Twilight Summary: In Chapter 11, Edward and Bella will experience strong physical feelings for one another and will get to know each other better as they traverse a new daily routine. Meanwhile, Mike volunteers to be Bella's gym partner and expresses his disapproval of Edward.
Twilight, Chapter 11: Complications
No one is perfect, least of all me.
And this is a difficult concept for me. Not because I think I'm perfect -- I know I'm far from it -- but because I've always been convinced, from a very young age, that I should be. Blame my parents, my upbringing, my society, or my genetic makeup, but more than one psychiatrist has correctly observed that I struggle with an overwhelming need to please people, that I have difficulty asserting boundaries, and that a very great deal of my anxiety stems from trying, and predictably failing, to be literally perfect.
One of the unexpected sources of anxiety for me in the wake of my moderate (and surprising) success as a feminist blogger-slash-author is that now I expect myself to be even more perfect because I don't want to hurt or disappoint anyone. And that puts me in a tricky position, because the main way that I communicate is through emoting, and that frequently begins with me sharing a time I was wrong, and the things I learned in the wake of that wrongyness. Since I can't change my emotive nature and since I don't want to give up blogging, I've decided to attempt to chuck the perfectionist tendencies and just embrace being perpetually wrong as a learning method. I hope you can all still like me despite my wrongyness.
Today, the particular thing I am wrong about is my initial-and-incorrect impulse to victim-blame Bella.
Bella heads to gym class after her first electricity-themed Biology class with Edward, only to find that today is badminton day (do they really teach badminton in schools? I missed that particular facet of gym, apparently) and her reputation as a one-woman wrecking crew has left her with few volunteers as partners. None of Edward's family attends gym with Bella, and her few girlfriends are either absent or reluctant to partner with her, which leaves her with the ubiquitous Mike.
I walked into the gym, lightheaded and wobbly. I drifted to the locker room, changing in a trancelike state, only vaguely aware that there were other people surrounding me. Reality didn’t fully set in until I was handed a racket. It wasn’t heavy, yet it felt very unsafe in my hand. I could see a few of the other kids in class eyeing me furtively. Coach Clapp ordered us to pair up into teams.
Mercifully, some vestiges of Mike’s chivalry still survived; he came to stand beside me.
“Do you want to be a team?”
“Thanks, Mike — you don’t have to do this, you know.” I grimaced apologetically.
“Don’t worry, I’ll keep out of your way.” He grinned. Sometimes it was so easy to like Mike.
My first thought on reading this -- the wrong thought -- was some variation of Bella, what the hell are you doing? This is Mike. Mike who tried to pressure you into changing your travel plans so that you could accommodate him to the dance you hadn't actually asked him to. Mike who was all too eager to feel you up when you felt faint that time when Mr. Banner was stalking the aisles stabbing people's fingers for blood. Mike who was more interested in blaming you for being ill than he was in getting medical aid help for you. Mike who pointedly invited you -- and not Edward, whom he clearly considered a rival for your affections -- to a "group" outing, so that he could then spend the bulk of the outing making you uncomfortable with his unwelcome advances and unjustified jealously of Jacob Black. Mike who kept your friend Jessica on hold so that he could ask you out again and whom you had to tell very, very bluntly that you Were. Not. Interested.
So why the hell do you think it's a good idea to hang around with Mike?
This is not a good thing for me to think. And if you'll stay with me for a moment, I'll explain why.
I'm not being unfair to Mike -- five minutes after gym class is over, Mike will aptly demonstrate just how thoroughly marinated he is in rape culture and male privilege by raking Bella over the coals for her choice of boyfriends.
“So,” he said as we walked off the court.
“You and Cullen, huh?” he asked, his tone rebellious. My previous feeling of affection disappeared.
“That’s none of your business, Mike,” I warned, internally cursing Jessica straight to the fiery pits of Hades.
“I don’t like it,” he muttered anyway.
“You don’t have to,” I snapped.
“He looks at you like . . . like you’re something to eat,” he continued, ignoring me.
I choked back the hysteria that threatened to explode, but a small giggle managed to get out despite my efforts. He glowered at me. I waved and fled to the locker room.
