Twilight Recap: Bella has been rescued from an imminent gang-rape by Edward Cullen.
Twilight, Chapter 8: Port Angeles
Twilight was not -- and I think most people will agree with this statement -- written to be taken as complex social commentary. It's a romance novel, built around the eroticism of sexual abstinence and denial. And for all that, it works pretty well if you like that sort of thing. Or so I'm told. YMMV.
Where Twilight fails -- and it does, notably in areas of racism and misogyny -- I honestly believe that it fails through ignorance or laziness or incuriousness rather than malice. Sure, the author and her editors could have spent a significant amount of time and effort removing the casual misogyny seen in the narrative treatment of Bella and Lauren and Rosalie and Leah and pretty much the entire rest of the female cast, and sure they could have pulled out the racism by excising the cultural appropriation and the Magic Dark People Legends and the portrayal of the werewolves as mindless and violent. But in order to remove those aspects, the team of people responsible for this book has to know they're doing it and (more to the point), they have to care. And we live in a society that is openly hostile to education on these issues and which rewards (with millions of dollars worth of sales!) books which contain racism and misogyny therein. So there's a definite problem of education and motivation there.
And I want to make this very clear, that if you are a Twilight-fan or a person responsible for Twilight, this deconstruction is not about you being a bad person. It's not. This deconstruction series is not and has never been about "OMG Twilight bad"; the point of this series is "OMG Twilight popular... so what does that say about us as a general whole?"
I say all that for two reasons. One, I think it needs to be reiterated from time to time that my goal here is social commentary, not grr-stupid-authors-and-their-stupid-fans because I do not feel that way at all about the authors and fans of anything I deconstruct. To Each Hir Own, I say. (And I like problematic things too!) But two, today we are going to talk about Twilight as it follows a trope that is older than dirt, but it still chafes my chaps. This isn't Twilight's fault; I don't expect every author on earth to reexamine their genre and rework every unfortunate trope ever in their genre. But it's here and it bugs me and I'm going to talk about it. And the "it" in that sentence is the Bella/Edward reaction in the wake of her near rape.
I jumped into the seat, slamming the door shut behind me. [...]
The tires squealed as he spun around to face north, accelerating too quickly, swerving toward the stunned men on the street. I caught a glimpse of them diving for the sidewalk as we straightened out and sped toward the harbor.
"Put on your seat belt," he commanded, and I realized I was clutching the seat with both hands. I quickly obeyed; the snap as the belt connected was loud in the darkness. He took a sharp left, racing forward, blowing through several stop signs without a pause.
Edward is driving unsafely.
This is partly because of the situation, but it's also partly because total contempt for traffic laws is pretty much what the Cullens do. And we'll talk about this more later, but I just know it's going to come up in the comments, so briefly: this is awful.
It's awful because it wrecks the world-building. The Cullens are supposedly trying to be discreet and blend into the local population; driving like the rules don't apply to you isn't going to help that cause. I don't care how good Edward's telepathy is or what kind of range he can throw, someone is going to observe them doing this and then there will be trouble.
It's awful because it wrecks the characterization. The Cullens are supposedly largely humane people who just want to live with the minimum amount of death necessary to sustain them; driving unsafely is a sure means of getting someone killed. So what if Edward can sense everyone for a billion mile radius? Can he also sense the animals? When a moose or a deer wanders on the road and he careens into it because Vampire Reflexes are not Car Reflexes (meaning the car can only react so quickly, regardless of how awesome Edward is), Bella is going to die. (No, really, I have experience with this.)
And it's awful because it's once again glorifying privilege in a book that's absolutely marinating in privilege. Not only is being a vampire better because you're immortal and beautiful and graceful and perfect in every way (and let's not forget MORE PALE), you can also break traffic laws with impunity in your sexy car!!
*insert strangled noise at the back of Ana's throat*
(I'm not trying to be mean, I'm really not, it's just that after pages and pages of this, it starts to feel like this series should be called Twilight: Privileged For (Un)Life! or something.)
So, anyway, Edward is driving like he's Zeus in a Ferrari and endangering Bella whilst doing so (his "Put on your seat belt" command not withstanding) and while this is not unusual, the reason this time is that Edward is very very very angry about the whole rape thing.
I studied his flawless features in the limited light, waiting for my breath to return to normal, until it occurred to me that his expression was murderously angry.
"Are you okay?" I asked, surprised at how hoarse my voice sounded.
"No," he said curtly, and his tone was livid.
And here is reason eleventy billion why Edward Cullen is a terrible person: he's making Bella's rape about him.
Men! Do not do this. I keep meaning to write a "How To Respond To A Rape Victim" post, and I keep not doing getting around to it, but here it is in short: Do not appropriate a rape victim's experience for yourself. You don't like rape? Good for you. It makes you angry? Keep it to yourself.
Seriously. I cannot count how many times I've confessed my experiences with rape to close friends and lovers, only to have them stomp about the room and RAEG that they're so angry, that if they even find the guy, they'll beat him up! They'll kill him! They hate rape SO much!
This is not helpful. You're making the whole experience about you. And by reacting as if this is The Worst Thing In The World OMG RAGE, you're signalling that you don't take rape seriously. If you did, you'd already know -- just by knowing that I am a woman -- that there is a 25% chance that I've been raped in my lifetime. That statistic is horrific and monstrous, yes, and it's something we should all care deeply about, but by being unable to control your reaction and acting like this is SHOCKING ASTONISHING NEWS, you are signalling that you are not an ally and that you additionally may have problems with temper, impulse control, and with making things All About You.
And that can make rape victims very, very nervous.
