Is Twilight horribly anti-feminist. Or am I just crazy?

WARNING: the following post is about Twilight. I apologize in advance. I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I wrote it, I obviously have a strong opinion on the matter. So, therefor, why not post it. Feel free to totally ignore this post. Though, I have to say, I am curious about other takes on this subject. So if you DO read, I’d love your feedback…

is twilight horrible anti-feminist

I read the first Twilight book to find out what all the ruckus was about. I remember when Harry Potter was so popular that I decided to check it out and BOOM! Amazing books! Twilight, not-so-much. It read like a cheesy bodice-ripper (but without the bodice ripping). Sometimes cheesy bodice-rippers can be a harmless and fun waste of time. But cheesy bodice rippers with a clearly anti-feminist message that are marketed to young women, are a waste of time, yes. But harmless, they are not.

I know from the first book that the lead character, Bella, is described as almost being entirely nondescript! And I remember being startled by this. But beyond this and the fact that book is just filled with paragraph after paragraph of how beautiful Edward, the vampire is, I didn’t see much to get angry over. Of course I wasn’t taking it seriously, so I probably wasn’t paying attention.

Then last night I turned on the tv to find the movie New Moon had just started, so I thought, eh why not. At first I found the movie hilarious. The sappy, impossible lines being acted out so… sincerely (I guess) was just down-right amusing. But, after a while it started to make me angry.

As I watched a started to make a list of all the things that were beyond fucked up…

  • This quote: “If this is about my soul — take it. I don’t want it without you!” -Bella.
  • Bella goes into a deep depression for months and months where she doesn’t do anything but pine for her lost love. No one thinks to get her professional help? As if this is normal female behavior? No one thinks to address this? It’s odd to say the least.
  • Bella constantly puts herself in danger and/or hurts herself to be “closer” to a boy. Though, I must admit, the whole “disembodied head of Edward” thing really cracked me up.
    You don't even WANT to know what I did to the last man who tried to control me by sending his disembodied head out into the ether to stop me.

    You don’t even WANT to know what I did to the last man who tried to control me by sending his disembodied head out into the ether to stop me.

  • The “heroine” can’t think of anything but boys. She doesn’t even seem to have a personality unless she is around a member of the opposite sex. That is, a member of the opposite sex in which she finds herself sexually attracted to.
  • Another female character (Emily, the fiance of the lead werewolf guy) was mutilated in a “brief moment” of anger from by her fiance. And yet, she continues to stay with with him?

    Photo Credit: © 2010 Summit Entertainment

  • Oh, plus Emily’s only screen time is her in the kitchen making/serving food to the boys…

  • Bella constantly states that her only reason for living is a boy.
  • Bella’s only female friend describes her as not knowing “anyone more prone to life-threatening idiocy.” THIS is the heroine!?
  • Both of Bella’s romantic interests are over-protective, jealous, seek to manipulate her to their wills/ways of life and are quick to violent fits of anger.
  • OMG THIS QUOTE: “It doesn’t make sense for you to love me. … I’m nothing.” -Bella

It became quite clear that this chick Bella has some serious psychotic tendencies that, it appears, teenage girls are mistaking for “true love.” And that’s what I really have a problem with. Not every lead female character needs to be strong and kick some major ass. But, when a young woman’s role model is a deeply disturbed girl with an unsettling obsession with a very violent man … THAT’S where I start to get so angry that I write an entire blog post devoted to Twilight.

This is all sick and I need to stop. If there are any impressionable young girls out there reading this — this is NOT love, the women are NOT healthy and this whole story is NOT something to idolize.

Am I crazy? Are there others out there who see this? Am I thinking about it too much? (Duh.) Are there other ways in which to view this film that aren’t so dark and demeaning? Let me know what you guys think.

39 thoughts on “Is Twilight horribly anti-feminist. Or am I just crazy?

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  2. Scube

    You are not crazy at all, I was most disturbed by the amount of content where Jacobs cravings for hurting her were glamorized and when he was rough without consent the scene was “sexy”. She constantly baited him to hurt her/ take her/ whatever, yet had no knowledge of what it would mean. Not being violent shouldn’t be special, it should be expected.
    I really struggled to understand how an older, more experienced, smarter, more worldly wise, stronger, more powerful and generally more “totally awesome” (*pshaw*) person would be interested in a young girl, barely out of childhood. Creepy? Hell Yes!
    There are so many abhorrent messages in those books, it scares me to think girls romanticize those scenarios.

