Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I've really really been trying not to write about the social implications of anything having to do with the Twilight novels, but I seem to have lost my resolve.

I know plenty of booksellers who had some reservations about recommending the Twilight series for consumption by teens -- teen girls in particular. This was for many reasons, but chiefly among them being the fact that the main character, Bella Swan, is not a strong female role model. But even this, along with abysmal writing, cannot blot out the fact that it is a series that spurred many kids to get excited about reading. Its appeal is undeniable, but so is its stunted message.

That is why I found this essay so fascinating.

Our Bella, Ourselves

I get the point about Bella coming from a place that is more identifiable for teens, especially teen girls. I also get that teens are more about internal dialogue. I was a timid, shy child who spent a lot of time playing alone. I was also not white in a town that was very white and very redneck. My internal dialogue was deafening. I also often thought about relationships and sex in a knight in shining armor context: a strong, controlling, patriarchal husband (not partner) who is somewhat hurt and damaged from his experiences, and thus excused for his controlling and patriarchal behavior because of said damage. It's unrealistic and wrong, and not only twists and stunts girls' expectations, but paints men into a corner as well. But it's also what has been shoveled to girls for ages. It wasn't until I discovered punk rock that I found freedom from the "norms" my community and society had placed on me, embraced my niggling suspicion that I could be anything I wanted to be, and began to act on that.

I think it's damaging to say we should give room to Twilight and Bella and her controlling stalker Edward because it's how many young girls think, especially when juxtaposed alongside the "Buffy Summers maxim" with the implication that is equally damaging because physical power comes "at the expense of emotional clarity." I also don't buy that self-actualized heroines are exhibiting a "masculinist" understanding of what it is to realize your own potential. These exhibitions should be part of modern human wholeness. Teens are inherently obsessed with gender roles and are emotionally stunted, but they have SO much potential. I say we need female protagonists in media to model personal power if we want girls to develop the tools needed to seek out balance and emotional clarity. The alternative? Bella stunts her emotional development through being controlled, infantilized, and put on a pedestal, and then as an ADULT marries her controller and stalker. She has no personal power -- physical, intellectual, or emotional -- and never becomes self-actualized.

As I have matured into a strong, independent woman in a deep partnership with another strong and independent human being, the one thing that spoke to me in this essay was this:

...the Twilight saga, I would argue, has the potential to revitalize a number of our larger conversations about feminism...If, as feminists, we believe in girls’ and womens’ autonomy, how do we understand the autonomy-shattering power of desire? Do we determine that some desires (to be dominated? to be beautiful? to get married?) are bad and others good?

These are valid questions. I see nothing wrong with any of these desires; it is the motivation behind it that is the question for me. As a woman who is constantly questioning why I do things, I think there must be an encouragement toward self-actualization and independence in order for desire to intersect with the idea of choice. Investigating being powerful yourself -- even as you are developing emotional maturity -- allows you to make mistakes, own up to them, and then work through any resulting damage. There may be no "bad" or "good" at that conclusion, just what is best for you and who you care about. Twilight may have a glimmer of potential to add to this conversation, but much of it is eclipsed (har har) by the overwhelming, relentless, and frankly, offensive, two-dimensionalness of the personalities in the books. It's a reach that may only offer a mere footnote where other works could do much better.

On another YA and controversial literature related note, my friend Nina La Cour's book, Hold Still was challenged!

"All publicity is good publicity" aside, I find this challenge -- while possibly giving a greater audience for her terrific debut -- sad. But at the same time, I have always been so proud of Nina and her beautiful novels, and I am even more proud that her work is at the forefront of a censorship battle! While I'm sure these parents would also object to Twilight, I personally find Nina's exploration of the many rich facets of teenage experience a much more valuable read -- one that honors and respects rather than insults teens' multi-layered experiences and budding personalities by being profoundly open-ended and real.

Funny, though, this whole exploration of adults attempting to curate a child's experience, and what is valued.

While parents have the right to guide their child's education, Bonney and the ALCU contend that parents don't have the right to impose their views on everyone else in the community.

Do I think the world's going to end if a million kids read crappy ol' Twilight? No. Do I think those kids will get a better quality read in Hold Still? For sure. Do I think both books, to different degrees, inspire dialogue and shouldn't be censored? Yes. And with that, and discussion, there is room on the YA shelf for Caitlin and Bella both.

Labels: , ,


Blogger Trevor said...

Great post Saudade. Whatever the skill of Ms. Meyer's writing, and despite it's obviously large fan base, Bella's narrative is seriously infantilizing. As your post points out, there are so many other strong female characters out there as examples, one has to wonder why Ms. Meyer would choose to make her's so broken? If the were about Bella's broken-ness it would be different, but horribly she is positioned as a strong character. Meh.

January 23, 2012 at 4:36:00 PM PST  

Post a Comment

<< Home