So. I hear there’s a new Twilight movie coming out today. It’s called Breaking Dawn, Part 1, because it doesn’t matter that the book barely has enough plot for one movie, let alone two – the Twihards are going to buy those tickets and they probably wish there was a Breaking Dawn, Part 3 in the works.
I find the Twilight phenomenon fascinating. More than Harry Potter, it causes polarizing reactions in its readers/viewers, from the people who will camp out for tickets to the ones who will mock it so scathingly that I cringe.
The Twilight backlash has become so strong that hating on Twilight is the new Twilight. There are people who savor the negative movie reviews simply because they’re amused, but there are also the people who take hating Twilight to a new art form, far beyond ironic detachment and into an area of boiling rage that make the biggest Twihards seem comparatively reasonable.
I think I find the phenomenon so amusing because I fall somewhere in between the “Twihard” and “anti-Twihard” category. I read all four books and groaned through every one, telling myself, “This stuff is SO BAD. Just one more chapter before I go to bed.” I didn’t like the writing and I hated all of the characters (save Bella’s dad, and Jacob in the first two books), but there was something extremely compelling and irresistible about them. The characters are unsympathetic, the prose amateurish, and yet, something about the series manages to capture the essence of an intoxicating first love.
Anyway, a feminist blog that talks about Twilight is eventually going to turn to the subject of Edward Cullen, the teenage girl’s latest favorite stalker vampire. (I prefer Stefan Salvatore and Spike as my favorite stalker vampires, but I digress.)
A lot of feminists, with good reasons, have a problem with Edward Cullen. Why?
1) Edward can read everyone’s mind except Bella’s, and this is one thing that makes him attracted to her. So he climbs into her bedroom in the middle of the night and listens to her talk in her sleep. THIS IS STALKER BEHAVIOR.
2) Edward doesn’t trust Bella around Jacob, so he dismantles her car and has his sister Alice hold her hostage so she can’t go see him. THIS IS OVERPROTECTIVE BEHAVIOR.
3) In several of the books, Edward speaks incredibly condescendingly to Bella and doubts everything she says or does. Edward shows a consistent lack of faith in Bella to make decisions for herself about her body, her friendships, her relationship, and her future.
In short: Edward’s the worst.
Someone on YouTube even spliced together a few scenes of Edward Cullen talking to Buffy Summers as part of an effort to expose Edward’s creepiness:
It’s really good…if you ignore the context.
While Buffy Summers is a much better character than Bella Swan, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer is so much better than Twilight, this video would have you believe that Buffy would see right through Edward Cullen’s crap and both rebuff his advances and kill him. That’s very nice in theory, but I’ve watched all seven seasons of the show, and most of the lines Buffy directs to Edward are lines that she directs to people she either has slept with, or will be sleeping with very soon. No, Buffy (at least in high school) would have completely fallen for Edward.
The question is – why? Why do teenage girls and even adult women fall for this overprotective, creepy, condescending stalker douche?
I could talk about Edward in the context of the creepy cultural narratives about romance and love, but I’d rather look at him from a different angle, because despite his overprotective, creepy, condescending, stalkery, douchey behavior, he has one quality that I find very appealing.
Edward never pressures Bella for sex.
Sure, he does it in the most condescending way possible. Sure, he doesn’t trust Bella to be in control of her own emotions, and he’s an extreme puritan about sexual encounters. But Bella’s never going to have to worry that Edward will try to pressure her into sex, or take sex when she says no, or ever put her into a sexual situation that will make her uncomfortable.
We live in a country where 1 out of 6 women are sexually assaulted (and that’s only counting the rapes that are reported), where men and women alike are socialized to think that men do or should want sex all the time (leading to countless misunderstandings), where men are socialized to ignore women’s “nos.”
Edward is never going to ignore Bella’s “no.” Bella doesn’t say “no,” but if she did, he wouldn’t push the issue.
For all of Edward Cullen’s negative qualities – and boy, does he have them – he has a very appealing, irresistible quality to teenage girls who are just discovering their sexual desires and feeling a strange mix of intense curiosity and intense fear about sex. He desires Bella and wants her more than he’s wanted anything, but he’s never, ever going to push a physical connection that she’s not ready to experience.
I can easily imagine why that one quality would go a long way in making Edward Cullen irresistible to a young female gaze.