    1. meganfinley

      oh yeah! I forgot about the fact that he’s actually a (beyond) mature adult. And in the end of that movie he asks a high school-aged girl to marry him. That didn’t sit right with me either. Creeptastic.

  3. just me

    Not crazy at all. I’m pretty sure the author was in some codependent, emotionally (and possibly physically) abuse relationship in high school that she never got over, and to her that is the “ultimate love”. The saddest part is how girls and women are lapping this all up. 🙁

    1. meganfinley

      I would NOT be surprised if you’re right. That’s totally what it seemed like to me. A lot of the sentiments and emotions reminded me of being an idiot high school girl, experiencing love for the first time. But those hormonally driven highs and lows and obsessions and whatevers! shouldn’t be presented as THEE BESTEST WAY TO LOVE SOMEONE! It’s nuts.

  4. Kelsey @ Yellow is the Color

    If there were subtle messages of anti-feminism throughout a less popular book series marketed towards people other than impressionable young girls then yes, I’d say you were overthinking things. But this series…is a real issue, in my opinion. Edward is extremely controlling and manipulative and Jacob is condescending, Bella (the woman) has to take care of the house while her father drinks beer, watches TV, and cleans his shotguns all day, not to mention that all of the Cullen adoptees are in straight relationships (god forbid there be a strong single or lesbian female character!)…but what gets me is that when Bella gets pregnant (so I’ve heard; never read the books and this movie hasn’t come out yet), she reacts to the effect of “I never wanted to have children but now that I do I realize that I am completely fulfilled and all I want to do is be a mother”. Um, barf.

    I could write a book about this, honestly.

    1. meganfinley

      Ooh! Score with the taking care of the house thing. I totally forgot that the first book describes her father as… basically useless. And yes, yes, ALL heteronormative relationships, as far as I can tell. I am NOT surprised by that at all, unfortunately.

      You know, I honestly don’t think I’d even care in the slightest about whatever message a youth lit book was conveying, I mean, who cares, really? BUT it’s the fact that I went into this knowing what a phenom this book is with underaged girls. And that’s what really freaked my freak. I mean, such a sad message, really.

  5. Chris

    I concur, though a lot of what you’d mentioned hadn’t specifically occurred to me. I’ve only read the first novel and have seen none of the movies (well, who hasn’t been inundated with a scene here or there?). It DID occur to me that she is in love with a centuries-old man who merely poses as a high-schooler — and it annoyed me to no end that she found nothing in life to live for beyond this person. Where is her own identity?

    Let YA girls look to Hermione for a decent role model — she’s a snot to begin with, yes, but she grows and is constantly improving herself. For herself, I might add, and because she’s following her own interests, not struggling for worth from another person.

  6. Jennifer

    Just to throw this in there but the author of these books is a practicing Mormon – read them through those eyes and you basically you’ll see it’s a handbook to a lot of Mormon values.

    1. meganfinley

      Interesting! That would probably make some sense out of this whole thing. I don’t know much about the religion or it’s ideas behind women’s rights and physical abuse. But having some sort of religious backing makes some sense at least.

    2. Emily

      I do want to say that all of the practicing Mormons I know are very unhappy with this book, for several of the reasons mentioned here. What the Twilight series represents is what many people think of as stereotypically Mormon, and negative stereotypes were what we were griping about earlier, yes?
      Mormon women do tend to be a little more soft-spoken and home-bound than most, but they are by no means powerless or devoid of personality, and I’m proud to call them my friends. Mostly because they don’t read trash like Twilight.

      1. meganfinley

        Thank you for commenting! The only “stereotypical” understanding that I have of Mormons is the whole special underwear, polygamy and hating gays thing — that’s all I know from living in LA. But there was no word on the whole women’s rights issues in morman culture. So, its good to know that Twilight doesn’t rep most Morman women. PHEW! Because thats some serious bad news if it did.

