I graduated! life update + an essay on feminism

Hey pals! Long time no see. Or speak. Or blog. Whatever.

Basically, I’ve been busy #doinguni, doing internships, working and graduating and I have FINALLY GRADUATED (well, got my degree classification. Graduation is in July). I got a 2:1 in English Lit & Creative Writing from Royal Holloway. (Side note if you’re reading this and want to hire me, you totes can, email me, find me on LinkedIn, whatever, I just would really really like a job asap. ty!)

Anyway I thought I would post some of my uni efforts on here. I used to have a Tumblr dedicated to poetry and academic writing but it seemed a bit lame so I deleted it. I wanted to post something I worked on for third year but didn’t know where, but as I haven’t posted for so long, why not on here? It’s an essay about The Twilight Saga, and feminism. So it’s not TOTALLY boring.

Please keep reading if you’d like to read nearly 8k words of me ripping into Stephenie Meyer!

If reading isn’t your thing, you could always head over to my youtube channel?

If you’re still an avid reader of thing blog, I promise to do more now I have more free time. And if you enjoy reading longer/more academic pieces like the one below, let me know, I have a whole bunch of stuff I could post that’s similar.

Amelia xx

There are a few trigger warnings I’d like to make you aware of if you do decide to read on. There is mention of rape, suicide, abuse, sexual abuse, paedophilia and racism in the text. Please be aware, and also be aware I do not condone any of the things mentioned. For example, to make a point about a racism in the novels, I had to mention a racist slur. If you are fine with reading those things, read on! But if you think mention of those things might upset you, don’t read it. Thanks ❤

Essay starting in 3..2…1…

Taking Stephanie Meyer’s The Twilight Series, consider it with a feminist reading

Or: Twilight: The White Feminist Handbook

[NB: As this essay is a study into a modern, Young Adult series, it is to be expected that most of the information about it is online. In this case, some of the most reputable sources about the material is found on young adult blogs, and ‘fandom’ pages. Whilst usually these may not be the correct type of places to gain academic information, due to the nature of the novels, some of the sources I found may sound dubious, but are the best sources of information, both fact and opinion.]

It is with a bitter taste in my mouth that I call a series of novels, written by a female author, in which the female protagonist is made to be pregnant aged 17, married, with no goals or aspirations, and relying on her wealthy husband for support, a ‘feminist’ series. The Twilight Saga, like most Young Adult literature novels, is a bildungsroman. The saga begins with a ‘plain Jane’, growing up, and exploring romantic relationships, like the beginning of many generic YA novels. However, it ends in her transforming into a vampire, marrying into a family of the undead and having a hybrid baby that nearly kills her. On a surface level, the story is about a woman making many of her own choices and having power within her relationships; arguably the root of all feminism. When the surface is scratched, however, the feminism addressed within the saga is self-serving, basic, and often problematic.

To consider Twilight for a feminist reading, we first need to establish what tenets of feminism we are going to use as a framework. Feminism is a broad-ranging movement with different ideologies, and we need to choose which one is most appropriate in this instance. In this reading, we are going to lean towards intersectional feminism (i.e. an inclusive feminism that considers the needs of identities from different racial, religious, gender, age and sexual orientation backgrounds. I suppose we could quote the intersect of species – human, werewolf, vampire – too, if we really wanted to). We are going to lean away from Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism (TERF), as that erases the identity of Jacob when he transforms from a human to a werewolf. Tokenism and race is an issue in Twilight, both in the books and the films, so we are also going to avoid so-called ‘white feminism’ (‘a form of feminism that focus on the struggles of well-off white women while failing to address the distinct forms of oppression faced by women of colour and women lacking other privileges’) too[1]. Essentially, here, if any of the ‘feminism’ served in the novel is problematic (a critical term used in the feminist movement to describe things that do not fit with feminist ideals), it will not be classed as feminism for this essay. Other feminist considerations that will be explored include Bella’s reproductive rights, the possibility of domestic violence between the couple, Bella’s age of consent, and her and her child’s protection from rape, the assignment of traditional gender roles in a human/vampire relationship, Bella’s lack of access to education and right to work, and the role of capitalism, and how it functions against feminist ideals.

Putting aside any personal opinions about the saga, the cultural, social and economic power of Twilight cannot be ignored. This wider audience, whether she intended it or not, means Meyer also has a certain responsibility of care. By creating characters aged 17, Meyer knew her audience would be of similar – and similarly suggestible – ages. These facts (and the size of the audience that they apply to) are undeniable: every single film in the saga has made history, with New Moon and Eclipse being the biggest US movie opening nights of all time, and with the Twilight soundtrack being the best-selling theatrical soundtrack since Chicago[2]. The cultural impact of Twilight has been exorbitant – even if you haven’t seen the films, you recognise the characters from memes, even if you haven’t read the books you know the storyline from articles. And, arguably, a top 20 bestselling series written by a woman, about a woman, with an 80% female audience is a great step forward for female representation within the industry. But once Meyer realised her extreme influence, she was also, to an extent, duty bound to provide a level of care for her very young audience. Meyer had the space to do something revolutionary, and didn’t. As previously mentioned, The Twilight Saga fits many YA tropes – a misfit (yet, straight white girl upholding traditional standards of beauty) must decide between two ‘hot guys’ battling for her love, Bella is ‘the chosen one’, and, of course, the love triangle between Bella, Edward and Jacob. But those old reliant tropes work against the series as a modern piece of work, too: The Twilight Saga lacks diversity, another factor that ties it to YA clichés; there are no LGBTQ+ characters in the series, and the only people of colour are problematically depicted. The only disabled character is Jacob’s father, and – due to his status as a native American, and the contradiction with the vampires’ super strengths – this disability seems to be presented as another argument for the superiority of the healthy, wealthy whites. In fact, diversity is so lacking in the saga that Meyer went down the ‘Rowling’ route[3] and made up a gay backstory for one of her characters. She was quoted as saying, “We made up a backstory: He was a deputy policeman, and our marriage was on the rocks because he was in love with [Bella’s father] Charlie”[4]. Even if you believe post-production titbits are enough to represent the entire gay community, the character in question wasn’t even a cannon character in the saga: he was the producer. Meyer and the producer Wyack Godfrey made a cameo in the Breaking Dawn film, sitting as extras at Edward and Bella’s wedding. This ‘gay backstory’ was not only added post-publishing, nor was it about a main character: it was about a character that does not even exist in the novel series, and has no on-screen lines. Meyer’s representation of minority communities throughout The Twilight Saga is so poor her attempt to fill a ‘diversity quota’ of sorts even fell flat: a silent non-cannon on-screen character with no overt gay storyline does not represent the LGBT+ community.

