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New Moon and domestic violence

movie poster for New Moon featuring werewolf character Jacob Black and his fellow werewolf-men**Spoiler warning!**

So I saw the latest Twilight movie, New Moon, this weekend.*

I was prepared for the manipulative relationship between the protagonist Bella and her sparkly vampire bf Edward. I was prepared for not-exactly-feminist messages about centering your life around men. I was prepared for seriously awful acting and dialogue (the Academy really needs to institute a "Best Unintentional Comedy" Oscar category -- it would be a tight race between New Moon and Terminator Salvation).

However, I was not prepared for the way the movie portrays physical relationship violence, particularly in Native communities. For all the talk of Edward's abusiveness throughout feminist blogworld, I've seen much less written about domestic violence as it relates to the film's competing love interest, Jacob Black -- a 16-year-old Quileute boy who can turn into a werewolf.

At one point in the movie, Bella meets Emily, the fiance of one of Jacob's fellow werewolf-men. As she turns to put a plate of giant muffins on the table, we see that she has a massive scar on one half of her face:

picture of actress Tinsel Korey, who plays Emily, with a large scar on the right side of her face

After breakfast, once Jacob and Bella are alone in the car, Jacob explains that Emily's soon-to-be husband lost his temper "for a split second," became a werewolf, and mauled her. (Earlier in the film, he has told Bella that this whole turning-into-a-werewolf-when-you-get-angry thing is actually a genetic trait carried by many men in his community.) He explains that he's worried that he's bad for Bella because he doesn't know if he can control his own anger.

picture of Bella and Jacob in the car, discussing the risk of violence associated with loving a werewolf

It's more than a little problematic for New Moon to portray violence as an endemic trait among Native men. Yes, domestic violence is a very real problem in American Indian communities. According to Sacred Circle, Native women are more likely to experience violence than any other U.S. population. A full 64 percent of American Indian women will be physically assaulted in their lifetime. They are also stalked at more than twice the rate of other women. But to imply that this is a result of Native people's genes rather than related to other issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, or centuries of racism and marginalization, is inexcusable. (See Latoya's post on Jacob Black for more on Twilight's treatment of Native communities.)

This theme of uncontrollable tempers and violence is also disturbing in the context of the film's Edward vs. Jacob set-up. Bella's options, as New Moon portrays them, are essentially to become a blood-sucking monster by marrying the patronizing, emotionally manipulative Edward or to risk her safety by choosing the patronizing, possibly physically violent Jacob. Oh how I wish for a third option: Emily and Bella bake muffins for each other and find fulfilling lives that are centered on them, not men with fangs. Sadly, I'm guessing that's not where Eclipse, the next book/movie in the series, is going to go. Maybe I need to start writing feminist fan-fic.


* Yes, I knew going in that this was not a triumph of feminist cinema. But given what a major pop-culture phenomenon Twilight is, especially among tween girls, I do think it's important for feminists to engage with it, not bury our heads in the sand and pretend it's not happening.

Posted by Ann - December 14, 2009, at 03:57PM | in Movies , People of Color , Violence Against Women , Women of Color

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79 Comments

[0+] Author Profile Page SociologicalMe said:

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who thought Emily was a victim of domestic violence. It seems so rare that anyone actually applies the term to that relationship in the book, and it's been driving me nuts. You can say what you want about Bella having choices, but Emily clearly didn't ask to be maimed. I haven't seen the movie, but in the book there was such a strong and disturbing undercurrent of "so watch what you say to me, little girl" from Jacob when he told Bella about Emily's injuries. Making domestic violence seem ok is so totally unacceptable...and the implications of the perp being Quileute just make the whole situation worse. These books/movies are so full of fail.

[0+] Author Profile Page across said:

I'd have to say "amen" to this, too. I don't take these Twilight movies too seriously, and have found myself caught up in the giddy romance of it all but some of the behaviour is just so unhealthy! Bella doesn't get over Edward, she just moves on to another guy. The minute Jacob isn't there, she reverts back to staring numbly into space. Her whole world depends on a guy. Breakups are hard, but come on! And yes, I also had issues with the undertones of domestic abuse. The movie seems to imply it was Emily who was standing too close, rather than her fiance, who was the one who made a mistake and lost his temper. The women in this movie are always subjugated by men. But the books were written by a Mormon housewife, so perhaps we need to think about how her own reality as a woman in the 21st century has been translated onto the page.

Well, yes. And according to Mormonism, modern-day Native Americans are descendants of the Nephites, who were a tribe of Israel who fell into wickedness. God cursed them for their wickedness with dark skin. Native Americans = Evil in Mormon mythology.

You can't really expect Meyer to neglect that little nugget in her Big Vampy Ode To How Awesome Joseph Smith Was.

[0+] Author Profile Page William replied to Mighty Ponygirl :

Actually, those were the Lamanites. The Nephites were "a white and delightsome people," who went extinct by Lamanite hand at the end of the book. Which makes the book even more problematic, since it says Native Americans are descended from genocidal maniacs that killed off all the nice white people and let the country fall into sin until more white people came and Christianized everything.

