No, really, hear me out here. This isn’t a “Twilight is great” or a “Twilight sucks” post. I’m not defending it, but I’m not raging against it either. I’ve just had a few thoughts abut it recently, and I thought they were interesting, and I thought my smart and wonderful blog readers might have some thoughts about my thoughts. So here we are.
I’ve read the Twilight books. Well, okay, I read the first three. The second, if memory serves, was the one I liked best out of those, but I simply could not force myself to get through the last one. I was dreadfully bored, so I skimmed it, and got the gist, and that was more than enough. And again, I didn’t hate them. I didn’t love them, by any stretch. I didn’t particularly like them. But I didn’t loathe them. I even thought–and it’s not an uncommon thought, I don’t think–that there were some good ideas buried in there, some really cool shit. And I admit as well that one scene in the first book, the one at the lake when Jacob tells Bella the legend of the vampires, was pretty nifty. I dug that scene.
But yes, I also see the problems. I see the essentially abusive relationship, the completely ridiculous parents, the ha-ha-semi-rape-is-okay bits, the oh-sure-it’s-totally-cool-for-adults-to-fall-in-love-with-infants bits, the female-sexual-desire-is-gross-and-must-be-suppressed bits, the creepy-religion-y stuff…you name it. I know it’s there.
Am I happy that teenage girls all over the world wish a man would stalk them, scare them, destroy their possessions in order to get them to obey, patronize them, treat them like morons? No. Of course not.
But here’s the thing. What exactly are the other relationship alternatives we as a society are offering teenage girls?
How many stories do we see about teen pregnancy rates going up? How many of the fathers of those babies stick around? How many women and girls do you know who’ve slept with a man who said he loved them or cared about them, and then dumped them shortly after they had sex? How many times does our society tell young women that for them to expect to be loved and taken care of by a man is ridiculous, a silly fairy-tale dream, and that they better get used to relying only on themselves because men won’t stick around? How many girls out there are led to believe that their only value is as a sex object? That being a sex object is the most important thing there is? How many of these girls have fathers in their homes? How many see men as people who drift in and out of your life, treating you sort of okay sometimes?
It’s not just about sex. I don’t mean to sound like I’m on some chastity crusade. But what I do think is that girls today are being raised to believe that they shouldn’t expect respect, love, responsibility, or anything else from men. That being cheated on is just the way it goes. That the only way to get and keep a boyfriend is to not mind when he treats you badly, to give him things, to not act like you really care that much, to place no expectations on him.
I realize I’m exaggerating a bit. I realize there are still plenty of decent people out there. I realize that things can be just as tough for teenage boys.
But my point is, our society seems to be moving further and further away from the idea that love is a valuable and good thing, that people belong together, that girls have the right to expect to be treated with respect and kindness, and that boys have the right to expect the same.
And that, my friends, is one reason I believe the Twilight books are so popular. Yes, Edward is a controlling jerk. But Edward isn’t embarrassed to care (he even says the L word!), and he doesn’t leave Bella at home alone while he goes out with his friends picking up girls. He doesn’t refer to her as his “bitch.” Once he admits he cares, he is committed. Twilight offers girls a view of a relationship that, if it’s not a great alternative, at least seems more secure than a casual hook-up. It’s a world where girls don’t have to be embarrassed to want a solid relationship, with a man who will care for and about them, and wants to make a serious commitment to them. It’s a world where, for all that the sexual attitudes in the book are troublesome to say the least, Bella’s sexuality and willingness to sexually perform is the least important aspect of the relationship.
And in this world it’s okay, even right, if the desire to love and be loved is the most important thing in your life. That desire isn’t pooh-poohed or put down in those books. It’s not treated as frivolity. It’s not spoken about or represented as if it’s a shameful thing to want to be loved or to be in love, and that any girl who thinks about relationships and romance instead of college and their investment portfolios are obviously ridiculous, irresponsible creatures.
Twilight offers a skewed view of relationship, yes. Twilight does not contain what I would say is a truly healthy relationship.
But Twilight is about a relationship, and Twilight takes that relationship seriously and treats it as an important thing, a worthwhile thing, a thing of respect. Something fulfilling. Twilight doesn’t put down young girls for wanting a boyfriend, or for wanting that more than anything else. It doesn’t make them feel as if they’re not good enough if they don’t know what they want to be when they grow up, or aren’t spending their every waking minute working hard and collecting references for college applications.
I don’t think this is the only reason; it’s just the only one I can fathom, to be honest. And I’m not saying any of this is a good thing, or that I approve. And I’m not saying Twilight doesn’t deserve the criticism it’s gotten; it absolutely does.
But I also think that in relentlessly attacking Twilight, we’re once again attacking these girls, too. We’re telling them, once again, that they’re stupid and silly for believing in love and for wanting it. They’re ridiculous for wanting a man to truly love them and to see something special in them. We’re telling them that the desires of their heart and soul are unimportant, and foolish, and that if they aren’t focusing their entire selves on future earning power and getting ahead they’re wasting everyone’s time.
And to be honest, I don’t know which of those messages is worse.