Twilight: Erasure of Self

[Content Note: Fetishization of Virginity]

Twilight Summary: In Chapter 12, Bella and Edward's relationship is observed by Billy Black and Bella worries that Billy may inform her father Charlie. Later, Edward and Bella spend the weekend alone together in the woods.

Twilight, Chapter 12: Balancing


I kind of did, actually. I apologize for the long delay; it just sort of seemed like I could either press through Prince Caspian and get that sucker knocked out or work on Twilight, but it didn't seem like I could do both at once. (Which, yeah, you haven't seen all the Caspian posts yet, but they're at least written now.) And, gonna be honest here, the Narnia posts get more comments and I am a drama queen like that. Maybe we need more random chatter in the Twilight threads. I hereby demand more random chatter!!

But I digress. When we last left our heroine, she was making food in the kitchen while Native American friend Jacob disavowed his father out of embarrassment. Bella, meanwhile, fretted that Billy Black would narc her out to Charlie for wanting to make the vampire-with-two-backs with Edward.

   I headed for the stairs while Charlie waved from the doorway.
   “Wait, Bella,” he said. [...] “I didn’t get a chance to talk to you tonight. How was your day?”
   “Good.” I hesitated with one foot on the first stair, searching for details I could safely share. “My badminton team won all four games.”
   “Wow, I didn’t know you could play badminton.”
   “Well, actually I can’t, but my partner is really good,” I admitted.
   “Who is it?” he asked with token interest.
   “Um . . . Mike Newton,” I told him reluctantly.
   “Oh yeah — you said you were friends with the Newton kid.” He perked up. “Nice family.” He mused for a minute. “Why didn’t you ask him to the dance this weekend?”
   “Dad!” I groaned. “He’s kind of dating my friend Jessica. Besides, you know I can’t dance.”
   “Oh yeah,” he muttered. Then he smiled at me apologetically. “So I guess it’s good you’ll be gone Saturday . . . I’ve made plans to go fishing with the guys from the station. The weather’s supposed to be real warm. But if you wanted to put your trip off till someone could go with you, I’d stay home. I know I leave you here alone too much.”
   “Dad, you’re doing a great job.” I smiled, hoping my relief didn’t show. “I’ve never minded being alone — I’m too much like you.” I winked at him, and he smiled his crinkly-eyed smile.

So as much as I generally don't care for Charlie, I want to give credit where credit is due: This conversation actually feels kind of natural and even a little sweet. I mean, sure, Charlie forgets (once again!) that Bella is disabled, and we all know I have issues with this, but he backs off immediately regarding both Mike and the dance and he doesn't pressure Bella to conform to the fantasy-daughter in his head. I didn't realize this was something that I needed to be giving out cookies for to fictional parents, but apparently it is. So go Charlie for being more feminist-friendly in this book than some other fictional parents I could name! (Note: This trend will not last.)

The next day is Friday and Bella cheerfully hops into the car with Edward for the morning ride to school while he continues to grill her with questions while insisting that the day is "his" and that there's no time to satisfy her curiosity about him. Sure, these two may have all of eternity to talk these things out, but ORDER MATTERS and Edward called dibs on today.

   He wanted to know about people today: more about Renée, her hobbies, what we’d done in our free time together. And then the one grandmother I’d known, my few school friends — embarrassing me when he asked about boys I’d dated. I was relieved that I’d never really dated anyone, so that particular conversation couldn’t last long. He seemed as surprised as Jessica and Angela by my lack of romantic history.
   “So you never met anyone you wanted?” he asked in a serious tone that made me wonder what he was thinking about.
   I was grudgingly honest. “Not in Phoenix.”
   His lips pressed together into a hard line.

I'm not really thrilled about this passage for a couple of reasons.

First, it bothers me just slightly that Bella has no problem telling Edward all about the people in her life. I can't help but recall the bit in "True Blood" where Sookie confides in Bill about her childhood sexual assault only to be shocked and horrified when her abuser turns up mysteriously dead a few days later. When she confronts Bill about this and tells him that she won't be able to confide in him if people start turning up dead because of what she tells him, he initially reacts mostly with confusion: Wouldn't she want the people who hurt her to get what was coming to them? This scene works well because it underscores how very different Sookie's morality is from Bill's morality. Bill isn't meant to be seen here as a monster without morals so much as a very strange and alien creature whose nature and experiences have combined to shape his morality into something very different from Sookie's. (Possibly so different that a romance between the two is doomed to failure.)

Bella is significantly younger and more sheltered than Sookie so maybe it's understandable that she wouldn't think of something like this in advance, but surely many of us in the audience would be wary of telling a little too much to the immortal, unstoppable, blood-thirsty vampire in the car seat next to us. It's one thing for Bella to make the decision to risk her life by hanging out with Edward, it's another thing entirely for her to feel free to air the fact that Jacob is telling people that the Cullens are vampires, or that Renee was an absentee parent whose inability to take responsibility forced Bella to grow up before her time, or that Baseball Phil and Bella never have quite gotten along and Bella is sadder now that he's come into their life. Or whatever: my point is that I wish Bella was a little more guarded about the people in her life when talking to her new vampire boyfriend.

