Twilight Themes: Venn Allies Behave Badly

Content Note: Misogyny, Misogynistic Terms, Fat Hatred, Sex Work Hatred

In November 2011, when we were still undergoing the labor of love that was the 12-post deconstruction on Chapter 5, mmy was kind enough to send me a link to this Cracked article. And as much as I wanted to smile and laugh and nod, I found myself frowning and sighing and frustrated. Which was, of course, why mmy was kind enough to send the link in the first place: it cries out for a deconstruction post. And I've thought about this post literally every week between then and now. So now I want to take a moment and talk about Twilight and Allies and Misogyny and oh so many other things.

I don't like Twilight. I don't like it for its pacing and idiosyncratic writing style, including some of the more confusing (for me) shifts from past and present tense. I don't like it for its narrative, being a largely tension-free (for me) story about two people I don't care about getting together and staying in a relationship whilst beset on all sides by almost no resistance at all. And I don't like it for a lot of its problematic content, most notably the racism and racial appropriation within, but also for the misogyny on the page.

And I do think that Twilight, as a novel, has misogynistic aspects. I don't think they were intended as such, and I do think a reader can interpret them differently than I do, but I still see the FedEx arrows. I see misogyny in the interactions between Bella and Charlie, as her father tries to tightly control her virginity and blames Bella for her own sexual assault at the hands of Jacob, even offering to arrest his own daughter for defending herself. I see misogyny in the interactions between Bella and Edward, as her boyfriend tries to tightly control her virginity and continually behaves in violent, abusive ways toward her, even going so far as to sabotage her car to keep her where he wants her. I see misogyny in the interactions between Bella and the text, as the narrative continually portrays her as childish, worthless, and infantile for asserting her own feelings of protest at these bad behaviors. Twilight has serious, serious problems on the misogyny scale.

Which is ironic, because in some ways a bestselling novel written by a woman author and with a largely female readership can in some ways be seen to contain some elements of feminism. It's already been pointed out here several times that if you live in a highly oppressive Patriarchy, Bella's story has elements of feminism in the "best I can hope for" sense. Bella doesn't get a rewarding career and become president of the United States, but if she must have a teen marriage and a patriarchal family structure and a child, she at least gets eternal beauty, a gorgeous-and-rich-and-utterly-enthralled husband, and she gets a baby that has the decency to grow into a cute toddler in a matter of days and can communicate her wishes magically without having to bawl all the time. And that may not be feminism in the traditional sense, but it can be seen as containing a seed of subversion. Maybe. If you squint at it just right and hold your tongue just so.

And all this makes deconstructing Twilight an utterly interesting and totally unique experience! Because the culture it's coming from and in turn both subverting and reinforcing is so tricky to analyze! It's so very, very complicated. And I find it interesting and thought-provoking and rewarding. And I hope you do too.

But there's something I've noticed since starting on this Twilight journey and it's this: Not everyone who also doesn't like Twilight is necessarily my ally. And I've broken out this little chart to demonstrate.


Now we come back to the Cracked article. And I feel like the Cracked article wants to be my ally. The author seems to be aware that feminism exists, and they seem to understand that misogyny is something that feminists care about. I mean, they've got the word "misogynistic" right there in the article:

[Edward] So, the next generation of young women are currently flocking to see a female lead starring in a movie by a female director based on a bestselling book by a female author, and in this movie the main character wants to become completely submissive and self-sacrificing for a male.

[Bella] I love you. Put a baby in me.

[Edward] At least the other three books can't possibly be more misogynistic and depressing.

See? Right there in that last line they mention misogyny. And I really think they're trying to understand what that word means, and not just use it as a red flag to try to co-opt the term and look Really Truly Feminist. Though if I were going to enumerate all the reasons why Twilight is misogynistic, I frankly wouldn't start with self-sacrifice and submission which I consider to be largely neutral concepts that can be applied for great good or great evil depending on the author. But my point is that I feel like the author was trying, and I want to hand out cookies for that.

But I can't.

I can't give out cookies for this article, nor for about a quadzillion other online articles on Twilight, because no mater how feminist an author thinks they're being, they're not a feminist ally if they think this is something useful and valid to sink into an article:

[Bella] Wow. I guess this is what it looks like when the unpopular fat girl's pathetic daydreams get written down and published into a bestselling book.

...

[Edward] Sounds like textbook daddy issues, you fat cow.

[Bella] (swoon)

[Edward] You have a bright career as a stripper ahead of you.

...

[Edward] Holy shit, you're a clingy psychotic bitch. Maybe we have a realistic high school relationship after all.

Whooooooops! Haha, that is not actually how feminism and good-allyship works!

The strangest thing about disliking Twilight is not that I'm not alone: as bestselling as the books are, there are plenty of people both online and in real life who dislike the books. (I've actually found that it's safer to volunteer a dislike of Twilight in a crowd than a like of it. At least in the crowds I travel in.) No, the strangest thing about disliking Twilight is that when I look around at the people in this varied and complex group of Dislikers of Twilight, I see people who make me uncomfortable.

