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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

296

Our Bella, Ourselves

When I teach the eighteenth-century seduction novel Charlotte Temple to my undergraduate students, they complain that all Charlotte does is swoon and cry. She isn't "a strong heroine" they protest. They don't get why her sexual affair with and subsequent pregnancy by a French soldier has to be such a big deal, or why the narrative seems to demand — spoiler alert — her death. The author of this epistolary novel, Susanna Rowson, predicted their reluctance way back in 1791. Toward the end, Rowson breaks the fourth wall and imagines how she would respond to a reader's complaints:

'Bless my heart,' cries my young, volatile reader, 'I shall never have patience to get through these volumes, there are so many ahs! and ohs! So much fainting, tears, and distress, I am sick to death of the subject.' My dear, chearful, innocent girl. . . I must request your patience: I am writing a tale of truth: I mean to write it to the heart: but if perchance the heart is rendered impenetrable. . . I expect not my tale to please.

Rowson's tale does not please my twenty-first century female students. They want Charlotte to stop hanging around this guy who's no good for her, to wake up and kick some ass. I point out to them that Rowson explicitly says that the tale is meant to elicit sympathy, to appeal to the heart and that this text — written by a woman, for women, about a young woman — might have something important to say about women's lives. They stare back, dubious.

My students' complaints about Charlotte Temple sound a lot like the complaints I hear about the Twilight Saga. And, as Part One of Breaking Dawn arrives in theaters this week, we all get to revisit just how very much Bella Swan is not "a strong heroine." Spending a lot of time in bed, on couches, and being carried around by burly boys, Bella is passive to the point of immobility. Her great love Edward is a controlling stalker, and the novels appear to extol the virtues of abstinence, teen marriage, and feminine "purity." Yet the Twilight Saga, I would argue, has the potential to revitalize a number of our larger conversations about feminism, especially those related to sex, pregnancy, desire, and autonomy.

The Twilight series challenges what I would call the "Buffy Summers Maxim": that teen heroines be physically empowered, oftentimes at the expense of emotional clarity. Bella Swan diverges from many of our more recent teenaged female heroines. The ones who appear in films — the feisty Olive from Easy A, the quirky ironist Juno MacGuff — often seem to be written by thirtysomethings seemingly desperate to revisit high school to work some alchemical magic: turning the abjection of it all into a badge of indie cred. But even the more complicated female heroines of recent young adult fiction — Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games or Katsa of Graceling — embody a suspiciously pleasing, "empowered" form of female adolescence. These girls go through a narrative arc, but for the most part, they are already-formed subjects with the "right" values (freedom, self-determination, physical strength) that simply have to navigate some growing pains.

Bella Swan, by contrast, is a much more honest (though cringe-inducing) representation of adolescence. She doesn't know who she is or what she wants. She's clumsy, obtuse, and aggravating in her helplessness. She is also entirely internal, almost alienatingly so. One of my favorite passages from the novel New Moon is when Stephenie Meyer inserts a series of blank pages to stand in for the months that pass while Bella mourns — out of any reasonable proportion — Edward’s desertion. Bella, kind of wonderfully, takes her time.

This is an uncomfortable place for feminists, because this heroine is not particularly good at actualizing herself. Bella waits, she wallows, she thinks, and feels, and worries, and wonders. She does not actualize in the sense we have come to expect from our heroines, an expectation that, I might point out, is quite often based on a masculinist understanding of what being effective in the world looks like. Lisbeth Salander, the heroine of the popular The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo series, is emotionally stunted but, damn it, she actualizes herself! She punishes the people who hurt her, she sleeps with whomever she wishes, she zips around on a motorcycle, and she’s a master computer hacker. In other words, our actualized female heroine might as well be a tiny man.

Though Bella's pregnancy in Breaking Dawn provides the final piece of the series' conservative triptych of marriage, sex, baby, it also (somewhat unfashionably) emphasizes just how much women's bodies matter. I might as well confess to you that when I began writing this piece, I was nine months pregnant with my first child. I read the Twilight novels before I found myself in such a state, but even then I felt like the narrative's representation of pregnancy and birth was somehow… real. Hopefully not real real, as in I hoped a vampire would not gnaw the baby out of my own womb, but "real" as in a masterful deployment of metaphor that somehow nails the simultaneous horror and beauty of gestation and birth.

Bella's gestation of the half-human, half-vampire fetus proceeds along nightmare-dream logic that will be familiar to anyone who has ever been pregnant: the fetus grows at alarming speed, impels Bella to unusual behaviors (in this case, drinking gallons of blood via cup and straw), and ultimately threatens to tear the girl apart from inside out. I want to reiterate here: this is not that unrealistic a representation of gestation and birth.

Now about two months post-partum, I can state with some authority that the gnawing and bleeding and horror of Renesmee's (heh) gestation and birth is one hundred percent on the level. The delivery of my child was of the sort that would have killed a woman a hundred years ago. Two weeks late and over 10 pounds, the child had to be cut by a team of doctors from my body, which in turn responded by hemorrhaging massive amounts of blood. I am still stunned by the experience; like any good thirtysomething Brooklynite, I had envisioned the glowing "natural" birth, the whole holistic bill of goods that has been sold to us strong, empowered, modern women. And while I believe that those sorts of births happen and are beautiful, they are not the only sorts of birth, nor have they been throughout history. Gestating and giving birth are dangerous physical pursuits, no matter how empowered a woman is.

It is perhaps telling that, in the books, the birth scene in Breaking Dawn is so much more riveting than the jokey sex scene (in which Edward's desire is released by … biting the pillows on the bed?). I have a feeling that Stephenie Meyer feels more comfortable exploring the gothic aspects of motherhood and parturition than she is with the throbbing softcore fulfillment of sexual desire. But this is not necessarily something for which we need to scold her. Gestation, birth, and motherhood are gothic emotional and physical states in which many of one's most carefully considered intellectual stances and commitment to autonomy are challenged and often dismantled. Even more importantly, these are topics not much talked about in young adult fiction aimed at teenaged girls, which means that, perhaps in the name of empowerment and feminism, we have omitted a major aspect of women's lives from the very narratives through which girls come to deepen their understanding of how to live in the world.

So, in the weirdest sense possible, the Twilight Saga is a pragmatist’s text; which is just another way of saying that while Stephenie Meyer doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in challenging or reshaping gendered realities, her ability to evoke what it's like to have a gender in the world — for Bella, for Edward, for Jacob — makes these novels surprisingly insightful on a number of issues feminists still have trouble addressing. If, as feminists, we believe in girls’ and womens’ autonomy, how do we understand the autonomy-shattering power of desire? Do we determine that some desires (to be dominated? to be beautiful? to get married?) are bad and others good? Because we want very much for girls not to get pregnant too young, do we bar them from even imagining what it would be like and what it would mean?

Bella holds up a cracked mirror and shows us some things we don't want to see. But she also reminds us that the imagination resists checklists of appropriate behavior. Teen girls resist checklists. The really interesting conversations start to happen when we stop circling the wagons against "bad examples" and "passivity" and start exploring not only what we want our heroines to be like, but why.

Sarah Blackwood professes about literary stuff in Manhattan and reads trashy novels in Brooklyn. She's had the same online blog journal, Drunken Bee, for seven years because she doesn't really understand Tumblr.



296 Comments / Post A Comment

 
atipofthehat

@annepersand

Seriously, I heard KS reads the Hairpin and really wanted to meet some commenter called "Melloats" or "Ellis" or "Acquellis" -- something like that.

melis

BATHE HER AND BRING HER TO ME.

annepersand

Aaaaah I meant to hit edit and deleted it instead! Anyway:

KRISTEN STEWART ON ALL THINGS FOREVER.

The Lady of Shalott

@atipofthehat Sometimes I hear KStew reads the 'pin while wearing a suit of armor.

annepersand

@The Lady of Shalott Don't toy with my emotions like that.

atipofthehat

@melis

It's probably your sparkling wit.

melis

@The Lady of Shalott #Illbeinmybunkforever

theharpoon

Oh god, are they really making Ed Hardy bikinis now?? That is terrifying. And is it just one sandal for $32? That's kind of steep. I don't like to pay that much unless I'm getting at least three sandals.

megancress

@theharpoon I could do with the tank though, I have some neighbours I plan to wage war on. A simple camouflage motif rather than a skull/dagger/rose/pigeon design would be preferable but who can argue with $16 for a war machine? And being of the short and female persuasion it seems tailored to me. If I take ten I want rhinestone missiles thrown in for free.

megancress

@megancress Ah, I see actually I may have read it wrong and all I get for $16 is a short woman capable of driving a tank who is also covered in Ed Hardy motifs. I have some of them already.

jamsbond

Rowson's tale does not please my twenty-first century female students.

is bubblegum casting legitimate

martinipie

This is AWESOME. As an undergraduate who tends to write a lot about squicky female body stuff in literature, I now feel I may have to get over my Twilight snobbery and read it (albeit in secret). Thank you!

LornaLoo

@martinipie That is what a Kindle is for. How else do you think I was able to read Eat Pray Love on public transportation? The only downside is that when you're done with book you dislike (see above), you lose the satisfaction of setting it on fire or throwing it across the room.

whimseywisp

@martinipie I may have downloaded the pdfs onto my computer and convinced myself it was "just like reading fanfiction" ;)

applestoapples

Really well-written, Sarah. Made me aware of a different and valid perspective on this.

I really don't think Stephenie Meyer was perceptive enough to consciously think of Bella as "a much more honest (though cringe-inducing) representation of adolescence" when writing her. I feel like the "reality" of Bella's character is damaging not because of its realness, but because of how Meyer places that within the context of Edward's possessiveness.
In a way, it allows impressionable girls to romanticize behavior that many self-actualized women find weird and not at all compatible with their own sense of independence, and I wonder if/how something with such a strong impact will affect them down the line.

gimlet

@applestoapples I absolutely see what you mean here - I loved Sarah's point about how Bella "evoke[s] what it's like to have a gender in the world." And yeah! Sometimes being female (and especially teenage) in the world means being passive and slavish and confused and dependent, but I think Twilight takes that a step further and makes that a GOOD thing - romanticizing it, like you said. Which is the harmful part.

melis

@gimlet It would probably help if Bella put on a suit of armor. Or a red jumpsuit. I'm just brainstorming, here.

