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?


6 Comments on “Twilight and Feminist Responsibility”

  1. Courtney S. says:

    I don’t see how being ethical is at all like censorship. Whether or not Myers intended to indoctrinate (she probably wouldn’t use that word, but I think she intended to do just that), she is responsible for her words.

  2. Paul says:

    To be clear, I don’t disagree all that strongly as I think a lot of the criticism levelled at the film is correct. The crying / screaming to sleep for months on end was an unpleasant scene to watch for the reasons alluded to above for instance. My thoughts though are that the author was simply writing based on her own views of what romance, lust, love and heartbreak are. As it happens this has caught on with a large section of society and become very popular. I was questioning whether she has a responsibility , at the stage of putting pen to paper, to ensure everything is self affirming and positive or should she be able to write without concern for the affect on the audience? Would the series have been as popular if the female lead was a strong confident woman, who could easily see that the stroppy, moody, miserable, twinkly boy was a big mistake from the start?

  3. Courtney S. says:

    Should commercial success really be more important than the effect your narratives have? Myers’s work has reprehensible things to say about romance, sex, and the relationship between men and women. Just because she thinks they’re morally superior doesn’t make her right, or make her *not responsible* for a retrograde cultural obsession. If she had written a book in which she, in all sincerity and with the best of intentions, endorsed racism or homophobia, do her own fucked-up ideas about what’s right and wrong excuse her from responsibility?

    Just because sexism sells doesn’t mean that Myers bears no responsibility. It just means our culture is *also* to blame.

  4. Courtney S. says:

    This reminds of an argument in which I argued that people should culturally and individually censor offensive humor (e.g. I refuse to be around people who make offensive racist jokes). I was told, “That’s censorship!” Which is, of course, bullshit, because letting everyone say whatever they want does not preclude cutting off my individual freedom to tell them to fuck off, or decide they’re assholes. Culturally, we should have a collective set of morals that ostracizes people who say bad things, like Neo-Nazis or the KKK.

    Thinking that authors should have a responsibility for the effects of their words just means that we can (partially, at least) *blame* Myers, call her an asshole, and consider her morally in the wrong. I feel like countering that with, “Hey, she was just trying to make money” makes her look even more like an immoral douchebag.

  5. Britni says:

    My problem is that Edward is held up to be this amazing boyfriend, and everything that a girl could ever want, but in reality, he’s an emotionally abusive asshole. I’m a therapist and I see many teenage clients, most of them girls. *All* the girls are obsessed with Twilight, and talk about how amazing Edward is. But he’s not. He’s verbally abusive, manipulative, emotionally abusive, and violent and angry. And *this* is what teenage girls are learning is the ideal boyfriend? That’s scary.

    I feel like if you’re writing young adult books geared towards teenage girls, you have at least some responsibility to set positive examples in your stories. Isn’t that the point of YA books? What kind of message are you sending your audience when you introduce a character like Edward, yet never point out his flaws or why he really *isn’t* the ideal man? The wrong one.

  6. jaded16 says:

    I’d like to see authors take more responsibility over what they write/produce. You can’t say, “I’m an artist and I live in a void” and get away with it every single time. Facts are, Twilight has become this generation’s Romeo and Juliet. Only, the Petrarchan lover trope has become the Patriarchal lover trope.

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