Second, I'm irked that this is the obligatory Like A Virgin mention; Bella has to underscore that she's never really dated or been with anyone because there is apparently some kind of law that protagonists have to be sexual innocents. It may be a little more realistic for sheltered teenage Bella to be a virgin over globe-trotting Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time 30-year-old Buck Williams, but the fact that this is something of a morality issue (rather than random luck) is underlined with the point that Bella is "relieved" she doesn't have much to report. Why? She hasn't shown any discomfort talking about Renee and her grandmother, so it seems that there's something potentially shameful about having boyfriends such that Bella can report with relief that she has none in her past.

Possibly I'm reading too much into this, but I don't think so. Virginity is emphasized with a very heavy hand in Twilight. Bella is a virgin. Edward, too, is a virgin, and possibly in the strictest sense: before the Word of God explanation that vampires have "venom-semen" that can mimic regular semen (and therefore Edward and Bella's case is not particularly special or non-recreate-able), there was a fan-theory that Edward's sperm used to impregnate Bella in Breaking Dawn was the last viable sperm in his body when he was turned, which would indicate that he hadn't ejaculated once in the past 100 years. Though this theory is now superfluous because of the "venom-semen", I'm not convinced that a No Masturbation policy wouldn't be out of character for Edward based on what we see of him in-text and his Victorian attitudes towards sex.

Authors should write the story that is within them, of course. And it cannot be denied that the tale of these two virgins has resonated with a large slice of the population, possibly in part because they are virgins. And I see nothing wrong with respectfully celebrating virginity for those people who are virgins, who wish to remain virgins, and/or who would like to remain virgins just a little bit longer without all this pressure. I also absolutely recognize that modern advertising sexualizes women -- especially young women -- so heavily that there might be some genuine relief to be found in a franchise where virginity isn't presented as abnormal but is rather celebrated as valuable and worthwhile. I get that. But at the same time, I'm deeply concerned about the fetishization of virginity. In "The Purity Myth", Jessica Valenti notes:
    Or consider another abstinence product: a gold rose pin handed out in schools and at Christian youth events. The pin is attached to a small card that reads, “You are like a beautiful rose. Each time you engage in pre-marital sex, a precious petal is stripped away. Don’t leave your future husband holding a bare stem. Abstain.”
    Do we really want to teach our daughters that without their virginity, they’re nothing but a “bare stem”? [...]
   One popular classroom exercise, for example, employs Scotch Tape to demonstrate how premarital sex can make girls dirty. A teacher holds up a clear strip of tape, meant to represent a girl, in front of the class. The teacher then puts the strip of tape, adhesive side down, on the arm of a boy in the class, to symbolize his sexual relationship with the girl. The teacher rips off the tape (signifying the breakup, apparently) and holds it up again for the class to look at. Students are meant to see that the strip of tape—the girl—has picked up all kinds of dirt and hair from the boy’s arm and is no longer clean. Then, when the teacher tries to stick the same strip of tape to another boy’s arm, he or she notes that it doesn’t stick—they can’t bond! To end things with a bang, the abstinence educator makes a remark about the girl’s being “used” and therefore unable to have strong future relationships.
    In another popular exercise, abstinence teachers’ use candy to make their “dirty” points. These candy exercises often consist of teachers’ showing how the candy can’t fit back into its wrapper after being chewed/sucked/eaten.

I think there is a marked difference between It's just fine to be a virgin and It's not fine to be anything but a virgin. I'm not sure I can say where Twilight falls on that scale, but with loaded words like "relief" being flung around, it's hard to escape the impression that a flip "yeah, I've dated some guys, next question" wouldn't have marked Bella in the narrator's eyes as being somehow dirty or less worthy of Edward's love.

(Points, I suppose, for Edward's unenthusiastic response, though it seems like his pursed lips are more over the fact that the inexperienced and not-prone-to-crushes Bella is therefore clearly Seriously Interested in him and he would still at this point prefer her not to be. Which really just feeds back into the virginity fetishization: having casual sex with previous partners obviously means that you aren't prone to Serious True Love when the right person comes along. Because Jasper, I suppose.)

   We were in the cafeteria at this point. The day had sped by in the blur that was rapidly becoming routine. I took advantage of his brief pause to take a bite of my bagel.
   “I should have let you drive yourself today,” he announced, apropos of nothing, while I chewed.
   “Why?” I demanded.
   “I’m leaving with Alice after lunch.”
   “Oh.” I blinked, bewildered and disappointed. “That’s okay, it’s not that far of a walk.”
   He frowned at me impatiently. “I’m not going to make you walk home. We’ll go get your truck and leave it here for you.”
   “I don’t have my key with me,” I sighed. “I really don’t mind walking.” What I minded was losing my time with him.
   He shook his head. “Your truck will be here, and the key will be in the ignition — unless you’re afraid someone might steal it.” He laughed at the thought.
   “All right,” I agreed, pursing my lips. I was pretty sure my key was in the pocket of a pair of jeans I wore Wednesday, under a pile of clothes in the laundry room. Even if he broke into my house, or whatever he was planning, he’d never find it. He seemed to feel the challenge in my consent. He smirked, overconfident.