Bittersweet

@applestoapples: Ha, when I finished reading the first Twilight book (haven't read any more), my first thought was, I hope adolescent girls who read this don't think there's an Edward [i.e., some sort of 'ideal' man] out there for them. They're going to be awfully disappointed.

As for the possessiveness, doesn't that play into our innate desire, at some level, to be taken care of so we don't have to deal with the hardships of the world? And by "we," I mean both women and men...

gimlet

@Bittersweet Yeah, see, that's the thing - it's really hard for teenagers to look at novels from a critical, dispassionate viewpoint. There's this need to simultaneously idolize and identify with these protagonists, and whoever happens to strike a chord with you might influence your mindset for a long time.

I mean, I fucking idolized Rory Gilmore from about 8th grade through high school. Which left me super disappointed when no boys kissed me in a grocery store or built me a car (or even, you know, talked to me), but at least I could admire someone who was hella smart and had career ambitions. Bella? Not so much.

melis

@Bittersweet See, this is why no one should be heterosexual, because at roughly the same age, girls are reading Twilight and asking, "Where's my perfectly chaste father-figure boyfriend who will read me poetry by the light of the moon?" while boys are on the Internet and asking, "Where's my threesome-addict girlfriend who's open to gang-banging and diaper play?"

I am willing to concede this may be the slightest bit of a generalization, but still. It's bad all around.

applestoapples

@Bittersweet I think it's different to recognize that innate desire as an adult, where you're able to (for the most part) recognize whether your desire is feasible or problematic in relation to your needs, as opposed to an indecisive adolescent who idealizes this relationship without having developed the type of critical/emotional thinking to question it in the first place.

annepersand

@melis Alternately we torpedo the internet and stop teaching our youth to read.

.... I mean, it's a theory.

mmwm

@gimlet I haven't read the Twilight series, nor had I read it or anything much like it when I was in my teens in the 1970s, and I still was sure there was an ideal man out there for me. I think it's a thing many teenaged girls go through, no matter what they read, watch, etc.

Bittersweet

@annepersand: Or we could teach all the girls critical thinking skills and send the boys off to off-the-grid monasteries for 4 years...

annepersand

@Bittersweet I fear an off-the-grid monastery filled with teenage boys more than I've ever feared anything in my life before.

Bittersweet

@annepersand: On the bright side, they're that much farther away from my daughter. (She's 8 and I'm already prepping the shotgun.)

melis

@annepersand SUCKS TO YOUR ASSMAR, PIGGY!

parallel-lines

@applestoapples Bitch Magazine did a really interesting article about the abstinence tinge to Twilight and how when women finally have sex, horrible things happen to them (a baby eating you from inside out!) It left a pretty bad taste in my mouth.

Anyway, enjoy: http://bitchmagazine.org/article/bite-me-or-dont

piggie

@mmwm Totally. I love the Anne of Green Gables books to pieces, but Gilbert Blythe ruined my expectations of life for YEARS.

mariebee

@piggie Word. Gilbert Blythe and Lloyd Dobbler ruined me for men. But, at least in those scenarios, the heroines were whip-smart and independent (if perhaps, a tad stubborn).

meg24

@gimlet off-topic but yeah rory gilmore! flashback to me, age 15, reading Anna Karenina on a saturday night.

Craftastrophies

@applestoapples This is a tough one, because that desire doesn't just come with adulthood. In fact, it often comes FROM childhood and adolescence. Kids gotta process that somehow.

I haven't managed to read any of the Twilight books, so I don't feel I can properly comment, but it seems like that is part of the problem. I mean, that it doesn't process that desire - ANY of the desires. They just are. That's how it is, forever. It's meta-passive.

Atheist Watermelon

@mariebee How about Pride and Prejudice, which taught us that even if you're not as beautiful and lissome as your older, blonder, more docile sister, you can nevertheless procure yourself the Colin Firthiest specimen of a misanthropic yet deeply passionate and caring man by virtue of your rapier wit, strong personality, and sparkling eyes? Sigh... *still feels disillusioned*

@LittleBookofCalm Oh Mr Darcy....

theharpoon

@piggie Gilbert was the boringest thing about all of the Anne books. And I'm pretty sure I thought that when I was 8.

Megoon

@applestoapples AND that you can hang out all the time with your gorgeous older sister who everyone points out is so beautiful every five minutes but be totally cool with it and genuinely happy for her when she snags the rich dude who she loves!

Thank you for this; now I know what I'm bringing to jury duty today.

gimlet

I really liked this!

The only thing that made me go "what the fuck" was this: "She punishes the people who hurt her, she sleeps with whomever she wishes, she zips around on a motorcycle, and she’s a master computer hacker. In other words, our actualized female heroine might as well be a tiny man."

Because ... wait. What? ELABORATE PLS

melis

@gimlet I don't know; all it made me think of was John Mulaney's excellent meditation on drag queens.

Roxanne Rholes

@gimlet ...right?

iceberg

@gimlet yeah that didn't make any sense to me either.

Four Horsemeals of the Eggporkalypse

@gimlet OT but I LOVE your avatar. (And gin, incidentally.)

pterodactgirl

@gimlet This was the one sentence that made me double-take as well. I decided what she meant was "actualized" = "displaying traits that usually only males have been portrayed as having in Western literature." At least I hope that's what she meant?

sam.i.am

@pterodactgirl Yeah, that's how I read it. That the actualized woman has tamped down all her traditionally feminine aspects (feelings, etc.) and built up her masculine ones (strength, violence, computers).

miwome

@pterodactgirl That's what I thought too. Plus emotional stunting. (By which I DO NOT MEAN that all men are emotionally stunted! My problem tends to be men who are overemotional, but moving on, the point is, cultural archetypes prefer men to have few emotions. And pretty much the main one is REVENGE.)

pterodactgirl

@miwome I mean, revenge IS my main emotion. But I understand it's not that way for everyone.

gimlet

@pterodactgirl @everyone else yeah, I think that makes sense. i.e. there's nothing about the character that makes her a woman except that she's physically a woman; i.e. you could put all of her traits onto a male character and it would be functionally the same person.

It's just that my reaction to that is more along the lines of "so what?"

mmwm

@gimlet That part made total sense to me!

pterodactgirl

@gimlet I also don't have a problem with women being portrayed as physically strong, intelligent, "actualized," etc. Historically though, only men have been. That was my point.

I think the author's point however is that many women do really strongly identify with portrayals of women that are not "actualized." And that's something that's very interesting and thorny for all of us to contemplate. At least I found it interesting?

gimlet

@pterodactgirl Oh yeah, absolutely interesting, and I agree with you in a lot of ways.

This is so much food for thought that it brought me out of lurking on a day when I have ten zillion things to do at work. ARGH HAIRPIN WHY ARE YOU SO AWESOME

Four Horsemeals of the Eggporkalypse

@gimlet Also I think it's problematic that a woman accomplishing "traditionally male" things is kind of shorthand for showing how actualized/badass she is. Whereas if you wrote a woman who loved knitting and cupcakes and teaching preschool and other traditionally female pursuits, there's no reason why she can't also be a badass/actualized lady, but...no one does that. Because you show how badass a lady is is by showing how into traditionally male things she is, which completely discounts the strength/skill/etc it takes to be good at many "traditionally female" things.

It's not a problem with any particular character, per se--they're all "people" with their own characteristics--but it's a problem that it's such a pattern.

wee_ramekin

@gimlet @gimlet Okay. Let's set aside the fact that I will brook no criticism of Lisbeth Salander because I absolutely adore her (confession: I fan-girl cut my hair to be just like hers).

What bothers me about this criticism is that it's overly general. A) of all, Lisbeth is emotionally stunted, but that's because she has survived horrible abuse and may also have Aspberger's. Lisbeth does undergo emotional growth throughout the series, and I bet she would have continued to do so had her author not died prematurely. Additionally, I believe that Lisbeth is supposed to serve in some ways as an archetype for all women. The author uses her to show all the horrible shit that society heaps upon women, and he shows her fighting back against that. She suffers many of the injustices that she survives precisely because she is a woman, injustices that no "tiny man" would be subjected to.

B) of all, Steig Larsson creates a lot of strong, actualized female characters who aren't "tiny men": Erika Berger, Miriam Wu, police officers Modig and Figuerola, and Lisbeth's lawyer Annika Giannini are the most prominent examples. I think Larsson's books are a good example of the spectrum of ways to be an "actualized woman".

SweetAlissum

@Four Horsemeals of the Eggporkalypse I'm so, so glad someone brought that up, you and the writer of this article. I hate Bella, but I also do not identify with "strong female characters" like Buffy either. I would love to find more actualized heroines who are not just shown to be strong because of their love of masculine pursuits. That stuff makes me sad because I feel like an actual portrayal of a lot of women is still missing out there in popular culture.

queenieliz

@SweetAlissum what are "Masculine Pursuits"? Like shaving ones beard? Having a Y chromosome? Certainly not riding a motorcycle or being a computer hacker....

pterodactgirl

@gimlet I know! I totally made myself late for an appointment because I got too caught up refreshing this thread. Then of course after the appointment I rushed back to my computer to do the same thing....

@Four Horsemeals of the Eggporkalypse @ wee_ramekin @SweetAlissum I totally agree with you guys. I love ass-kicking female characters, but I don't really feel it should be necessary for a female character to kick ass to be considered "actualized." That's one of the things that I liked about the Larson books--ALL of the women characters have their own careers, families, love lives, goals...even the ones that aren't tasering motercycle gang members in the balls on the regular. I was trying to think of other books that do this, but was having some trouble. The one I came up with was A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book. Anyone else have any recommendations?

snarkypants

@gimlet You've seen Kate Beaton on "Strong Female Characters", right? http://harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=311 (And there was a really fantastic review of "The Queen" that I can no longer find that looks at it through the lens of these ass-kicking ideal girlfriend roles.)