For Mike to leap from would-be suitor to critiquing Bella's choice of boyfriends is highly inappropriate. Mike doesn't have the necessary maturity and distance to even begin to fairly evaluate Bella's choices for his own personal opinions, let alone to start sharing those opinions unprompted with Bella. Mike and Bella do not have anywhere near the kind of friendship where it is appropriate for him to start offering his opinions on her love life. If he knew something concrete and solid about Edward, it might be appropriate to volunteer that "look, I'm not trying to interfere with your life, but I think you should know that Edward was implicated in a suspicious death last year", but to just start in on how Edward "looks" at Bella (an extremely subjective subject, and one where Mike is apt to project his own feelings onto the situation; and yes, I realize this is a cutesy pun on Edward's vampire nature) is really Not Cool, Guy.
So my "why the hell are you hanging out with Mike" thought isn't unfair to Mike -- in fact it's spot on as a predictor of Mike's behavior. But that's the slippery slope of victim-blaming. When we start to treat rapists and rape culture enforcers as predictable and unchangeable, when we treat them as a natural force to be reckoned with, like rain or sleet or tornadoes or hurricanes, then we stop expecting more from them and we start expecting the impossible from their victims. Already I'm doing this with Bella: instead of blaming Mike for continuing to aggress against Bella, I'm blaming her for hanging out with him. I should know better, but that's how deeply rape culture embeds itself into our psyche.
An ugly truth is that Bella is easy to blame because she's easy to dislike. She's intensely negative in her thoughts and attitudes, and frequently against people who don't seem (to me) to deserve her ire. A good example is in her immediate reaction to Mike above: she's annoyed at Mike, but fiercely angry at Jessica. Why? The implication is that Jessica is the one who told Mike about Bella and Edward, but there's no evidence for this. Bella and Edward have been eating lunch together for multiple days now, and have been eye-flirting through multiple lunches and Biology classes. Angela was present when Edward took Bella to dinner in Port Angeles, Jessica was never cautioned by Bella to not tell anyone else about them dating, and Edward's entire family is very possibly aware of their relationship. The information that Bella and Edward are dating could have come to Mike from a number of sources, or Jessica could have told him under emotional duress -- we've already seen that Mike is not above bullying the women he talks to. And yet it's Jessica that Bella immediately blames for this situation, and not Mike.
Yet as strongly as I dislike Bella's internal bashing of Jessica, it strikes me that Bella is just doing what I was already doing: she's treating Mike's bad behavior as an expected constant and she's expecting the women in his life to moderate his behavior for him. So while I expect Bella to not hang out with Mike because it will "cause" more bad behavior (or, more accurately, "create an opportunity", as though Mike needs any help to create opportunities to harass a woman he sees multiple times every day), Bella in turn expects Jessica to not relay information to Mike because doing so will "cause" more bad behavior. In all these scenarios, Mike is treated as an unchanging force of nature, and the women around him are expected to take strong measures to protect themselves and others from the unstoppable force that is Mike.
OH HAI THERE, RAPE CULTURE.
Bella is seventeen years old, which is a very young age to have extensive experience with pushing back against male privilege and asserting one's own boundaries. She lives in a culture that strongly pressures girls to go along with other people's wishes and to not "make waves". She has grown up in a family environment where she has not been encouraged to assert personal boundaries or place her emotional needs above those of her parents. She has moved to a small town where all her potential friends, both male and female, are centered around the nexus of popular boy Mike. She has every reason to stay on Mike's good side: overtly shunning his friendship could lead to social estrangement and even violent repercussions (i.e., "city bitch thinks she's too good for us"). Mike has frequently demonstrated dangerous impulses; he has on numerous occasions applied social pressure to Bella, asserted his jealous possession of her person, and taken advantage of her physical incapacitation.
The fact that Mike sets off all my Schrodinger's Rapist alarm bells doesn't mean that Bella has a responsibility to avoid Mike. Indeed, as outlined above, I'm highly doubtful that she's been given the physical, social, and emotional tools which she would need in order to enforce a total estrangement policy against someone she is forced to see on a daily basis. Bella absolutely should not be condemned for trying to stay on Mike's good side in the face of all this pressure. When we fail to recognize that, we play into the hands of rape culture and we end up holding victims accountable for the actions of their own victimizers.