ARGH. How much does this passage set off my alarm bells? SO MUCH.

One, I don't mind so much that Bella doesn't mind walking home. She's flexible and up to challenges, fine. But she's also deeply disabled and Edward just dropping this on her all of a sudden without even a trace of an apology really should have sparked some kind of internal reaction, ideally annoyance or anger, as far as I'm concerned. To just accept this blankly with the only emotion being disappointment that she won't be with him for a few hours makes her seem utterly dead to any consideration except The Proximity of Edward. That's sad and scary to me, no matter how we try to paint this with the rush of first, new Love.

Two, please note that Edward is not telepathic. Or, well, actually he is, but he's not telepathic with Bella. In order to find her keys later -- which he will -- he either has to search through the entire house and all her things or he has to have been silently watching her every move (including her undressing rituals) in order to have kept perfect track of where her car keys are at all times. Both of these possibilities are deeply disturbing from a privacy-stalker-omg-creepy consideration. (I suppose a third explanation is that Alice can use her prophecy powers to divine where the keys are, but that takes Magical Mundane into an almost silly extreme.)

   “Why are you going with Alice?” I wondered.
   “Alice is the most . . . supportive.” He frowned as he spoke.
   “And the others?” I asked timidly. “What are they?”
   His brow puckered for a brief moment. “Incredulous, for the most part.” [...]
   I was still staring at the Cullens while he spoke. Suddenly Rosalie, his blond and breathtaking sister, turned to look at me. No, not to look — to glare, with dark, cold eyes. I wanted to look away, but her gaze held me until Edward broke off mid-sentence and made an angry noise under his breath. It was almost a hiss.
   Rosalie turned her head, and I was relieved to be free. I looked back at Edward — and I knew he could see the confusion and fear that widened my eyes.
   His face was tight as he explained. “I’m sorry about that. She’s just worried. You see . . . it’s dangerous for more than just me if, after spending so much time with you so publicly . . .” He looked down.
   “If this ends . . . badly.” He dropped his head into his hands, as he had that night in Port Angeles. His anguish was plain; I yearned to comfort him, but I was at a loss to know how. My hand reached toward him involuntarily; quickly, though, I dropped it to the table, fearing that my touch would only make things worse. I realized slowly that his words should frighten me. I waited for that fear to come, but all I could seem to feel was an ache for his pain.

I've suggested before that Twilight can be viewed as a feminist text because it features a young woman protagonist using her agency to get the things that she wants. The rebuttal point to this -- and I think it's one worth considering -- is that the "things that she wants" are the things that are used to define "correct" femininity: sexless courtship, marriage, children, and so forth, even though each of these things threatens to encompass her death. But I think there's a deeper rebuttal to the feminist text theory, and I think that problem can be seen reflected in the passage above.

I don't have a problem with a text where a female character seeks stereotypically feminine things. I don't have a problem per se with a celebration of virginity, as long as it's not done at the expense of people who aren't virgins and don't want to be. I don't automatically take issue with trying out courtship and marriage with a supernatural creature who struggles with the whole "don't accidentally kill girlfriend" thing. I don't necessarily have an issue with trying to stick through a difficult pregnancy with a supernatural baby even though everything may end terribly badly in spite of best laid plans. These are all things that kind-of-sort-of map onto real life issues that women face. These are all things that I think can (and probably should!) be explored from a feminist perspective.

I don't think Twilight is anti-feminist because it explores these things. I think it is anti-feminist in the way in which it explores them. The issues in Twilight are frequently explored by effectively erasing Bella, by ensuring that she has no real reactions to stimuli except inasmuch as how those events affect others. Here, for example, when confronted with the fact that their anticipated Saturday Outing might end very badly, Bella feels no emotion or reaction whatsoever except ache and pity and pain for Edward.

Over the next few pages, Bella will decide to effectively isolate Edward from facing consequences to his actions by clarifying to anyone and everyone that she is not meeting Edward on Saturday and that he will not be in town and that if she were to suddenly go missing it is emphatically not Edward's fault. I have specific issues with this decision, but we'll pick up those specific issues next time. For today I will simply say that I do not -- in the general case -- think that this decision is an anti-feminist decision. I think that Bella can make the decision to be in danger in a feminist way, perhaps by wrestling with the fact that this is her decision to make, or perhaps by mapping out consequences in either case. ("If I die and they know it's Edward, Charlie will end up getting killed. If I die and they don't know it's Edward, I'm still just as dead but at least my mother and father are safe." Etc.)