This lack of representation could be due to Meyer’s Mormon faith (‘The Mormon Church is firm on its position condemning homosexuality as sinful behaviour’), which makes the sudden addition of a gay backstory feel even more insulting[5]. Diversity in popular culture, and lack of, is a feminist issue. A popular feminist slogan is ‘the personal is political’ something extremely relevant to LGBTQ+ groups, as their ‘private’ rights (such as gay sex and gay marriage) are often dealt with differently by law than their straight counterparts. Mainstream feminism is usually LGBTQ+ inclusionary, which is made clearer by the outliers. For example, TERFS (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists) only make up a tiny subset of ‘feminism’ against trans people and the LGBTQ+ community. Most feminists will argue that TERFS have no place in feminism; essentially, if your feminism isn’t inclusionary and intersectional, it’s meaningless. By lacking representation of minority groups, and then by recklessly ‘adding one in’ later, Meyer mocks the diversity feminists work for, and shows a complete lack of self-awareness in her desire to fit her novel’s ideals ‘in with the trends’ at a later stage.

Another factor proving Meyer’s negligence to her young, impressionable audience are the tell-tale signs of abuse in the Bella/Edward relationship. No matter how romantic, charming, or good looking Edward may be, there are clear warning signs of him being an abuser. Edward is, technically, hundreds of years old, whereas Bella is just 17. At the beginning of their whirlwind romance, Edward enters Bella’s bedroom when she is sleeping to ‘watch’ her (‘“You spied on me?” “Of course, what else is there to do at night?’’), but no sexual acts take place because to Edward, sex comes after marriage[6]. This could be a noble stance to take, but it also means he impregnates Bella the first time they have sex, when she is just shy of 18 years old. The fact Bella must convert to being a vampire to remain alive during her pregnancy, and the fact transitioning means you remain the age of transitioning forever, leads to Bella remaining 17; and the ‘old man’ gets to keep the underage girl he lusts after for eternity. Aside from the implicit necrophilia and paedophilia at work here, the more common signs of abuse are also well documented. Amongst the many signs, an example of mistreatment is Edward’s almost predatory stance over Bella. Edward preys on her due to her lack of self-confidence and often singles her out for it, a common tactic of abusers. Wind Goodfriend says ‘When Edward shows interest in her, Bella’s low self-esteem puts him in a position of power over her; he can treat her however he’d like, because she perceives that he’s out of her league’[7]. He also threatens to commit suicide without her, saying he will go to Italy and attempt to be killed by other vampires if she leaves him (‘“I can’t live in a world where you don’t exist”’)[8]. Furthermore, Edward controls Bella’s actions, acts possessively, makes decisions for her, threatens to kill her, leaves her bruised and bloodied, and abandons her in an empty forest. Possibly the most famous line from the saga (judging by the way it was pasted all over Twilight merchandise) is Edward describing his feelings for Bella, ‘“And so the lion fell in love with the lamb. What a stupid lamb, and what a sick, masochistic lion”’[9]. From this sentence alone we get a feel for the power play at work in the relationship; the ways in which the union is unhealthy are numerous. This highly romanticised, but undoubtedly problematic and violent relationship could be harmful for younger female audiences. It is dangerous to a young audience to present this relationship as idealised when it exhibits so many signs of abuse. Bella and Edward’s relationship is a clear template for abuse, with Bella being the victim. Due to the huge cultural impact of the saga, impressionable readers and viewers may shape their own relationships on this basis, and romanticise symptoms of abuse. The most basic definition of feminism is ‘equality for the sexes’, and in a story where the female protagonist is a victim (and in a way that makes it easy for viewers to themselves become abuse victims), it is hard to call the series ‘feminist’ in any way.

     The Twilight Saga, however, does put a female spin on classic vampire folklore. At the heart of the story is the protagonist, Bella Swan, a plain, 17-year-old tomboy. Although for the first three books Bella is human, she too becomes a vampire in Breaking Dawn. During Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse, although it is a vampire saga revolving around Edward and the Cullens, Bella is the main character, and drives most of the action. When she becomes a vampire, she flips the traditional vampire gender tropes on their head two ways: one, she is a female vampire protagonist, and two, she is a female vampire without being overtly sexual. Arguably, the most famous vampire is Bram Stoker’s original Dracula, with many other more modern vampire tales also centring around men; like True Blood, The Vampire Diaries and The Lost Boys. In popular culture, films and TV, when a woman is the vampire, or the vampire story is about a woman, the woman in question is either hyper-sexualised or painted as a nymph who acts as support for the male vampire lead. Bella’s vampire character subverts this, as well as bucking the sexualised vampire trend: traditionally, the vivid imagery of the blood, and the intimacy of it being ‘sucked’ from another human, often leads to female vampires wearing skimpy outfits, such as the character of Santanico Pandemonium in the 1996 movie From Dusk Till Dawn. Santanico is a snake charming vampire, who happens to exclusively wear underwear in place of clothes. Of course, there is nothing wrong with female sexual agency, but it seems coincidental most male vampires are fearsome creatures, whilst the female ones are merely written to seduce men, usually by male authors. This is where Bella Swan comes in, the half-way house for the female vampire narrative. She is, literally, both human and vampire across the series. But aside from this, she is shy and boyishly dressed, but still has a sex appeal that Edward can’t seem to ignore. The fact Bella manages to gain (and keep up for four books) the attention of two possible suitors shows her as a sexual being in control of her relationships, without her becoming the object of the male gaze. Both men want her, but it genuinely does appear to be for her brain and personality, rather than her body. Although Bella does become sexually active when she is a vampire, she is always the instigator of the situation (‘“So you seduced your all too willing husband’”[10]). By flipping the classic vampire tropes to make the protagonist female, and then additionally under-sexualising her, Meyer helps to create a new, previously unseen genre of female vampire.