Twilight is a franchise written by a woman to a perceived audience of women. It's permeated with a female gaze: the female protagonist goes almost wholly undescribed in terms of her physical body (itself a possibly subversive act of writing, given how often female characters -- as written by male authors -- are expected to be constantly aware of the size, shape, movement, and current condition of their breasts), but the male love interest is lovingly described, page after page, with ever-increasing superlative praise and adoration. It's not a book that cares to cater to the heterosexual male gaze, and seems perfectly happy to exclude that audience entirely.

A good many women are accustomed to being excluded from popular franchises, but it would seem that a good many men are not. And some of those men -- not as many as one might fear, but far more than one might expect -- react with astonishing and almost personal aggression to the Twilight franchise, its fans, and its author in the face of that deliberate exclusion. There is a great deal of difference between pointing out valid criticisms with a series, and using those criticisms as a jumping off point for spewing misogyny at women who dare to create things (yes, even problematic things) for the enjoyment of other women.

It's a valid criticism of Twilight that the warm reception for Bella at the Forks High School subverts usual literary expectations of tension; it is not valid criticism to use that to cast body judgment on an author or her fan base. It's valid criticism of Twilight that Bella's pursuit of Edward despite his violent and abusive tendencies is unhealthy and not something that should be presented as desirable behavior; it is not valid criticism to use that to subject the author or her fan base to dismissive armchair psychology or to rudely reinforce the stereotype that exotic dancers don't choose their careers based on preference or monetary needs but because there is something psychologically different about them. It's valid criticism of Twilight that Bella's insistence on being with Edward in total disregard for her own safety is behavior that would be recklessly dangerous were the book anything other than a fantasy; it is not valid criticism to take that as an opportunity to throw around a sexism term nor to imply that typical high school girls are mentally ill and unworthy of respect.

I don't feel like this should be hard to see and yet... apparently for some people it is. I feel like it would be self-evident that if one is going to address misogyny in an artistic work, one should make an attempt to keep misogyny out of the rebuttal. No one is perfect, of course, but surely this? Should not be hard to see. The language is so obvious and over-the-top offensive that it's difficult for me to believe that the author simply couldn't see it.

And I find myself wondering. Because there seems to be a certain breed of "ally" who simply isn't. They know the words, and sometimes it feels like they understand the concepts, but then you have this huge gaping hole of fail where, for example, an article that calls out a series for misogyny revels in the excuse to throw around terms like "fat cow" and "psychotic bitch". And then when I give the article a Stern Look, I can almost hear it saying back to me: What? It's not like Cracked is endorsing those terms! That's just what Bella and Edward are saying, if Twilight was really honest! It's practically Stephenie Meyer's fault that this Cracked article really exists! Not ours, certainly. Now go away and let us say "psychotic bitch" again. *snerk*

This isn't allyship. Maybe it could be, I don't know. I want to feel like half the battle is done -- the author knows that misogyny exists and even sort of gives lip-service to the concept -- but the other half, the setting down the Privilege and actually listening to why one's behavior is offensive, and then being willing to make the effort to change that behavior simply because it's uncool to be a jackwagon who goes around perpetuating hurtful patriarchal norms and hurting people's feelings? That part is hard. And as long as someone is dancing around feeling like a good ally for the easy stuff (i.e., shooting the problematic fish in the barrel that is Twilight) while giggling gleefully at the latest excuse to ignore the hard stuff (i.e., not using sexist slurs to refer to a woman author and her fan base), I'm not sure there's a lot of time left for self-reflection on why all that righteous anger being leveled at the Twilight franchise might be better invested sometime at looking into one's own writing.

Because I want this author, and others like him, to be my ally. Really. But I can't consider them that until they stop talking about misogyny in others and start addressing it in their own selves.

93 comments:

Sol said...

Wow. So much here to think about.

For what it's worth, I adore The Editing Room's scripts. For the most part, they point out contradictions and parody a movie, and I can't think of any overt misogynistic attacks. In fact, if you haven't seen them already, there are also scripts for New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn Part 1. In those scripts, Kristen Stewart takes on the role of Only Sane Woman and Deadpan Snarker. So I'd like to think that the script writer dealt with his/her misogynistic issues in the duration between films.

Ana Mardoll said...

TW: Misogynistic Terms

I don't think "generating revenue for panty manufacturers" and gleefully using the C-word, "[in 2010], I can show you I love you just by giving you an ass pass", and "vagina dentata" is dealing with inner misogynistic issues.

Ana Mardoll said...

TW: Misogynistic Terms

I don't think "generating revenue for panty manufacturers" and gleefully using the C-word, "[in 2010], I can show you I love you just by giving you an ass pass", and "vagina dentata" is dealing with inner misogynistic issues.

hapax said...

My overriding beef with so many TWILIGHT critics is the following distilled argument:
1. There be Problematic Problems in the text! (True)
2. THEREFORE, we should not allow Impressionable Young Females to imprint upon this story! (Wait, what?)

These are, mind you, almost always the same critics who would dismiss out of hand any suggestion that the overwhelming paradigm of practically every form of entertainment aimed at young men ("Better Living Through Physical Violence!") could possibly be affecting their real-life thought processes....

Patrick said...

Cracked is a den of sometimes pass and often fail.

Ben said...

Cracked is a den of sometimes pass and often fail.

I'd say it's more "constant near pass," which is a lot more annoying to me. "Oh! This author understands the issue and is willing to explain it to morons who refuse to-

@#%&!"

chris the cynic said...