But that's not how this decision goes down. Bella doesn't decide to go off alone with Edward because she's willing to risk her life to win the True Love that she thinks is within her grasp and she feels like the risk is worth it. She doesn't decide to hide Edward's existence from her father in order to protect Charlie in the case that something happens to her. She doesn't, in any way whatsoever, consider the situation from any angle except how it will help or hurt Edward. The "true love" is presented here as an utter and complete abandonment of the self, and a complete replacement of that self with the thoughts and concerns and needs of the other. Bella doesn't just act in the way that she believes will best help Edward; she literally can't think about any consideration other than Edward.

For all the flirting with agency and choices that Twilight has -- surprisingly more agency and choices than some other "feminist" texts I could mention -- I really don't think that Twilight scores high on the feminist score chart. But I think that comes down to less of a function of how Bella acts and more of a function of how she thinks. Thinking for yourself and then choosing to do things that benefit your True Love strikes me as fundamentally different than just removing yourself from the thought-equation entirely.


Ana Mardoll said...

This is a test of the comment sync.

Aaron Boyden said...

Making characters virgins doesn't have to be about virgins being better; it can serve as an artificial method of intensifying the importance of a connection by adding in the element of it being that person's first ever. Though since this is a little clumsy and heavy handed, and since there is a little too much cultural inclination to associate virginity with moral superiority, perhaps this strategy should be avoided outside porn.

Silver Adept said...

That selflessness of Bella's underscores something about abstinence-to-marriage thoughts and you're things are "supposed" to go in a Good Christian marriage.

When doing altar service for marriages in my younger years (for very mercenary reasons), the Catholic priest of the church had a specific sermon, one that I knew pretty well, that talked about the joys of marriage that hinged on a very specific reading of the word "understanding". He didn't go with the "wives, be submissive to your husbands" route, thankfully, but he always said that to "understand" someone, you had to be standing under them, which meant that to properly do out for most people, you would have to crawl. That kind of self-negation and complete concern for The Other was apparently the secret to a long and happy marriage. I don't remember whether it was always directed at one gender and not just a general thing, but the point is pretty well there. Looking at it now, it seems like a recipe for misery - or a lot of Gift of The Magi situations.

It also feeds into the idea that one you married, you're stuck with them, no matter what happens, no matter whether they are right for you or not. The fact that Bella can void herself of any concern for herself and be entirely devoted to Edward makes her a Saintly Good Girl, and so she has to suffer indignities from the more worldly people around her until she can become perfect in body to reflect her perfect soul.

Maybe that's part of the reason I don't particularly like Fifty Shades of Grey (apart from the litany of Wrong that is in the actual text) - it takes Abstinence porn and then transplants the characters and tries to make some of them the opposite - and the carnality clashes with the characters that are still supposed to be pure.

Randomosity said...

Twilight's back! Yay!

On the Must Be A Virgin crap: I think most readers would be OK with the trope being subverted because it reflects reality more. After reading No Longer Quivering and Love Joy Feminism, I have had plenty of eyefuls about purity. Only for girls, naturally. Who then, are the boys having sex with if not with the girls? Things that make you go Hmmmm. The purity folks seem way too obsessed with sex. And lastly, they seem to hate heterosexuality in women and girls. Homosexuality is evil, heterosexuality is OK only if you do it after marriage, bisexuality - don't go there. What's left and perfectly acceptable to the purity-obsessed is asexuality. I'm asexual, or this would never have occurred to me. It took into my 20s to figure out that was my sexual orientation to start with.

On agency: I just finished an anthology of short stories including one that just left a horrible squicky feeling when I got done with it. Main character had almost no agency whatsoever.

Med-school student must make a decision that will change her life forever. Turns out she doesn't make a choice, the choice in question was telegraphed on page one, and the two male characters were the ones making choices for her.

ROT13 for spoilers:

"N Cynpr sbe Anguna" Gur pbyyrtr fghqrag vf certanag, ure oblsevraq qvrq va n pne penfu naq fur qbrfa'g ernyyl jnag gb raq gur certanapl. Ure sngure vf cnlvat ure jnl guebhtu pbyyrtr naq vafvfgf fur nobeg. Fur unf sevraqf jub hfr nobegvba vafgrnq bs pbagenprcgvba orpnhfr pbagenprcgvba znxrf ure sng. Fur zrrgf na byq zna ba gur ornpu naq ur gryyf ure nobhg n qvfnoyrq xvq jub orpnzr n cbrg, gung ur pna'g fgnaq gur jbeqf "ryrpg" be "pbairavrapr", gung jbzra bayl unir pnerref orpnhfr gurl jnag yhkhevrf, naq nffhzrf gung fur'f gbb lbhat gb xabj jub Nqbycu Uvgyre jnf. (Nun! Gur fgbel Tbqjvaarq. Ybiryl.) Ur nyfb gryyf ure gung ur pna'g qvr hagvy ur svaqf n zbgure. Jbzra nera'g ornevat rabhtu xvqf naq ur jnagf gb qvr abj ohg pna'g orpnhfr fbhyf unir gb unir fbzrjurer gb tb orsber gurl pna cnff ba. Fgbel jnf jevggra nsgre 2000, ol gur jnl. Gurer'f fb zhpu jebat jvgu gung cerzvfr gung V jba'g tb vagb vg urer. Naljnl, fur cebpenfgvangrf naq zvffrf gur BO/TLO nccbvagzrag naq tbrf gb gur ornpu naq gur byq zna vf qrnq. Gheaf bhg ur jnf gur cbrg. Guerr thrffrf jung gur zrq fghqrag qbrfa'g qb naq gur svefg gjb qba'g pbhag.


