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
DID YOU MISS TWILIGHT?
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.