(I used to be a Mormon as a kid)

Huh, I double-checked the Nephite/Lamanite dichotomy... I thought it was the other way around and now re-reading, I realize that the whole wickedness/destruction thing was very poorly worded and may need a re-write on the wikipedia page. :)

[0+] Author Profile Page annebella said:

I'm in no way defending the books (or movies) -- the messages are atrocious -- but the way this scene read (and watched) to me was not that Emily was mauled, but that she was standing too close to her fiancee when he transitioned into a werewolf, and when he "exploded" into his new body, he inadvertently hurt her. Obviously, the message remains that it's somehow okay to be with someone who could be potentially dangerous to you. But I don't believe Meyer's intention was to impart that the werewolf-men were actively abusive...?

[0+] Author Profile Page Mytrr replied to annebella :

See, though, it still smacks too close to blaming the victim, like she shouldn't ever stand within so many feet of her fiance in case HE decides or happens to morph into wolf form, and if she does stand within that space, then she's taking her chances. It puts the onus on the victim to avoid the violence, whether that violence is intentional or not. The onus should be on the person who is potentially dangerous to avoid putting others in danger.

Regardless of whether the violence is accidental, a genetic trait, or something that "just happens" when the guy loses his temper, it's still just a way to romanticize domestic abuse. Someday, our ancestors will look at this Twilight trash and use it to teach people what toxic relationships look like. I also think that some day, giving a tweenager one of these books may be considered a form of child abuse. But that's just my opinion. I understand that many people are able to see fiction as fiction meant to entertain, but the Twilight series, and the ways it's being marketed, seems rather manipulative and predatory.

[0+] Author Profile Page Whitefox replied to Mytrr :

If it is accidental, or spontaneously genetic (not saying that it is) how does this romanticize domestic abuse? Not the film or books in their entirety, but this instance. Not clear on that.

[0+] Author Profile Page Jordan replied to Whitefox :

in the book it's pretty clear that he got mad at her and scratched up her face, and of course she stays because she loves him...

[0+] Author Profile Page Teresa replied to Jordan :

in the book it definately leans more on the "they had an argument, he turned into a werewolf, she got hurt". I don't think that whether she was standing close to him when he turned really makes much of a difference. That's like someone saying "well, we got in an argument and I got angry and went to punch a wall but she/he was in the way".
With every plot twist the book takes it just leads more and more down this dark, gloomy trail to the land of unhealthy relationships (Bella's relationship with herself, as well as her relationship with Edward and Jacob). Bella is so insecure, and while I do think that the book holds true to the insecurities that people who are, say, 13 feel...it really bothered me that the main character exhibiting these insecurities was someone near adulthood.
As much as I do know real people who jump from relationship to relationship, and it is something that isn't age-related, I think this book (and I haven't read the last 2, no intention of finishing the series, but I made a friend give me the d-low so I know whats up)could have improved upon Bella's relationship with herself and focused more on that then her constant need for Edward.

Another thing is that Sam is the first to go through the change. He didn't even know what was happening to him. In fact, I think it's the first time he phased that he hurt Emily. There is also a female wolf by the name of Leah who will be in the 3rd movie.

Even with that, it does read too much like abuse for my comfort.

No, I think the idea is that he actually did assume werewolf form because he got angry at his wife. I'm pretty sure at some point in the film, Jacob says something along the lines of "You need to stay away from me... what if one day, I got angry at you, too? It's too dangerous."

My little sister, age ten, is pretty obsessed with the Twilight series. I showed her the 'Buffy vs. Twilight' mashup and asked her to think critically about how abusive Edward was. But then she just defected to "Team Jacob." I thought that was a little better, with the idea that he was slightly less abusive, but the OP is dead-on. I kind of can't believe I wasn't more outraged by this when I saw the film with her. If anything, this might be worse because it's singling out a demographic of people (Native Americans) who have already been through enough.

When I saw the film with my sister, I picked up on non-misogynist degradation of Jacob. His main appeal throughout the film (and the points where the audience screamed in delight) are the shots of him with his shirt off. Edward's appeal is supposed to be more his personality. Reducing people of color to bodies is a classic move. I wasn't aware of the Mormon stance on Native Americans, but this makes it all worse.

I'm going to have to think of a new angle to approach my sister with, in regards to thinking critically about this series.

That maybe the actor's main appeal, but it isn't why fans might be Team Jacob. A lot of them like him b/c he's got a more fun loving, warmer personality

Uh, okay, but you're totally missing my point.

Throughout history, the subjugation of people of color (as well as of women, and of working-class people) has relied heavily on a strategy of reducing them to nothing but their bodies. Like animals, oppressed groups are portrayed as having little to no intelligence. If they are praised it is in terms of their value as hardworking or beautiful bodies --think of a slave, or a working-class person, doing manual labor. A person of color dancing or performing in sports. A woman cooking food. A woman giving birth. A woman cleaning the house. A woman having sex.

None of those activities are, on their own, problematic. I'm not saying people of color shouldn't participate in athletics, or that women can't like to cook without being oppressed. All I am saying is that, historically speaking (and still today), there exist stereotypes that oppressed people are good at this kind of thing, and this kind of thing only. This kind of thing: an activity for which you don't need to have abstract intellectual or analytical powers so much as "instinct," "intuition," and the like.

Think about it. A construction worker builds houses with their muscles. A C.E.O. organizes and manages a company. If Jacob is sexualized more explicitly in terms of his body than Edward is, and especially if we know the author has a bias against Native people, we have every reason to believe that she is perpetuating a stereotype that if people of color have a saving grace, it is in terms of their bodily-intuition and physical appeal and not in any more sophisticated intelligence.