I have more or less the same impression of it. I don't remember what the article was, but I remember reacting to one linked to from here by being more or less shocked that it was possible for them to get so close to making so many good points (and actually making some of them) and yet drown it all the very misogyny they were theoretically against.

Ana Mardoll said...

I don't know how to end this, even. Don't know if it worked, but I hoped it helped to convey a little of my perspective on some of my fellow male allies who aren't as perfect and wholesome and clean as I am.

Oh, I hope this didn't come off as GRR CRACKED MALE AUTHORS GRR. I recognize that no one is perfect (least of all me; I'm hardly a perfect ally in many valuable causes), I just think that it's valuable to say, essentially, "hey, I appreciate that you're trying to be an ally, but gleefully using the B-word (and C-word) in your 'hilarious' article is not the best way to go about that."

So here's hoping that came across in the OP.

Sol said...

@Ana Mardoll

"Vagina dentata?"

@JonathanPelikan

How incredibly us versus them. Out of curiosity, how would you draw the voter spectrum? As a normal curve between Left and Right or as more of a V?

What I think you're trying to say, and I apologize if my interpretation is incorrect, is that U.S. citizens are not as feminist and non-racist as we think (hope?) we are. That culture hasn't changed enough, therefore Leftists should move it along?

Alternative theory: I personally think that economic concerns are more relevant. For example, when someone votes against contraception inclusion in health care, it might be because they don't want to spend the money on something they'll never require rather than being actively misogynistic. Or when people try to reverse equal pay acts, it's due to men who think it's better to keep their own wages high rather than extend benefits to minorities. Yes, this is a horribly cynical view to take of human nature. But are there really atheist/transexual/contraception-haters who hate to such an extent?

Finally, something I'd like to point out. If "we" are in the minority, what right do we have to impose our will upon the majority?

Ana Mardoll said...

"Vagina dentata?"

Are you asking me what it is or why it's offensive? If you're asking what it is, google can guide you better than I will, but it's a vagina filled with teeth. It's offensive because it's a castration myth frequently hurled against non-submissive women who (naturally!) castrate men by having opinions.

Finally, something I'd like to point out. If "we" are in the minority, what right do we have to impose our will upon the majority?

Er, no. I am not going to take the time to point out why a people saying "don't hurt/kill/discriminate against us for our gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, etc." has to have a "majority" vote to be valid. Carving out a safe space for oneself is not "imposing our will" on people -- it's asserting our basic rights to live and let live. This is not Being A Decent Person 101 time and I am not in the mood this morning. Please google the eighty billion feminist political sites and take the time to educate yourself on this matter. (This goes for anyone else planning to ask the same thing.)

JonathanPelikan said...

No, it definitely didn't come across that way. Even at your most angry, Ana, you're still one of the nicest people I've ever met. Without someone to point out that we're singing off the note, we're going to keep singing wrong until the end of time, so these sorts of posts really are valuable.

I feel sometimes (incorrectly) like feminists need something to be Absolutely Perfectly Feminist or else it's Satan, and I honestly do know that nobody is actually saying that. Well, one or two people, but mostly it's really not that. By removing myself to a strategic level like I do to keep from spontaneous human combustion in politics, I can see clearly that pointing out where stuff is messed up and problematic is critical, especially because we've got so far to go as a culture still, despite our amazing achievements in past centuries. Please don't ever stop doing it.

It's part of the reason I always say feminist blogs are tough to read; it's not that I think feminists are wrong, it's that I know they're right, that hurts so much more.

Sol said...

According to the Wikipedia article on vagina dentata:

Such folk stories are frequently told as cautionary tales warning of the dangers of sex with strange women and to discourage rape.

It doesn't seem necessarily offensive, IMHO.

Er, no. I am not going to take the time to point out why a people saying "don't hurt/kill/discriminate against us for our gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, etc." has to have a "majority" vote to be valid.

I'm sorry, and I do understand the difference between basic rights for minorities and imposing their will upon all citizens. To rephrase: if conservatives outnumber liberals in a democratic society, then can those on the left side of the political spectrum win? In a zero-sum game, such as the United States' presidential system, quantity trumps quality of argument.

Ana Mardoll said...

It doesn't seem necessarily offensive, IMHO.

OK, thank you for the IMHO qualifier. I will just say that for future reference, describing a woman in terms of her genitals (and how fuckable they are or aren't) is very misogynistic. Even if it doesn't immediately seem like it.

Furthermore, applying an "unfuckable genitalia" label to Alice, who is (at least in the Twilight movies) the most charismatic female character, with the most agency, and with the least submissive relationship to her pair-bond (since Jasper is the "newborn" and Alice is the one with self-control) is also very misogynistic.

Beroli said...

According to the Wikipedia article on vagina dentata:

Such folk stories are frequently told as cautionary tales warning of the dangers of sex with strange women and to discourage rape.

It doesn't seem necessarily offensive, IMHO.
I have to wonder what the cracked.com article is even getting at there. Female vampires don't have vagina dentatas. The first time I read the article, it just confused me.

"We're going to throw in a crude reference to the indication that a human who has sex with a vampire usually dies, which bizarrely makes fun of Alice's genitalia" seems to fit what they're going for...better than anything I can think of, anyway.

JonathanPelikan said...