@pterodactgirl Norman Rush's "Mating"?

mlle.gateau

@wee_ramekin I agree with you on this- I was bothered by the comment in the essay because I remember one of the things that really struck me when I was reading the trilogy was Lisbeth's struggle with femininity. Her decision to get breast implants, for example. There are so many things I like about her, but probably the thing I admire most is her ability to overcome the things that have happened to her.

I love Larsson's women, they're real to me because they seem to encapsulate so many of the important things and conflicts that I feel in my life. Erika, Figuerola... they are interesting, smart, attractive, driven, and yet they are not incapable of meaningful emotional connections. Those connections don't derail their lives or careers either.

I don't really have a point here, I don't think, but I agree with you and I would like to sign up for your newsletter.

LyingCat

@Four Horsemeals of the Eggporkalypse The women in "The Red Tent" have no shortage of bad-assery in my opinion. Much of their characters are built upon being skilled in traditionally female pursuits and inhabiting that "female sphere." However in no way were these skills and characteristics portrayed as somehow non-actualized or less-than more masculine attributes.

But yes, I agree, there's not enough stuff out there that shows that women can be very feminine AND bad-ass.

Kate Kane

@gimlet I've heard this espoused before - first in an article on movies where women take revenge on their attacker/rapist/evil husband. Supposedly this is a "male mask" being put on their actions and uh, so... Am I broken as a lady then? Because damn, I would personally like to enact some revenge/justice on certain muggers and generally assholish dudes out there.

Hot Doom

@gimlet I got all excited in the "OMG, I KNOOOOOW!!!" when I read that because it relates to some feminist theory I've been reading lately in regard to art. I have been getting ALLLLLL UP IN this quote this week because it strikes such a chord of truth to me (Apologies for length):

"Women are both denied a representation of their desire and pleasure and are constantly erased so that to look and enjoy the sites of patriarchal culture we women must become nominal transvestites. We must assume a masculine position or masochistically enjoy the site of women's humiliation." - Griselda Pollock, in Modernity and the spaces of femininity

Anyway, most of the commenters before me pointed out basically the same thing, but that idea of "nominal transvestite" in the Lisbeth Salander type (a heroine whom I adore, btw) is what I thought of in reading that passage of Blackwood's essay.
P.S. I have been having the most feminist-y week since my years at a women's college, mostly thanks to Hairpinners and writers like Pollock, AND IT'S FUCKING GREAT.

Bittersweet

So good. Interesting to think about why being a professor or an astronaut or a CEO or a vampire-slayer is "actualizing," but being a wife or a mom or an object of desire is not.

As a teenager I had fantasies about being a ballerina, a psychologist, an entrepreneur, etc., but also about being gorgeous and built and desired by famous/rich/powerful men. Adolescence is for practicing being in the world, in all its facets.

gimlet

@Bittersweet Okay, how about this: being a wife or a mom or an object of desire isn't "actualizing" because all those things require defining yourself in relation to other people.

Not that being a wife/mom/object of desire are bad things! I hope to be all of them one day. It's just that being "actualized" requires defining yourself independently of others, in my view.

Cat named Virtute

@Bittersweet I think the actualizing debate is a bit of a straw(wo)man though. Isn't the issue that we have generations worth of cultural products of women in mothering/domestic roles, and comparatively few depictions of strong kickass women? I absolutely agree that feminists often gang up on the choices of women who opt for motherhood over career/adventure and that needs to stop, but mothers and wives are all over tv/movies/books.

Cat named Virtute

@gimlet Yes, exactly. Depicting the self-involved moonier aspects of teenage femininity isn't bad in and of itself, but does Bella have any hobbies or interests that are independent of girlfriend/wife/motherhood?

mmwm

@gimlet I think we're all (men and women) defined in terms of other people and it's an illusion to think we're not.

miwome

@Marika Pea@twitter Well, they are, but usually as accessories, not as the protagonist. Am I wrong about this? Not reading enough grown-up lit?

Cat named Virtute

@miwome A fair point, as I scan my bookshelves. I think part of the problem is that those stories get pigeonholed as "chicklit" (shudder), and then in turn, the only stories about wives and mothers that are marketable are those are less literary in nature (not that there's anything wrong with being or liking low-brow, but Meyer's inability to use a semicolon or to write characters that have any definition beyond their relationships genuinely detracts from my ability to enjoy her work). Totally a problem! But. I think that a trap that a lot of writing can fall into is not giving the mother/wife a life beyond mothering and wifing. Now I'm realizing that the 19th century was kind of the golden age of domestic lady writing, and feeling really depressed about life. Let's all read some Little Women along with our The Golden Compass, yes?

Cat named Virtute

@Marika Pea@twitter Oh, the shuddering was about the use of the term chicklit, not what it is comprised of.

SweetAlissum

@Marika Pea@twitter YES! Lyra and all the women in His Dark Materials make me so happy forever. Does anyone have any recommendations for other books with similarly strong, feminine protagonists? I have a hard time finding anything...

Cat named Virtute

@SweetAlissum I really love Sabriel by Garth Nix. The main character is a little older--probably around 16-18 i think? And is super badass and interesting. And I would argue that the character development in the second book (Lirael) is even better. At Christmas I'm finally going to read The Hunger Games, which sounds like it's similarly badass. Also I think Margot in Paper Towns is really awesome--the narrator makes her seem a little manic pixie dream girlish, but it's all in his view of her, and she herself is pretty great. Oh, and Sorcha in Daughter of the Forest. Oh man, so many books.

Bambi

@SweetAlissum If you like the scifi/horror genre, Patricia Briggs' Mercedes Thompson series and Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series. I love strong female characters! I liked Sabriel and really liked The Hunger Games. And Libba Bray's series, A Great and Terrible Beauty, is like Sabriel but by Jane Austen. Amazing.

wee_ramekin

@SweetAlissum Every book written by Juliet Marillier features a strong female protagonist, and many of these women are the type you longed to read about upthread: women who are strong and self-actualized, and who engage in more traditionally feminine pursuits. The books are a great blend of fantasy and historical fiction, and they're all lovely love stories too.

If you're interested in reading her books - and she's my favorite author bar none, so I hope you do - I would recommend starting with the first book in her Sevenwaters series: Daughter of the Forest.

Inkling

@SweetAlissum
I'd suggest any of the witch-oriented books by Terry Pratchett. He has a ton of interesting characters. There's an interesting thing about feminine aspects relating to nature, between natural/psychological magic of witches and invented/mathematical magic of wizards.
Also, there's a nonwitch character Sybil who is a wife and mother, but also larger and richer than her husband, motherly, owns a dragon nursery, basically has lots of traits that could go to either gender and is therefore not a stereotype and is really self-actualized in my opinion. She's my favorite non-Harry Potter mom!
(Also also, I have always been under the impression that Lyra and I are soulmates forever.)

slutberry

@Bambi OH MY GOSH I love A Great and Terrible Beauty. You HAVE read the other 2 books in the trilogy, right?

it makes me want to put on my nightgown and corset (yes, I have both those things) and drink tea while ogling pretty Indian men.

SweetAlissum

@Bambi @wee_ramekin @Inkcrafter Thank you for all the recommendations, you three are amazing and all of those sound fantastic!! So many new books added to my reading list.
(Lyra is totally perfect. I want to be her so very much.)

MEGA VENUTIAN SPACE SCORPION

@Bittersweet Also the Enchanted Forest Chronicles (The first one is Dealing with Dragons), fun well written YA fantasy with all sorts of fairytale in-jokes. The main character is a princess who doesn’t want to learn about protocol and get married so runs away to volunteer as a Dragon’s princess. She basically gains independence through cooking, cleaning, and conjugating Latin verbs. My description is not the best, but it is soooooo very good. http://www.amazon.com/Dealing-Dragons-Enchanted-Forest-Chronicles/dp/0590457225

wee_ramekin

@secretbees Ahhhh! Cimorene! I never knew how to say her name, and that never even mattered because I love her so much!

MEGA VENUTIAN SPACE SCORPION

@wee_ramekin Somehow when I was 13 I thought there was an 'L' in it, it makes so little sense that I was just making stuff up. She is sooo great though. Also, I totally want to hang out at Morwen's house, she is possibly the best fictional cat lady ever.

Ellie

@secretbees Those are the BEST books! Yes yes yes!

wee_ramekin

I don't know if anyone is reading this thread any more, but I just thought of another author who does really good, strong, sometimes confused female characters: Shannon Hale!

She wrote a great YA series called the Books of Bayern, and it starts with The Goose Girl. For those of you who don't like the "I've got it all figured out" type of strong female character, you'll really love these books! The characters all have great, believable development arcs, and there are sweet love stories tucked inside each book too. Plus, I absolutely adore the artwork on the cover.

Inkling

@secretbees Is that the prequel to Calling on Dragons???!! If so, EXCITE, I LOVED that book! I had no idea it was part of a series! (Poor school, poor library, disjointed serieses forever etc.)

Inkling

@secretbees Buying everything for pennies on Amazon, btw.

wee_ramekin

@wee_ramekin Interestingly, I just discovered that Shannon Hale is also a Mormon author. I didn't know this about her until just yesterday; her books do not have the religious/conservative agenda which others seem to have picked up from the Twilight series (I haven't actually read the Twilight books, so I can't speak to whether or not this agenda exists, though it seems from the commentary on the book that it does!).

Ms. B@twitter

There are some good points here (nothing wrong with pregnancy being discussed more often in teen literature, for instance) -- but I feel a lot of your argument is undercut by the unhealthiness of Bella and Edward's relationship. You ask if we feminists are to determine if some desires are good or bad. I say: desire just IS, it's not bad or good -- but sometimes choosing to act on certain desires _is_ a bad thing. Bella's decision to stay with an emotionally (and sometimes physically) abusive stalker just because she desires him is, y'know, a bad decision. Worst of all, the book gives her no consequences for this decision; the violence of her pregnancy and birth has nothing to do with Edward's emotional abuse to her for the past three books. His behavior towards Bella is not even portrayed as abuse -- but it is.