As for why fans are on "Team Jacob," I don't even want to talk about that. Like I said before, both of them embody abusive stereotypes, even if Jacob's abusive behavior isn't as dark or introspective as Edward's.

[0+] Author Profile Page daveNYC said:

"Maybe I need to start writing feminist fan-fic."

Be careful with that. Strikes me you could have a potential matter/anti-matter situation if your fan-fic ever came in contact with the original material.

Technically he's not turning into a werewolf. His ability to change from human to wolf form means that he is a werewolf. /nerd

[0+] Author Profile Page Laura said:

I agree on almost everything you noted here, about Edward being emotionally abusive and Jacob being possibly physically abusive. Annebella brought up a good point that Meyer's intention was not that they were actually abusive and meant to hurt their loved ones. It's just that these are werewolves and Sam was standing too close to Emily. And I don't believe that all women in this book are subjugated to men. I mean, take Victoria for instance, who's the number one threat. She doesn't rely on a man to do anything for her or even help her in killing humans!! Alice and Rosalie are independant, capable females as well. I don't like the way in which the protagonist is portrayed as a weakling who can't live for herself, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that all the females in this novel are treated as secondary to males.

But remember that Victoria's sole purpose in the plot was to avenge the killing of James.

[0+] Author Profile Page SociologicalMe replied to Laura :

Ok, I'm willing to believe (although I'm very skeptical) that Meyer has only the best intentions, and does not see any of her writing as depicting domestic violence of any kind.

I also don't actually care. Because good intentions don't change the fact that what she's describing, when it actually happens in the real world, IS domestic violence. Describing domestic violence but calling it a horrible, one-time misunderstanding that doesn't count because he totally loves her he just has a bad temper--this is irresponsible writing, especially if it's directed at teens and tweens.

If she had a different intent and it's all an innocent misunderstanding, she's had plenty of time to put out a statement on the matter. Anyone heard one yet?

I am 100% with you on the feminist fanfic.
Alice will be the main character, and she can give lessons on being independently awesome to Bella and other characters, and then they can all go and have their own adventures that don't revolved around the male characters! And Victoria will be all "Sorry for hatin', James was silly anyway, chicks before dicks and all that!", and they will all live happily ever after...

But really, I'm shocked that I didn't get the domestic violence reference. I had just kind of accepted the whole 'woops its a werewolf' premise.
Wow...

http://www.fanfiction.net/s/5086147/1/Imprisoned

A few people have beat you to the punch there with the feminist Twilight fanfic. This writer has written some other pretty subversive Twilight pieces, and it makes me feel a lot less guilty that I'm reading fanfic (let alone Twilight fanfic).

[0+] Author Profile Page Athenia said:

I really wish Emily would have left Sam after that and he would have been eternally screwed over cuz he "imprinted" on her.

I'm sure Leah (the chick Sam screws over) would have LOVED that scenerio!

The imprinting issue was actually the most disturbing aspect of the wolf storyline to me. The women who were the subjects of the imprinting were completely denied any agency whatsoever. (And that's not even touching on the infancy issue...)

[0+] Author Profile Page blue replied to Fresh Peaches :

Um, actually they were. The book says that they're free to choose whoever they wanted. However, because they're showered with so much adulation they usually end up choosing the person who imprinted on them.

[0+] Author Profile Page Athenia replied to Fresh Peaches :

Oh, they have "agency" so says Jacob and Meyers, but they seem guilted into it more than anything.

Maybe Nessie doesn't end up with Jacob anyway. LOL

The men didn't really get a choice either - I think it's just another element of racism on SMeyer's part. She keeps talking about choices, and here she has male werewolves stripped of choice, it's forces completely beyond their own consciousness that compel them to imprint on their victims (to say nothing of how the victims are stripped of choice). It's just another kind of "People of color are subhuman and enslave their women (and women aren't people anyway)" trope.

[0+] Author Profile Page Athenia replied to GalFawkes :

I think it's another "romantic" device---these imprinted boys will *always* be devoted to their partner--not age, no other people, lack of beauty, jobs etc will come between their devotion.

Jacob also says they will be "customed tailored." However, I fail to see the romance in that. I wouldn't want my partner to know me since I was 2.

my little 2nd cousin (ok, she's not really little, she's a freshman in high school) really likes the series. frankly, im surprised my cousin lets her read them.

is there a side by side or comparison chart somewhere on the internets about how edward/jacob's behaviour mirrors emotionally and physically abusive relationships?

i absolutely hate how this series normalises domestic violence.

I don't know about a chart, but there's a series of comics that someone drew on Deviantart that cover some of the issues. The one I remember is this one: Stephenie's Lesson.

Correct me if I'm wrong (I haven't actually read the books or seen the movies, but a friend loves them), but isn't there also a domestic/sexual violence issue with Edward in the third or fourth book? I can remember being horrified when my friend told me about it, despite the fact that she thought it was 'sexy'.

Yes. Another blogger has done a comparison between Edward/Bella and the domestic violence checklist here:

http://kar3ning.livejournal.com/545639.html

Their relationship fits every one of the 15 warning signs. Every. One. More moms need to talk to their daughters about this.

