Content Note: Rape Culture, Vigilantism
Twilight Recap: Bella and Edward have left the nurse's office and are outside talking to Mike.
Twilight, Chapter 5: Blood Type
"It's not bleeding anymore," [Mike] muttered. "Are you going back to class?"
"Are you kidding? I'd just have to turn around and come back."
"Yeah, I guess. . . . So are you going this weekend? To the beach?" While he spoke, he flashed another glare toward Edward, who was standing against the cluttered counter, motionless as a sculpture, staring off into space.
Mike, as you will all no doubt remember, is still angling to get into a romance with Bella. He's been stymied by her unwillingness to completely rearrange her plans at his request in order to attend a dance she has no reasonable hope of being able to participate in (due to her chronic falling), but he is still holding out hope by extending her an invitation to join him and the rest of their social group at the beach this weekend.
Bella is in a bit of a situation here. The invitation has been extended to the group at large, and not to her in particular as an obvious romantic gesture. If she turns Mike down, she risks looking anti-social and alienating herself from the group for refusing to spend time with them on the weekends. She's already seen that the school atmosphere hasn't been terribly deferential to the other "city kids", and she lacks the obvious beauty and wealth of the Cullens. If she doesn't want to be a total pariah in her new home, she is going to have to make an effort to spend time with her new school friends.
The problem here, though, is that while Mike extended the offer under the guise of a group invitation, he seems to consider the invitation to also be a romantic opportunity for him. If the offer was framed as a romantic invitation, Bella could politely turn Mike down (or come up with another whooops, out-of-town that day, what're the odds?) and hopefully Mike would finally end his doomed campaign for Bella's romantic interest. But the fact that Mike hasn't been clear and up-front about his intentions with his invitation means that Bella is in a situation: she sort of has to accept the invitation in order to maintain social ties in Forks, and is now trying to accept the invitation tactfully without encouraging Mike on the romance front. Awkward and uncomfortable.
I tried to sound as friendly as possible. "Sure, I said I was in."
"We're meeting at my dad's store, at ten." His eyes flickered to Edward again, wondering if he was giving out too much information. His body language made it clear that it wasn't an open invitation.
What's interesting to me, and frankly a little creepy, is how Mike is structuring his romantic campaign.
Now, don't get me wrong: I was a teenager once too, and I had my share of unrequited crushes. I fully understand crushing on someone who just isn't into you, and I'm not condemning that. But Mike isn't pining from afar, and he's not even going the earnest "but if I'm your Super Best Friend you'll like me then, right?" method of trying to woo an uninterested crush.
No, Mike's method of wooing so far has been almost entirely in direct and forceful opposition to Edward. He cast Meaningful Glances at Edward in Biology when he cornered Bella and demanded to know if she was going to ask him to the dance or not. He had a territorial dispute with Edward in the parking lot over who would escort Bella to the nurse's office, and was rude to Bella both during and after Edward's intervention, as though he were blaming her for being receptive to Edward. And now he's trying to isolate Bella from Edward for the weekend, by reminding her about her previous engagement to the beach and making it clear that Edward is not welcome to come along. I literally cannot separate Mike's "quest for Bella's attention" from Mike's "campaign to beat Edward to the punch" on the same, and Mike seems to have bought into the rather literal interpretation of the phrase "romantic conquest". This disturbs me.
When the chosen method of courtship towards a woman is to isolate her from any and all possible rivals, then the whole relationship is founded on a lot of Unfortunate Implications. The act of isolating a woman from others is a hostile act. Either the suitor doesn't trust the woman to make her own decisions or he doesn't want her to make the best decision for herself if it means not getting what he wants. Furthermore, Mike's overt rivalry with Edward eventually begins to paint a picture of jealousy and competition: a contest where Bella is a symbolic prize to be won and not a person in her own right.
These toxic relationship tactics make me extremely uneasy with the character of Mike, but it's worth pointing out -- from what I can see coming ahead -- that these same toxic tactics will be utilized by Edward once Jacob is introduced as a romantic rival. This leaves me with the uncomfortable impression that Edward doesn't actually disagree with Mike's behavior here, except in as much as it is presumptuous for Mike to try to assert dominance over Edward-freaking-Cullen.
And once I peer at the text in that light, I'm not sure that I can un-see it: I don't think Edward disapproves of what Mike is doing to Bella here. I think he finds it amusing, in a oh, tiny teenager, you don't know the first thing about real manipulation kind of way, but I don't think he actually disapproves. It's not the fact that he doesn't speak up here that bothers me -- I can't think of anything Edward can say in this conversation that would be constructive -- it's the fact that later when Bella will invite Edward to come to the beach, Edward will reply that they should "not push poor Mike any further this week."
When Edward addresses the issue at all, even if it's just a joke, he approaches the situation as a legitimate territorial dispute, albeit one that Edward will ultimately 'win'. By framing the situation this way, Edward and Mike have reduced Bella to a piece of property, rather than a person who has the right to make her own choice. This is not surprising to me; this is basic Rape Culture 101. No, what is surprising to me is that Edward should know this and -- according to his informed characterization -- he should be rejecting it as much as he possibly can.
Edward Cullen is a telepath. Edward Cullen uniquely knows the evil that lurks in men's hearts. He has used his talent extensively in the past to prey on rapists -- who he sees as a Special Kind of Evil -- as a hungry vigilante vampire. This one fact is meant to redeem him to the reader for years of mass murder, that he 'merely' murdered men who preyed on women, and that Edward's bloody crusade saved countless women. This is such an important character trait that it has been explicitly called out in several of the Twilight movies, and will be the turning point in this novel where Edward saves Bella and comes out to her as a telepath and a vampire. This is not simply an inconvenient character point that can be brushed aside on a whim.
And this is the point: if Edward has been hunting rapists and abusers as his bread-and-butter for a couple of decades of his vampire existence, he should be intimately familiar with how rapists think. He doesn't have the option to just turn his telepathy off -- if he's actively hunting for a rapist to eat, that means digging deeply in the minds of the people around him. Edward knows how rapists think and how they operate. And if he genuinely does care about rape as an issue and not just as a self-righteous guilt-free meal ticket, then he should be using that knowledge to modify his own behavior. Edward Cullen, as a character, should be one of the most educated-on-feminist-issues man on earth because he knows firsthand through brain-mining that 1 in 4 women are rape survivors and 1 in 20 men are rapists.
But he's not. He's right up there with Mike, cheerily practicing abusive relationship tactics and treating Bella like a piece of property he can control. This flabbergasts me.
Of course, there's the obvious possibility that S. Meyer may not have wanted to admit in a fantasy novel that time-honored romance novel techniques like "I love you so much, I won't allow anyone else to interact with you!" carry massive Rape Culture overtones. I guess the fairest thing I can say about that is that not every novel can carry every good message possible to the reader. But when you write your Designated Love Interest as an immortal telepathic vigilante vampire who specializes in hunting rapists and yet still fully buys into and participates in Rape Culture, you are leaving a massive gaping characterization hole for the reader to fill in as best they can.
The only way I can see to resolve this is to write Edward Cullen off as so vehemently non-introspective that he refuses to see that he is ultimately no different from the men he hunted in his youth. He used rape as a convenient issue to excuse his feeding frenzies, but ultimately he cares so little about rape that he refuses to examine his own behavior to see that the pattern of abuse -- stalking, confronting, gaslighting, and isolating -- is not only something he practices, it's something he condones in his romantic rivals.