Twilight and Feminist Responsibility

Now, everyone knows I’m no Twilight fan. I really don’t have a leg to stand on having only glanced at a book and never seeing the movies. But from all the things I’ve read about it, it gives me the creeps. I have friends who love Twilight, my boyfriend has even been to see it (sorry babe – there are some things you can’t keep secret :P) but I just cannot get on board with it. But the world seems to have the opposite opinion to me, based on a recent trip to Waterstones. There were Stephanie Meyer books *everywhere*. There was a separate stand of vampire-related fiction which Twilight dominated, she was peppered over the bestsellers bookcase and there were posters about her latest offering up everywhere. All I wanted was some Virginia Woolf! But it seems one cannot escape it.

And it worries me a little. The message that all of these people are getting about romance. It’s like Disney but with sex and pointy teeth. I love Disney, but one cannot deny that the damsel in distress saved by a handsome prince motif is hardly healthy. But at least there are some positive messages getting out there. It’s a nice, happy, family friendly story. But that’s another post for another day. Soon, perhaps. But with Twilight, this Disneyfied version of love is taken to a sinister new level. He fricking well watches her when she sleeps! She cries herself to sleep for a *year*! And this is supposed to be the ideal? Awesome, Meyer. Just awesome.

But my boyfriend and I (the aforementioned, Twilight-watching-although-he-was-totally-dragged-by-his-friend boyfriend) had a bit of a disagreement about the subject this weekend. As a feminist the idea of propagating this ideal is repulsive. I truly think that as a writer that aims her work at teenage girls (and women of other ages, and perhaps people of other genders) she should think twice about the message she’s sending out. Yeah, it’s great to make a lot of money but think of the sort of damage that message is doing. I really think that writers have a responsibility if their target audience is teenagers. Just like you wouldn’t put hardcore drug use into a book about rabbits for children (you know, unless you’re Lewis Carroll…) don’t perpetuate this weird stalkerish ideal of romance.

But on the flipside, I don’t believe in censorship (for the most part – age appropriate censorship perhaps). It’s not conducive to great work, and who gets to decide what is good and what is bad when it comes to art, when it’s all a matter of taste? Perhaps what I am advocating here is self-censorship. A responsible attitude to art and literature, especially when directed at young adults who are finding the world confusing and difficult enough without pining after imaginary sparkly vampires.

Paul, however, disagrees. I understand his point. I very much doubt that Stephanie Meyer had an evil intention when writing the Twilight series to indoctrinate a generation of young girls into wanting a weird abstinence-based relationship with a possessive dead dude (preferably – I’m sure many would take possessive and manipulative even if they couldn’t get undead). She probably thought it was romantic herself, and perhaps wants that kind of relationship for herself. But does anyone else get the creeps that he has to control himself from killing her because her blood is so delicious? It’s like the ‘you made me do it’ argument often used by abusers. Not romantic to me. At all. But still, maybe that’s her fantasy. Or if not she was out to make big bucks and wrote the kind of book that she knew would appeal to a wide audience despite the terrible prose. Maybe a mixture of the two. But I still have some beef with it.

It’s like the Harry Potter phenomenon. Yeah, it’s great that loads of people are starting to read more because of Twilight, and that was the same thing said about Harry Potter. But you know what? In Harry Potter there are a lot of strong female role models. And male ones. There is romance but it takes a secondary place to the strong friendship between the principal characters. Maybe I’m biased because I adore Harry Potter, but that seems like a pretty good message to be sending out to me.

So what do you think? Do you think that authors have a responsibility that they should take upon themselves to give out positive messages to potentially impressionable people? Or is that too much censorship? Should I not be so patronising and hope that the millions of people religiously following the Twilight series are clever enough not to absorb this message that it’s great to be a pathetic girl and wait for a potentially abusive man to save you? What’s your take on all this?


Book Review: The Pregnant Widow

I’m so upset that I’m not at Hay Festival right now. Because tomorrow’s line-up looks phenomenal. Not only is Stephen Fry doing a talk, but Zadie Smith and Martin Amis are both on the line up. Now Zadie Smith is awesome for all sorts of reasons, and coincidentally I actually read White Teeth at Hay Festival last year. But this year I’d be more interested in seeing Martin Amis. Which is surprising given that he is a grumpy old man with a penchant for misogyny. Or so the legend goes. He, in fact, denies it. And tells us that his book is a ‘very feminist’ book although he admits it will get him in trouble.

And indeed it has not been received particularly well from this group of lovely people at The Review Show. Supposedly about the feminist revolution and the destruction that it wreaked on the people that were affected by sexual liberation, I found (as it seems did Germaine Greer – *fan girl moment*) that there was an awful lot of focus on body parts. Scheherazade has big tits. Gloria has a big arse. And Keith’s girlfriend Lily has neither. And that seems to be all that matters for a lot of the book. Keith’s main mission is to sleep with as many of the girls as possible. And then *spoiler alert* he marries all of them in succession.

The characterisation of the female characters is weak. Scheherazade is a ridiculous appropriation of the poor little rich girl stereotype, lifted from piece of chick lit where marriage is the only goal (although that’s derogatory to chick lit, I am aware and am reading a book about that very subject at the moment and thus I present this long back-covering disclaimer). And she’s the only woman who ends up happy, because she does get married and have kids, ignoring the sexual liberation movement. Woop. Well done girl.

Violet, however, Keith’s free-spirited sister, gets destroyed. Killed off because she has too much sex. She is apparently based on Amis’ own sister Sally, whom Martin is convinced was killed by her promiscuity or some other such ridiculous. Well, maybe it was actually nothing to do with feminism. And neither is the demise of Violet who appears to have mental health issues and is dire need of some help. That’s why she dies. Not because feminists allowed women their sexual agency, and made it less (not completely) shameful to have sex as a woman.

Keith is an overly whiny character. He needs to get some courage and just deal with his issues. He always seems to want to blame someone else for his own failings in life. And it’s irritating. He is not a loveable character and quite honestly I’m not rooting for him for most of it. Or any of it, actually.

But despite all this, despite Amis’ desire to elevate his own (or Keith’s own, although it’s supposed to be semi-autobiographical. Sometimes you get the impression that this is Amis’ wet dream dressed up as literature) struggle to a higher level by associating it with 1970s feminism, I really enjoyed this book. The personal is not always political, which I think Amis might need to think about before he tries this sort of thing, but despite it making me angry every now and again (particularly the pretentiousness of Keith’s character) I liked it. It’s evocative and well-written and clever and the story is enjoyable (although I feel it tapers out a bit when we get into serious mid-life crisis territory). It’s not the usual ‘zomg look how postmodern I am’ offering from Amis and I really liked it. Maybe even loved it. Eep.

And here’s some people better qualified to talk about the book than me talking about it. Enjoy!