And of course the story doesn't give us a hint of how this turns out for this extremely passive and persuadable main character. That anthology had several other stories in which I wanted to yell at the protagonists to get lives and make at least one choice.

Will Wildman said...

(On a meta-topic, I think the Narnia posts necessarily have a lot more to chat about, given that you go by whole chapters rather than a few pages. Narnia also attempts to be epic, which gives it vastly more room to discuss implications and consequences and broad philosophy, whereas Twilight does its level best to be the exact opposite in scope: as tiny as possible, with minimal awareness of other people. There's a lot to say about the world of Twilight, but you often have to abandon the plot entirely in order to discuss things like vampires Going Galt or the incredible political careers of a trio who can read minds, see the future, and influence emotions. When we just stick with the text - ye gods, but Edward does wear on a person.)

On the actual topics: sweet Jesus Jones, I hate all of those anti-sex analogies so much. (Do these people eat at restaurants? DO THEY KNOW HOW MANY MOUTHS THAT FORK HAS BEEN IN? Filthy hedonists.)

I may have missed something, but shouldn't Alice have plenty of visions regarding Bella and whether this will all end in horror and recrimination? Vague feelings? Or is Bella a null space in prophecy as well? You'd think that if a family included a person with decades or more of demonstrable capacity to see the future, they might learn to trust that person's 'instincts', or at least give them due consideration. If everyone is sitting around saying "Hm, is this a good idea?" except for the person who can see the future who says "Best idea ever!" then... I don't know what to do with them.

chris the cynic said...

I may have missed something, but shouldn't Alice have plenty of visions regarding Bella and whether this will all end in horror and recrimination? Vague feelings? Or is Bella a null space in prophecy as well?

Yes and no.

Bella is not a null space. Alice can see that Bella will be a member of the family, that's why she's already on-board with it. Why fight what will have happened anyway?

But, there are null spaces and Bella tends to hang around them. Werewolves are a null-space post transformation. Vampire-human hybrids are a null space, which is why they didn't initially know that Bella's wasn't the first and wasn't all that special in the grand scheme of things. (Unlike Athena and Helo's daughter who is necessary to the future and will be the salvation of them all.)

So while Alice can see that Bella's going to end up with the family, there's no way that she can see how that will end up because it involves too many things that screw with prophecy.

Plus, and I don't know if this is explored at all, Alice has Edward near her. Edward can screw up any future she sees because he can read her mind, see it with her, and decide to not-do the things she saw leading to that future. Chess games between the two probably involve a long period of staring at each other, followed by a mutually agreed upon draw before the first piece is moved.

So, for example, did Alice see the family abandoning Bella in New Moon? Possibly not. Possibly she saw them injecting Bella to become a vampire and them all living happily ever after, Edward read her mind to see that future, his anti vampire bias caused him to try to avert it, and that's why Edward et. al. ran away.

(Or not. Quite possibly not. Is the vampire side of the decision to leave ever explored in depth?)

Ana Mardoll said...

I would bet good money that it is NOT explored, but I am entranced by your theory. It's consistent, simple, makes sense, and takes into consideration conflicting super powers. Well done, you.

Susan Beckhardt said...

"he always said that to "understand" someone, you had to be standing under them"

Ooh, how I hate it when people make a metaphor out of some silly little quirk of the English language, and then go around acting as though it actually says something profound.

When I was little and used to go to synagogue with my dad, I recall a service where the rabbi talked about how our emotions are part of who we are. Fine, all well and good. But he kept talking about statements like "I am angry", "I am sad", etc., and how this shows that "angry" or "sad" is who you are. This really bothered me at the time, but I couldn't put my finger on exactly what the problem was. It wasn't until a few years later when I started learning Spanish that I realized what was going on. Spanish has two verbs for "to be": "estar" which refers to a state of being, and "ser" which refers to an inherent property. My rabbi had been equivocating these two meanings of the word!

Side note: It also bugs me for a similar reason when people make a big deal about some weird coincidence of numbers that is completely dependent on our base ten number system. ("Oh wow, I saw the number 22 and then later I paid $20.20 for that thing! The number 2 must be significant somehow!") Don't conflate numbers themselves with the way they are most commonly represented by this particular group of ten-fingered bipeds living on a rock in the unfashionable end of the Milky Way galaxy!

Ana Mardoll said...

