Twilight Recap: Bella is being carried by Edward to the nurse's office after nearly fainting in Biology class.
Twilight, Chapter 5: Blood Type
I was still so dizzy. I slumped over on my side, putting my cheek against the freezing, damp cement of the sidewalk, closing my eyes. That seemed to help a little.
"I'll take her," Edward said. I could hear the smile still in his voice. "You can go back to class."
"No," Mike protested. "I'm supposed to do it."
Suddenly the sidewalk disappeared from beneath me. My eyes flew open in shock. Edward had scooped me up in his arms, as easily as if I weighed ten pounds instead of a hundred and ten.
"Put me down!" Please, please let me not vomit on him. He was walking before I was finished talking.
"Hey!" Mike called, already ten paces behind us.
I don't know a lot about Medicine.
That seems like a weird thing for me to say, now that I look at it. I've been in and out of several hospitals for multiple infertility treatments, at least one major surgery, numerous follow-up tests and exams (most of them fairly invasive), and have at some point or another been prescribed every possible pain-killer and/or anti-depressant (because when confronted with a patient who is sad about being in pain, many doctors will try to fix the sad before the pain) on the market before I said sod this and chucked the lot in the bin. And I'll probably be going back in for the same major surgery in either 2012 or 2013, in the hopes that my body responds correctly this time. *sardonic fist shake* So I actually know quite a lot about Medicine in the sense that I know what experiencing it is like and I know what does and doesn't work on my body.
But my point is that I'm not a formally trained doctor. Edward Cullen is.
No, really. I don't mean that in the sense that Carlisle Cullen is a doctor and he and Edward have been chilling out together for 100 years and surely Edward would have picked up a few things in that time. That is not what I mean. I mean that Edward Cullen has A Graduate Degree In Medicine.
Two of them, in fact.
One of which is from Harvard Medical School.*
* Harvard claims Edward 'attended but did not graduate'. Who are you going to believe, Harvard or Edward?**
** One hypothesis is that Edward has two graduate degrees in medicine and attended-but-did-not-graduate Harvard.***
*** This would make him medically trained three times over.****
**** Assuming each training period lasted 8 years, Edward has devoted one quarter of his life to medical training.*****
***** The probability that your doctor has devoted one-quarter of their life to formal scholastic medical training is low.******
****** Unless your doctor is Edward Cullen.
So when Edward quickly scoops up a girl who is in a half-faint and additionally very likely has a serious inner ear problem and immediately starts walking so fast that he outpaces his romantic rival, it is important to remember that he is not an ignorant 17-year-old boy who doesn't know any better. No, he is a trained professional who has been through the rigorous scholastic training necessary to know that picking Bella up and keeping her head elevated above her heart is much safer than letting her lie on her side with her chin up slightly so that she can breathe easily.
Also known as the "recovery position".
Because it's up to doctors like Edward Cullen to recover us from doing that. True fax.
"Put me back on the sidewalk," I moaned. The rocking movement of his walk was not helping. He held me away from his body, gingerly, supporting all my weight with just his arms -- it didn't seem to bother him.
[...skipping ahead a bit...]
I don't know how he opened the door while carrying me, but it was suddenly warm, so I knew we were inside.
For all his Medical Fail, Edward does at least get the shivering girl off the cold, wet cement and into a warm nurse's office, so there's that. Now I ask that you please forgive me while I ramble.
We talked a little bit recently about fantasy characters who are meant to be appealing specifically because they don't take "no" for an answer. That is to say, they can (theoretically) intuitively distinguish between a genuine "no" and a "no" that the protagonist doesn't mean because they are cranky, or don't really know what's best for them, or are only saying "no" because they feel like they have to for socialization reasons. The character who runs roughshod over the fake "no" is a character who can't and won't be put off by depression or anxiety or personality flaws or social muckery. However, this fantasy character is intensely problematic.
In all fairness, in most cases the Won't Take No character probably stems from a genuine desire on the part of the author to be overridden. There's a fantasy that many people have of being able to give up control, give up worrying, give up thinking so much about a lot of painful things. Heck, I have that fantasy. And it's a fantasy that I think is directly tied into issues of ability: most of us -- even the able-bodied and neuro-typical among us -- simply do not have the physical abilities nor the mental bandwidth to manage every little thing that needs doing. Add any kind of disability onto that, and you multiply the problems ten- or a hundred-fold.