[0+] Author Profile Page lookingwest replied to Bevin :

Basically, yes, that's true too.

**SPOILER WARNING**

Later on in Breaking Dawn, the fourth book, after Edward and Bella get married, they have sex on their honeymoon. The intercourse itself isn't described, but when Bella wakes up the next morning, she had bruises all over her body. When she asks Edward about it, he says that he "got carried away" or something to that effect. Basically, he couldn't control his "animalistic love" for her, and not only bruised her body because of his vampiric force, but also broke the headboard of the bed, and tore apart all of the pillows.

By this point in the novel, I was completely repulsed.

What I also find considering the Native American abuse undertone that's so chilling is the act of the "imprinting" mentioned above. The fact that Emily couldn't even leave Sam if she wanted to, because she has imprinted on him, completely takes away all free will. It's terrible.

What's even more frightening: The movie New Moon has the most Native cast than any other block buster ever made. I'm a student at the University of South Dakota, and the chair of the American Indian Studies department, Dr. Elizabeth Castle who specializes in Native American Women Activism, has decided to write some journal work analyzing the franchise...I'm very curious to see what happens with it.

I really can't believe that this is one of the biggest franchises since Harry Potter, mainly pushed for tween girls, and that it has so many visible flaws. It's extremely frightening to think that most tween girls fawn over Edward and Jacob, and I would fully support awareness and involvement from the feminist community.

Emily has NOT imprinted on Sam and could leave him any time that she wanted to. Imprinting is only permanent for those who are wolves. Emily is not a wolf, but her cousin Leah is.

The first time they have sex, Bella is still a human, and he completely ravages her, like, literally. She's bruised and injured in all kinds of ways. Naturally, she's totes ok with it because she just looooves Edward so much and he just didn't have any control over himself!!

It's quite revolting.

[0+] Author Profile Page Ellen Marie-Frances replied to Bevin :

yeah the most prominent one i can think of is the next morning after Bella and Edward have had "teh sex" for the first time. Bella wakes up with massive bruises covered from head to toe along with pillow feathers and parts of the headboard from the bedframe. she thinks it's so hot that they had sex like animals. yep, she's a weirdo.

[0+] Author Profile Page aleks replied to Bevin :

In the fourth book they finally get married and go at it, and since he's a vampire god and she's mere mortal flesh he nearly kills her. Then she gets pregnant with a half-vampire baby that breaks her spine by kicking, and Edward performs a c-section with his fangs.

[0+] Author Profile Page Gopher replied to aleks :

Weird. Happy I'm not into this crap.

[0+] Author Profile Page Icewyche replied to Bevin :

Yup...in Book 4, Edward loses it during "rough sex" and leaves Bella covered in bruises that she doesn't remember getting and shrugs off when she finds out. He also breaks the headboard and bites pillows to shreds (I'm not making that up); apparently his super vampire strength is just too much for her fragile humanness or something. And we won't even go into what happens after she gets insta-preggers with his half-vampire DeathBaby.

[0+] Author Profile Page Sloppy Sandwich said:

**Spoiler warning!**

This movie sucks.

[0+] Author Profile Page masculine_lady said:

I agree with most of this, but I do want to correct something. You said:

"But to imply that this is a result of Native people's genes rather than related to other issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, or centuries of racism and marginalization, is inexcusable. "

Domestic and sexual violence are merely exacerbated by drug and alcohol abuse, as well as marginalization and racism, they are NOT caused by those things. Committing acts of violence is always a choice that the person doing it makes. This means that Meyer also backs up batterers oft-used excuse: "I couldn't help it, I lost control." This has been proven time and again to be complete and utter bullshit.

[0+] Author Profile Page AnnaBella said:

I'll be about the millionth person to say this, but thank you SO MUCH for this. This is exactly what I was thinking when I saw New Moon, but you've said it better than I could. I didn't see the first film because it just looked awful, but I decided to see the second one so that I'd know what I was talking about when I trashed it in conversation. Just terrible.

[0+] Author Profile Page blue said:

Yes, thank you for addressing this! I've read all of the books and the scene where Meyer introduces Emily pisses me off to no end. Emily's Husband (Sam) comes into the room and starts stroking and kissing her scars. Bella says something along the lines of: "I finally understand what true love looks like."

I feel as if the embrace depicted in New Moon is analogous to saying, "Yeah he mauled her, but he feels really bad about it."

Side note - Emily's twin sister Leah is also a werewolf.

Leah & Emily are cousins, not sisters.
This is important b/c the wolf trait is genetic. If they were sisters, Emily would be a wolf too (which would be awesome).

[0+] Author Profile Page PenningtonBeast replied to roxie :

Please stop defending this trash and read a real werewolf book.

I think it's important people get what they're talking about correct

[0+] Author Profile Page Blitzgal said:

People have mentioned the imprinting issue, and there is another facet of that situation that needs to be pointed out. All werewolves (save one) in these novels are male. So you have male characters choosing their mates regardless of what the female wants. Meyer may want to chalk that crap up to "destiny" or whatever, but the fact remains that the male characters are portrayed as knowing what's best for the women in their lives...even to the extreme ridiculous point that a character falls in love with an infant girl. All I can see in my mind when I read this garbage are all the twelve year old girls who are being handed over to adult men in fundamentalist Mormon societies and being told that "God" has determined that they are meant to be their wives.