(First of all, any spectrum of politics in America needs to recognize that more than half of us are not engaged at all, our own Democracy's Dark Matter who don't even bother to vote every so often, much less actually follow like news and politics and job numbers and junk. There's tons of reasons why people aren't into politics, many understandable and respectable, but that doesn't change the fact that they therefore do not exert political influence because they have absented themselves from the process. I wouldn't even want to guess at the exact numbers for various groups, though. It's so hard to pin down for anybody, which is why I speak in sweeping vague statements.)

Speaking of the political process, I'm sorry if I came across like I wanted to 'impose' anything. I'm not looking for Communist-style revolution where a handful of people drag a country along at the point of a gun. I believe the political process is our only hope of keeping our second civil war the way it is now, fought with words and votes and ultrasounds, rather than with predator drones and sniper rifles. Do not conflate angry-fighting-war rhetoric with actual war. Do not conflate my [earned] hatred of Conservatism with a desire for violence. The first time we tried having a shooting civil war it nearly broke us.

Your interpretation of my opinion is pretty spot-on. Most people just simply Aren't There yet on our issues, and that''s how it always was. But we got them there, one inch at a time, one struggle at a time, one vote at a time, one Proclamation at a time. We'll get them there yet.

Are you trying to get me to deny it is, in fact, Us vs Them, though? At least in terms of politics, culture, the big view, the country, etc. One on one I can be warmth and sunshine to a Teabagger or Premillennial Dispensationalist (I had to Google and copy-paste that to spell it right, spellcheck was as baffled as I was) but don't ever expect me to pretend they're anything but my enemy.

They might personally not harbor hated towards women or gheys or whatever, but let me tell you something. Mitt Romney only has power because many millions will, underline -will-, vote for this guy in November. (Well that and infinite money, but the votes still matter somewhat in our society.) Speaking from the political frame, then, their opinions and personal feelings matter less than the fact that they are working to empower a monstrous movement that is destroying womans' human rights with alarming speed and determination. There are two, repeat, exactly two major sides in American politics, as always and, perhaps, as it always will be. One side sucks and the other side sucks too. But one side is a Hoover plugged into the wall while the other is a singularity engulfing solar systems.

A Confederate private might have been fighting for their 'homeland'. In fact, Robert E. Lee wasn't fighting so much because of slavery as because of Virginia. That didn't change the fact that they still needed to be defeated because their movement and their cause is unjust and, frankly, Evil capital E.

Hey, I think I just arrived at Intent Is Not Magic. Cool.

Silver Adept said...

Where Cracked usually goes off the rails is in that thinking that the crude humor ("frat-boy" humor, to use a societal shortcut) is the important point and the audience will think of it as funny first, and then perhaps thought-provoking later. Cracked may or may not be making a cynical calculation that most of their readership will not arrive at the "...hey!" point after they finish laughing along with them in their favorite sport of making fun of The Other. Now, done right, one could make an article that is downright Swiftian in the way it leads the audience along the familiar path, laughs with them at the jokes, and then leaves them dangling right over the cliff with a very frayed rope and very sharp rocks at the bottom. To do so might be considered a bit too highbrow for the reading audience, though.

To the larger point: People are remarkably blind to the bigger picture, whether in politics, comic books, or literature. Men complaining about the presence of romance novels that are deliberately written to women while defending comic books and video games that are violence pr0n, barely-disguised pr0n, and full of demeaning actions toward women are clearly Missing The Point, but if you try to signal that to them, it's an equal shot that you'll get a blank look or an angry "This is different."

I think that extends to politics as well, with an important addition - Everyone in politics is King Leck or Fire/Casriel, and there are no exceptions. (Longer explanation to follow for the non-Graceling / Fire readers) Politicians sometimes shade toward the Fire side of things (Look at me, aren't I pretty? Now do what I tell you because I'm pretty and you feel like you could have a beer with me.), but interest groups and dark-money organizations and the political parties themselves are Lecks (This is what reality is. Can't you see it? It has to be reality, because I'm telling you it's reality and I'm making ads that say it's reality, and you're being bombarded with examples of how it's reality, so it must be reality, right? Now believe it and go tell everyone else on your friends group/radio show that it's reality.)

And swinging back into Twilight - I didn't particularly like Twilight because it overran with purple prose, I didn't feel any real tension, and the world generated had far too many obvious problems with it. It didn't feel properly fantasy-real, and I never felt like the protagonist was in any danger. Now that I'm reading and participating in these deconstructions, I have a lot of other reasons to not like Twilight that I didn't get because I was so turned off by the presentation of the text. I failed to read it for deeper clues. I suspect a lot of people are doing the same thing - they're reading it on the surface level, not finding it to their liking for their own personal reasons, and then broadcasting that dislike based on their reasons. In a perverse sort of way, to show that you really don't like a book for really good textual reasons, you have to read it like you adore it, hanging on every word and thinking it through to the logical conclusion.

Surface readings of texts results in Cracked articles, where all sorts of other material has to be brought in to fill the space. Deeper readings result in Ramblite Deconstructions, where the material by itself is more than enough to fill the space, and some has to be abridged to avoid overwhelming the audience or having the deconstruction run on for slightly longer than forever.

(As a parting thought - Cracked Article versus Snarky Bella and/or Edith and Ben. Both claim to be funny, but which ones actually are?)

Sol said...