The only person to blame for Mike's actions is Mike. Mike makes a choice, every day, whether or not to victimize Bella and others like her. He is not a force of nature, or a puppet with no control over his actions. When Bella is in Biology class with him, he chooses whether or not to pressure her to change her plans to accommodate his desires. When Bella attends a group outing, he chooses whether or not to push her into accepting a seat in the van next to him so that he can lavish more unwanted attention on her. When Bella speaks to her friends, he decides whether or not to put on a display of angry jealousy as though Bella were his property that the other men are trying to infringe upon. When Bella is incapacitated, Mike chooses whether or not to put her needs before his urge to invade her personal boundaries. When Bella needs a gym partner, Mike makes a decision whether or not to confine his remarks to comfortable, friendly topics or to harangue Bella over her personal life decisions that are not Mike's business.
Mike chooses to do these things. Bella isn't responsible for Mike's actions. She's not responsible for "leading him on" or "providing him an opportunity". Mike is fully motivated and capable of making his own opportunities regardless of what Bella does, and there is little-to-nothing that Bella can do to stop him given their current situation. I know these things, but I still have to remind myself of them, over and over, to combat that internal ugh, what are you doing Bella voice. That scares me a little.
The siren call of victim-blaming is that if we do everything just right, if we're really smart and savvy and clever, then we can't be victims. If we play strong defense and maintain a good offense and deny access and All The Sports Metaphors, then we'll be safe from the victimizers. Or -- even if we can't ever truly be safe from the victimizers -- we can at least be safe from the second-victimization that comes when society blames us and the justice system fails us. If we're absolutely perfect all the time in our rape defenses, then we'll have gained a measure of safety.
Reality doesn't match the sales pitch. Everything that Bella does here makes perfect sense, given her circumstances. She has every conceivable reason to try to maintain a friendship with Mike. She has every conceivable pressure to keep her from effectively estranging Mike. Society absolutely would not back her up if she effectively and assertively estranged him here and now, simply based on all the bad behavior he has exhibited towards her in the past. That is how prevalent rape culture is: that so many people can look at Mike Newton and not see a budding sexual predator who consistently and deliberately crosses social boundaries in an attempt to assert power over Bella. Every time we've seen Mike on-page, he's crossed a major social boundary in an attempt to mark Bella as his. And yet this gets played up as nothing, as a sign of Bella's attractiveness, or as a point about sweet, nice, awkward high school boys (in contrast to Edward's brooding, violent maturity).
And the thing is, Mike might go his entire life without raping anyone. But even if he does, that doesn't make him or his actions harmless. He has consistently objectified Bella from her first day at school. His actions have made it abundantly clear to her that she is a sex object first and a person second. He has shown Bella on every occasion that his attraction to her is much, much more important than her personal comfort -- at every opportunity he has pushed the knowledge that he has pantsfeelings for her on her, again and again, rather than allow her to enjoy the company of her friends in peace without being pressured. Mike has systematically made Bella -- already not one to enjoy social outings -- feel harassed and unsafe when she is surrounded by other people, and her natural withdrawal into isolation isn't going to do her any favors when Edward leaves her and she sinks into an extended depression. Mike's attention, even if it never escalates to rape, isn't harmless. It is actively harmful.
I want to quote something I read this week on Captain Awkward. This is a comment by one elodieunderglass. I am quoting the comment in full, as elodieunderglass gives permission further in the comments for people to share the story as long as they share it respectfully and don't try to work out the identities of the people involved. I believe that every word in her comment is worth savoring, and I think it's relevant to the Mike situation in particular and rape culture in general.
Not surprisingly, I have a story? It’s pretty long, and I’m sorry. My husband, Doctor Glass, recently went on a weeklong workshop. The participants worked on teams, slept in a dormitory, shared meals and spent all day together. While there, Dr Glass acquired a strikingly beautiful female friend, who was absolutely luminous – like a fallen star or a revolutionary. She was also just about to enter university, making her very much younger than Dr Glass. They were on the same team, had much in common, and seemed to enjoy each other.