There is a female wolf. Her name is Leah. Through out the series, she does not imprint.

The males don't choose their mates. Imprinting is involuntary.

[0+] Author Profile Page Blitzgal replied to roxie :

I'm aware of that. That's why I said "all werewolves (save one) are male." Leah doesn't appear to imprint on anyone in the books, however, which I also find interesting.

Ah! Sorry, I missed that. Thank you.

[0+] Author Profile Page Alex Catgirl said:

Well it is a story about were-creatures, and it is just the way the genre has evolved. I don't like were-creature stories that much, I've been wanting to read Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville series (about a female werewolf) but I haven't gotten a chance. I know the "Pack" mentality permeates most urban fantasy novels when it comes to shape-shifters and guys don't fare much better.

Were creatures fight...a lot, especially over mates and for dominance, similar to the animals whose nature they share.

That said, Twilight still sux

[0+] Author Profile Page stabbygail said:

I think another disturbing dimension of the Sam/Emily incident is that the whole thing is primarily framed in terms of how hard it is for Sam. It's hard for him to live with himself, to see what he's done to her, etc. The whole thing is used to represent the terrible burden of the werewolf curse or whatever the hell it's supposed to be. But other than a mention that Emily doesn't want people staring at her, there's not much thought given to what the whole incident does to her. Instead, we get the message that if a partner hurts you, the right thing to do is reassure them it isn't there fault whether the hurt was intentional or not, and stand by them. Which is a complicated decision in real life, but in the world of the novels/movies, it's just an assumption.

[0+] Author Profile Page Lexie Tourek said:

I've been contemplating for awhile now why this series is so captivating. I am a feminist and disagree with the messages about gender roles and the portrayal of Bella's love life in Twilight. I think Emily is a survivor of domestic violence, yet despite these dimensionless representations of complex gendered issues, I was addicted to Twilight.

While watching "New Moon" on opening night, it dawned on me that I was apart of this weird Twilight-zone. Young girls, mothers, teens, boys, and I were living in this fantasy world where adherence to traditional gender roles have no negative effect. It's as if all feminist problems dealt with in the book have a happy ending. There is no greater consequence of Emily staying with Sam, and Bella's deep depression and destructive behavior ultimately lead her back to the love of her life.

Twilight is an escapist fantasy that masks real issues and glorifies traditional gender roles to the point where they're desirable. The reader wants Edward or Jacob so badly because Bella does. We see the joy, passion and happiness that Bella has and escape into an arguably un-feminist world because it's easy, it's what Bella does, and it's what the greater forces of society are pushing us to do anyway. We are allowed to escape into a world where Emily's abuser never hurts her again, and the lion loves the lamb with no harm. In reality, these are dreams that are easy to believe but hardly attainable in such a patriarchal society.

I'm unsure about what this critique means for the role of Twilight in our society. Could it be a feminist fantasy, where Bella and Emily are making empowered choices as womyn to adhere to traditional gender roles, and the fantasy that there are no consequences to those actions is the world of gender equality yet to come? Or is it a justification/coping mechanism for lives society forces onto womyn?

[0+] Author Profile Page Ellen Marie-Frances replied to Lexie Tourek :

wow you totally summed up everything i've been trying to say for the past couple months in just that one post. thank you so much! i totally agree with you on all of that. i too was drawn into that surreal world where there were no more consequences after an apology or a scene where the lovers are reunited. it's a slipperly slope if you allow yourself to become fooled into believing all of this can happen for everyone searching for love. great way to sum it up doll!

[0+] Author Profile Page kungfulola replied to Lexie Tourek :

"The reader wants Edward or Jacob so badly because Bella does. We see the joy, passion and happiness that Bella has and escape into an arguably un-feminist world because it's easy, it's what Bella does, and it's what the greater forces of society are pushing us to do anyway."

I think that this "works" for readers because Bella is such a Mary Sue, so empty and flavourless, that the reader can project themselves onto her completely. For some readers, this intense identification with a character is really engaging. I can see how it's "addictive".

Personally, I can only really enjoy a show, film, or book when I can identify in some way - it's also the exact reason why I hate John Irving novels or Seinfeld, because all the characters are horrible people. The only reason I resisted Twilight when I got it as a birthday gift two and a half years ago, was because I felt as if I was being manipulated into identifying with Bella, just by virtue of her complete absence of an inner life.

These books are anti-feminist through and through.

But to play devil's advocate for a second, the werewolves are monsters and dangerous to humans. It is supposed to parallel how the vampires are monsters and dangerous to humans. Most of the vampires are white / western european. Its not a racial thing, its "the way they are" because they are monsters not because they are native americans or europeans, its because they are wolves and vampires.

As for domestic violence in these books, I would far prefer to focus on the fourth book where Edward beats Bella to a pulp on their wedding night, but its ok because "she knows he loves her" and they've been saving their virginity for each other.

It was actually an accident. If you were as masochistic and bored as I was, and read the book, you would have found this out. For your sake, however, I would recommend you assume I am right and not try to find our yourself.

Whether or not Emily's face was from accident or abuse:

1. Twilight sucks.
2. Jacob is underage.
3. All the women in the tribe bake food and sit at home. The sole werewolf female is, of course, weak and stupid, and submissive to the males.