        So… Maybe the author being morman doesn’t explain everything? Or maybe your friends are just more progressive? Oh man, still so many questions!

        Mostly, why are we the minority? Why do so many people, esp women, support this shit?

  7. loandbehold

    I don’t know much about Twilight (avoided it like the plague) but I can see your points here. My niece was in dire love of these books and movies, and I think I’m going to send her this post JUST to jog her developing brain a bit. Thanks Megan 🙂

  8. Victoria

    I agree completly on the anti feminist messages in Twilight and they make me unhappy too. But to give a different perspective.

    Something that also distrubs me is how extremly popular demeaning Twilight is, even among those who read it and like it. Everywhere I read how horrible these books are, how stupid, how silly, and, here is the kicker, how silly and stupid are all those silly and stupid girls and women who read and like them.

    I think anything that brings hundred of thousands of young girls happiness and something to squee over and share with each other is at least partially a good thing.

    There are a lot of disturbing themes around gender roles and violence in superman and batman but there is no panic about what young boys of the previous generation learned about politics and government and violence and love from them.

    I haven’t read Twilight but I can’t imagine how it could be worse than the Dan Brown books which are utter crap. Utter crap that’s extremly popular – but since it’s popular among men as well as women and doesn’t focus on a love story it doesn’t get the same rep as Twilight. And that bothers me.

    I read a lot as a young girl and while I think it is curcial, absolutely crucial, that there are books out there modeling good healthy relationships and even more crucial real life healthy relationships I don’t think a book or two with unhealthy relationships does any damage. If the morals of a book or movie had as much effect as we somtimes think there would be no bullies. Every other young adult story shows how horrible bullying and bullies are but kids still bully. I imagine girls like how easy Twilight is to read, how easy to relate to a main character that is practically a blank slate, the extreme emotions – extreme emotions are simply exciting. Doesn’t mean they won’t run from anyone that crazy in real life.

    I also think all the descriptors of how gorgeous Edward is are kind of feminist. There is no question that Bella wants him. What’s wrong with Twilight is wrong with 90% of fiction aimed at women but in a more subtle manner – I think that’s the real problem.

    Overal I agree with you and Twilight disturbs me but I’m also a huge fan of Dr. Tiller’s view “trust women” and trust girls.

    1. meganfinley

      Ooh EXCELLENT point re: batman/et al. I’ll have to think about that.

      I will say this though, I read the first book and wasn’t even CLOSE to being upset by it. I read it as if it were a trashy romance novel, got entertained for a minute, and then moved on. It was this movie in particular that really made me go WTF!?

      1. Rach

        I’m 16 and Female, and Twlight annoys me more than you could imagine. It has examples of Pedophillia, Necrophillia, Teenage Pregnancy, disobeying orders to be with a man, bringing a demon baby into the world WITHOUT any Medical equipment, and suicide and set feminism back into the 20’s (I don’t know. Just a rendom guess). “When the love of Hermione’s life left her, she continued to find the keys to defeat evil, when the love of Bella’s life left her she went to the fetal possision and was in depression for months on end” (Close enough to Stephen King’s comment. Emma Watson (Hermione from Harry Potter) even said “We are NOT like Twilight. We don’t sell sex”.

  9. megansbeadeddesigns

    Excellent post and comments. Thank you for giving me a 1,000,003rd reason not to read these books or see the movies. The obsession some of my girlfriends have with these fictional characters is close to disturbing, and inhibits on their ability to have REAL relationship with REAL men here in REAL LIFE.

    I tend to think of it like internet pron for men. If you don’t want men creating unrealistic expectations and false ideals about women, why should be we be doing the same thing but for women about men? I don’t see it as “leveling the playing field” but only something that will cause more hurt and further strain relationships.

    1. meganfinley

      You know, that’s another aspect of it that I wonder about. If the girls who become obsessed with Edward et. al., then treat their real boyfriends like crap when they can’t live up to his level of … worship/obsession/soul-longing-ness for Bella? I could see that happening.

      It’s kind of like after you watch The Notebook and think, “harumph, MY boyfriend never risked his life just ask me on a date!” 😉

  10. Chantel

    I agree about New Moon suddenly making you go “WTF?” But it was really the last novel Breaking Dawn that reeeaaally made me upset.