Thanks for the clarification. However, I find your Us versus Them view troubling. Splitting the country up into two sides doesn't make for good politics. How would the government ever get anything done if (as has happened already) the two sides can't agree? Wouldn't compromise be better?

I didn't think you were advocating actual violence, but saying that you "hate" Conservatism? Last time I was in political theory class, Conservatism was defined as a preference for traditional systems. Is that so horrible?

Kubricks_Rube said...

If "we" are in the minority, what right do we have to impose our will upon the majority?

Equal protection under the law is an imposition of will?

Beroli said...

You know what doesn't make for good politics--or a livable country? People who don't want to forbid human rights to everyone who isn't white, male, heterosexual, and rich compromising while people who do want to forbid human rights to everyone who isn't white, male, heterosexual, and rich accept nothing less than total victory.

If you have a problem with what you call Jonathan's "Us versus Them view," send it to George "If you're not with me you're against me" W. Bush and Rush "I want [Then President-Elect Barack Obama] to fail" Limbaugh. Hanging out on leftist blogs going, "Isn't it awfully hostile for you people to hit back?" just makes you look like a concern troll.

Sol said...

First off, I was replying to this:

People exist who think and argue almost openly that Barack Hussein Obama is not qualified to be President of the United States because he's a black man. A lot of them. A really, really, really, really lot.

And this:

As has always been the case since the year most of us agreed on the Constitution, we on the Left are not the majority, and engaged in dragging the rest of this enormous and diverse and contentious nation along behind us inch by inch,

If Left and Right are differences of opinion and not minorities vs. majority, then shouldn't the side with the most votes decide what happens to the rest of the country? In this way, any political party that garners the most votes imposes their will upon everyone else. I'm not sure where equal protection under the law comes in, when whoever becomes President for four years will have democratic legitimacy to do what he/she wants, within limits. Since the President would require more votes than the opponents, then that would mean the majority of the country had chosen a liberal or a conservative party. "Impose our will" is a poor choice of words, and I think I'm explaining myself badly, but that's how the U.S. democratic system works, basically.

Sol said...

Limbaugh is an extremist who shouldn't be taken seriously, Bush is irrelevant, and not all conservatives are like them. Most people are not white, male, heterosexual, and rich; most people have other reasons to vote for them. Treating them as the enemy doesn't solve anything; it just makes those cleavages worse. When, exactly, did I say that it's hostile to hit back?

Ana Mardoll said...

TW: TVUs

No, the side with the most votes shouldn't decide everything, as that leads to tyranny of the majority.

I do not think you understand how INCREDIBLY offensive you are being, by treating this as a hypothetical exercise in political science when I live in a state where I will be RAPED BY AN ULTRASOUND TECHNICIAN if I need an abortion.

I am stepping away from this thread for a few hours. Please try to return this discussion to Twilight, or at least stop talking like this is a fascinating hypothetical for you and not peoples' lives and liberty at stake. Thank you.

Beroli said...

If Left and Right are differences of opinion and not minorities vs. majority, then shouldn't the side with the most votes decide what happens to the rest of the country?
One, no. That guy who says "Women should have fewer rights than men" is wrong. He is wrong regardless of how many people agree with him.
Two, "We on the Left are not the majority" in no way implies, "We on the Left are not greater in number than those on the Right." It wouldn't even if everyone in the country self-identified as either Right or Left, or if everyone who self-identified as Left could be counted on to vote in lockstep, neither of which is anywhere near being true.
Three, the United States is not, and was never intended to be, a direct democracy.
Four, you've now asserted that the last Republican president and a figure with tremendous influence among the Right should both be discounted, because...because you say so. And that treating these horrible people as the enemy and trying to defeat them rather than compromise with them doesn't solve anything...because you say so. At which point, I'm afraid, you get the "definitely a concern troll and nothing more" stamp from me.

Kubricks_Rube said...

"I'm not sure where equal protection under the law comes in"

While you are right that voting is a form of attempting to impose one's policy preferences, your two examples in the comment I responded to were "votes against contraception inclusion in health care" and "when people try to reverse equal pay acts." These are both issues of equal protection (ask the EEOC if you don't believe me), not in the same class as tax rates or environmental regulations.

JonathanPelikan said...

i'm so sorry for feeding and generating this, Ana. I figured things might get a little off the rails.

Jadagul said...

Ana: Something that has a lot of explanatory power on the "almost a good ally but wait what" issue is, I think, that privilege is really a form of blindness--I think we've talked about that before. When I read the Cracked article and got to the "unpopular fat girl's pathetic daydreams" line, I started to laugh, thought a bit more, and then winced instead. But I'll confess that if I had found that article through Cracked instead of through you I probably wouldn't have gotten to the wincing stage--I just wouldn't have thought about it enough to notice that that's a really unpleasant thing to say. Because I don't have to notice, because I'm privileged.

I'm getting better at noticing things like that, or at least I think I am, but it sill takes effort and when I get lazy it doesn't happen. And I imagine the same is true of whoever wrote that piece.

GemmaM said...

Hm, interesting. I did not see the 'arrows' in the Cracked article on the first pass, but now that you point them out I can see them. Interestingly, though, I originally interpreted Edward's comment about "You have a bright career as a stripper ahead of you" as a way of portraying Edward being ridiculously horrible (and indeed misogynistic) towards Bella. It wasn't until I read this deconstruction that I realised that at least some readers of the article are going to look at those comments about Bella and consider them justified.

depizan said...