Whoa, I totally disagree about Leah. She is far from weak. She deals with a lot having to be the only female wolf that (un/fortunately) doesn't get explored in the books. She has to deal with being a beta to Sam's alpha..Sam who was her boyfriend, but then imprinted on her cousin Emily.

She isn't dumb. The first chance she gets to be out from under Sam, she takes it.

She is only submissive where she has no other choice to be--being a beta to Sam's alpha...but this is true of all the wolves.

[0+] Author Profile Page SociologicalMe replied to nobody :

I. Don't. Care. that it was written as an accident. See my reply to Laura, above. And I DID read the damn books, at least up to New Moon.

I also think there's far less discussion about violence between Jacob and Bella because there is none. The Emily situation is scary. But Jacob did not do that to Emily, and Jacob never physically harms Bella, he doesn't even really threaten her as far as I can tell. He warns her that he is dangerous, but he manages to control himself, which makes him a more admirable character as a result, given that Bella's "true" love Edward repeatedly proved he can't control his monster inside... at least until he imprints on Bella's toddler rapidly aging half vampire daughter, which makes him creepy.

Great post. I agree with you entirely that "it's important for feminists to engage with it, not bury our heads in the sand and pretend it's not happening."

There are some comparisons out there that consider the abusive nature of Edward/Jacob -- I think Twilight Newborns did a podcast on this.

As for Bevin's question, Edward is abusive too - he sabotages Bella's car and leaves her covered in bruises after the "head-board busting" honeymoon sex. She is portrayed as loving this -- which is disturbing in its own right.

If you all are interested in more feminist/critical analysis of the series, I hope you will visit my blog at seducedbytwilight.wordpress.com

I agree with Ann that it's important to offer feminist analysis of this popular series. In fact, I am writing a book on the subject to this end in hopes of helping girls/fans re-think their love for the series...

And, lastly, I love this idea presented by Ann: "Emily and Bella bake muffins for each other and find fulfilling lives that are centered on them, not men with fangs."

[0+] Author Profile Page SociologicalMe said:

As I always say, I'm on Team They're Both Manipulative Jerks.

[0+] Author Profile Page Toongrrl replied to SociologicalMe :

I am on Team GetBellaTheHellOutOfHereAndOpenaRenegadeFeministShelterAndArmy. What happened to "As Told by Ginger"?

[0+] Author Profile Page omghaygurlhay said:

Other than the obvious mormon agenda, Stephanie Meyer is bad, but she's not the worst. She can't even seem to break out of the middle of being a tired, cliche-spouting hack. Bella thinks she's ugly though she's worshipped by everyone in her school, is as "pure" as the driven snow and is loved by the fault of her adorable clumsiness. So when she meets a vampire, she falls madly in love with him. But he's not your normal vampire. He's also good and sweet, because he feeds off mountain lions, and when he goes out during the day he glitters like a rainbow in the sun. It's truly an incredible story, up there with the best of Plath.

Stephanie Meyer is the literary world's biggest troll, making money off being purely awful and marketing it towards a group that has no idea what constitutes good literature.

I have only read three chapters in secret so that I could truly eviscerate the fans and actually have reason to hate... what I did not foresee is just how many reasons I would have to hate it. It defeated me in three chapters.

[0+] Author Profile Page earthling said:

I haven't read/seen Twilight (and have no wish to) however I'm interested in the Native issue. I live in the UK, and watch a lot of American TV and films. I've noticed that Native Americans are conspicuous by their absence in most of these, and where they are present, they are marginal characters, stereotyped, made fun of or portrayed negatively (some of my favourite programmes are culprits of this, such as The Simpsons or Curb Your Enthusiasm or The West Wing even). Northern Exposure is the only series I've seen which is an exception to this. Is that a fair assessment?

Taken in the context of my experience with American TV/films, this negative portrayal of Natives in Twilight is not surprising in the least. It is deeply offensive and we are right to talk about it, but I think that it's not just Twilight that needs a critique from this angle but a *lot* of other American media too.

[0+] Author Profile Page Mashow replied to earthling :

I agree that the poor portrayal of Native Americans and the lack of Natives in the media is a huge problem, in Canada and the United States. The majority of the racism I encounter in my very multiculutural community is against Natives - they're all assumed to homeless drunks and criminals.

For me, the character Jacob is a representation of the "noble savage" - an attempt to redress negative portrayals of Native Americans in an unintentionally patronizing manner. Jacob is kind, gentle and devoted - noble - until he isn't. He is a beast unintentionally. He does not choose to become a beast and he cannot control himself when he does. His true nature is the wolf - innocently vicious = noble savage. People generally associate native culture with wilderness and animals, and unconsciously, they think of natives as more "wild" or "animal-like." It's no accident that in Stephanie Meyer's books, the werewolves are natives and the white Europeans are the human-looking "civilized" beasts.

As an aside: If you want to watch a good show about Natives, watch North of 60 (a Canadian show).