There's a CAPTCHA? I thought I turned those off.

Kirala said...

I suspect it was in response to the link. Possibly in conjunction with the fact that I post as a guest rather than with a verified account.

Kirala said...

Speaking of women with agency, I would love for someone more feminist-aware than I am to read the Divergent books by Veronica Roth and tell me whether my instinct is correct that the author succeeded in her goal of creating a protagonist with agency despite dystopian Powers That Be. And whether the author failed miserably on any other point in pursuing that goal.

I quite enjoyed the two books so far, so I have no reservations in recommending them in general, though content warnings apply for fundie upbringing and a plethora of physically and emotionally abusive situations. (Although I was gratified to see that fundie upbringing was not portrayed as inherently abusive, and the "fundies" in question are fundamentalist regarding ethical philosophies rather than religion.)

Waitwaitwait. When I tried to post this, the first thing that came up in the captcha was EDWARD? Really?

Moustache De Plume said...

Edward asking Bella if she's never found someone she "wanted" seems actually meant to read as jealousy and fishing, but I'm going to accept the rare win and enjoy that he unthinkingly equates dating and her wants, not just accepting invitations.

Frenchroast said...

You know, these comments make me really glad I went to the church that I did. Because we had one of those "save sex for marriage" things when I was in the youth group, but it wasn't like the things you always hear about and that have been mentioned here.

True, the overriding message was "it's better to wait until marriage" but they didn't try to shame us into it, and they didn't make sex sound dirty or wrong. They had the exact same message for the boys as for the girls, along with a heavy dose of "never take advantage of someone who isn't consenting/don't make anyone do something they don't want to/you don't have to do anything you don't want to, no matter what/if someone does do something to you against your wishes, it's not your fault." There was also a box we could put questions in anonymously that they read and answered. One of the questions was "what is an orgasm" and the adults leading the event did a good job answering it fully (without getting graphic). You had to be in high school to attend, and that probably helped.

Best of all, we actually had fun with it--the event ran from Friday evening to Saturday evening, and the Saturday was April Fool's (maybe not the best timing on their part, LOL). The boys stayed at the youth minister's house, and the girls stayed at another nearby house...but our leader snuck us out and back into the church at 2am, and helped us make a huge sign that said "Sex Camp", which we hung where everyone could see when they came in the next day(April Fool's).

It was kind of awesome, and everyone said so. I know that in most other churches, there would've been a lot of people raising a ruckus instead of having a sense of humor about it. Which is sad.

I don't understand the appeal of a purity ball AT ALL. It just seems...squicky.

Marie Brennan said...

I mean, sure, Charlie forgets (once again!) that Bella is disabled, and we all know I have issues with this

I think I've figured out why I keep being a bit frustrated when you frame Bella's clumsiness (and characters' responses to it) in this fashion: it feels like you're giving Meyer a pass on another front, which is the trope of the endearingly incompetent heroine who needs the big strong hero to rescue her from everything.

Because while you undoubtedly can read Bella's situation as one of disability, and make a lot of good points about societal response to same, I see very little sign that Meyer intended it in that fashion, that the characters themselves (Bella included) conceptualize it in those terms, or that a large portion of the audience reads it that way. I think for most people, and probably for Meyer, it's just the Clumsy Heroine trope. Which is pernicious in ways that aren't getting enough deconstruction here (for my taste, anyway), and probably also feed back into the bad handling of disability in our society -- because it becomes easy to write off certain kinds of physical problems as being gendered or charming or done for attention or whatever.

Ergo, the problem I have with this exchange between Bella and Charlie is that it's a lower-grade iteration of the purity trope. Bella can't be good at dancing because it would imply she's danced a lot, with lots of guys, that she enjoys it and takes pride in her skill, etc. (Little hussy.) But at the same time, we can't just ignore dancing, because we have to establish that everybody around Bella understands her desirability, even as she herself devalues it.

Likewise, my problem with the exchange between Bella and Edward is that it takes what should be courtesy ("I shouldn't leave you stranded") and turns it into a combination of infantilization (she can't be trusted to walk home on her own/Edward won't let her make her own decisions) and stalker behavior (he'll go rooting through her things to find her car keys).

And both of these things have their root in the characterization of Bella as physically inept to the point of being not charming, but utterly demeaning. If it were presented in-text as an issue of disability, the story should invite me to understand her problem and sympathize with the difficulty of managing it; instead I think it's supposed to make Bella into an Everygirl character, somebody Just Like Me, and invite me to fantasize about meeting somebody wonderful like Edward who will protect me from my own incompetence.

None of which does much good for women in general, or disabled people, either.

Guillotce said...

"...the things that make fictional sex more intense and the things that make actual sex more intense are not the same."

I agree...and I do think that's part of the culture. In fact, I think it says a lot about the culture that there is that kind of disconnect. I do think that a person's first time doing anything automatically has uniqueness and novelty, but the kind of coverage that, say, a fictional musician's first time on an instrument gets is qualitatively different than a couple's first time having sex. Often in stories about musicians you don't even get their first time, whereas this post points out how common of a trope virginity is in romance.

