and I could feel his cool breath on his fingertips. I wanted to lean in, to inhale the scent of him. So I dropped my hand and leaned away, not wanting to push him too far.
Some of this stuff is delicious. Who cannot remember those feelings of first touch with someone you desire, and have desired for a while?
But holding off your own – if you are a girl – because you might “push him too far”? What Victorian planet are we on?
Page after page after page is littered with this. Will Edward be able to stay “in control”? Does Bella even want him too? Can Bella stop the taunting her sexy bloodied presence causes?
Yawn. Yawn. Yawn. I am so over this. I am so over the idea that men have uncontrollable sexual urges and that we women have to gatekeep them. And repackaged in sexy new vampireness or not, this is tired old crap.
Just in case we’ve missed the woman-as-temptress overtone, the cover of the book helpfully draws on another misogynist story to remind us. A girl with an apple. Right.
There are other irritations too. Bella descending into having a head with nothing in it but Edward. His overbearing “protection” of her – including insisting driving her everywhere despite her owning and driving her own car for the first part of the book, seemingly without her ovaries getting in the way.
And then that beautiful thing. Bella being able to talk to other people:
“Hello Tyler, this is Edward Cullen.” His voice was very friendly, on the surface. I knew it well enough to catch the soft edge of menace.
“I’m sorry if there’s been some kind of miscommunication, but Bella is unavailable tonight.” Edward’s tone changed, and the threat in his voice was suddenly more evident as he continued. “To be perfectly honest, she’ll be unavailable every night, as far as anyone besides myself is concerned. No offence.”
So the perfect romantic hero is one who threatens away other people on behalf of his delicate flower woman. Because she is his.
Staying away from pop culture sounds better and better. Bring back Nancy Drew I say. If you have a young woman in your life, talk to her about this nonsense.
And remind her she has every right to both desire and autonomy.