[0+] Author Profile Page Mishi said:

I don't think Smeyer knows enough about Native American culture or practices to imply that an entire people is full of abusers and domestic violence, if that makes sense. She's just attempting to portray her twisted stalkerish-"chivalrous" version of "romance"

I think the far more pressing feminist issue in the books is the way that no female character can define herself outside of men. Take Leah for example, in the fourth book she goes on for pages about how she probably can't imprint because her periods stopped when she became a wolf, imprinting was the wolfy way of finding the best genetic match for yourself to create more wolves, and all she really wants is a baby. She's portrayed as lesser because of her inability to get pregnant, a common theme in the novels.

She's also consistently portrayed at being an annoying harpy, is vilified for being hurt that her fiance left her for her cousin, and is generally a drag to be around because she's female.

[0+] Author Profile Page Topanga053 said:

I think some of these critiques are misguided. I also find it frustrating that several of the posters are critiquing the series without first having read all of the books. As always, the books provide more details than the movies and all of the books taken together provide more context for the dynamics of the relationship between Bella, Edward, and Jacob. (Afterall, I have yet to hear any critique that Jacob's continuous and pointless pursuit to substantiate his unrequited love for Bella is unfair to men because it romanticizes one man's decision to center his life around a woman who will never return his love.)

The main article asserts that Bella's life is centered around men, particularly the "emotionally manipulative Edward." There's a lot of emphasis put on the fact that Bella is depressed after Edward's departure. What is not mentioned, however, is why Edward left. In reality, Edward left, despite the pain it caused him, in an attempt to give Bella a "normal" and happy life. His decision to leave can be seen as self-sacrificing, rather than manipulative. However, if Bella left him for the same reason, I suspect many of you would critique that decision as validating the belief that women should put their desires secondary to their husband's/significant other's. In other words, any plot line can be interpreted as glorifying the subjugation of women.

Bella and Edward are equally co-dependent in the series, with Edward going so far as trying to end his life when he thinks Bella is dead. The series does not glorify women centering their lives around men. If anything, it glorifies obsessional, co-dependent relationships.

I just finished reading Under the Banner of Heaven, a pretty scathing critique of Mormonism (Twilight is to Mormondom what Narnia is to mainline protestants).

Frankly, the whole Jacob imprinting on Bella's infant child and "falling in love with her and will marry her later" and Bella being just peachy fine with that is a little TOO similar to the practice in the FLDS church of handing over your barely-teenage daughter to an old man, often someone in your family (the incidence of men marrying their own stepdaughters as plural wives was cited often enough in the book that it doesn't appear to be a rarity).

Meyer herself has as much as admitted that Mormonism plays a big part in the Twilight series. Whether you want to call it indoctrination or simply propaganda, it's about as healthy for a pre-teen's social development as feeding twinkies to an infant is to physical development.

[0+] Author Profile Page Topanga053 replied to Mighty Ponygirl :

Under the Banner of Heaven sounds very interesting. I'll have to check it out.

At any rate, the paralellism between FLDS and Jacob's imprinting is interesting. However, if the concern is that it's disasterous for pre-teens' development because it will socialize them into believing that such arrangements are idyllic, then I think the concern is unfounded. Clearly the FLDS (and Middle Eastern) practice of young arranged marriages is so antithetical to the current cultural norms of this country that one movie is not enough to acheive any sort of meaningful socialization. Indeed, admittedly without knowing a lot about FLDS, it seems like Jacob's imprinting on Bella's daughter is either different from the practice of the Mormon church (which, to my understanding, not infrequently involves the sexual molestation of the young women) or a highly romanticized version of it. After all, not only is Jacob's love for Bella's daughter pure, but she returns it. While she's young, the relationship is one of platonic comradory. I don't think anything in the text indicates that she ever lacks the power to leave or to not marry Jacob later in life, if that's what she chooses. The text doesn't restrict her autonomy; it merely sets the stage for the possibility--or probability--of an age-appropiate, consenual relationship when she's of age.

So wait, the idea of "fated love" that runs throughout Twilight suddenly doesn't apply when a werewolf happens to imprint on an infant? Just because?

Sorry, the theme of the series is very much that love is a matter of destiny and attempting to fight that destiny will only result in heartache. You can't just declare that Esme whatever suddenly has autonomy because Meyer took the nonsense into a realm that makes most people uncomfortable.

While brutal rape definitely does happen in the FLDS communities, oftentimes the taking of underage "spiritual wives" is just fine-jim-dandy with the brides themselves because they've been socialized from birth to believe that it is their only road to salvation.

Because it's their destiny.

Like Bella and Edward are destined to be together.

Like Esme and Jacob are destined to be together.

And while your typical non-FLDS girl has not been programmed from birth that she is to be taken as a spiritual wife to some lecherous old uncle, they are being raised in a culture that messages heavily that love is destiny, and that their highest calling is to find a man who will love them, that Love Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry, that emotionally abusive, stalker behavior is actually incredibly romantic, and that they aren't anything if they don't marry and have kids.

So it's not really that far removed from what the FLDS is. Having an incredibly popular series of books that are specifically targeted to young women who have already been primed by our culture's overall fucked-up take on romantic relationships (and for the most part do not yet have experience navigating the real-life pitfalls of romantic relationships) and then driving them completely over the cliffs of absolutely fucked-up romantic relationship which involves physical abuse, emotional abuse, rape, and child brides may not turn every girl into a spiritual-wife in the wings, but it will definitely leave emotional hazards in a pre-teens subconscious that could manifest itself in nasty ways when they are older and trying to struggle through a difficult relationship.