I see your point, but I think there's too much missing in terms of follow-through consequences for this book to really be considered a good window into feminine issues.

angermonkey

@Ms. B@twitter I don't know, I go back and forth on the healthy/unhealthy aspect of their relationship. The problem is that the relationship is held up as an ideal, when it's really a story about two pretty damaged people hooking up and precipitating out of the dating pool, so to speak. The movie Secretary hits me at almost the exact level, and I've see THAT held up as an example of a "feminist movie."

I'm not saying you're wrong, Edward's squicky, but she's ALSO pretty manipulative.

Ms. B@twitter

@angermonkey The problem with saying that the story is about "two pretty damaged people hooking up" is that I don't think you _can_ make the argument that the story is about two pretty damaged people hooking up. Because -- of course Edward and Bella both have issues. But stories about damaged people ought to show consequences to the characters' actions (just like stories about any other type of character, of course), and Bella and Edward never suffer any negative consequences in their relationship. Edward's emotional abuse, Bella's manipulative streak ... nothing ever comes of those aspects of their character journey. (In fact, I'm not even sure that Edward _has_ a character journey.) Because that relationship is held up as the ideal, they are _rewarded_ for their unhealthy control issues, instead of having to face consequences for them that challenge them to change and grow, or that they refuse to change and grow in the face of. And you can't argue that it's a case of the latter, I feel, because again: there are no negative consequences to their refusal to change. In fact, since the relationship is heralded as an ideal one, they are *rewarded* for that refusal to change.

Plus: Bella trying to get her way with Edward sort of pales in comparison to the super-strong indestructible immortal being dragging her through the parking lot and watching her in her sleep and _taking the engine out of her truck_. Edward is definitely a sexist portrayal of a guy (he's not allowed any outside passions or goals in life outside of Bella), but when it comes to being flat-out abusive his character takes the proverbial cake.

angermonkey

@Ms. B@twitter Okay, first off, let me be ENTIRELY clear: These books are terrible. Do not for a second confuse me for a fan. They are, however, entertaining because they're a weird hit of stupid adolescence.

That said,I don't know if I agree with your points? I mean, yes, there are no consequences to their shitty decisions. And... that's kind of life, you know? Plenty of people do just fine being total trainwrecks. My problem, as stated before, is not with the BOOK, per se, it's that it's held up as a relationship ideal. The mechanics OF the relationship are sort of separate from what the social machine makes it to be.

As for your last point: being passive and a victim CLEARLY turns Bella's crank, so to speak, so why so judgey? Plus, I think he takes the _spark plugs_ out of her truck. Still creepy and weird but some people get off on that.

...aaaaand at that point we're psychoanalyzing a very 2 dimensional fictional character, which I just can't do without more coffee. My point, though, is that I cannot get all pearl clutchy about Edward's borderline abusive behavior because HE IS A GODDAMNED VAMPIRE and his behavior is the LEAST of his troubles as a character.

Ms. B@twitter

@angermonkey "being passive and a victim CLEARLY turns Bella's crank, so to speak, so why so judgey?"

I am judgey of abusive boyfriends. Even fictional ones. That's why.

I think I'm gonna bow out here, because we are on diametrically opposite sides of the universe when it comes to our opinion on this and, y'know, that's okay. I guess we could keep debating for the sake of debating (which is often fun), but in this particular case my opinion is so strong it wouldn't, ah, be any fun, at least for me. I see your points; I don't agree; and vice versa for you. Which is all fair enough.

Enjoy the coffee. I would kill for some coffee this morning.

glitterary

YESSSSS. On the one hand, I agree that Stephenie Meyer probably wasn't going for all the things I view as positive elements in the novels--basically what this very good essay describes, but also Bella's complete unapologetic self-absorbedness, and the very clear message that people in their first loves, in general, are awful at being in relationships. You don't know how to act, you don't know what's expected of you.

Just because Meyer's warped perspective thinks that's romantic rather than simply the product of inexperience, doesn't mean it isn't very realistic emotionally. Though, as some people have pointed out, it's a little worrisome how young girls might internalise Edward's behaviour as a romantic ideal. Then again, I think most people would agree that Mr Darcy is also a total wanker, and we're able to let him play the hero because we know it's fiction.

I *like* how Bella flails and cries and can't make up her mind, and is sometimes very brave and sometimes makes mistakes. That's what it's like being a teenager.

Bittersweet

@glitterary: *Completely* disagree that Mr. Darcy is a total wanker and not a hero, but hey, believe what you want.

melis

Mr Darcy is 90% cravat and 10% silent appeal. Women just love cravats; he's kind of boring.

wharrgarbl

@glitterary Dunno about the Darcy thing. You get a pretty good sense that he's not that much of a wanker for the time from reading the book. Mr. Darcy was a great pick during a time when most women had to settle for Mr. Collins and spend the rest of your life hiding in the rooms with the worst view. Put him in a modern setting, and I'm hoping most women would be a little more discerning.

When we can still do weekly cry-your-eyes-out round-ups of all the women, children, and dudes dead because nobody took it seriously when the stalkers escalated...it seems way more irresponsible to portray that sort of behavior as a romantic ideal. Especially if you're not even going to cloak it "long, long ago" or punt it into a fairy kingdom where vampires sunbathe and mermaids do your taxes.

glitterary

@wharrgarbl @Bittersweet Okay, adjusting for context, Darcy was more of a catch back then. But now? He's rude, he's proud, he tells Lizzie he doesn't like her, her family, and broke up her sister and his friend--he may not *be* a wanker, as he fixes it in the end, but he sure as hell acts like one for most of the book.

teaandcakeordeath

@melis
BBC Mr Darcy ie Colin Firth ie the only REAL Darcy was 90% wet white shirt and 10% hamana hamana hamana

timesnewroman

@glitterary I would argue the v important difference between Darcy and Edward is that Darcy has to make amends for his behaviour and change before he gets the girl, whereas Edward's behaviour is rewarded and seen as ideal.

timesnewroman

Also, it's not like Elizabeth puts up with it -- the first time he proposes, before he's done anything decent, she tells him to fuck off.

annepersand

@wharrgarbl Also even within the book it's made pretty explicit that the reason that he's so rude is that he's unbelievably socially awkward and shy. In a time when a person of Darcy's status is supposed to spend most of his life in public, you can see why that would make him somewhat tetchy/rude. Obviously his pride is still an issue, though, although that obviously changes over the course of the book.

Bittersweet

@glitterary: I dunno, given all the guys we hear about in Ask a Dude and Ask a Lady, Mr. Darcy still seems like a good catch today, even with all his shortcomings...

City_Dater

@timesnewroman

Exactly! As Elizabeth says to Jane, speaking of Darcy and Wickham, "one of them got all the good qualities, the other got all the appearance of them." Darcy doesn't get Elizabeth to marry him until he reveals himself to be a basically decent man who is willing to work on his crap social skills and weird rich person warped values. Which probably makes P&P particularly insidious fantasy fodder: he'll secretly love you even when you're being unreasonable and THEN he'll change for you! Aahhhh!
But the romanticizing of abuse in the Twilight series is still way worse.

Faintly Macabre

@Bittersweet Especially as he likes a lady who reads!

joie

@Bittersweet Mr. Darcy is a catch, but Captain Wentworth is a STEAL. He's like a grand slam. #teampersuasion

RK Fire

@heyits YES YES YES. He may seem like he has a bit of a grudge and is snubbing you, but really, it's just because he's still so hurt after all these years! And then he realizes what an asshole he's being and apologizes. #teampersuasion #austen4eva

annepersand

@heyits "I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in

F. W.

I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house this evening or never."

Bittersweet

@heyits: Team Knightley. Have always had a thing for hot older guys who tell me when I'm being a dork. Married one, even.

@annepersand: *swoon*

joie

@annepersand http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NbeaxYubkc&feature=related

annepersand

@heyits Oh, I am a total partisan for the 1995 version! Ciaran Hinds can GET IT.

melis

@annepersand "You alone have brought me to Bath." Now that's love.

Ellie

What do you guys think about Jane Eyre? I think she is a really interesting case - she fills a very passive role in society, but she's totally self-actualized within her own mind and values.

meetapossum@twitter

@melis Ha! I remember studying abroad in Bath, and they have a Jane Austen museum and a tiny statue/puppet of her in the house where she used to live. I found that very amusing after my Brit Lit professor told me, essentially, "Jane Austen hated Bath! Every time something horrible happens to someone it's in Bath!"

Though I am of the opinion that it's a very lovely place, even if they are so snobby about the look of their city that they have a fake castle wall up on the hill.

BoozinSusan

@heyits I'm a huge Austen fan, but my immediate takeaway from that clip is Wow, that was a SHITTON of trembly chin action.

pterodactgirl

I'm going to put this link to Dana Stevens' review of Eclipse here because it summarizes a lot of what I felt when I (secretly, ashamedly) read the books. http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/movies/2010/06/teenagers_in_love.html

I particularly like this bit: "What Twilight has to offer its fans is not the wholesome noonday sun of feminism but the sick, weird moonlight of actual desire." I actually think this nails the reason the books are so successful, even with people like me who can see that they're poorly written and are bothered by Meyer's seemingly anti-feminist take on relationships. Somehow, despite her many faults, she nails what it feels like to be in love as a teenager. The supernatural/end-of-the-world situations Bella is constantly thrown into actually feel about as serious as I can remember my first crushes feeling--and the first time someone actually loved me back? Don't even get me started.

Faintly Macabre

This is totally unintellectual, but I thought this would be a proper place to ask: I'm visiting a friend/fellow English major this weekend who finds Twilight as amusing and horrible as I do. We're thinking of seeing Breaking Dawn for its probable hilarity, but there's the problem of spending time and money for it, and boosting the movie's profits. Yes or no?

annepersand

@Faintly Macabre Do it, Robert Pattinson hates everything his life has become, the least you can do is throw a couple of dollars his way.

melis

@Faintly Macabre Or just rent Little Ashes. That mustache! The awkwardly choreographed gay sex scenes! THAT MUSTACHE!

SarahP

@Faintly Macabre
1.) Do it.
1a.) Bring whiskey

Faintly Macabre

@annepersand Oh, I love the things Robert Pattinson has said about Twilight and Stephanie Meyer--I practically have a collection of them. That said, I don't feel the need to compensate him until my income is closer to 1% of what he makes.

annepersand

@Faintly Macabre Reasonable. I have gone to every Twilight movie drunk as a skunk and raucously laughed my way through them to the irritation of everyone around me and it has been tremendous fun, so I still recommend it.