However, there was a twenty-something dude on the course who, according to Dr Glass, “made things awkward.” Immediately, he tried to make the workshop all about his pantsfeelings for Luminous Girl. Although he was on a different team, he was constantly buzzing around Dr Glass and Luminous Girl, getting in their way (which was dangerous and distracting, as they were doing physical labor) and trying to get her to talk to him, work with him, come over and look at his work, etc. In return she tried to ignore him, laughed him off politely, repeatedly referenced her desire to do her work, physically moved away whenever he got close to her, and stuck like glue to Dr Glass; saying NO in all those thousand little pleasant ways that women are trained to do. Awkward Dude tried to impress her with physical activity, but Dr Glass cut him off because he was being distracting. Confused and annoyed, Awkward stepped up his Game, trying to impress her with his intellectual cred, and it went down like a lead zeppelin, with Luminous and Dr Glass resuming their own work and conversations. So Awkward started loudly asking wasn’t Dr Glass married?!
At this, Awkward Dude attempted to kill Dr Glass with his laser-eyeballs at every turn, lurking and glaring and pining like a bad Snape impersonator. (Dr Glass wasn’t sure why he was suddenly the target of the resulting animosity, as he clearly had no romantic interest in Luminous, until I explained it to him: Dude had decided that the reason Luminous Girl was not sleeping with him was because she was the Possession of Another Male, and further, a Male who Already Had His Fair Share of Females; thus Dr Glass was the enemy for not shunning her and leaving a clear path for fellow males. “Oh,” said Dr Glass in sudden revelation, “That makes sense, I guess.”)
But the guy persisted – it wasn’t that Luminous didn’t like him! It was that she was clearly in thrall of my husband. The solution was to get her alone! So whenever they sat down to a lecture, Luminous, practically dragging Dr Glass by the arm, would move like lightning to position herself between him and a safe wall – with her lovely admirer circling them and glaring, loudly asking Dr Glass about his Wife Back Home. Awkward Dude implied that Dr Glass was creepy and odd for always hanging out with a girl half his age. Awkward Dude was annoyed that the course director, an older woman who should presumably know better, had assigned dorm space based on teams, so that Dr Glass and Luminous bunked in adjacent rooms (while he, Awkward Dude, was in the wing with the married couples!) because it was inappropriate and wrong to place a married man next to a teenaged female. On a particularly cold day, Dr Glass noticed that Luminous did not have warm clothing, and lent her an extra hoodie. It happened to have his name on it; Awkward Dude practically ignited, to the point where even the other people on the course were laughing awkwardly at him and saying “Uh, she’s… allowed to wear clothes?”
Luminous and Dr Glass both liked hiking, so one evening after dinner, they went out for a hike by themselves – not inviting the others in case Awkward Dude got wind of their plans. (“I mean, it sounds cruel, but I just hated him,” Dr Glass said.) It was after curfew when they walked back to their rooms,and the halls were completely dark; Dr Glass hung back to fill his water bottle. When he got to the rooms, at the end of the corridor, Luminous had been cornered by Awkward Dude. When Awkward spotted Dr Glass, he yelled at him about how inappropriate it was to go hiking alone with Luminous. Luminous seized the opportunity to flee to her room, locking the door. “I think it’s inappropriate to police her hiking,” Dr Glass said mildly and went to bed.
The next day was the last day of the course, and Dr Glass had had enough. Awkward Dude was “trying it on” in front of the whole group, making everyone uncomfortable. He had dragged Luminous into yet another unwanted conversation and Dr Glass called him out, in front of everybody, a deadly blow to Awkward’s pride. Awkward Dude tried to appeal to the group – he was only trying to be friendly – but Dr Glass had him up against the ropes, metaphorically, he’d broken the floodgates, and everyone began to laugh at Awkward instead: the old married couples, the other young men, and Luminous.
“I really feel bad about that, actually,” Dr Glass said. He hadn’t really wanted to humiliate the younger man in front of everybody, especially since his only crime had been really inept flirting. Was it really Dr Glass’s place to speak for Luminous? Perhaps he’d made a big deal out of nothing. But Dr Glass didn’t regret it. He just felt odd. He didn’t know why he’d been so savage over something so banal as Awkward’s favorite movie. He was pretty sure that he didn’t regard Luminous as a possession, or something to be protected. He’d just snapped.
“OH MY GOD,” I replied, “WHY DIDN’T YOU DO MORE? WHAT A FUCKING CREEPER!”