Additionally, in contrast to Bella’s under-sexed role, Meyer makes the men directly the opposite: highly sexualised. This flips the classic, aforementioned ‘male gaze’ into a female one – Edward and Jacob are often pictured in various states of undress, and their physical features are heavily described, ‘emphasizing how muscular his chest was’[11]. The ‘female gaze’ was coined in response to Laura Mulvey’s film term, ‘the male gaze’, and encompasses camera angles and narrative choices that show men in a sexual way. “The Female Gaze is a gaze trope about the way a work is presented as from a female perspective or reflects female attitudes, either because of the creator’s gender or because it is deliberately aimed at a female audience”[12]. The sexual objectification of men in place of sexual objectification of women may not sound like ‘equality for all sexes’, but the unusualness of a man being sexualised highlights the misogynistic narratives too often given to women, and contributes to Twilight’s feminist credentials.

Although the classic sexual objectification of women is subverted to an extent, The Twilight Saga still upholds some outdated, misogynistic attitudes towards sex and female sexuality. This could be down to Meyer’s personal Mormon faith – when we read a novel, we usually try to separate the story from the author, but when the novel reads like a manifesto, sometimes it’s hard to ignore the author’s intentions and personal life. Cora Buhlert makes the case that whilst Meyer’s religion is often written about, to the reader, it’s irrelevant. “The actual audience of the books couldn’t care less about Stephenie Meyer’s beliefs and how they are reflected in the books”[13]. Stephenie Meyer is heralded as being ‘The Mormon Anne Rice’, and has admitted that ‘unconsciously’ she ‘puts a lot of her own beliefs in her books’[14], and most frequently this manifests itself in Bella and Edward’s attitude towards marriage and sex. The Mormon faith has a strict attitude towards sex, and teach its members the ‘law of chastity’, something that bans any kind of sexual activity before marriage, as well as ‘impure thoughts’, pornography and any type of homosexuality. Even oral sex within marriage is banned, as it is ‘a perversion of this sacred God-given gift of procreation’, according to Harold B. Lee, the eleventh president of The Church of the Latter-Day Saints[15]. With such hyper-conservative views around sex, it is no wonder Meyer dreamed up this story of teenage romance, complete with two continuously half-naked hunks. It is, however, more surprising that in a story that hints so heavily at Meyer using fantasy as an escape from her religion’s own repression, Bella and Edward wait until marriage to have sex; just like the Mormon faith says you must. However, once the couple are married, (in comparison to the lack of sex in the rest of the novels), Bella and Edward constantly have sex. They have sex four times after their honeymoon, many times after Bella’s transformation, and once more in ‘panic mode’ when they worry about the Volturi in Breaking Dawn. The thing that is so vivid about their sexual habits is how their ‘superhuman’ strength affects the couple’s sex life; they frequently break furniture and rip down walls in the process. These descriptions are all very comical. In reality we know that – no matter how carried away you may get – it is unlikely your sexual exploits would break a house in half. But the way they are described seems to be in a very imagined style, as if Meyer was writing them from a virginal perspective. We can safely assume with a young target audience, that many of Meyer’s readers will also be virgins, or sexually inexperienced. The emphasis placed on the importance of sex feels unnatural, and this is highlighted in the fact that Edward is reluctant to have sex with Bella until she has transformed, in case he ‘hurts her’. This fear of being ‘hurt’ could be misinterpreted as a metaphor for a teenager’s normal fears of losing their virginity, but the emphasis placed on how important sex is to the couple feels more damaging to a young audience, rather than being a representation of ordinary worries. Sex is, and should be, natural. It is a natural part of growing up, and the fact Bella is only allowed to access this part of herself when she marries Edward seems very backwards to the modern viewer. Also, although the descriptions of the actual sex are grandiose and unlikely, the couple only engage in sexual intercourse a maximum of five times before Bella falls pregnant. This further plays into Meyer’s own Mormon beliefs about the ‘use’ of sex, and how it is purely for procreation. The representation of sex in The Twilight Saga could therefore either go one of two ways for a young, impressionable audience. The emphasis on the importance of sex, and the underlying sexual tension throughout the novels, could pressure a younger audience into having sex before they are ready, as Bella is 17 when she becomes pregnant and married. On the other hand, the fact sex and marriage are so heavily equated could pressure an impressionable reader into repressing themselves, due to the intense ‘shame’ that seems to accompany pre-marital sex in the novel. Either way, the pressure upon sex itself, and more specifically the pressure upon inter-marital sex, is unnatural and does not promote the healthy attitude towards sex that feminists encourage.

