So I reluctantly just finished the first book of the Twilight series, after being forced to read it for one of my classes. It is probably some of the worst writing and editing I have ever been so unfortunate to read, but for some reason it draws you in like black magic and won't let put the dang thing down.
As this 498-page novel sucked out my soul and replaced it with a pre-pubescent girl with the intellect of an orange, I couldn't help but think about how much this story reminded me of a sick and twisted version of The Beauty and The Beast.
I'm sure most of you are familiar with the story of the Disney classic, Belle gets captured by this monstrous beast that treats her like absolute crap, but because she stays with him, he of course turns into prince charming. Well Twilight features Bella (hmm... name bearing any resemblance here?) a quiet, "ordinary" girl with low self-esteem and Edward, a gorgeous, harsh vampire. Surprise surprise, Edward makes Bella fall for him, and she refuses to leave him.
There are many times where he is down right misogynistic and violent towards her. He routinely has to fight the urge of killing her by his strong need to suck her dry. Does she leave him or run away? Of course not, because if you stay with abusers you'll have a fairytale love.
Edward saves her life on numerous occasions, which makes him seem like a hero. I want to make this very clear, Edward is NOT a hero. Yes, he got Bella out of some tight spots, but on every encounter he is condescending, cruel, and usually forceful (both physically and emotionally) with her. He uses his vampire powers to hypnotize her, to get her heart to stop beating and cause her to faint, or to beat crazily fast. He puts her in danger not only by wanting to make her a human bloody mary, but by his actions and temper with her. Like the Beast, he falls in love with Bella and is portrayed as "prince charming." Like I said previously, this is NOT the case no matter how many heart strings Stephanie Meyer (the author) pulls.
What's worse than the classic story of The Beauty and The Beast, where little girls are taught to stay with abusers, knowing that their charm and beauty can cure, change them, is that Edward isn't expected to change... SHE is. This story line has a clear message.... Men are the way they are, aggressive and violent, and women are meant to alter their motions and behaviors as not to egg them on. Throughout the whole book Bella is constantly trying to be careful of what she says or does, changing who she is in order to please Edward and hopefully spare her life. She calls this love. I call this a trance-like death wish that not only her, but many women in society get convinced to have. In the end she even tries to convince Edward to make her a vampire (supposedly an extremely painful and unforgiving process) so that she can be good enough to stay with him forever and not be in imminent danger. There is no expectation that Edward is going to always be able to control himself, as is constantly portrayed by her constant fear of his sudden movements.
I should also note that the female vampires don't treat Bella aggressively in any sort of physical fashion, it is only the males.
It scares me to think this is what our youth are reading, slowly being brainwashed by these gender roles strung through the entire book. If you're a boy, you need to aspire to be dead-looking (the vampires are wickedly pale with large circles under their eyes... much like meth addicts I would assume), harsh, and violent in order to be appealing to women. If you're a girl, you need to aspire to be frail, in perpetual damsel in distress mode, and change to conform to the aggressions your "man" imposes on you. We are setting our youth up for a pattern of domestic violence and abusive relationships.
Nonetheless, even while I was hyper-aware of the implications and messages of this book, I felt myself completely absorbed, unable to stop reading. This is a bad sign. Abuse is being turned into a pleasingly entertaining atmosphere to be sucked in with a crazy straw. What does this say about our society, and the future of our society for that matter, that this book can be written and absorbed with such delight? I would be lying if I said it didn't terrify me, the thought that our youth are growing up reading novels and watching movies with such subliminal smut, learning how to interact with one another. In a culture of terrorism against women, I shouldn't be surprised that this book exists, or even that it was written by a woman. Women have learned to take abuse as romance in order to survive, which ultimately is a terribly sad existence.
It's up to both men AND women to overcome this timeline of abuse and violence. We need to start recognizing these forms of media for what they are, harmful propaganda fed to us in order to maintain a societal hierarchy of gender. Do a bit of research before you decide to buy a book or movie, know the themes and messages. Consumer power should never be underestimated. Don't go to movies that feature rape (which is 1 in 8 of them last time I checked), don't buy books that tell you to change yourself for someone else, and don't buy action figures representing abusive characters as the protagonist.
Chilled with rage and teenage angst,