Twilight Recap: Edward has approached Bella in the parking lot at school and asked if he can take her to Seattle on her planned day-trip. Bella has agreed, but is puzzled by Edward's behavior.
Twilight, Chapter 5: Blood Type
I MADE MY WAY TO ENGLISH IN A DAZE. I DIDN'T EVEN realize when I first walked in that class had already started.
"Thank you for joining us, Miss Swan," Mr. Mason said in a disparaging tone.
I flushed and hurried to my seat.
Sometimes the behavior of the people in the Twilight 'verse makes more sense if you pretend that they don't have persistent memories.
I mean, it kind of makes sense, I guess, that the first-period English teacher would be a snarky jerkface to Bella for being late to class. That's what teachers do, amiright? Except, of course, that Bella is a student who notoriously cannot walk across a perfectly flat, empty room without falling over onto her face. No, really! Edward will say pretty much that exact same thing later! So it seems to me that if an infamously clumsy student were late to my class, I might figure she fell on the way to class and just count my blessings that she wasn't bleeding visibly anywhere.
(And I might cut back on the Victorian romances just a tiny bit. Not that Victorian romances make you fall down! I'm just saying maybe we need less "Wuthering Heights" and more "Satanic Verses" here. Except now that I write that, I remember that "Satanic Verses" memorably has two characters fall out of a plane, and then one of them turns into a satyr, so maybe this is not what is needed here. But I'm not a high school English teacher, so there's that. And, of course, I realize that the teachers have very little control over the curriculum. So there's that, too.)
What's more frustrating to me, though, is that the Forks teachers are so dang snarky to Bella about being late to English class and about getting high marks on her Biology labs (because girls don't get Biology, natch?) but they conveniently forget in the process that they routinely bend over backwards to accommodate the Cullens' truancy and constant special treatment! Edward will skip class today because he can't participate in a blood test, and he doesn't even have to show up to hand the teacher a note! And this is on top of him and his siblings taking off whenever the weather is sunny, or when they have vampire munchies, or when they just don't feel like going to class! The Cullens seem to spend more days out of class than in, but the teachers are being snarky to Bella about being five minutes late
This is something I can't blame on Twilight, however. In fact, I'm kind of glad it's here, even if I wish it was highlighted more starkly, because it really illustrates an ongoing theme in these chapters and it's that Bella simply cannot win. It doesn't matter that she's bought-in for the moment the cultural standards of perfection demanded of the Good Girl, because ultimately it's a losing game. Late to class despite having a severe disability? Get publicly humiliated by your teacher! Sure! It doesn't matter that your classmate Edward routinely breaks far more serious rules by not showing up at all, because he is a male and you are a female and there are very different rules for you.
It wasn't till class ended that I realized Mike wasn't sitting in his usual seat next to me. I felt a twinge of guilt. But he and Eric both met me at the door as usual, so I figured I wasn't totally unforgiven.
Mike seemed to become more himself as we walked, gaining enthusiasm as he talked about the weather report for this weekend. The rain was supposed to take a minor break, and so maybe his beach trip would be possible. I tried to sound eager, to make up for disappointing him yesterday.
And then there's the Human Trio, Mike-Eric-Tyler, and where do I begin? How do I begin to unpack why this sentence sends shivers down my spine? Let's start with the reference to forgiveness, as though Bella has something to feel guilty about because she gently and carefully refused to go to a school dance with these guys by fabricating an expensive road trip just to preserve their feelings. Bella has done nothing wrong here.
Bella is operating in a culture where she can't win. If she lets Mike carry her books without protest, she's leading him on by letting him think she has feelings for him that she doesn't; if she tries to assert her book-carrying independence, she's not giving him a chance to show what a nice guy he is, and she's shooting him down before he has a chance to really win her heart. And then when she goes off with Edward -- who she finds more attractive -- Mike can spend a lot of time griping about how girls are all attracted to jerks instead of Nice Guys like him who carry books and only occasionally demand that women structure their schedules around his needs. Heads, he wins; tails, she loses.
Now Bella is in a situation where she's turned down both these boys, but she did so in a passive way in order to protect herself. Mike is the popular boy in school and is the nexus of her circle of friends -- he's routinely referenced in the book as a major social player in a very small community. If all goes well, he's about to be Jessica's boyfriend (and Eric and Tyler will ideally pair off as well) and if Bella wants to maintain her relationship with her girl friends at school, it would help if their boyfriends didn't hate Bella.
So for these and a variety of other reasons, I think it's perfectly reasonable that Bella would want to passively turn down these boys, but now her extremely weak rejection of I have to be out of town, sorry is being used against her as an excuse for the boys to continue hanging around her and pressuring her for a romantic relationship. After all, it's not like she said not in a million years, get out of my face. So she's really only escaped the immediate pressure of the school dance and hasn't at all managed to dodge the long-term pressure of repeated romantic advances by guys who she would rather be Just Friends.
