Edward and Bella, the New Model Relationship for Young Girls?


I was in Target the other day, browsing their less-than-impressive book section while waiting for some friends to finish up their shopping.  I stumbled across a thin volume that looked like it might give me a few minutes of entertainment, and started flipping through its pages.  I ended up buying it, and discovering much more by reading it than I imagined.

This book was a parody of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, called Nightlight and written by The Harvard Lampoon.  It did a wonderful job of mocking Stephanie Meyer’s writing and plot failures, and skillfully brought out the possessive, rather frightening behaviors of Edward Cullen.  There is one passage I particularly loved, but I have to break down a bit of the plot in order for it to make sense.

In the book, Belle Goose thinks Edwart Mullen is a vampire (though he is not).  She keeps trying to make him admit that he is a vampire, and turn her.  In order to accomplish this, she leads him into a graveyard, because she thinks it will make him want to bite her.  They stop to rest on a grave (because Edwart is flipping out over being in a graveyard), and while they are sitting there, a real vampire, Josh, appears and threatens to kill them.  Edwart runs away, Belle and Josh end up making out, and then he asks her to the vampire prom.  The following scene occurs while they are at the vampire prom:

“I hope you don’t find the costumes boring,” Josh said apologetically, as we walked through the gymnasium to get to the photographer.  “The prom committee picked a pretty unimaginative theme in terms of costumes this year.  Looks like everyone decided to be human — there’s a huge human-romance-novel phenomenon going on in the vampire world right now.  You should have seen the costumes for the last few prom themes: Pimps and their Street Ho’s; CEOs and their Office Ho’s, GI Joes and their Combat Ho’s, Gardeners and their Garden Hoes, Firemen and their Fire Hose…If you ask me, a ‘masquerade’ theme isn’t flattering for anyone’s features, nor does it define the appropriate gender roles very clearly.”

I have always had a problem with the way Edward acts in the Twilight books.  He creeps me the hell out.  That was as far as I got — bad books, creepy leading man, move on.  But, maybe because lately I have been much more aware of our society and its influences on our behavior, it suddenly hit me while I was reading this parody how this is going to influence the girls who are currently enamored with these books.  These girls are seeing Edward Cullen, who thinks he knows better than his weak, silly girlfriend, tells her who she can spend time with (and when), forces her to do things she has told him repeatedly she does not like or want to do, sneaks into her house to watch her sleep (without her knowledge or permission), and generally acts like a controlling jerk, as the ideal man.  Because they think of him as the ideal man, they will be not only condoning, but encouraging that behavior in the boys around them.

Since I began seriously thinking about this, my loathing for Stephanie Meyer has grown exponentially.  She has made the fight to end sexism so much more difficult.  Her books encourage girls to be submissive, and not to trust their own judgement.  Her books tell them that it is not only okay, but ideal to rely on a boyfriend so much that life without him is not worth living — that such behavior is, in fact, a sign of true love.  Her books tell them that boys who stalk them and obsessively control their lives just love them more than anyone else could understand.

These books, and the messages they send, make it that much more important for us to speak up about sexism, and to find ways to teach the younger generation that no gender has the right to dominate the other.  It is difficult enough to fight ancient ideals about the roles of men and women, but when these roles become a central point in a craze the like of which has not been seen since Harry Potter, it becomes almost impossible.  How do you explain to young girls why Edward’s behavior is not acceptable, especially when a main plot point of Twilight is the fact that the people around Bella don’t understand her relationship with him?  It will be altogether too easy for them to say, “You just don’t get it,” and brush it off.  I can only hope that the voices fighting for equality will win out.  The Twilight books have caused a great deal of harm to our society already, and I can only imagine the amount of work it will take to counteract that effect.


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