From one extreme of unhealthy attitudes towards sex to another, The Twilight Saga actually served as the basis of E.L James’ 50 Shades of Grey series. 50 Shades was originally Twilight fanfiction, that is, ‘when someone takes either the story or characters (or both) of a certain piece of work, and creates their own story based on it’[16]. 50 Shades is a series for a mature audience, featuring a BDSM sub/dom relationship, with most pages documenting explicit sex acts, such the male protagonist removing the female protagonist’s tampon with his mouth to engage in ‘kinky’ sex with her. This moment is not a ‘one off’, the series is full of pornographic scenes. This is contrasted to the verbal sexual tension, and lack of sexual imagery, in the Twilight series. However, the damaging gender roles set out in The Twilight Saga seem to transfer to 50 Shades; the power imbalances within the couples in both series are very similar. In 50 Shades, Anastasia Steele is the submissive in a BDSM dominant/submissive relationship with the wealthy Christian Grey. In a set of guidelines set out by Grey, she is ‘kept’, and everything she desires is paid for – as long as she remains loyal to the full list of rules and regulations he has made for her – even down to the amount she eats, showers and works out. In Twilight, Bella does not have a strict set of guidelines set to live by, but the storylines tie up due to the fact both series are based on sexual tension for multiple books, and culminate in motherhood and housewifery for the female protagonists. At the beginning of the novels, both women seem to have career paths – Anastasia is a journalist, and Bella is in school – but these paths fall by the wayside when they meet their respective future-husbands. Edward Cullen’s adoptive father is a doctor, and has multiple degrees due to his vampire immortality. However, Bella’s education is swept under a rug, she ends her schooling to become a mother, much like how Anastasia’s career isn’t mentioned after a few pages in. When taking into consideration both novels are written by women, the lack of education or career prospects offered to both female protagonists is bleak. It seems there is an assumption placed on both women, that, due to their partners’ wealth, that they must be complicit housewives raising children if they want to be ‘kept’ in the lifestyle they have grown accustomed to. The mother narrative foisted upon the women by the authors are that of classic romance novels, there’s nothing revolutionary about the ‘choices’ given to the women. The space was open to explore a modern, feminist vision of motherhood, with childcare, and sex, being a facet of a female life. Bella could have had a career, or aspirations to have one at least. But instead, Meyer burdened Bella with an aspiration-less life of motherhood and wifehood at 17 – and an infinite life at that.

Of course, a woman desiring marriage and a more ‘traditional’ lifestyle is nothing to be ashamed of, and it does in no way constitute the woman in question as ‘anti-feminist’. Feminism is more about having a choice, rather than one’s own direct action. Not every feminist has to be a high-powered CEO, and it is in fact possibly more problematic to suggest that a ‘true’ feminist should remain unmarried and childless against their own will to uphold certain ideals of feminism. However, when so many novels feature women marrying and having babies, it diminishes their talents in other areas, and suggests this is all women are meant for. So whilst Bella taking a more traditional route is nothing revolutionary, as long as she chose it is what matters when looking at the novel with a feminist perspective.

One (albeit, very cynical) way the Bella/Edward relationship can be read is as a metaphor for white supremacy. Throughout the novel, whiteness is equated with civility and beauty. The Cullens are remarkably beautiful, in a genetically superior way, rather than in just a ‘well-groomed’ sense. Not only are the Cullens beautiful, ‘They were faces you never expected to see except perhaps on the airbrushed pages of a fashion magazine’[17], they’re also extremely wealthy (‘The house was timeless, graceful, and probably a hundred years old’)[18]. The emphasis on their pale skin may play in to classic vampire tropes, but their beauty and wealth does not. By equating all three, the Cullens seem to be a model family for the Aryan race. The ‘good vs evil’ connotations of the literal black-and-whiteness of Edward and Jacob is laid out in a perfect metaphor with their skin tones. Edward is perfectly white, whereas Jacob is Native American, and his dark skin is often alluded to. The OED definition of ‘black’ is ‘evil, or wicked’, alongside other possible connotations, such as ‘full of anger or hatred’[19]. Jacob is often depicted as the more emotional counterpart of the Edward/Jacob duo, becoming violent and scaring Bella, something that possibly moves her to her decision of choosing Edward and the Cullens. People of colour are often stereotyped as angry, intimidating and violent to perpetuate a more ‘legitimate’ hate against them; if white people think they are in genuine danger around POC, they are more likely to distrust them. By depicting Jacob, a man explicitly of colour, as dangerous and overly emotional, it further perpetuates these stereotypes. When compared to Edward, a man not only cool to the touch but so unemotional it plays into the imagery of his corpse like state, Jacob’s hostility seems emphasised. This is purposeful, to show Edward as a better suitor for Bella, but also possibly to draw attention to the anger of a Native American man.

Alongside the anger problems Meyer kindly dealt Jacob, there is also the issue of his alter-being. Edward is a vampire, but Jacob can turn into a werewolf – rather conveniently – whenever he is angry. Similarly to the anger stereotype, Jacob’s animalistic alter-ego plays to the racist notions of people of colour being ‘animals’. A more common racist slur for black people is to be referred to as ‘apes’ or ‘monkeys’, a slur which sub-humanises them, and implies them to be so ‘beneath’ white people they are not even human. Natalie Wilson reads Twilight as a racial allegory in her novel Got Vampire Privilege? explainingRead as racial allegory, a white, working class human chooses between an ultra-white, ultra-privileged vampire and a far less privileged wolf of colour’[20]. Not only does Jacob’s portrayal as an angry, sub-human play into common racial stereotypes, it also shows the protagonist choosing the absolute opposite of him, further implying his very being is undesirable. Jacob’s race may not be a feminist issue, but Bella’s rejection of him is. If we want to believe Meyer to be a feminist writer, writing a feminist protagonist, then her feminism must be intersectional. ‘Intersectional feminism’ is a term coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989[21]. It is the recognition of the ways system of oppression overlock. It recognises that, for example, a handicapped, gay, black woman will encounter far more oppression and resistance than an able bodied, straight, white woman. ‘White feminism’ is a relatively new term created to counter intersectional feminism, which describes white ‘feminists’ that do not support all women, or recognise their own privileges. The term may be relatively new (although its root seems to be untraceable, most mentions of the term are around 2015), the concept is not. ‘White feminism’ dates back to the first wave feminism of the 19th century, when some Suffragettes did not embrace women of colour into the movement, or allow them to benefit from the privileges they fought for. Giving Meyer the benefit of the doubt, she may not have realised she had written a racist love triangle; but writing an oppressed POC character without realising she had oppressed him is, in itself, an expression of her privilege.

