It is a truth universally acknowledged that Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling Twilight series is an offence to both literature and feminism. There’s just no escaping from the gruesome, outrageous portrait of male domination that all four books promote. In the unlikely hypothesis that you’ve managed to ignore the phenomenon for four years and two Hollywood blockbusters, let me quickly outline the accursed story to you. In a rainy town of Washington state, clumsy, insignificant little Bella Swan falls irrevocably in love with His Sparkliness Edward Cullen, high school heartthrob and a vampire.
O miracle, her feelings are reciprocated – but the venomous 108-year-old politely informs her he would very much like to nibble her to death. But that’s fine by her, apparently, and she doesn’t mind it either when it turns out that the undead hottie watches her sleep in secret. Plot thickens in further volumes, where cute little fragile abandoned Bella finds herself another monster to be repeatedly saved by, and enjoys various forms of life-threatening activities to make her toothy BF reappear in her depressive mind. After many episodes of shameless wish-fulfilment on the author’s part, Bella and Sparkles finally tie the knot. Mrs Cullen’s loss of virginity leads to her being pummelled by her hubby (mind you, she’s okay with that) before falling instantly pregnant with a voracious vampirette whom she refuses to abort. Mummy Bella quite literally dies when the lovely infant gnaws her way out of her womb, but she is vampired back to the life of a Cold One and all’s well that ends well for her, a fulfilled, eternal eighteen-year-old mother, safe in the knowledge that her hybrid progeny will some day be deflowered by her furry best friend.
This avalanche of antiquated symbols of female submission is not even what bothers feminists the most about Twilight. It’s more insidious than that. In fact, it seems like almost any Twihard who’s scraped a few GCSE’s is aware of how shockingly sexist the books are. They know it. They acknowledge it. It’s often the first thing they say when the subject is brought up: ‘Oh, I know Twilight is unbelievably sexist, but…’ That ‘but’ is, ultimately, the core of the problem. It means you’re willing to suspend critical thinking for cleverly-packaged, sparkly machismo. And I have to say, it’s as tempting as the red apple on the first book’s cover, isn’t it? It just feels good to be Bella Swan, the ultimate Mary Sue, inexplicably adored by anyone with a Y chromosome. You read the book and you tell your feminist, disbelieving self to shut the hell up – a bit of emotional masturbation won’t kill anyone, it’s just light entertainment, right?
That’s really bad news. That’s a sign that we’ve dropped our guard. It should be a wake-up call. There should be no excuse for romanticising stalkerish behaviour, murderous impulses, teenage death, and dangerous pregnancies. Somewhere in our brain a red light bulb should switch on to remind us that boys, however marble-skinned, shouldn’t consider us as kawaii malcoordinated toddlers who require constant supervision. We should say thank you very much, centenarian incubus, but I don’t want your golden eyes to watch me sleep. But we don’t. We sigh and swoon as the obsessive-compulsive monsters in Bella Swan’s vicinity argue over who’s less likely to accidentally murder the girl. Not content with being overtly sexist, the story somehow manages to entrance the fans into excusing its sexist content. Twilight is, in fact, the literary equivalent of domestic violence (which actually figures prominently in the books) in all its insidiousness. It sets up a power relationship which makes violence against women in all shapes and forms both obvious and forgivable. We know that the books negate decades of feminist achievements, but we love the story so much, plus, Stephenie Meyer doesn’t really want to be sexist, so it’s okay, right? Wait a minute, that’s exactly what beaten wives say. They know it’s horrible, they know it’s unhealthy, but they’re in love, and their husbands didn’t mean to punch them anyway, it just happened.
So perverse. So efficient. So dangerous. Let me remind you that no man is prominently responsible for sexism in the Twilight series. A woman wrote it, a woman agent chose it, and its readers are (mostly) women. We’ve done it to ourselves, and we need to get the hell out of it all by ourselves. So long as our ideals of romance conceal bloodthirsty subjugation of women, there will be suffering, there will be frustration, and there will be male domination. As for Twilight, one golden rule applies – if you know, deep down, that it doesn’t agree with your feminist values, then it’s not good for womankind as a whole.
So just dump the sparkly bully. I’m sure there’s a sweet non-homicidal human around who loves you not because you’re an accident-prone little kitten but because you’re a proper smarthead with a brilliant sense of humour.