In his book "Getting Things Done", David Allen writes:
Almost everyone I encounter these days feels he or she has too much to handle and not enough time to get it all done. In the course of a single recent week, I consulted with a partner in a major global investment firm who was concerned that the new corporate-management responsibilities he was being offered would stress his family commitments beyond the limits; and with a midlevel human-resources manager trying to stay on top of her 150-plus e-mail requests per day fueled by the goal of doubling the company's regional office staff from eleven hundred to two thousand people in one year, all as she tried to protect a social life for herself on the weekends. [...]
Now, for many of us, there are no edges to most of our projects. Most people I know have at least half a dozen things they’re trying to achieve right now, and even if they had the rest of their lives to try, they wouldn’t be able to finish these to perfection. [...]
What you've probably discovered, at least at some level, is that a calendar, though important, can really effectively manage only a small portion of what you need to organize. And daily to-do lists and simplified priority coding have proven inadequate to deal with the volume and variable nature of the average professional’s workload. More and more people's jobs are made up of dozens or even hundreds of e-mails a day, with no latitude left to ignore a single request, complaint, or order. There are few people who can (or even should) expect to code everything an "A," a "B," or a "C" priority, or who can maintain some predetermined list of to-dos that the first telephone call or interruption from their boss won’t totally undo.
So what does that have to do with Bella and Twilight? is what you are probably asking right now. I'm not sure myself, but I'll try to work out why my brain is going to this place.
Bella has medical problems. We don't really know what they are, but we know they exist. She feels faint (sometimes) at the sight, smell, and even mention of blood. Fainting that often is unusual, and could be representative of a life-threatening illness. She falls down a lot, on what seems to be a near-daily basis. Falling that often is unusual, and could also be representative of a serious illness, in addition to being painful, limiting, and inconvenient. Bella's medical problems necessarily limit her life and her social movement. She can't go ice skating or roller blading or play sports or go hiking or ride bicycles or be anywhere where someone might reasonably be expected to bleed.
Bella is (relatively) poor. We don't know what Renee does, but we know that Bella and Renee had "pooled [their] resources to supplement [Bella's] winter wardrobe, but it was still scanty." We know that price was a big sticking point with her over her car. We know that -- lavish two-week trips to California notwithstanding -- Charlie is working on on a cop's salary which is very likely below the median household income in the United States. Bella's (relative) poverty necessarily limits her ability to seek out solutions to her medical problems. She can't go in for dozens of tests to find out why she falls and faints, especially not when those are "female problems" and least likely to be taken seriously by either her parents or medical personnel.
Enter Edward Cullen. He's so rich his family owns their own island. His father is a doctor and he himself has received two (or more!) graduate degrees in medicine. His very blood -- or, I suppose, his saliva-venom -- holds the key to making Bella strong, immortal, and healthy. Once Bella is a vampire, she will never fall and never faint again. (I'm assuming.)
So on the one hand, I see Edward Cullen as a very specific type of ability fantasy that, to a certain extent, could appeal to pretty much anyone. By which I mean, I don't think he's a universal fantasy that YOU MUST HAVE OR YOU ARE STRANGE, but rather that probably every person on earth has, at one point or another, felt mentally or physically overwhelmed by life or finances or family or health problems or something. And that it's possible to step from there into a fantasy where someone with money and knowledge and health and power and the willingness to completely take care of all life's problems for you could potentially be appealing to a lot of people. Who am I to say that's wrong?
And from there it ties back into the Won't Take No fantasy. Because the Won't Take No character knows what you need, even if you don't or if you refuse to admit the truth to yourself. The Won't Take No character is what my Husband was, momentarily, when we were in Hawaii and I wanted to try the Bodyzorb and Husband wouldn't "let" me. I am a grown woman. I could have walked right up to the Bodyzorb guy and said "here is my money" and gotten in. Husband could not have picked me up off the ground and carried me away. But Husband did say, "No, you are not doing that, no matter how many times you say you will not get hurt because you will get hurt." And I listened because I love and respect Husband, and because deep down inside I knew he was right.