Along with Jacob’s racial stereotyping, there is also a distinct lack of vampires of colour in the series. As previously established, the Cullens’ pale, cool bodies do fit with the traditional vampire narrative. However, the definition of a vampire is simply ‘a prenatural being, commonly believed to be a reanimated corpse. It is said to suck the blood of a sleeping persons at night’[22]. The definition of a vampire is simply a ‘being’, there are no skin colour specifications. And as such, there is no rigid formula Meyer must stick to. The fact the Cullens are so often associated with civility (even down to the classy way they ‘hunt’ for their feed), yet there are almost no vampires of colour, suggests Meyer does not believe the charm of the Cullens is compatible with black bodies. There is one vaguely described vampire of colour in the Twilight series: Laurent. Bella describes Laurent as having ‘skin, olive toned’ and his hair being ‘glossy black’[23]. This is vague for a reason, Meyer does not fully commit to creating a vampire of colour, instead merely hinting at it. In the film, Laurent is dramatically different, portrayed by Edi Mue Gathegi, a black man with dreadlocks. It is interesting to note how the filmmakers capitalised on Meyer’s vague descriptions and decided to ‘make’ Laurent black. As well as Laurent being the only vampire of colour, he is also an ‘evil’ vampire. He is not a main character, and only becomes prevalent when he attempts to kill Bella. If stereotyping Native American Jacob as violent wasn’t enough, the only black vampire is mostly irrelevant: that is, until he tries to kill our beautiful, white protagonist. Furthermore, in the Twilight Official Illustrated Guide, it insists that a black person that transforms will have a ‘barely discernible olive toned skin’ as a vampire[24]. Although this could point towards a reason for Meyer’s vague description of Laurent, it also implies that in her world, to become a vampire you must shed your ethnicity; unless you’re already white. In a saga so full of plot holes (so much so that when Bella visibly changes, and lies to her father that her doppelganger daughter is not her own, her father simply responds ‘“I don’t want to know”’), it doesn’t seem impossible that Meyer could have gone against the grain of classic vampire tropes and created black vampires[25]. The beauty of Young Adult literature is that anything is possible, especially in a world where vampires and werewolves co-existing is set up as ‘the norm’. By either actively ignoring the possibility of black vampires altogether, or by possibly including a ‘token’ black vampire (who coincidentally, tries to kill the protagonist), this again highlights Meyer’s lack of inclusivity, thus promoting the franchise’s undeniably ‘white feminism’.

The Cullen’s wealth could also be read as a metaphor for the draw of capitalism. Bella’s love triangle encompasses a dilemma of choosing between wealth and possible moral ambiguity in the shape of Edward, or seemingly ‘better intentions’ and a less well-off lifestyle with Jacob. As well as playing in to the aforementioned racist stereotypes surround Native Americans and people of colour more generally, the fact Bella chooses Edward may come to represent the pull of capitalism. In fact, Jacob’s lack of wealth –  his small, cosy home, his old car – are constantly compared to the possessions of the wealthy Cullens. Bella actively chooses a lifestyle she, at first, thinks is highly suspect, but chooses to ignore the warning signs. The material gain of the relationship is too much for her to lose out on, and she is regularly aghast at their house and goods ‘I don’t know what I was expecting, but certainly not this’[26]. The luxury lifestyle represented through her relationship with Edward can be used to represent capitalism as a wider concept. Capitalism and intersectional feminism are not fundamentally compatible. Amit Singh comments that ‘Capitalism will only serve to compound inequalities of some kind. Many women vying for top jobs, for example, would often be from middle-upper class backgrounds and thus be at an advantage over a working-class woman who was perhaps less well educated’[27]. Ignoring Bella’s obvious privilege at being able to exist without a job, her draw to capitalism and the luxurious lifestyle the Cullens lead is problematic. The way the Cullens have accumulated their wealth is through fraudulent ways, too: Alice has psychic powers, and so uses them to predict the stock markets, and to invest accordingly. Although it is possible to argue that Alice being the main breadwinner for the Cullens is a feminist move due to the feminist stance of ‘equality for all sexes’, their wealth on the basis of fraud plays further into the white supremacy trope – their gain came from someone else’s loss.

A very basic argument pro-Meyer’s feminism is Bella’s physical strength, post-vampiric transformation. Meyer’s vampires are super-humans, they can run and jump like animals, but don’t have any special ‘powers’; they can’t fly, or turn invisible. Aside from not needing to eat or sleep, and living forever, vampires have extreme strength and energy (‘he effortlessly ripped a two-foot-thick branch from the trunk of the spruce’), often pictured running like cheetahs when out ‘hunting’[28]. In Breaking Dawn, before her transformation, Bella says, ‘Virtual indestructibility was just one of the many perks I was looking forward to. The best parts about being a Cullen were not expensive cars and impressive credit cards’[29]. Although she looks forward to her newfound strength, she does express some signs of doubt, such as ‘I wanted the complete experience before I traded in my warm, breakable, pheromone-riddled body for something beautiful, strong… and unknown’[30]. Nervousness is to be expected before a full body transformation into something completely unnatural, and although Bella is only transformed when it is necessary during the birth of Renesmee, Bella chooses to be transformed, begging Edward multiple times during the series to ‘bite’ her. What is important about Bella’s transformation is the fact that Meyer does not only allow the male vampires to exhibit superhuman strength and powers, with the women in the Cullen family actually appearing stronger and more unique than their male counterparts (such as in the case of Alice’s psychic powers). It is therefore interesting, from a feminist perspective, to note that the female vampires are just as physically strong as the men, in a world where physical strength seems to represent superiority.

