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Sexism in Twilight
So, a lot of the women I know are obsessed with these movies; surprisingly, the main reason I keep hearing is because of how attractive they find the men in it. Firstly, I’ll say that the ‘Twilight’ series is very clever at aiming its story to a particular demographic; that of teenage girls and women in their twenties. What are the ‘Twilight’ characters really conveying though? We only have to look at the first two films to see how dangerous the role model of Bella Swan is to young girls.
I’m sure for fans of these films/novels there will be a collective gasp, but really, there’s no arguing with what we are shown by the writers and film-makers. The fact that these characters are hidden behind a fantasy world means nothing. Yes, Edward’s a Vampire (of sorts) and Jacob is a werewolf; however, people viewing this material will still take on board what the writer is conveying, be that consciously or sub-consciously. Because of the amount of people this series has reached, it’s important we see what the work is actually conveying to its fans. There are three main characters in the series. Let’s look at these characters:
Bella Swan is portrayed as ordinary and clumsy, so girls aren’t threatened by her at all. She is the love interest of both of the male leads and is the poster child for "battered woman syndrome." Edward does nothing but get her hurt and put her in harms way constantly. Even after he tries to leave so she will no longer be in danger, she throws herself into more danger to gain his attention; at one stage, she’s about to throw herself off a cliff rather than live without him. Bella’s sense of self is so non-existent and dependent on Edward, that she falls into a state of catatonic depression when he leaves, in the second part of the series. The abstinence portrayed by the character and Edward is not actually positive, because it is Edward who is refusing to give her his desire and power as a vampire – and when he finally does, it is still because he decided it. The fact that Bella’s power comes so late in the series renders it pointless. The plot has already been established, by the previous books and films.
Basically she's one of the worst role-models imaginable for young girls. Bella is the most anti-feminist character in popular fiction at the moment. She's a total blank slate without any interests of her own AT ALL besides men. She is portrayed as toying with the emotions of the two men in love with her to deliberately get their attention, or sulking alone in her room when she can't. Her life completely revolves around Edward and she deliberately creates conflict between Edward and Jacob because she enjoys being a prize that these men fight over. There's really nothing positive for teenagers, especially girls, from Bella in this series.
The story is equally offensive to men. Women are portrayed as being dependent on their men in order to achieve something with their lives, and the men are portrayed as being strong and overprotective of Bella in order to be "real men", in the Alpha male sense. Edward is emotionally abusive to Bella throughout the series. He's overprotective, manipulative, and passive aggressive. He has complete control over her life. She has to be removed from society, for her own safety of course, protected at all costs and basically locked up in a room. It doesn’t take much to figure out that Bella and Edward have nothing in common whatsoever, and ‘Twilight’ isn't by any means original; in fact, this story has been conveyed much better in other material since the first book on the subject – ‘Dracula.’ It glorifies the relationship between a teenage girl and a 100-year old vampire, who can't decide if he wants to make love with, or murder his girlfriend. Obviously, because of his age, he is far superior to Bella in intelligence as well and mocks her, not to mention both his and Jacob’s huge physical power over her. Considering the fact that a lot of women are getting abused by men, how is this romantic? Also, he doesn’t want her, but Jacob can’t be with her either.
I find it shocking in this age that people praise these films and books, especially woman. It may hide behind fantasy, but take that away and you still have the same characters. ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ was able to convey the exact same thing, but by still showing a strong woman who was in control of herself – she had her own power. Though she didn’t always succeed, the viewer knew she had a fighting chance, and toward the end of the shows, the vampires are irritants rather than an opponent to Buffy’s stronger being.
The other male protagonist is a Native American werewolf. This is were racism comes into the fold also. We are constantly told how “white” Edward is by Bella, and also how white Bella is herself – while Jacob is described as “rustic.” The beauty of Edward and Bella’s skin is lingered on obsessively in the books. Edward also has a lot of money, can afford to by expensive cars and he lives in a mansion. Jacob on the other hand lives on a reservation; his house is shown and described as small – quite like a shack; though nothing is mentioned of the Native American struggle. This automatically makes Edward the winning prize if we’re bringing it back to shelter and protection. Bella also constantly reminds us how she feels safe with Edward, as he has complete control over his emotions and craving for her blood. In comparison, Jacob is said as having no control over his emotions. He is portrayed as wild and animalistic just by his comparison to a werewolf alone, but also in his character. He also feels the need to control Bella and keep her away from Edward, who he feels is dangerous, but admits that he himself is dangerous. So both male figures are portrayed as dangerous and telling Bella what to do, and she’s only to happy to listen most of the time. Both men fight over Bella as if she is a prize. Disney Princesses have come along further than Bella Swan’s character.
Other novels, T.V shows and films use the power dynamic of the vampire story as a way of exploring the nature of power, desire and fantasy, ‘Twilight's’ denial of the importance of these themes means that in this very popular series, little has changed in terms of the roles of men and women since the publication of ‘Dracula’ in 1897. It seems most women are watching these movies simply because the boys are "hot" in them - is that really what we want to be teaching young girls? I personally don't think so.
Content copyright © 2015 by Steven Casey Murray. All rights reserved.
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