July 1, 2010

Sex, Virtue and Restraining Orders in Twilight's Eclipse

Yesterday, the third installment of the The Twilight Saga was released. Though I’m sure that you already heard unless you live in a cabin with no electricity or under a rock or in the mountains of Forks, Washington….even then I’d find it hard to believe you were completelyunawares. For many reasons that have nothing to do with a feminist critique this film was a lot better than its predecessor. But, from a feminist perspective, it was full of just as many reasons to want to ring Bella’s (Kristin Stewart) neck and issue restraining orders against both Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner).

Though Eclipse does pass the Bechdel Test (just barely) that’s definitely not enough to pass as a feminist film. As Ms.blogger Carmen Siering already pointed out both of Bella’s love interests show overt, undeniable signs of potentially abusive behavior. Despite the lack of physical abuse, the level of control that Edward exhibits over Bella’s decision making is in itself disconcerting. He prevents her from seeing Jacob by disabling her car, manipulates her into leaving the state during which time he hovers over her incessantly (something her mother points out with an almost interventionist tone), isolates her from her friends and family, and all the while she believes that everything he is doing is okay because it’s for her own safety and protection.

Eclipse contains yet another example of my issue with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as well. When Rosalie is telling Bella her story about becoming a vampire and expressing her discontent with Bella’s decision to become one we see Rosalie get attacked and gang raped (albeit – it was child’s play compared with what we saw in GWTDT). After which Rosalie becomes a vampire and kills all of the men who raped her. More empowerement by way of victimization……

Additionally, the overtones of chastity and sexual restraint are so loud Stephanie Meyer might as well have had a Mormon choir singing in the background. Meyer is a strict Mormon and the ways in which her beliefs have structered her character formations have been written about many times. In Eclipsewe see quite a lot more of this as this is the first full film when Bella and Edward a couple throughout.  On many (!) occassions they are seen kissing, making out, etc. and Edward is thrown into the role of Protector of the Bella’s “virtue” (another area he apparently has complete control over). After Bella accepts his proposal and they are having a very angsty teenage make-out session she tells him that she wants to have sex as a human before she becomes a vampire. With something that looks a lot like righteous anger he refuses and tells her that he has to protect he virtue and that he “just wants to be married first.”

No one is attacking the validity of choosing abstinence, but the overt religiosity of the author cannot be missed. Additionally, there is not one area of Bella’s life in which a man is not telling her what to do or when to do it or how to feel or when to leave/not leave her house. Bella is a hollow attempt at a feminsit character. She is the eptiomy of what Susan Douglas talks about in Enlightened Feminism: a female character that truly believes that she is empowered and in control and that she has no use for feminism or– even worse – that she is feminist. Meyer has spoken about how she believes that Bella is a feminist character – the Ms. blog thorougly addresses Meyer’s assertion.

I have heard arguments made about the resolution of the story being the culmination of Bella’s “empowerment”…..I guess we’ll just have to save that critique for the next two installments.


  1. I think Bella is obviously a pushover. The men she is surrounded with have complete control over her. It’s almost nauseous.

    Comment by Shary Lopez — July 2, 2010 @ 11:17 am

  2. When someone has to insist that something is feminist, it’s quite likely that it is done to distract from reality. In a similar vein, most things that follow the introduction “I’m not a racist, but…” will be racist.

    Comment by jon — July 3, 2010 @ 4:47 am

  3. I will not deny the fact that I have read all the books, and they are FAR worse than the movies. All the while I was thinking how incredibly obnoxious Edward is, controlling EVERY aspect of Bella’s life. For Meyer to insist that Bella is a feminist it is like hard-core christians insisting their god is homosexual. Just impossible. I am glad someone wrote about a ‘saga’ that wrongfully shapes women and girls’ perspective of feminism.

    Comment by ElizabethP — November 22, 2010 @ 9:44 am

  4. The Twilight ‘saga’ makes me simply want to slap Meyer in the face. It’s not just how plain-out horrible the messages are, it’s the fact that the readers hardly ever question what’s being put forward as normal because it’s so expected.

    Switch the genders around: now it’s Bella disabling Edward’s car so he can’t go and see his female friend, stalking him, playing mind-games with him, watching him sleep and “protecting his virtue”, and all while Edward continues to expound upon how beautiful, perfect and wonderful Bella is.
    It doesn’t work. Bella is made to look frighteningly creepy, and Edward is at the very least made to look like he has some kind of dependency complex that the now-absolutely-negative Bella is exploiting. (Personally, though, I think that if it was this way around then it would be a MUCH more interesting series– so long as it deconstructed their characters and the gender issues relevant to them, and explored their mental states. Now, I’d read that! It probably wouldn’t be so popular, though.)
    Because in Twilight it’s the man performing the obsessive, abusive behaviour and the woman being passively strung along without a thought about it, the average reader could easily get through it without ever even noticing how wrong it is.

    And let’s not even get into the unfortunate implications that arise when Jacob’s lycanthropy is presented in the same vein as homosexuality, complete with “Why did you choose to be this way?” questioning.

    Comment by Amelie — March 23, 2011 @ 3:18 pm

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