When I discovered the vice-like grip that Twilight has on the popular imagination of this nation’s tween and middle-aged female demographic, I was content to just ignore it. After all, there are so many movies that come out which cater to my demographic that a bunch of people going insane over what I thought was a mediocre-flick at best shouldn’t affect me. Nonetheless, in the past couple of weeks, the Twilight backlash has begun in earnest. People are making well-articulated claims saying that not only is Twilight a bad film, its messages actually do harm to our nation’s youth. What exactly have they been saying?

The most decisive, thoughtful, and damning post, “Dangerous Liasons” comes courtesy of Lucy Mangan at The Guardian:

It sounds melodramatic and shrill to say that Bella and Edward’s relationship is abusive, but as the story wears on it becomes increasingly hard to avoid the comparison, as she gradually isolates herself from her friends to protect his secret, and learns to subordinate her every impulse and movement to the necessity of not upsetting Edward and his instincts (“I could quite easily kill you, Bella, by accident”), until by halfway through she is trying to suppress her very pulse (“my blood was racing and I wished I could slow it, sensing that this must make everything so much more difficult”) and planning her movements like a chess game – “I worried that it would provoke the strange anger that flared whenever I slipped and revealed too clearly how obsessed I was.” Whenever she responds physically to his kisses, he immediately draws away and berates her. Supporters will call this the erotics of abstinence. I call it fear and distaste for female sexuality and a poisonous message to be feeding young women.

Not only that, but Mangan goes on to argue that the book’s effect on young women is quite insidious. Most parents are quite satisfied to know that “at least the kids are reading SOMETHING these days,” but a book’s popularity should not absolve it of being examined a critical eye. It’s a great piece and I recommend that you check it out by clicking here.

[Update: Commenter Tony Scudder correctly explains that Mangan spends most of her article referring to Meyer’s book, and not Hardwicke’s film. At the end of her piece, Mangan seems to imply that both the book and the film have the same underlying messages, although the film’s exploration of Bella and Edward’s relationship is not as detailed as the book’s. Apologies for any confusion]

Next up, over at the Skepchick blog, Maria Walters has written “Why ‘Twilight’ Is Hurting America,” an analytical post borne out of deep frustration and anger with the film:

I understand that this is a story of teen romance. I therefore expect some amount of angst to factor in. And maybe I’m spoiled by the Hermione Grangers and Eowyns of the past few years. But I’ve come to expect more from female characters. It really bothers me that this movie depicts a girl who falls in love within days and then proceeds to spend the rest of the movie supressing everything about herself for this boy. And the worst part is that this is considered as a ‘happy ending’ for her.

The boy, in turn, never even shows any level of interest in Bella as anything more than physically attractive. He follows her around because he feels ‘protective’ of her. This works out well when she’s being attacked, but she doesn’t consider it even a little creepy that he’s following her, sneaking into her room at night and WATCHING HER SLEEP. Bella never makes any attempt to stand up for herself. The day she’s attacked (and subsequently rescued by Edward), her father gives her a can of pepper spray to protect herself. She rolls her eyes and laughs at him, saying she doesn’t need it. Never mind that hours earlier, she was in danger of being raped. She has a boy to protect her now, so she doesn’t have to worry about it.

Maria describes Bella as a completely vacuous character, displaying no independent thought, and generally perpetuating negative stereotypes about female roles in society.

Last up, Scott Mendelson has written “Sure, Twilight May be Sexist, but It’s Also Female Escapist Fantasy.” According to Mendelson:

There are two main classic cultural myths of females, two false assumptions that have been used as the definitive excuses to subjugate and disenfranchise women for centuries in all manner of societies. The first is that women are devious and reckless creatures who tempt men who can’t control themselves. As a result of these fiendish seducers, the weak but noble men do all manner of vice and corruption, deeds that without the temptation of the women they would not have even considered. But, wait, they are also weak-willed and emotionally fragile creatures that cannot care for themselves and must be protected from peril and shielded from emotional complication (‘the fairer sex’). Whether accidentally or intentionally, Twilight revolves around both stereotypes.

Deep thoughts, but Mendelson actually ends up defending the film as female escapist fantasy. Perhaps his most telling statement is what he says in the comments for the post: “If I can condemn vigilantism and stand up for due process while still enjoying 24 and Batman pictures (or pulp fiction like The Devil’s Advocate), then feminists can certainly enjoy Twilight.”

In other words, maybe in the end, despite all of Twilight’s disenfranchising messages, its insultingly implausible romance, and its backwards portrayal of female sexuality under the insidious guise of advocating abstinence, we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. Right?

Discuss: What do you make of the hidden messages of Twilight (the movie and the book)? Do you think they are harmful to today’s youth?

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