Esme is actually a vampire who is married to Carlisle Cullen. Reneesme is Bella's half vamp/human baby who is imprinted on by Jacob.

And honestly, that makes me shiver to type.

I knew it was some form of the name esme -- hence the "esme whatever" at the beginning of the comment :D

Frankly, the only Esme I would ever care to read about is Esme Weatherwax.

[0+] Author Profile Page FLT replied to Topanga053 :

And this is good?

Thanks for this post, Ann. You've made some really important points.

[0+] Author Profile Page Eresbel said:

Okay, not gonna lie - my winter break project is to re-write Twilight (as fanfiction) so that it's more feminist. I'm excited. I have no idea how it's going to end up, I only know how it will begin. I'll let Bella's more feminist personality take the lead as I move through Edward's creepiness and the whole imprinting thing, etc.

[0+] Author Profile Page KL said:

Something that may be of interest to note, according to the U.S.Department of Justice, "at least 86 per cent of the reported cases of rape or sexual assault against American Indian and Alaska Native women, survivors report that the perpetrators are non-Native men." I recognize that this thread remarked more on domestic violence and I saw some references to why native american men are considered more violent---but i did find it noteworthy that when it comes to sexual assault, generally speaking, most women are likely to be assaulted by someone within their "race", with the exception of indigenous women. and a rather large exception at that.

[0+] Author Profile Page Sarah J said:

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, but probably no one will read this because my comment is so late (maybe I should post it on the community blog?). I think something has been missing in the feminist critiques of the Twilight books and movies that has been bothering me, and I’ve been trying to locate it.

I agree with Ann that Emily’s slashed face in New Moon is really disturbing, both because it romanticizes Sam’s violence against her, and because it is presented as inherent to the Quileutes and native culture. It’s clear that Stephenie Meyer is not particularly self-reflective, and also that she wasn’t educated in critical perspectives on race, class and gender that most feministing readers have as a starting point. As a result, there are a variety of ugly, ridiculous and cringe-worthy stereotypes populating the books.

But why do we have to move from these particular criticisms to a blanket rejection of the series as regressive and therefore negative for girls? There are some obvious ways that Twilight presents a more positive view of girls than most of what we see in young-adult media—Bella isn’t preoccupied with her looks, she doesn’t want to compete with other girls for male attention, and she is a frankly desiring sexual subject. But there are also less obvious ways, and I think these are even more important.

A friend of mine (a feminist and educator) recently referred to the Twilight series, lovingly, as “girl crack.” Despite her otherwise intellectual and feminist-oriented taste, she could not resist it. I think part of what accounts for this, as well as for the reaction against Twilight, is the powerful fantasy of submission that is at the core of the romance. It’s no secret that lots of women have erotic fantasies involving submission—these range from attraction to older and more experienced partners to fantasies of full-fledged degradation and rape. Bella’s attraction to Jacob and Edward falls somewhere closer to the “stronger, more experienced man” end of the spectrum, but also has some darker elements from more violent fantasies of submission, especially in her passionate kiss with Jacob in Eclipse and the description of the bruises and broken bed of her honeymoon with Edward in Breaking Dawn.

Submissive fantasies are not necessarily antifeminist (unfeminist, nonfeminist, whatever…). Acknowledging such desires, and not being shamed by them, is inherently liberating. What is important is that the submission remains in the arena of fantasy, and does not compromise a woman’s agency in lived reality. Stephenie Meyer’s coup in the Twilight books is that she gives Bella the fantasy and erotic charge of submission, without ever actually being submissive. Bella gets off on the fact that Edward could kill her effortlessly, even though it is clear that he will never be violent with her. She gets a particular erotic charge out of Edward’s belief that if he gets too aroused he will not be able to control his lust (both for her body and her blood). Many point to this as evidence of the author’s Mormon moralizing, but it is important to note that Bella never feels shame about her sexual desire. Moreover, the fantasy of Edward’s lethal strength and lust leaves Bella free to be the sexual aggressor in their relationship.

The same is true when Bella finally gets Edward to have sex with her. Bella wakes up to find the pillows destroyed, the headboard broken, and her body bruised. In this way Meyer invokes a fantasy of violent submission, but she does it with an act that is enthusiastically consensual—Bella does not feel herself to be harmed, and she resorts to temper tantrums in order to get Edward to do it again.

This separation of Bella’s fantasies from her reality is underlined by the fact that she does not get a similar erotic charge when she is actually threatened with violence or rape. When Bella is stalked by strange men on the street she is afraid, when she is tortured by James she struggles to accept death, when Jacob grabs her and kisses her, she punches him. These are not sexually charged experiences for Bella.

Even in the nonsexual aspects of her relationship with Edward, Bella’s submission is more a fantasy than a reality. Edward may be powerful enough to prevent Bella from seeing Jacob for a time, but as soon as she can find a way to defy him, she does. If Bella were actually submissive to Edward, she would remain human and chaste. What makes the Twilight books so powerfully appealing is that they indulge the sexual fantasy of feminine submissiveness, while presenting a girl who never actually submits.

I’m really interested in feedback.

[0+] Author Profile Page EphemeraLuna replied to Sarah J :

Your comment is, indeed late, but there are people who still read late posts =P

It was a very interesting post, and i do agree with everything you said!

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