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Friday, March 18, 2011

the brutalized housewife: part 2

And most notoriously, we have this. I personally don't feel remiss in suggesting that the entire Twilight series is an affront to women in general. The notion that a woman has to choose between two guys who are both on the constant verge of destroying her, that she should be completely submissive to her male counterparts and constantly demure, it's a very offensive idea, and even more so when you see how it is geared towards pre-teens. The last in the series, Breaking Dawn, was given the British Book Award for Children's Book of the Year! Which just goes to make what follows all the more disturbing.

Nonentity Bella Swan is impregnated by sparkly vampire and Triwizard Tournament Champion Edward Cullen. Around chapter 17, she goes into labor, which in the Twilight universe means she spits out "a fountain of blood." In the next chapter, there is a lot of general thrashing, bleeding, fighting, and not calling the doctor. Then Bella's spine snaps like a piece of celery. Basically this little monster baby she's having is tearing her apart from the inside out. I have no idea why David Cronenberg is not directing the movie. But it gets worse.

Edward eats the baby out of her womb. Blood is everywhere. The baby starts sucking out its dying mother's blood. Children's Book of the Year, everybody.

Where to start? I'm going to try to keep it short, but if you really want some deeper analysis, Zachary Little has devoted so much of his blog to getting to the bottom of the Twilight phenomenon. His article dissecting the next scene, which is essentially a big thumbs-up to pedophilia, is particularly engaging. Plus, he has a great video series called Stone, Slipper & Cyborg. Or something like that. But I digress.

Let's just ask what all this is about. Once again, we are dealing with a Mary Sue, only from a female author. Much as Larsson had unrealistic expectations regarding his boyish goth hacker, Meyer's dream boys are sexy teen versions of Universal monsters. The success of the novels is in part because Bella is a cipher. She is such an uninteresting character, she is a blank slate that any reader can project themselves onto. So why devestate her body? Why all the theatrics? Why not a normal childbirth, or at least normal up to the point where a vampire baby is born? Because Bella had fulfilled her job. Her responsibility was to be a vessel, a way to keep the baby safe until it explodes out of her and devours what little blood she has left. And because in Meyer's world, a woman has to suffer to get what she truly wants, which in this case is to have a baby that your ex-boyfriend will fall in love with, and became the most wonderful vampire of them all. This is the message that she is sending to all the eager young girls (and to some unsettling older ones), and this is why I find it the most repulsive of my examples.

I understand that this is the 21st century, and there are going to be a lot more female main characters than there were a century ago. And this is a very good thing! But there has to be a way to motivate female characters without resorting to sexual violence. Tom Joad, Winston Smith, and Holden Caulfield were beaten, not raped. To quote the great philosopher Sinbad, "Women be different than men", but the fact that a woman's fears about assault are different than a man's shouldn't turn all our female-oriented novels into things that blur the line between literature and exploitation. We still experience similar emotions to similar traumas. People remain people, and while gender is an aspect of ourselves, it shouldn't define either who we are or the characters who come to represent us.


  1. I don't have anything to add because it's early and I'm brain dead, but I did want to say how much I enjoyed both parts of this. Lots of good points.

  2. Very good points. Plus, Bella is the worst.

  3. Very well written. I've tried to explain to people why I refuse to read these books, but I've never been able to put it as eloquently as you have here. Maybe I'll just have to start linking them to these posts.