SBGBlogs

@Faintly Macabre Oh girl, I could not respect those books or movies less and I will be attending my THIRD midnight opening this week! Like annepersand, the secret is booze! My sister and I spike our sodas and have just the best time. Do it!

SweetAlissum

@melis Totally saw that movie in theatres with a friend. It was nothing short of amazing hilarity.

SweetAlissum

@Faintly Macabre I normally reconcile my guilt at giving Twilight any money by paying for a different (better) film and sneak into Twilight instead. I do also sneak in booze with friends and laugh obnoxiously through it all. Cherished memories!

Faintly Macabre

@SweetAlissum Ooh, that's a brilliant idea! I'm a total wimp, but I'd probably have liquid courage...

femme cassidy

@Faintly Macabre Chiming in on team See It, And Bring A Flask. Also, as someone who physically cannot stop myself from live-producing my own version of Rifftrax when watching a stupid movie: Maybe wait a few days to see it, so that if you laugh at something that wasn't supposed to be funny, you don't get beaten to death by the hardcore fans.

dustwindbun

@Faintly Macabre (btw name is awesome) I saw New Moon with my boyfriend and our best friends, wearing t-shirts he had made saying "Team Edward VII" and "Team Jacobins" because my boyfriend is a nerd in disguise. I knew it was the right choice when RPat walked on screen and my friend screamed from the front row "Avada Kedavra! You're dead, Cedric!" and half the theater cracked up.

Ellie

I really liked this article. I think the points about how not all adolescent girls really are self-actualized, they don't always have to read about someone who is, it's a lot easier to write and read about "strong female characters" as an adult, etc. are all excellent. However, there really are a lot of YA books that don't have self-actualized characters and are thereby appealing. "I Capture The Castle," by Dodie Smith, this book I just read "Fat Cat" by Robin Brande (twist on conventional weight-loss leads to discovery of value of inner beauty narrative), "My Heartbeat" by Garrett Freymann-Weyr (so confused she starts dating her brother's ex boyfriend!), "A Certain Slant of Light" by Laura Whitcomb(a pre-Twilight supernatural romance where teenage ghost meets, falls in love with and has sex with other teenage ghost!). All of these are better written and more nuanced than Twilight. So yes, I definitely take all these points about how Twilight's appeal probably actually lies in the very things that almost everyone criticizes about it, but I think it's not the only solution to that problem, either.

iceberg

@Ellie Good points. Also, my personal feeling is that teenagers who read these books are maybe not applying as much critical thinking as say a literary scholar or even an adult Hairpin reader... they're more likely to accept at face value the message that Meyer is putting out rather than the one that's been put forward in this post.

teaandcakeordeath

@Ellie
Ive never read a book that captured unrequieted love as well as 'I capture the castle', and I agree with you in that the fact Cassandra doesn't even understand her own feelings is what makes her so relatable.

ingrid.tuesday

@Ellie I CAPTURE THE CASTLE. So good!

annepersand

@all I CAPTURE THE CASTLE. Everyone should read this book.

melis

"Only the margin left to write on now. I love you, I love you, I love you."

Ellie

Yay so much love for I Capture The Castle! It really is a wonderful account of unrequited love. I also find the depiction of her relationship with Stephen incredibly original and compelling.

drunkenbee

@Ellie "Twilight's appeal probably actually lies in the very things that almost everyone criticizes about it, but I think it's not the only solution to that problem, either." YES YES. Thanks for the YA recs...totally checking them out.

Ellie

@drunkenbee You're welcome! "My Heartbeat" in particular is possibly my favorite YA book ever. It's really different and just amazing.

teaandcakeordeath

@ Ellie
I read ICTC again recently(which explains the love) and its weird how all my feelings towards the characters were inverted after a decade. Particularly to Stephen. 10 years ago I thought he was a drip. Now I think I yearn for him (If yearning was something people did post 1811)

frigwiggin

@Ellie I Capture the Castle was mentioned in Jo Walton's Among Others! One of the few books that the main character read which I hadn't. Going on a hunt now...

(P.S. Read Among Others, anybody who's reading this! So good--plus, the only book I've read where the main character, who is a young woman, reads a great deal of science fiction along with her fantasy.)

Beck Rea@facebook

@melis: Oh, God. Most horribly wonderful ending in the history of ever. I loved that book.

annepersand

My issue with Twilight is not so much Bella's behavior as Edward's. Being in emotional thrall to a sexy jerk is an absolutely expected part of being a teenage girl - but that doesn't mean we have to treat the sexy jerk as some sort of idealized vision of manhood, like the books do. And I suppose you could make the argument that the book is tightly confined to Bella's viewpoint, so of course Edward is romanticized, since that's how she sees him. But we don't really get a trustworthy, contradictory outside perspective and to be honest I don't trust Stephenie Meyer enough as an author to believe that she's doing next-level things with unreliable narrators here (all you death-of-the-author people can scurry along).

Furthermore, we're never given a model for positive femininity that doesn't in some way uphold the conservative, creepy, wilting-damsel-wants-babies portrayal of Bella. We're meant to believe that Alice is an awesome character because she stans for Bella and Edward from the beginning, Rosalie's initially a bitch but it's okay in the end because the only reason she's awful is that she's upset that she never got babies, Esme is some sort of archetypical mother figure, and Bella's mother is given literally no character development beyond the fact that it is constantly emphasized that she cannot take care of herself.

In sum, I feel like interesting points are being made here about Bella as a character removed from the entire context of the rest of the series, but within that context, I just can't read her as anything but a Genuinely Bad Idea.

sam.i.am

@annepersand Edward creeps me out. I get why Bella likes him -- pretty boys onto which you can project your fantasies are the bread and butter of teenagedom -- but the 100-year old vampire falling in love with a 16-year old girl? That skeeves me out. And then to justify it by saying she's his destiny or whatever? That's almost dangerous.

annepersand

@sam.i.am The "falling in love" I find less creepy (you could justify it, I suppose, as instead of thinking of him as 100 years old, thinking of him as like, 17 with all that that implies FOREVER) than the way that it manifests itself - the gaslighting, the watching her while she sleeps, the taking the goddamn engine out of her truck so she can't see her ONLY good friend...

miwome

@sam.i.am This is all even worse for me because the boyfriend I had when I was 16 (who was at least my age) TALKED EXACTLY LIKE THIS. He told me after the fact that when I was finally breaking up with him (we were by then 18), he didn't actually fulfill my MANY requests to back off, lighten up, give me some space, etc. because he JUST KNEW we were destined to get married, so there was no way I could break up with him, so it was fine. I MEAN. AUGH.

Bebe

@miwome My HS boyfriend cried when I broke with him because he, too, believed we were Meant To Be, and had thought we were going to get married. When I was like, "Um, we *just* turned 17," he said, "So? It's our destiny!" Then threatened to kill himself because I was refusing to participate in our destiny.

This Twu Wuv/You are my destiny crap is dangerous for everyone.

miwome

@Bebe I really should have run when he freaked out, barely two months into our relationship, that I couldn't be in town for his birthday because I was going on a long-planned trip with my chorus group. Or maybe when it became obvious that he'd hung his Twu Wuv Destiny Hat on a previous girl and had an elaborate theory about why that hadn't worked out, which he was determined not to repeat with me. (Hint: the problem involved SEXOHNO!)

What mystifies me is that it took a WHOLE OTHER boyfriend to finally rid me of the last of my Captain Save-A-Ho complex.

lafleur

I love this piece. I do think, however, that Stephanie Meyer isn't a good enough writer to have consciously crafted the Bella that you describe here. I think you also gloss over the very strong anti-feminist plot points (like Bella not ever considering the choice to abort a fetus that is literally destroying her body, against the advice of her husband and doctor). When read literally, the book is a more than a little anti-woman. (In fact, it makes me nervous that very young women reading it can't possibly grasp your interpretation.)

THAT being said, I loved it and it's fascinating to hear a different point of view on these books.

annepersand

@lafleur LOL we both took the same "Stephenie Meyer is not smart enough for this" tack. Truuuue story.

melis

@annepersand You can always look at it from another perspective: Edward (what's his last name? Vampire? Ed Vampire? Ed...Bitey? Shit, I forget) is FIRMLY PRO-CHOICE.

melis

Cullen! It's Cullen, not Vampire.

arizonatime

Mormon vampire baby. 'nuff said.

annepersand

@melis Vampire is his middle name. Edward Vampire Mopey Cullen.

sam.i.am

@melis Acula. Dr. Acula.

D.@twitter

@arizonatime It will probably run for president one of these days.

Ophelia

OHMYGODSHEISEVERYWHERE

annepersand

@Ophelia It's Kristen Stewart Week (Month? YEAR???) here at the 'Pin!

melis

@Ophelia You'll notice I restrained myself admirably when it was Lindsay Lohan town up in here. The least you could do is extend me the same courtesy.

Ophelia

@melis I'm just waiting for the day we all get to talk about Covert Affairs and the bizarre theater of mesmerizing that is Piper Perabo's facial expressions.

melis

@Ophelia Replace Covert Affairs with Imagine Me & You and I am totally there.

Ophelia

@melis also, did you get the bacon I fedexed you?

Ophelia

@melis You have yourself a deal.

miwome

@Ophelia YES PLEASE. That woman has fifty different smiles, I SWEAR TO GOD. (Also, Auggie. Can we just talk about Auggie? And maybe Jay? Thanks.)

photoalice

@Ophelia This means I can expect a How to be a Girl tutorial on her stunning, gorgeous eyebrows?