But I told him he was wrong, because I wanted him to be wrong. Because I wanted the body that would let me play in the Bodyzorb. And because acknowledging right there and then that I didn't have that body would have made me cry in public and I didn't want to do that. And Husband knows and understands that, despite not being a fictional character of myth. But... that also basically makes me Bella Swan because as childish as it was, I had to say, "Fine, I won't do it, but you are wrong." And I'm feeling pretty conflicted about that right now.
There is a part of me -- a big part of me -- that intellectually understands the appeal of Edward Cullen and what he represents, despite utterly detesting the personality that Edward brings along to the table. There is a part of me that feels... kind of bad criticizing the fantasy of someone taking care of all life's problems, if only because I have that fantasy. A lot.
And yet as much as I understand the fantasy of the Won't Take No character, I still think it's something that we should deliberately try to phase out of our fiction. Not because it's automatically a wrong thing to want someone to take care of our problems for us. And not because I think it necessarily comes from a bad place where authors and artists assume that women are all childish and unable to know or express what they really want. I think it's more complicated than that. I think the problem with the Won't Take No character is that it reinforces -- however unintentionally -- the very same culture that tells women in the first place that they're not allowed to express their wishes or their wants or their unhappiness with things like poverty and pain and marginalization.
Whenever a woman feels like she has to have a Won't Take No character to come along and override her in order to get what she really needs, then the creation of that fantasy and the insertion of that fantasy into mainstream literature reinforces that women aren't supposed to state what they need out loud. The whole process becomes an echo chamber of powerlessness and enforced silence. If Bella or Stephenie Meyer or whoever is controlling this scene wants Bella to be picked up and carried by Edward, there should be a way to own that without cultural blow-back. Bella should be allowed to just say, "I think I probably should get to the nurse, but I cannot walk. Are you capable of carrying me?" Or Edward should be willing to just offer, "I know from my father's medical teachings that it's imperative to get you to a professional. May I carry you there?" and Bella should be able to say, "yes".
Bella should be able to say "yes" without feeling like she's weak, or slutty, or like she owes Edward for the favor. She should live in a culture where "weakness" is considered totally normal, and not something to be ashamed of. She should live in a culture where pain, and falling, and fainting should be treated like serious conditions and not like something that she's faking for attention or being overly whiny about. She should live in a culture where anyone who says that serious pain is analogous to a "fender bender" should be immediately pointed out as dangerously callous and cruel.
She should live in a culture where a girl accepting physical help from a boy shouldn't be considered inappropriate by her peers or as a prelude to her owing something for the boy's help. She should live in a world where people who saying things like "conquering an unwilling sex partner" is so fun and exciting and dramatic should be ostracized with extreme prejudice. She should live in a world where accepting help from Mike and Edward not only shouldn't carry an expectation of sex, but should not even carry an expectation of cookies. She should live in a culture where people are raised from day one how to be Good Samaritans instead of, well, people like Mike and Edward.
Bella doesn't live in that culture. She lives in our world. She lives in a culture where physical weakness is treated as shameful and embarrassing. She lives in a culture where most boys aren't taught from day one that helping a girl in order to get your mack on makes you a crappy, mercenarial person.
Bella lives in a culture where Edward is a desirable escapist fantasy.
I would never blame anyone for reading or writing a Won't Take No character as an escapist fantasy. I genuinely, honestly believe that Won't Take No characters have been around for as long as sexism and in many cases have been intended as a fictional escape from sexism. I also believe that some authors have been able to work those characters into deliberately feminist messages. (More on that at a later date.) And I think there's a very good reason why the Won't Take No character appeals to so many people -- the character is a literal escape clause from the very serious burdens that a lot of us live with, and the one escape clause that many of us have been socialized to accept. Too many young women can't slip into a fantasy of being taken seriously because it's too unreal, but they can slip into a fantasy where a man fixes everything and everyone listens to him and everything is lovely forever.
BUT. I think that as long as our media is flooded with Won't Take No characters -- even when the intent is a good one -- we'll see the bigger problems of being unable to express our discontent continue.
So it's the chicken-and-the-egg problem: Do we get rid of Won't Take No characters first, or change society radically for the better and expect them to die out on their own?
Final note: Absolutely none of the above means that I don't still find Edward distressingly creepy. This is a multi-year deconstruction, and sometimes I want to complain about society rather than Edward Cullen. I promise to gripe about Edward Cullen creepiness next week, but this post got away from me a bit.