Maybe it's just because I do occasionally read romance novels, but Bella's drooling over Edward didn't strike me as that unusual. In fact, in comparison to some of the romance novels I've read, her drooling is downright tame. But - and this might be the important difference - I can't say as I've read any teen romance novels.

Mind, that's not to say that it's not good any time a novel acknowledges that, hey, women can drool and want, too.

depizan said...

Indeed. I do have to give Twilight pluses for that. And for the fact that Bella is pro-sex through the whole series and actively seduces Edward in Breaking Dawn. I haven't read anything but Twilight, but as I understand it, she's not ever narratively shamed for that. Which is good.

Lliira said...

Most Twilight deconstructions contain massive amounts of "concern" that those poor dumb girls (being girls, of course we are dumb) will be forever harmed by a work of fantasy and/or people flailing and spitting over a straight woman daring to write down her sexual fantasies and not being consigned to the romance novel ghetto for it. Yours doesn't do that, and.... uh... well, that's all I can think of. (Which is one reason I started my own.)

So far in my reading of Twilight, I'm just worried that anyone who thinks it's a great novel will try to write the same way. And since the writing is atrocious, that would be a very bad thing. I'm not worried that girls are going to think they should pattern their lives on Bella's any more than I'm worried that anyone who plays the Dragon Age games is going to pick up a sword and try to fight templars.

V.C. Andrews was a big author for teenage girls when I was a young teenager. Her book Flowers in the Attic was immensely popular and was even made into a movie. The movie didn't show a lot of stuff that happened in the book, probably to avoid an X rating. The internet didn't exist then (except for the military maybe), so I don't know if there was a lot of hand-wringing over the fact that V.C. Andrews books all had an "incest is best" theme and plenty of rape fantasies. Every girl I knew read and traded and talked about these books and how hot they were. And none of us came away with a desire to have sex with our close relatives.

depizan said...

The lack of internet probably saved them (it's so much harder to find the "questionable" books when you can't just google them or look them up on wikipedia). They were in my middle school library when I was growing up, but I can't imagine they're in many middle school libraries now. Which is probably unfortunate. (My personal reaction may have been O_o DO NOT WANT!!! but everyone else seemed to love them.)

Ana Mardoll said...

And there's no way to win: already we're seeing hand-wringing about The Hunger Games being bad for girls because the girl protagonist is VIOLENT. OH NOES. Clearly, girls have to be protected from everything and books cause brain fever dontchano.

depizan said...

Whereas boys are only affected by video games.

*shakes head*

The whole thing is ridiculous. I can understand some concern about certain types of themes working to normalize problematic behavior, but mostly it just amounts to hand-wringing. And, of course, there's a whole different level of nastiness that gets aimed at Twilight and Meyer.

chris the cynic said...

I think, though have by no means done a scientific survey, that it's more general than girls. Others (with a capital O, which the beginning of the sentence makes ambiguous) are susceptible to all sorts of influences that We The Speakers are not. And since the vast majority of the people denouncing "bad" influences are adult males, girls are Others in two different ways.

-

The comparison of The Hunger Games criticism and Twilight criticism... I was going to say it makes me wonder something, indeed I did say that but I've erased it because it's not quite right. If you say that the hand-wringing is alike then I believe you, but it confuses me to a degree.

I haven't read The Hunger Games and have no plans to, but everything I've ever heard about it makes me think that what Katniss does isn't exactly broadly applicable, where I know of basically nothing Bella does until the very final confrontation (n which she extends a mental shield around her side) that a reader couldn't do. While there are probably other examples of impossible Bellaness, it seems like generally the situation is that people around Bella are impossible, but her actions are very possible. From a van stopping perspective people like Edward don't exist, but from a dating perspective they unfortunately do.

So it seems to me like there's a fairly large difference between the two as hand-wringing fodder. If you believe that girls are mindless drones who will do whatever they read, then (first, you're an idiot for believing that, but second) it makes a certain amount of sense to be worried about Twilight because it is well within the realm of possibility for someone to start dating someone like Edward Cullen and that's not a healthy thing to do*.

If you accept the incredibly flawed, blatantly false, premise, the conclusion actually does follow for Twilight.

But for the Hunger Games, what exactly does one expect the hypothetical drone-girl to do? Pick up a bow** and start a revolution? It's definitely possible for actual girls to have relationships like the one Bella has, I'm having a lot more trouble seeing how it would be possible for actual girls to have adventures like Katniss'.

I can see what the hand-wringers think will go wrong with Twilight. Based on their belief that girls have no brains, they believe that girls who read Twilight will end up in bad relationships with abusive partners. I can't even conceive of what they think will go wrong with The Hunger Games. Girls will read it and then... what?

-

* Even if you're into that sort of thing, Edward and consent go together like potassium and water, thus it's not a healthy way to get what you want.

** I saw a headline, but didn't have time to read the article, which stated that The Hunger Games had made archery cool. I do not understand. When in the past five thousand years has archery not been cool?

Rikalous said...

Archery was uncool for the period where guns were advanced enough to be clearly more useful in most situations, but were new enough that archery wasn't properly retro.

Ana Mardoll said...