When a rape victim shares hir experience, the best way to react is with compassion and empathy, and with an attempt to take your emotional cue from them. Seriousness is good. Sympathy is good. "I'm so sorry that happened to you," is usually a safe thing to say. "They had no right to do that to you," if zie seems like they are feeling social pressure to justify that it wasn't entirely their rapist's fault. "No one should have to go through that," if zie seems anxious about sharing an "easy" rape when so many people have it worse.
Threatening to murder the people responsible for the rape? Does not help. I just want to repeat that.
"Distract me, please," he ordered. [...] "Just prattle about something unimportant until I calm down," he clarified, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger.
Additionally, ordering a rape victim to distract you so that you can calm down from your horrible trauma of being made aware that rape is a real thing that exists in the real world is also not helpful. Especially when the actual rape victim you are ordering around is at that moment having to deal with the horrible trauma of nearly-being-raped.
This is serious priority inversion, and it happens all the time in real life and in literature, and it irks me so very much. I have to assume it's a symptom of Privilege; when everything in your entire life has been framed in terms of how you -- Privileged White Male Vampire -- feel, then of course a traumatic experience that happened to someone else should immediately (and only!) be framed in terms of how the Privileged White Male Vampire in the room feels about things! It's just the natural order of things, right? Privileged White Male Vampire feelings come first.
"Um." I wracked my brain for something trivial. "I'm going to run over Tyler Crowley tomorrow before school?" [...] So I figure if I endanger his life, then we're even, and he can't keep trying to make amends. I don't need enemies and maybe Lauren would back off if he left me alone. [...] "If he's paralyzed from the neck down, he can't go to the prom, either," I muttered, refining my plan.
Edward sighed, and finally opened his eyes.
"Not really." [...]
"What's wrong?" My voice came out in a whisper.
"Sometimes I have a problem with my temper, Bella." He was whispering, too, and as he stared out the window, his eyes narrowed into slits. "But it wouldn't be helpful for me to turn around and hunt down those . . ." He didn't finish his sentence, looking away, struggling for a moment to control his anger again. "At least," he continued, "that's what I'm trying to convince myself."
"Oh." The word seemed inadequate, but I couldn't think of a better response.
I'm not going to criticize Bella for talking about running over Tyler. I kind of want to, but I'm not going to because:
- Bella's anger is entirely justified. Tyler is being incredibly aggressive by telling everyone not that he's planning to ask Bella to the prom, but that he's going to take her there as if it were a done deal. This puts Bella in the position of having to call Tyler a liar (and look cruel and heartless) or go with someone she doesn't like and can't trust. Predators are very good framing themselves as romantics.
- Bella has just suffered a serious trauma. She's very nearly been gang-raped; I can give her a pass for not being the clearest thinker at the moment.
- Bella has been ordered to perform. She's in a dangerously speeding car that has taken her out of town and into a remote area with a man who is seething with rage and has ordered her to speak now. See #2; I'm not going to leap on her here and now when we've more chances to do so later at a much better time.
So there's that. But we're not done because now I'm going to ding Twilight for something that pretty much every book does but that doesn't get them off the deconstruction hook.
Edward says it "wouldn't be helpful" for him to turn around and track down Bella's would-be rapists and murder them. And you know what? I agree with him; it wouldn't be helpful for him to do that. But you know what would be helpful? If he and Bella went and filed a goddamn police report.
I do not -- repeat: do not -- blame real life victims for not wanting to deal with the police. I didn't report my real life rapist to the police and if I could do it all over again, I still wouldn't. I know for a fact (because I actually do know a bit about my real situation and please keep in mind in the comments that you, personally, do not) that I would not have been believed, that the entire process would have been incredibly damaging to me, and that I would have been kicked out of the college I was attending at the time. (That last one very nearly happened anyway.)
But Edward and Bella are not real life people; they are characters in a book. Bella is a police chief's daughter, a virgin, and a stranger in a big city who was nearly gang raped by strange men in the middle of the street. If ever there was a rape victim who might be taken seriously by the police, surely it is she. Edward is the respected son of the local celebrity doctor, and he is handsome, polished, and poised. He is additionally telepathic. He can smoothly and perfectly answer every question put before them. He can easily pick the would-be rapists out of a line-up. He could take this moment to at least suggest to Bella that they do this -- that the pain and effort and trouble will be worth it if it saves some other girl like Bella from being raped tonight by these men.
Edward doesn't suggest it. Bella doesn't think of it.
They don't think of it because the rape wasn't real. The rape was a literary device to propel the characters together, a way for Edward to save Bella and a way for Bella to be grateful to Edward. The rape is intended to break down emotional walls, to make them both vulnerable (for varying degrees of "vulnerable") so that they can step away from the animosity they've built up and really see what's important: that they're in love.
That's a stock trope of the genre. S. Meyer didn't invent it. She was under no obligation to reinvent it. But I don't have to like it.
Edward will later justify his years of murdering humans because the men he murdered were rapists, murderers, predators of women. Edward asserts that he can't control his temper, that he is driven to vigilantism. This is a lie.
Vigilantism is the last resort of those denied the satisfaction of justice. It's what people turn to when rapists are allowed to get off scot-free because of their privilege, of their connections, of their power and money and influence. Edward, who has all those things in spades, doesn't need to fight clandestinely against rapists. He could put them away all on his own, the legal way, by being the perfect, trustworthy, privileged, telepathic witness for the prosecution that he is.
He doesn't do that, because Edward ultimately doesn't care about rape. He doesn't care about rape victims or about justice for them. He doesn't care about preventing rape. He doesn't care because rape, to him, is All About Him. Always, not just when it happens to Bella. Rape is all about his anger, his temper, his need for violence, his blood lust.
And because of that, Edward Cullen is a poster boy for the appropriation of victims' experience.