    **Major Spoiler Alert** Bella wants to have sex with Edward but since he’s a gentleman (and apparently wanting sex makes her a slut and he’s worried about her soul) he basically forces her to get married. She wants nothing to do with the wedding and won’t even look at herself in her wedding dress but goes through with it anyway to make him happy so he’ll turn her into a vampire, then take her away from her friends and family permanently (controlling much?).

    Oh! And did I mention the violent sex that leaves her physically injured?! But she’s ok with it because she loves him and can’t control herself and is constantly begging him for sex but he refuses most of the time (cause men are above that you know, original sin and all…).

    Then when she gets pregnant (as a teenager still) and it’s clear the baby will KILL HER she refuses to have an abortion because she considers this baby more important than anything, including her own life. And it does kill her, violently and graphically. Of course as a vampire it turns out she has some special powers and FINALLY is able to stand up for herself, but it’s too little too late to save these books for me.

    So basically the message of Breaking Dawn is: it’s ok to be forced into a marriage you don’t want, extremely violent sex that injures you and might possibly kill you is ok if you love him, you have to beg your husband for sex because you’re a dirty whore who can’t control your urges, and having a baby is more important than your own life. I hope this continues to shed some light on why Twilight books are mind-poison for young girls.

  11. Dee

    I totally agree with the whole anti-feminist points of view though I do have to point out that the reason he won’t have sex with her (after they’re married) is because he’s afraid of physically harming her agian (and not because of VIOLENT sex in the way of beating her during it, but because he IS a vampire who happens to have vampire strength.)

    I totally believe in calling out bullshit stories and how they’re extremely detrimental to the mental health of young women but I think it’s also pretty harmful to cry wolf and criticize EVERY action made in a story. I think there are some parts of a story that have to be there for the story to make sense. He’s super strong and she’s human so unless he laid there like he was dead, completely unmoving, the likely hood of her ending up unscathed is unlikely. I imagine if someone who felt like they were made of stone rolled over on to me I might end up bruised as well. I’m pretty sure after she turns into a vampire they bone every chance they get, because he can’t hurt her anymore.

    And the whole sex before marriage thing… he was a virgin too- he says he’s just old school… emphasis on the OLD (ew.) But yeah… i wasn’t too hung up about that. I’m not going to knock anyone’s feelings about not wanting to have pre-marital sex just like I’d hope that people would keep their opinions about me having pre-marital sex to themselves. She chose to be with a guy who wouldn’t have sex with her before marriage. You can’t really say he FORCED her to marry him. As much as we can hate on the story for being anti-woman, we shouldn’t let ourselves get carried away forgetting that Bella is completely capable of making her own decisions, even if they came from an emtoionally fucked place or from a place that we, ourselves, don’t understand. Getting married clearly wasn’t a deal breaker for her. She just doesn’t really seem to like the spot light. After all, she wanted to be a vampire and be undead with Edward forever anyway, I don’t see signing a piece of paper being more of a commitment than that!

    I think the real poison of this story is the fact that she seems to feel that she’s nothing without Edward… which, having been 17 and been through a similar situation minus the whole super natural aspect… the thought of those feelings being glamourized is pretty disgusting. To me it say “it’s ok to stay in an abusive relationship because eventually he’ll come around and be everything you want him to be, in turn making YOU everything you want to be!” To me it just feels like it’s straight up saying that a woman is nothing until she meets a man.

    Oh and the werewolf wife thing was disturbing as well. I understand that she was trying to point out that it’s dangerous to marry a dude who turns into a giant wolf, but it was just too strong of a metaphor of men turning into monsters when they’re angry and it being ok as long as they apologize and promise not to do it again. UHG!

    1. meganfinley

      I can’t really engage you on the first few paragraphs because I’ve only ever read the first book and saw the New Moon movie. But this: “I think the real poison of this story is the fact that she seems to feel that she’s nothing without Edward…” is EXACTLY what was really appalling to me. And it’s what got me to start noticing all the other little details that would probably have slipped my radar.

      I too was 17 and had similar feelings, as, I believe, most silly teenage girls do, and I look back on those time in shame and embarrassment and thank GAWD that I’ve moved on from there. Though, from what I hear from my lovely commenters, it seems that Bella never does move on from there and THAT is the problem with this saga’s popularity.