Well, Dr Glass wanted to assume good intentions on everyone’s part. They’d all lived together, after all, eaten together, worked together. Emotions had run high. It would have been pretty terrible for the Dude if he’d been ostracized right at the beginning, just because he wasn’t very good at talking to girls. After all, he was there for the workshop. They all were.
“AAAAH,” I wound down, “But what Luminous? WHOSE WORKSHOP WAS RUINED BECAUSE SHE DIDN’T FEEL SAFE?! She couldn’t just relax and enjoy spending time with you/her other new friends/nature – she practically had to have a bathroom buddy! He didn’t even let her focus on the work she was PAYING MONEY to do! You did not cross a line! HE CROSSED THE FUCKING LINE!”
Dr Glass totally agreed. But he still felt oddly uncomfortable about it all, as if there was something there to regret, like he was missing a piece of the puzzle. And then I asked The Question. And after I asked The Question, his face changed. He looked sick. “I didn’t think of that.” After The Question, he wished he’d been more explicit – gone to the course director. Been there more for Luminous. The good intentions that he wanted to assume, the passes he was willing to give the other man, evaporated, completely. They had evaporated for me, halfway through the story.
When I tell this story to women, they spot The Question right away. The men don’t; they think that Dr Glass behaved like a gentleman, neither doing too much nor too little. They are feminist men, and good people. They have read “The Gift of Fear” and they talk about privilege and the patriarchy, and they don’t spot it.
The Question is this: Why Was Awkward Dude Waiting For Her In The Dark?
Earlier in the story we heard that his own room was far away from hers. It was dark, at the end of a dark hall. He was waiting there, after midnight, with the lights off. HE HAD BEEN WAITING FOR HER IN THE DARK AT THE END OF A DARK HALL AFTER CURFEW, HE KNEW SHE HAD GONE OUT AND HE WAS WAITING FOR HER TO COME BACK. He was angry when he realized that she wasn’t alone. And Luminous was afraid – bolting into her room. Locking the door. And the women go HOLY FUCK WHAT IS THAT as soon as they hear about the atmosphere, and the men just accept it as another anecdote of Awkward Dude’s awkwardness, you know? Because how rude/silly/inept to pester a woman about hiking with another man! While the women are going BAD INTENTIONS BAD INTENTIONS FUCK SHIT THAT WOULD NOT HAVE ENDED WELL. And then you point out The Question to the men, and wait a while, and they suddenly go OH. OH MY GOD. WHY WAS HE WAITING FOR HER IN THE DARK. THAT’S – THAT’S PRETTY FUCKING SKETCHY. Everything changes. Dude-sympathy is gone. They put on the Matrix-goggles and peer into the world that apparently only women see. Awkward cornered Luminous in the dark after curfew at the end of the hall when he thought she was alone and he had a lot of anger and when my husband showed up he read Luminous as afraid and she ran into her room and locked the door. That is the reality. The good intentions, they are not there. Perhaps Awkward would have said that they were, that we, in our paranoia, are seeing rape in every dark corner. Perhaps he was trying to apologize for his previous behavior, or lend her a book, or make sure that she got back safely from her hike… so he’d chosen to do so alone, in the dark, making her afraid. That was what had been bothering Dr Glass. He wasn’t wearing the Goggles of Feminine Intuition, but he picked up on the signals that something wasn’t right. Seeing the Question doesn’t make you paranoid – it means your instincts are working.
If you live in the world of women, it isn’t your duty to educate everybody, to hand-hold and explain, to pass out Matrix-goggles. It’s Situation Normal: All Fucked Up. But perhaps you, Letter Writers, have good men, men who just need to wear the goggles.
That’s not really what I think, but our society is fucked up. I’ll assume good intentions on their part. Maybe it will help.
The thing that frustrates me about this excellent story -- and it is an excellent one, well worth tattooing on everyone's brain -- is that it highlights how strongly we as a culture tend to personize men and otherize women. There's so much pressure to feel sorry for the man, to characterize him as inept, as silly, as buffoonish. Even people who recognize that his actions are making a woman feel unsafe, uncomfortable, and unhappy tend to downplay her feelings because we're socialized from birth -- by a thousand movies, books, and television shows -- to sympathize with the unlikely suitor who has set his sights on the beautiful girl.
