Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Edward is Abusive and Hot (Twilight)

(Crossposted from the Twilight community at Fanpop)

Okay, I’m a big Twilight fan. I’ve got all the books. I’ve got all the movies. I’ve been to Forks and La Push for Twilight tourism. I have two Twilight T-shirts, one with the Cullen family crest and one with a werewolf presumably supposed to be Jacob. I’m planning to redo my room in a Gothic vampire theme based on a Twilight room in a motel in Forks. On the other hand, I’ve gotten into the subject of feminism and feminist analysis, and I’ve been reading all these anti-Twilight articles at C.A.T. talking about how abusive Edward and Jacob are, and I’ve had a bit of a conflict between my appreciation for both subjects. At this point, I’ve arrived at a compromise between them. Twilight is at its heart a sexual fantasy with two pretty boys to objectify. The boys behave in a way that is hot to fantasize about (for some people’s tastes), but would be bad if done in real life. This is fine as long as it is kept at the level of an unrealistic fantasy, but it is a problem when Edward and/or Jacob are perceived as perfect boyfriends because they technically are abusive.

Twilight is often derisively referred to as porn for tweens, and I think this is fairly accurate but shouldn’t be thought of in a bad way for that. I believe Stephenie Meyer has said that she wrote Twilight for adults and that her publisher marketed it to the teenage readership, probably because of its sexual theme but lack of explicit sex. Even without its explicit sex, I think Twilight is very much a sexual fantasy tying themes of domination and submission common to vampire romances to the sexually-charged teenage years when the most basic exploration of one’s sexuality is powerful. This understandably speaks to the readership of teen girls as well as women who remember those years. It is porn in a way not commonly performed in that it appeals to a young female mind, which I think is a good thing. Sexuality should be explored safely, and reading fictional literature (and writing fanfiction) is a safe way to play with fantasies. I think it’s in the interest of feminism that girls are able to do this and the success of Twilight in a way speaks to the progress of society. It’s when Twilight leaves the level of fantasy and girls start considering Edward and Jacob good boyfriends that there’s a problem, though, because when you come right down to it they are abusive.

Edward is very abusive and to a lesser extent Jacob is too. Edward has an unhealthy controlling personality and Jacob seems to think it’s okay to force a kiss if it’s for the sake of romance. I could go into greater detail, but it’s already been done by people more dedicated than me. Check out “Why Edward Cullen Is A Spouse Abuser (And Why You Should Care!)” by Cinders, and the video series “Edward Is Abusive” by fromthisgirl. As a Twilight fan, I have a negative reaction to strong words like “abusive” and “stalker”, but it’s important to analyze the book from a neutral perspective and detach personal feelings from the issue. Saying Edward’s a stalker isn’t the same as saying “…and you’re evil for liking him!” Now, some antis do make it personal, saying stuff like “Edward sucks, Twilight sucks, and should hate it too if you don’t want to suck”, and that’s not cool, but not all antis are just rude haters. There is a point to what the feminism-aligned antis are saying when they criticize the characters, which should be recognized.

When Twihards take the fantasy of Edward and make it into a standard by which to judge boys to see if they’re boyfriend material, that’s a problem. Edward is not good boyfriend material. Edward is a fantasy based on classic (sexist) notions of romantic ideals, mixed with thematic vampire rape fantasies. This is something that works on the level of fantasy but is disastrous in real life. When you start wanting a boy to stalk you in real life, that’s a problem. When you start excusing what amounts to sexual assault, that’s a problem. Feminism has fought to let women be treated as equals, to be shown the same level of respect as men, and not just treated as submissive nonpersons. Do not dishonor feminists by embracing a lack of self-respect! Boys who treat their girlfriends like they’re people are good people and should be respected as good (or potentially good) boyfriend material, not disregarded because they don’t live up to sexist ideals embodied in an abusive, stalking caricature used as the object of desire in an unrealistic sexual fantasy.

It’s important to compartmentalize Edward as only the object of desire in a sexual fantasy in which he is honored, and to understand that in real life he would be a horrible person who Buffy should stake. Within the context of Twilight as a fantasy, it’s fine to love Edward as the strong, controlling character he is. Some of us—whether due to socialization or bodily makeup—just like the idea of a partner being this dominating figure. Bella has very little characterization, so she’s an easy vessel to fill and imagine oneself being dominated by this powerful man who has the ability to kill you, who wants to on some level, but never will because he likes you. That’s very attractive to a lot of women and is fine in the level of fantasy. In real life, Edward would be like the villain of one of those Lifetime original movies, which creep me out so bad.

A lot of feminist antis go a step farther than I do and say that the fantasizing about Edward is problematic in and of itself, and that women shouldn’t have submissive fantasies at all, but I disagree. Some of us are just wired to enjoy those kinds of fantasies. The stigmatization of women who embrace their submissive side within the context of a fantasy is undeserved and seems like classic discriminatory grouping behavior where only those of the in-group are truly respected. The difference between embracing submission in a fantastical situation and in real life is the element of control. You always have control over a fantasy and can just put the book down if you’re not into it. It’s the people who surrender control who are in real trouble and are the real victims. Note that I don’t mean people in healthy BDSM relationships, because in them the submissive person has a safeword to stop all activity whereas unhealthy, abusive relationships give the submissive person no control over the relationship. Twilight can be considered as like a BDSM fantasy where the fan can safeword out by putting down the book, but Bella has no safeword because she’s a character in the fantasy and not a real person.

To conclude, Edward and Jacob are dominating objects of desire in what amounts to a sexual fantasy, and shouldn’t be considered good role models for real life boyfriends. In real life, they would be the worst kinds of people with whom to get involved in a serious romantic relationship. However, if you can keep them compartmentalized as only sex objects in an unrealistic fantasy, there’s nothing wrong with loving them. Vampires and werewolves have long been metaphors for dark expression of sexuality, and Twilight is just one more in a long series of supernatural rape fantasies. Exploration of sexuality, even dark and dangerous, is perfectly healthy as long as the dangerous stuff is kept at the level of fantasy and you always keep the control you deserve as a human being.

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