  12. maria

    Hey people, I think we are getting super carried away and losing context.

    THIS IS A VAMPIRE STORY.

    Are you familiar with Vampire stories at all? They have been around for centuries. Of course they will not reflect current social values. They glorify old-fashion romance and THAT is why people like them. Not because these things happen or this is how we should act. It is a FANTASY of ancient times. For anything else we have all the current No Strings Attached and similar movies about very busy overachieving women not into romance in various degrees.

    Vampire romance is based on the fantasy that there is a vampire and he has a partner whose SOLE purpose of existence is being with the vampire. The bond between them is on top of anything else in their lives and moreover, it trascends successive reincarnations. It is a torment that won’t leave these souls alone until they are together forever, and even then, demands constant sharing with the vampire. It is some kind of SPELL that accompanies the UNNATURAL essence of the vampire’s condition. In the end, it is generally self-destructive for the lady and this is something she accepts gladly because given the spell she is under, she has no other drive.

    So I don’t see why people are so surprised !

    Personally I think the first movie was brilliant in terms of building up the sexual tension, gradually but increasingly till the end, when all we get is a kiss amidst promises of eternal surrender from both parts. That should be enough to hook any audience.

    1. meganfinley

      I guess I took the opposite look.

      I actually do LOVE vampire stories. Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Van Helsing, Interview with the Vampire, not to mention my favorite TV show of all time Buffy the Vampire Slayer, were all obsessions with mine. But there was something that totally fell flat for me with Twilight. It was… not sexy to me in the slightest. Like, I didn’t see the sexual tension in the first movie at ALL. I saw awkwardness and creepy obsessing, but it wasn’t like Interview with the Vampire sexualness at ALL. If it was a sexy movie about sexy sex, I don’t think it would have bugged me like it did. Perhaps you have to have read the books to get in on the sexual tension? I don’t know, but this didn’t play out like your typical vampire movie sexiness to me in the slightest. It was something all together different, unsettling and creepy in a totally different way.

  13. Rebecca

    I have the first edition of Twilight. I bought it soon after it went on shelves, long before any of this Twilight-mania. I had read more than a few of Anne Rice’s novels, and I liked the drama the vampire story lines had to offer. Twilight was nothing like Rice’s books. I didn’t understand sparkly vampires. It was piled up with the rest of my books, and forgotten about.

    …Until the movie came out. Then the books started selling. Then, my senior year in high school, all the girls started talking about it as if Edward and Bella were real people. The girls started saying the same things Bella says. Girl 1: “Yeah, my boyfriend is so much like Edward. He’s just all I want in a guy. I would do anything for him. I see where Bella’s coming from! You just can’t stop thinking about your true love, once you find him!”
    But the worst of it, in my opinion, is how these girls “literally” fall in love with Edward. They don’t flirt with boys, because they’re being true to Edward. They put his picture in their lockets, for fucks sake!

    I saw where this fad was going, and I remembered the first book well enough, so I went to my good ol’ Wikipedia for to read the synopsis for the second book, and then I kept going. When I read about the violent sex scene, I thought it was a joke. My 11-year-old cousin has read the entire Saga. They wouldn’t put that in a PG-13 book, right?

    WRONG. I had a girl in one of my classes who called herself a “Twi-hard”, so I asked her about it. She said it is one of the most violent and descriptive sex scenes she’s ever encountered. Apparently he breaks the bed, tears up her hoo-ha, leaves her bruised, etc.; and in what seems to be some male fantasy, she’s left begging for more! She’s insatiable! She craves him like a sex god! But, really, hasn’t she always treated him as if he were some angel? She worships him from day one. But people are eating this shit up! I thought they’d grow out of it, but there are still girls I see on campus chit-chatting away about the great love between Bella and Ed. I read reports that some teachers in public high schools are making it mandatory to read the book(s), as an assignment.

    In my opinion, Twilight is showing girls AND boys that true love is shown through unconditional worship (even after a guy leaves you, you must pine!), raunchy sex, and the acceptance of violence and jealousy/control.
    Personally, I don’t care if you have ten penises and they do somersaults inside of me. If you treat me with misogyny and masochism, you can shove each one of them up your ass.