Another cause for feminist concern in The Twilight Saga is the strange sexualisation of children. When Bella has her and Edward’s child, Renesmee, Jacob’s admirations for Bella suddenly stop, and his attention is turned to her new-born baby girl. This is a fictional term called ‘imprinting’, which is defined as ‘the involuntary mechanism by which Quileute shape-shifters find their soulmates. It is a profound, intimate phenomenon that exists among the Quileute shape-shifters’[31]. Meyer probably saw backlash for this a mile off, and made sure to clearly state that it is not a sexual feeling Jacob has towards the baby, but instead, a devotion to her, ‘I watched him stare at my daughter. Staring at her like… like he was a blind man seeing the sun for the very first time’[32]. ‘Imprinting’ cannot be chosen, and is supposed to be a more ‘definite’ way of knowing who your soul mate is. However: Renesmee may not feel the same way. Renesmee is, as previously mentioned, newborn when Jacob realises he has ‘imprinted’ on her. He will now avoid all other relationships until Renesmee is old enough to be with him. Putting aside the ethical issues surrounding Jacob’s previous relations with Renesmee’s mother, it means Jacob will be 17 years older than Renesmee (and 34 years old when she reaches his current age). This is similar to the aforementioned Edward/Bella age controversy; Edward is technically hundreds of years old (just in a youthful body), ‘preying’ on the 17-year-old Bella. Age discrepancies seem to play a large part in many of the relationships in The Twilight Saga. If the relations are consensual, the age differences are not such an issue. The problem here is that the woman always seems to be the young one in the relationship, and as Bella is 17, and Renesmee is literally newborn, both women in question are either barely, or not, ‘legal’ at all. This plays into common, predatory ‘sugar daddy’ stereotypes; a young woman and an elderly man. Although we could possibly brush Edward and Bella under the carpet as a ‘teenage romance’, Renesmee is a minor, and in no way should be having sexually based decisions made for her at such a young age. As well as Jacob imprinting on a newborn feeling uncomfortable from a paedophilic point of view, it is also uncomfortable to watch a man decide a future for a girl so young she can have no say in the matter. As previously mentioned, feminism is all about choice, and by taking away Renesmee’s choice from birth, her rights as a woman are removed and replaced by the sexual desires of a man, and a much older man at that.

Rosalie is an interesting character to consider when questioning whether The Twilight Series can be judged as a feminist saga. Rosalie has the potential to be the standout female character in the series, but Meyer misses the mark when writing her. Rosalie Hale is Edward’s sister, and was transformed into a vampire (and therefore adopted into the family) after she was violently raped, attacked and left for dead in a ditch as a mortal, by a gang including her fiancé. Rosalie is a survivor, and went on to murder all five of her rapists. Of course, any survivor of rape is a hero, and in this instance, we cannot judge Rosalie’s vengeance. The issue at hand is Rosalie’s own self-blame. When explaining the instance to Bella she says ‘There were things I wanted. To be married to a nice husband who kissed me when I came home, a family of my own. Royce King was the most eligible bachelor in town. I barely knew him. But I was young. I was in love with the idea of love. On the last night of my life, I left a friend’s house late, I wasn’t far from home…’[33]. Rosalie’s story could have been extremely powerful, of a woman seeking revenge on her attackers and overcoming her trauma. However, Meyer foists a humble, victim narrative on her and makes her self-blame for the attack. Rosalie tells Bella it was ‘late’ and that she thought she would be fine because she ‘wasn’t far from home’. Of course, these worries plague women every day; being a woman is constantly worrying whether the man walking behind you is following you or not. Maybe Meyer was trying to make Rosalie’s story more relatable, but it seems jarring. Rosalie says that she believes her life was ruined because she never got to ‘have a nice husband or a family’, rather than her priority being the fact she was raped and murdered. Rosalie equates her pre-transformation life to that of her worth within a family unit, rather than as a woman within her own right. As mentioned previously, having ambition to start a family as a woman does not make you any ‘lesser’ than a businesswoman, but it’s another classic ‘simpering housewife’ narrative Meyer seems to deal to all of her female characters. Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with being a housewife, it’s nothing revolutionary, and it reinforces sexist stereotypes that women ‘belong in the kitchen’. The victim-blaming attitude Meyer gives the characters, implying Rosalie should have returned home earlier to avoid being raped, is also extremely damaging to a younger audience, especially when read by anyone who may have experienced similar trauma. The age of consent and protection from rape seem to be topics Meyer continuously misses the mark on.

Bella’s depressive episode in New Moon further highlights these ‘female’ stereotypes Meyer enforces. Bella’s depression is brought on through Edward leaving her, due to believing she is unsafe in his company. In the novel, Bella’s depression is depicted through multiple chapters of nothingness without her depression being explicitly mentioned, but in the film, it is made much clearer through well-established film tropes. We see Bella sitting, dishevelled and visibly tired, in front of a window, through which we can see children playing. The caption ‘October’ passes over the screen, then the same with ‘November’ and visibly falling leaves, then ‘December’, with snow[34]. We then see Bella typing an email, saying ‘I feel his absence everywhere’, the shot then cuts to her screaming so violently into a pillow that she makes herself sick. The clear visuals of the months passing, Bella’s desperate attempts at re-connection, and then her physical sickness highlight how lost she is without Edward. Highlighting women’s mental illness and its symptoms is important, and the protagonist has every right for her illness to feature heavily and to take up a decent amount of time, both in the novel and the film. However, aside from this stand-out section of the saga, Bella’s mental health is never alluded to. This makes it seem that Meyer is, yet again, using her female protagonists for one reason only: to show how important the men in their lives are.  Meyer uses her female characters as a vessel to promote her male characters, without thinking how it reflects on the women in question, and in this case, it shows a complete disregard for both women as people separate from their husbands, and for women’s mental health more generally. Due to the Meyer’s continual usage of female characters as a mechanism to elevate her male counterparts, at this point, it is easier to label the saga as ‘sexist’ than it is ‘feminist’.