I'm as astonished and amazed at the backlash against THG as you, and for the same reasons. Twilight concern is Logical, by which I mean that you can construct a premise and conclusion and get from one end to the other; THG concern is... really? I mean, girls are going to start shooting arrows because they're Just That Impressionable?

And yet, THG backlash is a thing. I still can't understand why except sexism.

http://www.shakesville.com/2012/04/today-in-your-feminist-backlash.html

Brin Bellway said...

Edward and consent go together like potassium and water

This is a wonderful simile and I hope I will remember to use it and thus spread word of it when the opportunity arises.

chris the cynic said...

Yeah, I did have a feeling that that was probably the case. Even so, that's the blink of an eye in the history of archery. Though perhaps more important than it in comparison to the history of archery is when the eye-blink ended, which was apparently more than a century ago. (So says wikipedia, all I knew was that it was before I was born.) Thus, how can it be making archery cool? Cooler I could believe, but it was already cool.

-

@Ana, I'm glad I'm not the only one, because I was worried I was missing something obvious.

@Brin, good luck. I will be honored by your word spreading.

Launcifer said...

I've pondering the THG thing for a few minutes and all I'm left with is a strange feeling that I've somehow missed out by not massacring people with a hockey stick/chainsaw/fairy lights combo on the basis that I've seen The Running Man. Twice. Actually, I'd totally pay to have that as a fatality option in Mortal Kombat, so I guess I'm doubly damned.

And anyway, archery's always been kinda cool. I know that Henry VIII had to enact an ordnance mandating archery practice due to the proliferation of arquebusiers and crossbowmen in the 1530s or so, but the Duke of Wellington tried to raise a regiment of longbowmen prior to the Battle of Waterloo, purely because he knew that bows prodded buttock and muskets did not.

In all seriousness though, this particular moral pseudo-panic (attempted panic? I don't know how to phrase it) smacks very much of someone, probably white and male, saying, "I don't like the idea of people being exposed to this thing, therefore this thing is evil and responsible for the corruption of modern youth!1!!eleventy!". I don't get that and I don't think I ever will, though I guess there's so many of them I should watch out for that one day the dislikes of this hypothetical guardian of morals have to intersect with mine. When taken with other relatively recent panics (hello Al Gore getting owned by Dee Snyder), it seems like it's made up of one part abdication of responsibility for every three parts ignorance of the subject matter at hand. Certainly, I'm remarkably concerned by the fact that such people generally can't offer specific complaints concerning whatever they're railing against and instead seem to rely on a blurb to stoke their righteous indignation.

I'm rambling, aren't I? This feels like a bit of a pointless meander.

Rikalous said...

Okay, I've given up trying to figure out how people see "occult/satanic" elements in everything, but how is it anti-ethnic? Especially how is it anti-family, considering the action starts when our heroine sacrifices herself for a family member. Maybe they're getting it from the later books I never read.

Oh, wait. Number ten on the most challenged books is To Kill a Mockingbird. For racism. That's it. I give up.

Storiteller said...

And there's no way to win: already we're seeing hand-wringing about The Hunger Games being bad for girls because the girl protagonist is VIOLENT. OH NOES. Clearly, girls have to be protected from everything and books cause brain fever dontchano.

That's bizarre. I actually was talking to my mom today, who is a teacher, about the Hunger Games and what age kids should be allowed to read them. Honestly, we both felt that they were so emotionally devastating that kids shouldn't read them until junior high at least. Not because I think children would start being violent, but because I personally found the last book emotionally devastating (seriously, I was in a really bad place) and I think a kid younger than 12 wouldn't be able to process the amount of disturbing imagery and emotional catastrophe. On the other hand, I think teenagers should read them because it will put them off of thinking war is cool, ever.

Kit Whitfield said...

Oh, wait. Number ten on the most challenged books is To Kill a Mockingbird. For racism. That's it. I give up.

But the thing is, it is a racist book. Not in its intentions, but it has an awful lot of unexamined privilege.

Consider, for instance, the way it excludes black people from their own struggle. The struggle against racism is pursued entirely by upper-class white people, and the black people stand up in reverence as they're 'passing'. Black people worship non-racist white people like grateful disciples and do nothing to fight for themselves.

Consider how no respectable black person ever shows anger at the injustice they face. The closest it comes to black anger is the woman who objects to Calpurnia bringing her employers' children to their church. The fact that someone might legitimately be wary of opening the only all-black community space to white people - white children, who could not be trusted to have the judgement not to repeat things to dangerous white adults - in a town where whites consistently oppress them is dismissed as personal issue of being 'contentious', not a defensible political position.

Consider the way it casts racial violence as an entirely working-class problem.

Consider the way Tom Robinson is portrayed as entirely passive and under the direction of his white lawyer; the only judgement he makes for himself turns out to be suicidally foolish.


Read this: http://stuffwhitepeopledo.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/warmly-embrace-racist-novel-to-kill.html. Note, for instance, this comment:

R.A.Jul 11, 2010 09:51 PM
@Macon re: Atticus as a historical figure

An interesting note: many aspects of the novel are actually semi-autobiographical. Lee's father was a lawyer who defended a pair of black men who had been accused of murder. They were hanged, after which he refused to take on another legal case. However, he was apparently still a proponent of segregation at that point, which just goes to show how white people who were "sympathetic" to black people could still be blatantly racist, even unknowingly.