    I’m against banning any books, but this entire franchise should be taken less lightly. It definitely shouldn’t be mandated in schools. There should be a warning on the first page that says “This is not a realistic depiction of love. The behaviors in this book are not healthy, mentally or physically. If you or someone you know exhibits these behaviors, you should advise them to seek professional help.”

    1. meganfinley

      Rebecca, I don’t know you, but I think I just formed an unhealthy vampire-esq crush on you. 😉

      I LOVE hearing your experience IRL with girls and this book. I don’t know girls who have read it, but none of them young enough to be “Twi-hards.” So, it’s super interesting to hear that young girls are, indeed, obsessing in the way that I was worried about.

      Oh, and THIS!!!! to the ‘nth degree: “Personally, I don’t care if you have ten penises and they do somersaults inside of me. If you treat me with misogyny and masochism, you can shove each one of them up your ass.”

  14. Ari

    You are not wrong. I have a daughter who is now 12 and desperately wanted to see these movies. I did not let her read the books. I think they are horrific, but…they are good for opening up some lines of discussion that we might not have had. She has been allowed to watch each movie so far, but in exchange for watching it, she owes me a five page essay on why the relationship is dysfunctional and emotionally abusive and what things Bella does wrong that are unhealthy.

    So, even though I completely agree, it has given me a chance to talk with my daughter about what abusive relationships look like, how to recognize them and how to get out of them. The best part is, I’ve overheard her explaining to her friends why Bella is stupid and why Edward is a “bad boyfriend”.

    1. Basilfaery

      You are awesome. Five page essays! WHEE!

      I grew up reading about vampires. Ann Rice and such. I even remember this one particularly terrible book from the 80s that I read…
      I hate not finishing things. I HAD to read the entire first book, kept thinking it would get better. *facepalm*

      I read it before it was popular, and was really shocked when it became so incredibly well read. At first I thought it was nice because I had classmates that had never finished a whole book, just devouring the series. Then I remembered the story… yech. Take note of the word “devouring” I used there.
      I don’t remember seeing a mention of the twilight moms- mothers of teenage daughters who are extremely into Edward as well. 35-50 year old women, lusting over a man in the body of a 17 year old boy.

      Devour-thefreedictionary.com

      1. to swallow or eat up greedily or voraciously
      2. to waste or destroy; consume: the flames devoured the curtains
      3. to consume greedily or avidly with the senses or mind: he devoured the manuscripts
      4. to engulf or absorb the flood devoured the land

  15. Other-Megan

    Agree Twilight is terrible

    On Batman et al – try this – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_Refrigerators

    ” The website features a list of female comic book characters that had been injured, killed, or depowered as a plot device within various superhero comic books. Also, the site seeks to analyze why these plot devices are used disproportionately on female characters. ”

    Could be worth a post
    & great blog fellow Megan

  16. KathyRo

    Thanks for confirming my decision to have nothing to do with the whole Twilight media circus ( books, movies, etc ).

    Here’s a great satirical post :

    http://www.cracked.com/funny-36-twilight/

    It’s worth reading, if only for this line:

    ‘Three hundred pages after “Oh, you like me too? No way, I thought you hated me!”, the plot arrives late to the party, drunk, in a beat-up ’53 Chevy pick-up truck. It drives away about fifty pages later and crashes into a tree, gets sent to the hospital, and is rarely heard from again throughout the course of the series.’

  17. Jen

    i used to think it was the ACTRESS i couldn’t stand, but now i understand that it was also BELLA i couldn’t stand. so shallow. i’m sure i have more to say…but u are not the first nor the last to have issues with this story! and the teens/20+ crowd are eating this up? WHAT!

  18. SmashedTogether

    When Princess Leia watched her lover become encased in carbonite, she posed as a BAD ASS BOUNTY HUNTER and infiltrated what is obviously an intersteller crack den to save his damsel-in-distress ass. Now that is a role model I’m glad I had growing up.

  19. Peggi

    I would never enjoy Twilight. But so what if its anti feminist? Its just a book of fiction. Fiction does not have to send out a politically correct message.

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