An undeniable element of The Twilight Saga is sexual chemistry. Like Nabakov’s Lolita, the story builds the verbal foreplay, and then, when sex finally happens, the author passes over the sexual activity entirely, in a way that is known as ‘blind space’. The first instance of sexual intercourse is implied, by physical attributes, like bruises on Bella’s body, a broken headboard, and feathers scattered from busted pillows. Although these elements are supposed to emphasise the human/vampire relationship and Edward’s physical strength, it is hard to believe that sex in which the woman ends up black and blue is entirely complicit, ‘“We’re just lucky it was the pillows and not you”’[35]. These sexual examples of abuse seem to play into the possibility of general domestic abuse. Aside from this, Bella’s reproductive rights are also brought into jeopardy. Lydia Kokkola draws attention to the fact contraception is rarely discussed in sexual scenes in children’s literature, and The Twilight Series is no exception. Kokkola says that the series is ‘decidedly reticent’ about contraception; the reader is supposed to either not think about contraceptive measures, or to assume condoms are so commonplace one would be used, without the need for graphic details[36]. Kokkola argues that this has changed over the years, with books like Judy Bloom’s Forever, written in 1975, explicitly mentioning contraception. It is possible that the usage of contraception was less frequent, and less known about forty years ago, hence why authors thought they needed to write it into their novels. But by Meyer placing this assumption on her readers, making the possible contraception only available in the ‘blind space’, she is ignoring her duty of care for younger readings by the notable absence of any mention of contraception. Assuming most of the readers of this young adult series are teens, they may not know about the necessity of contraception, and by ignoring such a huge part of sex, she promotes unsafe sex to an impressionable audience. It can be argued that the only kind of contraception Meyer advocates is celibacy, and abstinence. This is because the pair only have sex once they are married, there is no mention of contraception, and after a few sexual encounters Bella becomes pregnant – a child she must keep, ‘Not a choice, a necessity’[37]. Not only is the lack of contraception (and therefore lack of choice) for Bella a worrying agenda to push on to a naïve readership, but the idea that you must wait for marriage to have sex, and then you must have a baby soon after, plays into the aforementioned traditional gender stereotypes of the role of the woman.

The Twilight Saga never claimed to be a feminist set of texts, but being written in the late noughties by a female author, featuring a female protagonist, aimed at an impressionable audience, and actively not being a feminist series is a disappointment. The ways the saga does not align with intersectional feminism are all down to its constant subtext of old fashioned gender roles and values assigned to women. The novels may not outwardly say sexist things, but the way they give Bella a career-less life, a pregnancy she didn’t ask for, a marriage she must enter into if she wants to have a sexual relationship, and depression triggered by Edward leaving her for a few months, all imply she is hapless, useless woman; unless she has a male counterpart to save and complete her. There are other, more troubling aspects of the novels too, such as their treatment of rape, the age of consent, and overt racial profiling, especially of minority groups. Finally, the novels fail to tackle broader concepts that clash with feminism, such as capitalism, lack of diversity, race and privilege. There are a few, minor feminist aspects to the saga; Bella exhibits some classic aspects of the ‘strong woman’ feminist trope, such as her physical strength, being a sexual, lusted after being (whilst defying the ‘whore/virgin’ spectrum) and her ability to make some choices, for example, her choice to be with Edward. But these glimpses of feminist theory aren’t enough to hang a modern novel series on. This could be down to the author’s personal and religious life, or the fact that it follows a classic, romantic story arc. But a feminist reading of Twilight leaves the saga looking lacking in terms of progression, and sets a precedent to other young adult novels. As a highly influential saga without reference to any feminist themes, it will only help to shape other novels within the genre, with sexist undertones. Ten years on, the story hasn’t aged well within the prism of modern feminism, a feminism that doesn’t even vastly outdate the series. At the very least, Kristen Stewart (the actress who played Bella, and was rocketed to fame by the saga) is one of Hollywood’s first outwardly lesbian actresses, bringing more attention to the LGBT+ community. But I hope that in another ten years’ time, my daughters will have something with a more inspiring female lead to read and enjoy; a story where I don’t have to make excuses for the protagonist.

Words: 7921

Bibliography:

Primary:

Meyer, Stephenie., Twilight (Atom: London, 2007)

Meyer, Stephenie., Eclipse (Atom: London, 2008)

Meyer, Stephenie., New Moon (Little Brown: New York, 2008)

Meyer Stephenie., Breaking Dawn (Atom: London, 2008)

Other references:

James, E. L., 50 Shades of Grey (Vintage: New York, 2012)

Various The Twilight Saga films (Summit Entertainment, 2010-2013)

From Dusk Till Dawn film (Quentin Tarantino, 1996)

Nabokov, Vladimir., Lolita, (Penguin Classics: London, 2000)

Secondary:

Buhlert. Cora., ‘Twilight, Religion and Misogyny’, http://corabuhlert.com/2013/02/01/twilight-religion-and-misogyny

Crenshaw, Kimerble., ‘Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics’, ” University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989: Iss. 1, Article 8

Goodfriend, Wind., ‘Relationship Violence in Twilight’, Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/psychologist-the-movies/201111/relationship-violence-in-twilight

Mardoll, Ana., The Slactiverse, ‘Feminism Lite and Rape Culture’, https://slacktiverse.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/feminism-lite-and-rape-culture/

Wilson, Natalie., Seduced by Twilight: The Allure and Contradictory Messages of the Popular Saga, chapter 7 ‘Got Vampire Privilege?’ The accompanying blog: https://seducedbytwilight.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/got-vampire-privilege-the-whiteness-of-twilight/