Ophelia

@miwome weirdly, when watching anything she's in, I find myself making facial expressions along with the TV. It's kind of creepy, now that I think about it.

miwome

@Ophelia I have definitely tried to reproduce a couple of her expressions, but not while the show's on. I'm just like that, though. The greatest accomplishment of my twelfth year was when, through dedicated practice, I got my eyebrows to reliably do the wave.

atipofthehat

@melis

The door to her NY apt was visible from the site of two NYC 'Pin ups. I could have led you over and shown you!

julie lauren

i'm a huge, HUGE buffy nerd who just realized the other day how disturbing it is that all the popular vampire series feature centurion vampire heros who are in love with teenage girls. like, why wouldn't a dude who had been around for HUNDREDS OF YEARS want to be with someone who has at least left her childhood home. and then it was like, OH DUH OUR BRAINS DON'T MATTER; OUR BODIES DO.

and then i was sad and wondered how much my vampire obsessed teen-hood had informed my feelings about my own aging as a woman.

i dunno. sorry if this is off topic. at least buffy had her own personality. bella is such a cipher she hardly exists.

Ellie

@julie lauren I know this isn't narratively legitimate but I feel like in Buffy it made a little more sense that demons were into her because she was made "inhuman" herself by being the Slayer (especially in seasons 6 and 7). I think her affair with Spike makes a lot more sense in that regard because she and he actually had a lot in common at that point. The thing with Angel, I never really got why he was interested (I can't believe how young she was supposed to be then, etiher).

julie lauren

@Ellie that's a good point.

wharrgarbl

@julie lauren Well, also, they're grown men who never go out in daylight and lead proscribed existences on the fringe of society. Keep in mind, the genre hasn't come so very far from its roots as a story about a foreign, contaminating, rapist/sex-predator monster.

Though also these stories appeal to teenage girls, so they get cast as heroines blah blah blah a sexy dude she can control or tame blah blah blah no-penis intercourse yakkity smakkity paging dr. freud etc. There's a lot of reasons.

becomeriver

@Ellie It was all about the tortured repenting hero wanting to protect the vulnerable then-damsel!

Angel: I watched you. And I saw you called. It was a bright afternoon out in front of your school. You walked down the steps...and, um... and I loved you.
Buffy: Why?
Angel: 'Cause I could see your heart. You held it before you for everyone to see, and I worried that it would be bruised or torn, and more than anything in my life I wanted to keep it safe. To warm it with my own.
Buffy: That's beautiful. Or taken literally, incredibly gross.

miwome

@becomeriver See, Buffy had a sense of humor. That made a huge difference to me. I love Katniss Everdeen, but she takes a joke about as well as I would take a dead fish to the face.

julie lauren

@becomeriver but why couldn't he have seen a LAW STUDENT walking down the steps. haha

again, i love buffy. as a queer feminist no other show has ever made me feel more spoken to, i just had never really thought over how bizarre the idea of VERY grown-ass-men wanting to be with little girls was. and by bizarre i mean boringly typical, i guess.

i kindof came to this realization via a conversation about how exasperating i find it that these smart, funny men in the media (like, for example, bill maher) are so often giant misogynists and it makes me want to punch walls.

sorry this is disjointed- i'm feeling loopy and pre-cold/ fluey today.

julie lauren

@julie lauren and via a longer conversation with another friend in her 30's about when the exact moment we realized that our "smartness" wasn't a selling point in the dating scene was. and it all just kindof meshed into a general UGHHHH feeling about what we tell girls is what makes them desirable.

koume

@julie lauren This has always freaked me out, most especially because if we reverse the sex of the participants, and the lady-vampire is hundreds of years old and the nubile youth is male, then the first thing you think is well, she's using him for sex. Or blood. But definitely not love or romance, and if we were told to believe that, we'd be like, "Yeah, I didn't want to date sixteen year old boys when I was sixteen. Why would anyone want to do that when they're 300?" It's completely implausible! So we're trained to think that young girls are desirable and that really inappropriate relationships are normal if it's older man-younger lady, and then we wind up with Twilight.

bouncy castle

@julie lauren I don't think it's off-topic at all to bring up Buffy, as she is literally the complete opposite of Bella in almost every single way and still manages to represent what it's like to be a teenaged girl JUST FINE THANK YOU.

wharrgarbl

@julie lauren Basically for me a lot of the current vampire weirdness was explained by looking at it from the perspective of a teenage girl. (It's less jarring when you have a self-motivated heroine like Buffy than when you have a dishrag of a heroine like Bella, but centuries is centuries no matter how you slice it. So an adult is looking at it going "Yeah, this is why we passed Megan's Law.") Basically, you want the older boyfriend because older guys seem suaver and more sophisticated and less "bros before hos" than your peers. They're grown-up but not too grown-up. They got turned young, so they don't look like your dad. They don't have bills to pay or a real job. (I think the centuries and centuries thing is actually so that it moves it outside time, almost, instead of being all Captain America about it. Nobody wants to listen to Abe Simpson stories from their magical boyfriend.) But they still pay a lot of attention to you! And they don't snub you in front of their cool friends! And even though they're really powerful, you have more social power than them, because you're still human, and there's still some vampire magic bullshit that you can fall back on in case stuff gets too real! It's like a super-sexy adult relationship as idealized from a teen's perspective, with the training wheels on. But all that's laid on top of the original "they're going to give you and everyone you ever loved TB, syphilis, and Catholicism" narrative.

wharrgarbl

@koume If it was cool for teen boys to read romance novels, there would probably be a lot of boy-porn featuring the beautiful twenty-something woman who finds them absolutely fascinating and never gets tired of hearing about Halo or sports and can't get pregnant and knows what she wants in bed but totally understands if they're not sure yet and finds their lack of experience utterly charming and you probably get the drill by now.

Whereas we look at that and yell "Get the fuck away from my son, Mary Kay Letourneau!".

themegnapkin

@julie lauren I agree, but it's even more disturbing for me that Edward *never had sex (or a relationship) before Bella.* I guess on the one hand, he and Bella are at the same stage relationship-wise. But then, he's a 100+ year old dude with the experience of a teenager.

wharrgarbl

@themegnapkin Fate kept him in his original packaging just for her!

themegnapkin

@wharrgarbl SOOOOO CREEEEEEPY!

wharrgarbl

@julie lauren Not trying to write a thesis on this, I swear, but...

I think the "aimed at teen girls" thing is illustrated by how different the "aimed at grown-ass women" sexy-vampires are. The relationship's been leveled--vampires are out, or they're both supernatural in some way. She's usually got something big of her own, either to help him out or shut him down. He's probably still really old, older than her, but there's more to what attracts him to her and there's often some compensating disadvantage he's at. Not that adult sexy-times vampire porn is all awesome and perfect, but it's a lot more in tune with what an adult woman would be looking for in an adult man, as opposed to what a teen wants from her First Boyfriend.

miwome

Huh. Haven't read them, probably won't (I'm just way too into the whole "girl becomes knight/joins army/enters Hunger Games/escapes zombies and also Has Life Issues; probably finds love a few books later" type thing), but this was interesting. The Gothic pregnancy/parturition thing really made a lot of sense to me due to my deep, geeky interest in fairy tales and myths. So many deal with births gone wrong (Lilit, WHERE YOU AT).

HMSBeagle

@Faintly Macabre You should pirate it. Morally, it's the better choice.

miwome

@heliotropegerbil8 That's what I thought, too. And get drunk and watch it with her friend. My friend and I did that with the Percy Jackson movie, because it's such a laughable mauling of the book. We may or may not have then double-featured it with Hercules.

The second option is to sneak mad alky into the theater and become rowdy enough as to ruin it for everybody else.

Faintly Macabre

@miwome This theater sells alcohol! It's an awesome little independent theater near a college, so they have a decent bar inside. I'm hoping that if we go, most of the audience will be people like us who won't stab/bite us for laughing.

miwome

@Faintly Macabre WHAT GET OUT OF TOWN. I did not know such bliss was possible. Boston's Puritanical heritage STRIKES AGAIN.

Faintly Macabre

@miwome At the risk of throwing too much personal info onto the internet, I'm talking about Somerville Theater! So just a T ride away from you, probably.

annepersand

@miwome Brattle theater has a bar as well! You are clearly not drinking at the right movie theaters in Boston!

miwome

@Faintly Macabre WHAAAT this is a very good day. Probably I didn't know this because the last time I lived here I was both underage and straight-edge. Mission Catch-Up: ACTIVATE.

E
E

So. Is there a good book about a heroine who has emotional shit going on and is also a limber dragon slayer? I would nominate "Deerskin" as possibly one of the BEST examples of this. The character literally starts out as a sweet little helpless princess and ends up as a marathon running dog trainer. The horror and power of childbirth is also in the book as well as a romantic plot that talks about learning your own feelings. I was definitely madly in love with that book as a teen.

So Bella swoons, she pines and then she gets the guy in the end. I think we need to have narrative arcs that explore this beginning, but then examine what happens when you pine for the bad boy and he turns out not to have a heart of gold and you pick yourself up, or the guy who looked sexy from a distance turns out to be lame up close, or your best friend ends up with him.

I do like this criticism of the traditional hero's journey that essentially starts with a fully formed person in a bad place- even though they're poor or on a quest they are still equipped with all the necessary skills and determination to carry on. That makes sense to me. It's just that starting with a character that is entirely passive and emotional or entirely active and unfeeling are both fictional models that don't push beyond our existing narratives about what it means to be a woman or man. We need heroines who are both emotive and active, who learn and make mistakes. And fiction that does that is rare and hard to come by.

You lose me at calling Bella a counterpoint to Buffy. Buffy, even though she is strong, is a confused person. She sulks, she pines,she has a rich interior emotional life as she wanders through graveyards thinking about her ideal boyfriend. She's very much like Bella, except she kills things too. She's inconsistent- she kills some vampires and doesn't kill others. She makes mistakes. I would argue that she is a poor example to use as a contrast to Bella, because she's not emotionally stunted at all. In fact that's what is amazing about Buffy- as a regular teenager with superpowers she says, "WHY ME?!" all the damn time.

miwome

@E Def gonna be checking out that book.

Ophelia

@E Yes! I love that book, and was thinking about it the other day when I saw a dog that looks JUST like I imagined hers to look like.

E
E

@Ophelia Did you have the one with the fantastic cover art?! The version I had, her hair was this pinkish grey and the dog was there too, and she was this moon maiden, and then I was DUMB and loaned that one to someone and now I cannot find a copy with the best cover art ever.