It's a white person's view on racism that aims to be as comforting to white people as possible while hiding serious problems. That is not at all an unexceptionable position.

Check your privilege, mate. I'm not proposing anyone bans the book, but it's not as all-fired anti-racist as it pretends.

Ana Mardoll said...

Thank you for that link.

It strikes me that we're seeing a little of this all over again with The Help. I enjoy the book because I think it points out valid criticisms of the awfulness of low wage labor in a manner that is relevant to today (i.e., a job that you can supposedly "leave at any time" isn't necessarily so, nor is it necessarily safe, and Ron Paul be damned), BUT I also recognize that the book has an enormous number of racial problems that simply were not apparent to me in an initial read-through because I was so pleased with the wage labor discussions that were relevant to me (white person) and presumably the author (another white person). And there's probably even more problems under those which I have belatedly noticed.

I still like the book -- I actually have an upcoming post about how it's okay to like problematic things as long as we remember that problems exist within and don't shout down people who point them out -- but it's not anti-racist in the way that a lot of the marketing material wants to claim that it is.

Fluffy_goddess said...

I find that a certain amount of the Bella-must-not-be-a-role-model! crowd are saying so because, from their perspectives, the things Bella does because she is a product of a highly mysogynistic society are things that they (or their sisters/girlfriends/wives/female friends) did when they were teenagers. They know how easy it is for someone to make choices that hurt them when they're inexperienced, and how much the perspective of being a few years away changes things. "Young girls shouldn't read these" starts sounding an awful lot like "I would've let a book like this feed into my neuroses when I was a young girl, so I'm going to project my own issues and forget that educating young people tends to work better than trying to keep them ignorant of examples I don't like."

Whereas the hatred of Katniss as a role model comes across -- to me -- with a lot more fear. MacLeans ran a cover a while back with a stylized shot from the movie and something like the line "Your children are angry." It's not about fearing that kids are going to pick up bows : it's about fearing your kids are going to rebel. That they're going to decide they don't want to play nicely with the big bad authority figures. And that's scary if you are an authority figure, and it's scary if you're well-enough established that even if you agree with the rebellion's goals you're not willing to leave the sidelines. Plus, of course, fear that the kids rebelling will fail. There'd probably be *less* criticism if Katniss had been male, because (at least in the mainstream perception) boys have more opportunities and therefore less reason to rebel. But it's about the rebellion, not the arrows.

All this is probably heavily influenced by selection bias, of course -- I absorb a lot of stuff, but I tend towards certain kinds of sources, so I find reviews and critiques tend to recycle each others' ideas a lot.

Rikalous said...

My apologies. Privilege duly checked.

cjmr said...

Actually, I just read in the e-Newsletter for my Girl Scout Council that the summer camps oriented toward getting the Council's Archery badge filled up the fastest of any of the camps this year--faster even than the horse-oriented ones.

Katniss may be having a *bit* of an influence on this, I think...

Persephone said...

I think there are a lot of people, mostly men in their 20s and 30s in my experience, who were brought up with the idea that men and women ought to be equal in society, and accept that as fact, but think that the way to accomplish that is for women to act exactly how men are socialized to act. Thus it's wrong to look down on women, but fine and in fact "feminist" to look down on "girl stuff."

Unimaginative said...

I haven't read the books, but I did see the HG movie, and I think Fluffy_goddess makes a very good point. Katniss' contempt for her mother's failures was palpable. That's not even mentioning the portrayal of ALL the people in positions of power being either evil or stupid. If the Hunger Games validates young people's disillusionment with their parents, teachers, bosses, politicians, etc. (and in conjunction with the bleak economic future many of them face) then we may well (please, please, please make it so!) have a revolution on our hands.

Well, obviously not Hunger Games on its own, but HG as a symptom of a change in people's outlook. If the 80's were about materialism, and the 90's about, I dunno, disaffection? Whatever grunge was about. And the 00's as, um, conservatism run amok, maybe the 10's are about rejecting the status quo. Which is frightening to people who are invested in the status quo.

Fluffy_goddess said...

Exactly. I can remember sitting in fourth year history seminar rooms, waiting for our professor to arrive, and listing off all the things are textbooks cite as common secondary causes of revolution/rebellion: things like economic instability, rapid changes in moral/religious norms, poor and/or unpredictable agricultural years, change in technology, etc. And then we all sat there, feeling uncomfortable, because nobody really wishes they were part of the generation that drove, say, the French Revolution. Especially not if you've studied enough history to be able to picture what living in revolutionary times is like (hint: usually sucks. People don't gather in bomb shelters and sing to keep each others' spirits up, people suspect each other and spy on each other and act like a mob. And the lives of failed revolutionaries tend to turn out even worse.)

Dav said...

Yeah, and the first wave of revolutionaries is rarely the last, which sort of automatically makes them "failed", and a great target for the next wave of reforms. And I do mean target.

Being the first sucks in so many ways.

-Steele said...

My view on the matter of it is less "False ally" and more of "Almost an ally."

I see this sort of thing not as someone who's inwardly misogynist and outwardly trying to impress women and get laid.

I think that they really want to be an ally, and simply don't know the right way to go about it. Their heart is in the right place, and they need to be gently led to the right place themselves.

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