Sims, Andrew., ‘Stephenie Meyer tells story of only known gay Twilight character played by the saga’s producer’ (August 14 2012) http://www.hypable.com/twilight-gay-character/

Singh, Amit., New internationalist, ‘Feminism is incompatible with capitalism’ https://newint.org/blog/2014/10/15/feminism-capitalism-equal-pay/

Kokkola, Lydia., Fictions of Adolescent Carnality: Sexy sinners and delinquent deviants, (John Benjamins Publishing: Amsterdam, 2013)

‘The Twilight Saga in Numbers’, The Telegraph Online (November 2011) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-news/8894811/The-Twilight-Saga-in-numbers.html

‘Definition of Imprinting’, Twilight Wiki, http://twilightsaga.wikia.com/wiki/Imprinting

TV Tropes, ‘The Female Gaze’, http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FemaleGaze

‘”Twilight” author’s Mormon faith a big influence in books and film’, The State Journal Register http://www.sj-r.com/x466663776/-Twilight-author-s-Mormon-faith-a-big-influence-in-books-film

‘No oral sex for faithful married Mormons’, http://www.i4m.com/think/sexuality/mormon_oral_sex.htm

‘Mormons and Homosexuality’, What Mormons Believe, (2011), http://whatmormonsbelieve.org/homosexuality.html

‘Black’ definition, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/black

‘Fanfiction’ definition, http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=fanfiction

‘Vampire’ definition, http://www.dictionary.com/browse/vampire

‘White Feminism’ definition https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_feminism

[1] ‘White Feminism’ definition https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_feminism (link accessed 22/04/17)

[2] ‘The Twilight Saga in Numbers’, The Telegraph Online (November 2011) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-news/8894811/The-Twilight-Saga-in-numbers.html (link accessed 21/03/17)

[3] i.e. when Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling retconned her own series with multiple instances of unspoken diversity throughout the series (for example, tweeting that Dumbledore is gay in 2007; Remus Lupin’s werewolf state was announced as a ‘metaphor’ for HIV in 2016)

[4] Andrew Sims, ‘Stephenie Meyer tells story of only known gay Twilight character played by the saga’s producer’ (August 14 2012) http://www.hypable.com/twilight-gay-character/ (link accessed 21/03/17)

[5] ‘Mormons and Homosexuality’, What Mormons Believe, (2011), http://whatmormonsbelieve.org/homosexuality.html (link accessed 21/03/17)

[6] Stephenie Meyer, Twilight (Atom: London, 2007), chapter 14, p256 (all subsequent references to the editions mentioned)

[7] Wind Goodfriend, ‘Relationship Violence in Twilight’, Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/psychologist-the-movies/201111/relationship-violence-in-twilight (link accessed 20/03/17)

[8] Stephenie Meyer, New Moon, (Little Brown: New York, 2008) chapter 23, p509

[9] Twilight, chapter 13, p275

[10] Breaking Dawn, chapter 6, p110

[11] Twilight, chapter 8, p147

[12] TV Tropes, ‘The Female Gaze’, http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FemaleGaze (link accessed 21/03/17)

[13] Cora Buhlert, ‘Twilight, Religion and Misogyny’, http://corabuhlert.com/2013/02/01/twilight-religion-and-misogyny/ (link accessed 21/03/17)

[14] ‘”Twilight” author’s Mormon faith a big influence in books and film’, The State Journal Register http://www.sj-r.com/x466663776/-Twilight-author-s-Mormon-faith-a-big-influence-in-books-film (link accessed 21/03/17)

[15] ‘No oral sex for faithful married Mormons’, http://www.i4m.com/think/sexuality/mormon_oral_sex.htm (link accessed 21/03/17)

[16] ‘Fanfiction’ definition, http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=fanfiction (link accessed 18/03/17)

[17] Twilight, chapter 1, p17

[18] Twilight, chapter 15, p281

[19] ‘Black’ definition, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/black (link accessed 18/03/17)

[20] Natalie Wilson, Seduced by Twilight: The Allure and Contradictory Messages of the Popular Saga, chapter 7 ‘Got Vampire Privilege?’ The accompanying blog: https://seducedbytwilight.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/got-vampire-privilege-the-whiteness-of-twilight/

[21] Kimberle Crenshaw, ‘Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics’, ” University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989: Iss. 1, Article 8

[22] ‘Vampire’ definition, http://www.dictionary.com/browse/vampire (link accessed 18/03/17)

[23] Stephenie Meyer, New Moon, (Little Brown: New York, 2008), chapter 10, p240

[24] Ana Mardoll, The Slactiverse, ‘Feminism Lite and Rape Culture’, https://slacktiverse.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/feminism-lite-and-rape-culture/  (link accessed 18/03/17)

[25] Stephenie Meyer, Breaking Dawn, (Atom: London, 2008), chapter 23, p 509

[26] Twilight, chapter 15, p281

[27] Amit Singh, New internationalist, ‘Feminism is incompatible with capitalism’ https://newint.org/blog/2014/10/15/feminism-capitalism-equal-pay/ (link accessed 18/03/17)

[28] Twilight, chapter 13, p231

[29] Breaking Dawn, chapter 1, p9

[30] Breaking Dawn, chapter 1, p22

[31] ‘Definition of Imprinting’, Twilight Wiki, http://twilightsaga.wikia.com/wiki/Imprinting (link accessed 21/03/17)

[32] Breaking Dawn, chapter 22, p448

[33] The Twilight Saga: Eclipse film (Summit Entertainment, 2010)

[34] The Twilight Saga: New Moon film (Summit Entertainment, 2010)

[35] Breaking Dawn, chapter 5, p95

[36] Lydia Kokkola, Fictions of Adolescent Carnality: Sexy sinners and delinquent deviants, (John Benjamins Publishing: Amsterdam, 2013), p55

[37] Breaking Dawn, chapter 7, p132

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