Virginity artificially intensifies connections in fiction because of our cultural ideas about virginity--it's not an inherent aspect of plot. Can you imagine a culture where romance novels about pairs of virgins would be considered less intense because the readers would assume awkward sex and a short relationship (as usually happens in life)?

Ana Mardoll said...


FWIW, Bella does identify it as a "disability" in those words (I think, I'm not going to check because I'm lazy, so here's the chance for some enterprising soul to make me look foolish! :P ) so that is one reason why I take her at her word.

By discussing Bella's balancing issue in the framework of disability, I can (and have) criticize Meyer for equating Disability with Endearing. Because really, if we're going to be honest, that's what bothers me MOST about all this: not so much that the trope makes able-bodied women think they need to be clumsy, but rather that an author said to hirself, "I need an endearing character flaw" and settled on a disability that SERIOUSLY harms those of us who have it.* Like, for fuck's sake author, YOU may think this is cute, but WE do not. And Meyer then refuses to handle it seriously. It's pretty much the definition of appropriation. Not that, you know, this novel has a LACK of that.

But if folks are wanting more cultural commentary on how our society wants Weak Women, I'll try to work that in more too. There's so MUCH fail that it's easy to pick up one low-hanging fruit and forget another.

Silver Adept said...


How are you doing, outside of the all-consuming maw of schoolwork

On the subject of the comment - I think that's a really good way of describing the promised rewards of self-negation, as well as some of the easy and obvious ways that it can go off the rails horribly in real life. While fiction allows us to sidestep bad luck or make the improbable happen, at times it would be nice for someone to mention those realities.

@Makabit -

Oh, it is. It is. Especially when you have fathers participating in what amount to marriage ceremonies with their daughters, standing in for the daughters' future husbands.

Makabit said...

As a total outsider to the whole virginity-cult thing, I have to say that what alarms me most about it is that it seems wildly immodest and prurient. I think about all that Britney Spears stuff about virginity back when...I was so baffled. I mean, I get being overtly sexual for various reasons. What I don't get is the idea that you can go around talking about your state of virginity, and who you're going to have sex with and when, and be seen as MORE modest and pure than women who do not announce what they do in bed because it's nobody's business who wasn't invited to participate.

Marie Brennan said...

Ana --

Google Books tells me Bella makes one reference to being "so clumsy I'm almost disabled." No other hits for "disabled" or "disability."

Which . . . I can't personally read that as anything other than teenaged hyperbole. She doesn't outright call it a disability, nor does she think of it in those terms after that one flippant line, so I have a hard time thinking she means that as literal truth.

But yes, by all means let us call Meyer out on all the variant angles of why that character trait is such a freaking problem. :-)

Ana Mardoll said...

I think we shall have to agree to disagree on this one, because I do genuinely think Bella considers it a disability. She worries about cutting herself with the knives in the kitchen, and she imagines she may be seriously injured on the ice when getting to her truck. I don't know what else to call that but a disability, and she seems to be aware of it as such, to me, with that line.

If we define "disability" thusly:

Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations. Thus disability is a complex phenomenon, reflecting an interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.

, then Bella is thrice-over disabled, because she has a problem in body function, she has serious activity limitations, and she has participant restrictions. I think it's possible that Meyer didn't *intend* Bella to be disabled, but she clearly (to my mind) is. And she seems to be aware, at least a little bit, that her condition fits, or comes close to, the definition of a "disability".

But that's just my opinion.

Rakka said...

Oh eww eww eww. I want to wash my skin on the inside after reading just your summary. Vs V jnf va gung fpranevb V'q oybbql jryy nobeg orpnhfr pbzr ba, nsgre gung, tbbq yhpx abg guvaxvat gur puvyq jbhyq or gur tvnag snegvat fuvgurnq erobea?

Boutet said...

I feel strangely relieved that other people also had the weird abstinance rally experiences I had. The tape thing, the chewed candies, the pins and poems and "contracts." The complete absence of actual sex ed, but only absitance and the physical stuff involved in pregnancies (not including how pregnancies start). I know I should be horrified that it's more wide-spread, and I am. But I also feel a little less like a freak. I didn't know what sex was (like what people did with the various body parts) until I was in grade 11 and found it in a book.

I managed to take completely the wrong message from the tape thing though. The first person who was taped yelped when it was pulled off, and the other guys weren't hurt at all. So I though "oh good, breakups hurt less after you've been through a couple."
Inaccurate, and not the intended message, but kind of funny to look back on in the midst of all the horrible stuff.

Aaron Boyden said...

@ Guillotce

A person's first time automatically has uniqueness (until the next time, of course, but it has that when it happens) and novelty. Agreed that it is probably inevitably going to be entangled with purity myth stuff, but that's not all that's going on.