E
E

Ahh! I found the cover! http://gel.com.au/koala/deerskin.jpg

area@twitter

@E I have that version! Really hard to read at points (jfc, emotionally wrenching and violent), but so, so good. Plus doesn't the author talk about how she started to write it because the original Perrault story "Donkeyskin" made her absolutely furious?

E
E

@area@twitter yes! She's awesome. I love love love Robin McKinley. She's a little bad at making her male love interests actually swoony (In most instances they're sort of like cardboard cutout men), but the writing and the lush fairytale-ishness and the female characters, so so good.

miwome

@E OH CRAP it's Robin McKinley?! Gotta read it right now gotta read it gotta read it

Ophelia

@E Yes, that one!

@area@twitter I remember that, too - not sure where I read it, though, and a cursory search didn't bring up anything specifically by McKinley about it?

D.@twitter

@E You've just inspired me to embark on a "Buffy" marathon (I have all seven seasons on DVD natch). Obviously I need to do this RIGHT AWAY, and not study for an upcoming endocrinology exam. For feminism.
Also, LOVED "Deerskin." The brutality and unfairness of an attack, the long healing process abetted by another woman, an emphasis on positive traditionally feminine traits, like empathy and kindness...a really beautiful book.

Super Nintendo Chalmers

@E Yes! Impromptu Robin McKinley lovefest has motivated me to register. Apparently Deerskin is sort of controversial amongst her fans and I guess I can see why even though I love it into the tiniest pieces imaginable.

Also for McKinley's take on the human/vampire thing, I really did not expect to adore Sunshine as much as I did because I am not so much a vampire person but oh land, it is good. The heroine is a baker and you're never really allowed to forget for one second that vampires have rather monstrous qualities and are Not Human.

area@twitter

@EddieMcCandry Oh yeahhhh. Love me some Sunshine. There's another great flawed, uncertain, totally out-of-her-depth heroine. The whole thing where she's not sure if she's going to go crazy? So compelling, I still think about that. I don't always agree with what she does but she feels so TRUE.

And yeah, I can see why Deerskin is controversial- I love it but it's so hard to read, just because of the horrible things Lissar lives through. I think that's part of why it's so powerful though, it's about coming through inconceivable horror and finding out what's on the other side.

(Also on a much lighter note I realize I may have loved it because of the Best Friend Dog. BEST FRIEND DOG!)

drunkenbee

@E Really excited to check Deerskin out.

Super Nintendo Chalmers

@area@twitter I feel you on the Sunshine heroine ambivalence. For the first part of the book I sort of vacillated between being sort of meh and vaguely annoyed by her -- a feature not a bug because like you say she did feel TRUE -- but then a switch flipped somewhere and I was all like I LOVE this woman and she is not always easy to like but I definitely love her.

I always did want a BFD. Most of my dogs have been sweet but sorta dopey.

area@twitter

@EddieMcCandry Yeah, I felt the same way- not sure where the switch flipped for me either, I just know I started really rooting for her, even if I didn't necessarily like her all the time. I was also impressed like you were with how alien the vampires remain, they are very much an Other and an enemy and hard to understand at the best of times.

I hold out hope that the dog I am going to adopt (in a few years! when I pay off my credit card! etc!) will be a BFD. Although I will love it even if, like the Goldens I grew up with, it exists only to hoover food off the floor and be an utter doofus.

area@twitter

@Ophelia Now I can't find the thing about Donkeyskin either, and I could have sworn I read it online. Damn.

frigwiggin

@E That copy is sitting on the table next to me right now! I read Chalice a bit ago with my book club and Deerskin seemed like a good follow-up.

Super Nintendo Chalmers

@figwiggin What did you think of Chalice? It's on my to-read list and I'm always rearranging the order of things.

frigwiggin

@EddieMcCandry I liked it! It's very different from most fantasy novels I've read--I love that the world isn't laid out for the reader all easy-like, but it all comes from what Mirasol knows, which is limited by her experience and roots in one area, doing one thing. I haven't read any other McKinley to compare it to, but I liked its take on people who have power thrust upon them and how that changes them. Also, I put so much honey in my tea while reading it, oh my goodness.

MEGA VENUTIAN SPACE SCORPION

@E Thank you! The ‘Buffy as shorthand for action hero woman with no substance thing’ has been coming up on the internet a lot recently and it makes no sense. Can we have a group re-watch of Buffy please? I’ve also got a problem with taking one character from an ensemble show and claiming that it pushes a limited idea of femininity, because: Willow, Jenny, Cordelia, Anya, Joyce, Tara! You’ve got a spectrum that ranges from the traditional mother to the bitchy prom queen stereotype and they’re all complex, interesting, and at least a little awesome. I’m not saying that the show is a perfect feminist masterpiece, but I don’t think one dimensional women were ever an issue.

Feminist Killjoy

Thought-provoking article. Her blog is really touching as well.

DarthRachel

"Lisbeth Salander, the heroine of the popular The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo series, is emotionally stunted but, damn it, she actualizes herself! She punishes the people who hurt her, she sleeps with whomever she wishes, she zips around on a motorcycle, and she’s a master computer hacker. In other words, our actualized female heroine might as well be a tiny man."

... wut

NorieY

My big issue with Twilight, and Bella, besides the skeevy-ness of the relationship, is that Bella isn't even a real character. I don't need my young heroines to be strong in the masculine, ass-kicking, self actualized sense; I need them to be strong in the sense that they have easily definable characteristics, strengths, flaws, ect. Bella is left purposely blank, her physical features aren't even well defined. Ok, so she's thin, brown haired and eyed, clumsy and shy. That's not a character, it's a mold in which any young woman reading the novel can place herself in. Almost every character in those books are completely static, their growth is superficial at best, and the result of some supernatural change. This is not a good role model for young women. Also, I'm going to put this out there, being perpetually 17 would be terrible and Meyer's message that this is the ideal is flat-out absurd.

themegnapkin

@NorieY But isn't this - Bella's blankness - largely responsible for why the books are so popular? You're right - physically she's hardly described, and as for other traits, she's clumsy & shy, she does well enough at school, and she likes to read. That describes probably 80% of the girls I knew in high school, including me. It requires almost no mental work to substitute yourself for Bella - it's fantasizing for lazy people.
(I read the books and loved them, while acknowledging their awful-ness.)

NorieY

@themegnapkin Oh, it's absolutely why the books have such appeal. My point is that makes her a terrible role model, since it's basically written as chaste porn for teenagers.

Palmetto

@NorieY My impression when reading the series was that Twilight is kind of like a "choose your own adventure" book- you're the attractive (but slightly clumsy) teen with low self esteem who goes to a new school and suddenly! everyone thinks you're beautiful and interesting! The guys love you! Girls want to be your friend! A perfect man with a dark past is obsessed with you! It's so easy to put yourself into the story and live out the impossible 'teen dream', and that's why it's probably so appealing. I'm sure I read an article about it somewhere...

themegnapkin

@NorieY totally agree.

Keith Kisser@facebook

@NorieY Exactly. Bella isn't a character, she's a McGuffin, an object to be hoarded, fought over (by men) and fetishised. Those blank pages representing Bella's mental state when Edward isn't around are extremely telling. Without a man to observe her, she literally has no presence in the story. She neither thinks about her predicament nor feels anything that registers as an emotion or a thought. She has about as much agency as the Maltese Falcon* (objectively worthless except for the secret thing inside her that everyone really wants).

________
*I was going to say the Ark of the Covenant in Indiana Jones, but the Ark has at least enough agency to melt some Nazis for failing to recognize its inherent inertia. The Ark will not tolerate being used crassly for the needs of men. Bella exists solely for that purpose.

D.@twitter

I don't know, I feel like this is a mainstream opinion in sheep's clothes. While I think the author has some good points--especially about motherhood--I think it's ridiculous to state that girls aren't being properly encouraged to be passive because they demonstrably ARE.
When I was in middle school, I discovered Tamora Pierce, who I still think creates fantastic female characters: her Alanna is powerful, smart, but still very much a woman in the physical sense, meaning she menstruates and mothers in the series.
Also, most feminists do NOT laud Lisbeth Salander as a feminist hero, and in fact, the entire series (which I have declined to read, since I don't get off on prolonged passages about the rape and torture of women) has been criticized for being problematic ("Tiger Beatdown" did a really good article about this a while ago: http://tigerbeatdown.com/2010/07/29/the-girl-with-the-lots-of-creepy-disturbing-torture-that-pissed-me-off-on-stieg-larsson/).
Frankly, I'm becoming a bit worried about the trend I've been seeing here lately: Kate Bolick and Katie Roiphe, and now this, a defense of a woman's "right" to be passive.

DarthRachel

@D.@twitter can we be friends?

Kathryn VanArendonk@twitter

Am finally forced to create a Hairpin account to comment on Twilight. I did not see it going down this way.

I totally agree about the gothic monstrosity of Meyer's depictions of pregnancy and motherhood, and I am definitely on the same page about the weird single-faceted image of the actualized woman as an athletic, ass-kicking Buffy. STILL, this piece doesn't address my biggest problem with the novels' representation of Bella's desires.

She is desperate to become a vampire so that she never has to age. Which is SO SCREWY AND UNHEALTHY. I'm having a hard time understanding it as a monster-metaphor for any useful or insightful commentary on our societal obsession with youthfulness, largely because - she succeeds! The novels totally accede to her damaging monomanical focus on remaining a teenager forever, and yeah, it means she gets to have a happy nuclear family ending. But it also means she never ever has to confront being a woman beyond the age of 21!

This has always been my bugbear with these books, and I think it's as representationally damaging as any of the usual complaints about conservative ideas of sex and morality or half-vampire demon children.

superfluous consonants

@Kathryn VanArendonk@twitter since i haven't read the books, can you explain something to me about this happy nuclear family ending? what's the deal with the vampire baby? is it going to be an infant forever? how did it even grow and develop at all if development is arrested at vampire-ing (see: most hot-vampire stories, but especially Kirsten Dunst in "Interview")?

sophi

@superfluousconsonants According to wikipedia, "She will reach physical maturity after about seven years, when her appearance will be around 17, and then stop aging". I know there was some logic behind this happening, but I can't remember what it is.

themegnapkin

@sophi "I know there was some logic behind this happening"
There isn't. At least, none that I could figure out.