Without meaning to sound flippant, I don't care whether or not Creepy Guy was a would-be rapist in this story. I didn't even catch The Question, truth be told, because I was too busy being distracted by another question that has been bothering me: Why do we persistently value and legitimize the feelings of men over women? Why do we allow men such total leeway to terrorize women under the guise that they have some kind of God Given Right to express their attraction to them? Why do we refuse to extend to women the right to be treated like people instead of like objects to be won over in a shitty romantic comedy? And what do we need to do to change this, to prioritize a woman's right to move and act and exist in public without being assumed to be a willing receptacle for "I Would Very Much Like To Fuck You" comment cards?
If the story above had ended at the hoodie story and hadn't progressed to the hiking story, I would still view Creepy Guy as a serious threat to women's safety. Because it's not enough to not be a rapist or an attempted rapist. It's not enough by a long shot. So much damage can be done to women long before we ever even get to rape. And these are the guys who do that damage -- the ones who aggressively and persistently cross social boundaries in order to convey the Very Important Fact that they have a boner for a woman in the room. And our larger society allows it when we -- even the progressive and feminist among us -- excuse it as ineptness, as cluelessness, as silliness. It's not silly; it's damaging. And I don't believe for a minute that these men can't behave better. I expect them to, and I think the rest of society should join me in my high expectations.
Or, as Esti says, with more clarity than I:
I’m not saying that Dr. Glass was specifically terrible in his reaction to the situation or anything, because my friend is also a really good dude and he has the same instinct. But at the point where he was still wanting to assume good intentions, Awkward had spent an entire week following Luminous around, ignoring her (and Dr. Glass) when they repeatedly told him to go away, publicly and aggressively criticizing her decision to spend time with another man, and making her feel so uncomfortable that she felt the need to physically block him from getting near her even in a room full of people. What on earth, short of actually being physically violent, was going to be enough to overcome the presumption of good intentions??
And this is why I actually think The Question is really beside the point. I mean, it’s often an “aha!” moment for dudes to have a concrete example of how they don’t even notice potential physical threats while women are really attuned to them. But at the same time, the idea that Awkward was maybe a physical threat is so totally not the point for me. If our standard for when someone has acted badly enough to be called out is “he did something that suggests he wanted to sexually assault this woman,” that is WAY TOO LOW A BAR for calling people out. From your description, it sounds like Luminous’ enjoyment of this workshop was seriously diminished (or maybe non-existent) because she spent the entire time being harassed by a guy who wanted to get into her pants. Even if that guy had good intentions, even if he never would have tried to assault her, even if he never made her feel physically unsafe, his behavior was unbelievably out of line and no one should feel bad for standing up to him.
This. So much this.
Back to Twilight.
Edward was waiting, leaning casually against the side of the gym, his breathtaking face untroubled now. As I walked to his side, I felt a peculiar sense of release.
“Hi,” I breathed, smiling hugely.
“Hello.” His answering smile was brilliant. “How was Gym?”
My face fell a tiny bit. “Fine,” I lied.
“Really?” He was unconvinced. His eyes shifted their focus slightly, looking over my shoulder and narrowing. I glanced behind me to see Mike’s back as he walked away.
“What?” I demanded.
His eyes slid back to mine, still tight. “Newton’s getting on my nerves.”
You will note this is a rare moment of agreement between me and Edward Cullen. But Mike Newton isn't getting on my nerves because he's a big love lorn puppy dog who just can't help his special feelings and doesn't have the good sense and social grace to not blurt out his headthoughts to Bella every time he sees her.
No, Mike Newton is getting on my nerves because he is leveraging male privilege and rape culture to consistently cause harm to Bella Swan. He has decided that his need to constantly convey his attraction to her has a higher priority than her right to feel safe and comfortable at school and at play. Mike Newton is a sexual predator, even if he never does anything worse than what he's done so far.
On the second day of badminton class:
Gym passed quickly as I watched Mike’s one-man badminton show. He didn’t speak to me today, either in response to my vacant expression or because he was still angry about our squabble yesterday. Somewhere, in a corner of my mind, I felt bad about that.
Rape culture isn't just that I instinctively blame Bella for things that are not her fault. Rape culture is that Bella instinctively blames Bella for things that are not her fault. And this sucks so very, very much.