The rest of your comment was about actual sex, while I was talking entirely about fictional sex; the things that make fictional sex more intense and the things that make actual sex more intense are not the same.

depizan said...

Oh it gets ever so much worse at the end of the book. (Pardon me while I summon Cthulhu) Jurer gur zheqrebhf nggnpx ba ure ol na rivy inzcver vf pbirerq hc ol, rffragvnyyl: "Fur sryy qbja fbzr fgnvef naq bhg n jvaqbj. Lbh xabj ubj pyhzfl Oryyn vf." Naq guvf fgbel vf oryvrirq, ab qbhogf, ab dhrfgvbaf, ab nalguvat.

Bella's clumsiness is handled so strangely by the text that I had trouble deciding how seriously we were supposed to take it's existence until the end of the book. Sometimes it seemed plausible and real - that scene where she's edging out to her truck on an icy driveway, for example (though I still roll to disbelieve that a western Washington state school district would be having school in the described weather conditions). Other times it seems to come and go with an odd sort of convenience to the plot and characterization - or even with convenience to Bella. "Oh, I can't go to dances, I'm clumsy!" But that end bit makes me rather side with Ana's reading of it - as a very real disability.

Edit: And that's what I get for trying to do too many things at once. Yeah, what other people said.

JVB said...

I'll try to bring it up the next time Bella falls over

You mean sometime in the next page or so? :P I think that's the most frustrating part for me. Her clumsiness is so pervasive that it IS a disability and yet everyone is so blase about it. Bella literally cannot go through one hour of her day without falling/hitting herself with something/ nearly ending up in hospital in some other fashion, and everyone is all "oh that's just Bella, she's clumsy."

chris the cynic said...

Bella's problem with walking is at a level where she can't walk over a flat surface without falling and in the end the most realistic excuse for her being in the hospital was that she fell down a flight of stairs and, after that, was unable to stop the momentum from causing her to crash through a window, and presumably suffer additional injuries after that.

It seems to rise to the level of disability to me. Even if it is the result of a common trope turned up to 11.

Marie Brennan said...

Chris -- if Bella were a real person, it absolutely would be a disability. But I think it's important to critique the trope, too, because that's what's telling thousands of able-bodied women and girls that the way to appeal to guys is to be physically incompetent.

Marie Brennan said...

Heh. Yeah, this series has been trucking along for a while, hasn't it?

I think it's important to talk about the topic before it gets dialed up to a hundred and eleven, though, because I really do think it ties into a lot of other problematic aspects in this story (as I mentioned above, for these two specific cases). That's the problem with a book like Twilight: its problems are so pervasive, you can't just put the bad bit to one side or imagine how it might easily have been fixed. (Or at least I can't.) They're baked into the crust, and mixed in with the filling, and then dusted on top for a final touch.

. . . apparently I want pie. :-)

DavidCheatham said...

Bella doesn't just act in the way that she believes will best help Edward; she literally can't think about any consideration other than Edward.

A message to Bella:

Bella, Edward has already carefully explained what would best help him: Not putting him in situations where he is likely to murder people. (In fact, everyone comes out best that way! Woo!)

So you making it where Edward would feel less repercussions from, and thus feels less resistance to, murdering you, is not actually helping Edward in any sense. The knowledge that his entire family will have to leave town, and probably have to kill a few people along the way to do so, might just be the last thing that keeps him from killing you, which he does not want. That might be the threshold that stops him, knowing he can't 'get away with' killing you.

You shouldn't want to get killed either, but apparently the only important thing is what Edward wants. So pay attention: Edward does not want to kill people. Edward has already explained, over and over, how very few things there are that stop him from killing people. Please STOP REMOVING THEM.

Guillotce said...

You're buying into the culture of purity just by saying that. What about the fact that a connection is someone's first ever makes it extra intense? I feel like there were definitely feelings I didn't understand in my early relationships, and drama that made the love feel epic, but as I get older I have stronger feelings for my partners--and definitely more intense sexual feelings.

Maartje said...

The Dutch word for 'understand' is 'begrijpen,' the literal breakdown of which comes down to something like 'grope.' I'm glad that pastor doesn't live in Holland.

OTOH, Dutch people aren't immune to the tendency to use words that way. We have 'eigenwijs' (stubborn), which can be broken down to 'wise in his own way,' and 'boosaardig' (bad-natured, evil) which can be broken down to 'boos' (angry) and 'aardig' (friendly). Ugh.

I do, however, like 'volledig' (complete(ly)), which can be broken down to 'vol' (full) and 'ledig' (empty). Not that it MEANS anything; it's just fun.

Ymfon Tviergh said...

re: The purity myth classroom exercises



*gapes in disbelieving horror*

Ymfon Tviergh said...

> "to 'understand' someone, you had to be standing under them"

*grins* In Swedish, that'd be "förstå" ('forsta' with some dots and circles on, in case Disqus doesn't like the end of my alphabet), which literally translates as "stand in front/ahead of". And thus, a great many cultural differences are suddenly explained... :-)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Post a Comment