Or maybe I'm not being charitable! Maybe Mike and Eric are genuinely embarrassed about the other day, and they're trying to be super-friendly to Bella to show that there are no hard feelings and they're all still friends. Maybe they're really super, awesome, great, very genuinely nice guys from whom Bella has absolutely nothing to fear. We really can't tell from the text at this point, and yes that frustrates me to no end. But in this case it's almost apropos, because it means we don't know any more than Bella.
Bella knows about as much as we do about the inner workings of Mike's head at this point. Bella doesn't know whether he wants to be her friend or is still holding out hope for a romantic relationship. Bella doesn't know how to respond to him in order to keep him in the Just Friends bucket, and the great thing about our society is that no matter what she does, it will pretty much be wrong.
If she's sullen and standoffish about the beach trip, then she's being a very poor sport -- after all, Mike backed off when she said 'no'! -- and she's punishing Mike for asking her a simple question. If she's excited and eager about the beach trip, then she's leading him on and giving him the impression that he still has a chance. If she comes up with another avoidance excuse and announces that she has to wash her hair that day, then she's anti-social and seriously over-reacting to what was just a simple outing among friends, geez. If she spontaneously combusts from the conflicting and contradictory societal demands on her, then she is waaaaaaay too sensitive.
Mike does not have to worry about these things. That isn't to say he doesn't worry -- I'm sure he worries a lot about how to say and do exactly the right thing to woo Bella. But the stakes are a little different for him. His rewards and pitfalls are largely confined to the success or failure of his immediate efforts: he either gets Bella to go out with him, or he doesn't. Maybe, at worst, he'll be embarrassed or humiliated. I do not want to minimize that as nothing, because it's not nothing, but it's not the same as the world Bella is living in.
In the world Bella lives in, everything she does will be perceived by someone as wrong. It's really just a question of minimizing the damage. Margaret Atwood once wrote that "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them," but it's even more complicated than that. Women aren't just afraid that they'll be hurt; they're afraid that they'll be hurt and they'll get blamed for it. I cannot think of a single thing that Bella can do in this relationship with Mike to get what she is comfortable with and has every right to demand -- that they be Just Friends or nothing at all -- that wouldn't draw ire from someone somewhere.
Bella can't win. Everything she knows about the situation with Eric and Mike is laid out on the table: they've asked her out, and she's said no. She said no in an extremely passive and unassertive way, in order to protect their feelings and protect herself, and now she has no idea how to react to these boys the day after to maintain her boundaries and protect her friendships. I don't blame Mike or Eric in this equation -- it's possible, and even probable, that they're doing their best to navigate this situation as tactfully as they can.
But I do blame the society around them that is going to be judging Bella every step of the way without once really seriously questioning what Mike and Eric could be doing differently in this situation to put her at ease. I blame the society that ensures that 99% of my readers will know what "leading him on" meant when I used it earlier, but we have no colloquial equivalent like "pushing her on" to explain Mike's will you go to the beach so I can try to flirt with you again behavior later in the book. We're used to dissecting a woman's behavior and declaring What She Did Wrong; we're so much less likely to do so in the other direction.
My biggest disappointments in Twilight are with the lost opportunities. Bella doesn't see this situation as fundamentally unfair, or if she does, she never really seems to convey that in her narration. The text never really seems to call out just how deeply unfair this whole situation is, that Bella should have to carefully analyze her every word, gesture, and facial expression to ensure at all times that she is neither hurting Mike's feelings nor leading him into a place that she doesn't want to be. I'm disappointed most of all that the Love Interest for this novel won't provide a useful contrast to this situation, but will instead amp the unfairness up to 11. You hear me, Twilight? I am Very Disappointed In You.
And yet... if there is anything in Twilight that appeals to me, it is perhaps the inevitable transformation from Good Girl to Vampire Not To Be Messed With. There's going to be all kinds of Fail along the way, and the whole thing will be wrapped up in and served alongside of a relationship that I consider to be Very Much Not Recommended, but at the end of the day, Bella will not have to deal with gender discrimination from her teachers anymore and she won't have to walk on eggshells around the Mike-Eric-Tyler-Jacob crowd out of fear of social retribution or physical harm because Sparkly Vampires are above such petty concerns. If you mess with a Sparkly Vampire, you become nommage, it's as simple as that.
It's probably not the best of fantasies since it also ends up with Bella essentially dead to her friends and family, but it's a powerful one and I can respect that aspect. I can see why it's compelling, and I can even see why it might be considered empowering if you squint at it just right. There's a certain relief to be had in laying down a million societal demands and saying this is a rigged game and I refuse to participate in it any longer.
You hear that, Twilight? I just said something nice about you. And I didn't even plan to or anything. You're welcome.