ELECTROMAGNETIC CHAOS

Hoooray for entire paragraph 6! ('...might as well be a tiny man.) The whole thing is great, really. As someone who loves stories and media, seeing girls simply written into warriors with longer hair and boobs is always really grating. This is a big problem in video game plots where writing is still finding its footing.

britters

I cannot comment on how accurately Meyer depicts pregnancy in all its gruesome beauty. Beyond my ken.
But this author writes how much she admired Meyer's slipping in blank pages to represent Bella's wordless mourning over her loss of Edward. The point of being an author is to make some brave attempt to accurately describe one's internal barometer. I think she put those blank pages in there because she couldn't figure out how to write it. Anyone who has read these books can recognize that Meyer is no literary great shakes.
Overall, I'd rather have heroines like Buffy to aspire to not paralyzed, love-sick teenage mothers. Wrong direction for praise.

miwome

@britters I disagree on principle, if not in this instance, about the blank pages. I think writers are allowed creativity beyond just what the words say, from how they manipulate words' positioning on the page to changes in coloring and typeface to a million other things. If inserting some blank pages has an effect on the reader (sort of like a long blackout or whiteout in a movie), I think it's fair game, not necessarily a sign of inadequacy. Can't speak to this in the case of Meyer.

britters

@miwome I'm wary of this sort of stuff even with talented writers. Why rely on a cheap trick? Part of the joy of being a writer is trying to find the best mode of expression using language. But I hear you. I just think Meyer couldn't figure it out.
"The pain Bella feels is just TOO great to be found within language.... SIGH."

Keith Kisser@facebook

@miwome No. You're wrong and here's why: the blank pages are just a gimmick to cover up Myers' week writing skills. A good writer doesn't shy away from delving into the murk of touchy emotional states. If anything, they relish them as a challenge. The blank pages are Myers admitting publicly she doesn't have the emotional maturity or writerly craft to depict a lovesick teenager. Which begs the question of what she would do if a story required her to describe the savory delight of a well prepared cheesburger, let alone the ineffable quintessence of love.

Lucy@twitter

I would be inclined to agree with this were it not for the fact that while there are millions of girls like Bella, there are no boys like Edward Cullen. Therein lies the problem. There are controlling addicts, yes, but Bella-girls don't get a happy ending with those kinds of men. Meyer can acknowledge all sorts of common truths, but she missed out one of the most basic points: you don't really get "rescued" by that type of boy. You just think you've been rescued...for a while (and most of the rescuing you require is because of the problems he causes in the first place).

tortietabbie

I concede that the author has a right to her opinion, but I still refuse to accept Twilight as anything but garbage. So THERE.

tortietabbie

@tortietabbie And furthermore, you don't see a lot of super passive young heroines in novels because THEY ARE FUCKING BORING. I don't want to read about someone like me living her dumb boring life, I want to read about someone who shakes off her dumb boring life and gets to kick some ass.

Jasons_Johnson

@tortietabbie I have to agree. I fail to see how attempting to intellectualize Twilight gives it any more value that yesterday's lunch passing through my asshole this morning.

El Knid

@tortietabbie Jane Eyre. Mansfield Park. Anna Karenina. Play it As It Lays. Prep. There are many great novels that feature passive heroines and yet are far from boring. They tend not to involve vampires, magic or homicidal reality TV shows, though.

tortietabbie

@El Knid Admittedly, of those I've only read Jane Eyre, but I take your point.

wharrgarbl

@tortietabbie El Knid makes a pretty good point. I think it's more that Meyers presents us with a scenario in which passively watching your stupid, boring life go by seems completely fucking ridiculous, and it's not meant to be a comedy. "Okay, so you vampire guys fought off the werebear clan and also the evil vampires, and I brokered a prolonged truce with the rampaging pixies who wished Oregon into a cornfield, and I guess the werewolf-Native Americans drank the alien overlord under the table and then put him in a cab back to his own galaxy, so...that's all wrapped up? Guess I'm gonna go twiddle my thumbs until my boyfriend gets back from the moon in a couple months. See ya."

The only thing to keep us going is whether or not we buy into the romance at the books' core. A lot of girls will, at least to the point where everything else is fun, but a lot of girls have already gotten burned by that shit and aren't willing to forgive it all its faults based on that.

superfluous consonants

@El Knid how on earth is jane eyre passive? she needs a job, she gets one. she falls in love with a married dude, saves his life from what she imagines is a crazy murderer. she finds out he's married, does not appreciate his married-ness, leaves. in addition to sassing up a STORM. lady is anything BUT passive.

Moon of My Life

@tortietabbie I think by "passive" @El Kind means that Jane is occupying a traditionally feminine role, (like Bella) but not running around being a "tiny-man." I think Jane Eyre is a GREAT example of a female character who is feminine and throughly self-actualized.

Ellie

@superfluousconsonants I totally agree! I asked what everyone thought of Jane Eyre up in the Jane Austen thread but there was no response. I think that Jane Eyre is a fantastic example of an "actualized" female character who maintains femininity yet is still a strong character. She plays a quintessentially female role in society and everyone else's eyes, but possesses incredible internal strength derived solely from herself. Also, her relationship with Mr. Rochester is totally construed as a relationship of equals - intellectually and emotionally.

drunkenbee

Ladies! And gentlemen! I have been in meetings and wrangling my own monster baby all day and so have missed out on a lot of these excellent conversations. A few things, hopefully addressing some of the awesome above:

--I pretty much don't ever worry about the real or perceived sociological "effects" of literature; as an English prof and cultural critic, I'll leave that to the social scientists. For my part, I'm generally uninterested in labeling narratives "bad" or "good"-- which is where most of the conversation about Bella and Edward usually ends up. They are *fictional* characters, and as such are structures through which readers can explore various *aspects* of their own inner life, or their own understanding of the world. I am-- and you can quote me on this when I run for President-- 100% PRO NARRATIVE. Not just "good" narrative, or "ass kicking" narrative, but ALL NARRATIVE. Even the ones about wilting flowers and manly men. They allow us to get in there and dig around and think "Well, WTF? What does this mean? What does it tell me about the world? About myself? Do I believe this? Do I like it? Do I hate it?" YAY NARRATIVE in other words.

--I totally have to disagree with folks saying that girls reading the novels any less imaginative/critically empowered than we, as adults, are. I think young readers are really inventive, and I am not worried for them. Also, whenever I start feeling "But what about the children? Won't somebody please think about the children?" I usually take a step back and realize that I'm way projecting.

--Someone said something about how we don't need more narratives encouraging girls to be passive. I agree with that...but this piece is an attempt to explore how the claims about Bella's "passivity" are kind of red herrings-- there's lots more going on beneath and beside her passivity.

--The thing about Lisbeth Salander is my way of saying that all the things we feel kind of "yay" about in that character-- how she kicks so much ass-- are structured on masculinist values. And here its helpful to remember the sex/gender distinction: she excels at things *coded* "masculine." As far as that series' whole rape/sexual abuse obsession-- I agree with whoever was talking about the series' as female-torture-porn. So, again, under the guise of "empowerment"-- women rising up against their abusers!-- the novels are actually structured on a kind of masculinist voyeurism.

--Yes, the Twilight novels are abysmally written. But, I mean...have you read Charlotte Temple? So much of the best stuff throughout history has been abysmally written. We'll leave the shimmering prose to James Wood.

DarthRachel

@drunkenbee

you don't feel like you're supporting the notion that all physical agency is inherently male? you can't possibly think that a female character, to examine your Girl with the Dragon Tattoo example, who rides motorcycles, has sex with whomever she wants and displays mathematical and scientific skillsets is just a disguised male character - a girl with a penis, if you will.

drunkenbee

@DarthRachel I hear what you are saying. My point is that as far as gendered codes go, Lisbeth's actions and values code very masculine. Again the sex/gender distinction helps here; we're not talking about actual men or women, but structures and sets of values that are coded in particularly gendered ways.

DarthRachel

@drunkenbee

only if your definition of "male" includes the exclusive presence of body ownership and freewill. you criticized the trope of the already empowered female (the buffy maxim) by citing that the stories always begin when the character already possesses the physical abilities that make them, what you are calling, "male".

maybe.. maybe there's something to be said that all women already possess the agency to do what they want. i don't think its as much to do with being able to physically harm an enemy as it is having no obstacles to accepting that "hey, i can do what i want to do and what a need to do and no one can stop me".

is that "male"? to believe in yourself? to not need a male counterpart to tell you what to think, feel, do?

if having a character pick up a sword to make their point is what authors need to do.. then more power to them. there are obviously lots of preconceptions about femininity that need to be destroyed.

El Knid

@drunkenbee Thank you for expressing a lot of the things I found frustrating about the way the entire debate was being framed, as if books with a female protagonist should be judged primarily based on whether the character conforms to what we, at present, consider to be a good role model. The purpose of literature isn't to show people how to act, and even if it were, encoding some sort of 'categorical prescriptive' in the behavior of the central character would only be one particularly obvious and dull way of achieving this.

Novels like Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary portray women with very different degrees of agency, but neither of them are what anyone would call a good role model, and yet, IMO, both novels have tremendous value and should be required reading for students of both genders because they portray their protagonists in all their humanity, and provoke varied thoughts about their ultimate inability to successfully integrate themselves into their respective societies that are very difficult hard to reconcile, and ultimately cannot be broken down into expressing any sort of coherent prescriptive "thesis."

The "won't somebody think of the children" style of argument inevitably boils down to two (or more) opposing groups arguing on behalf of bad literature that jibes with their particular political values. You're not doing young readers any favors by treating their books as potential vessels for propaganda, because propaganda, no matter how 'correct' the message, is stultifying. You should *want* your young adult children to read things that challenge social mores and values and don't offer any easy answers because they require the reader to really engage with these issues.

Ultimately, it's not whether the heroine is 'active' or 'passive' that matters, but how 'active' the book demands that the reader be.

reclusivewanker

I thought this article was great and much more thought-out than a lot of analyses of Twilight. And I have been waiting for someone to phrase that thought about Juno and Easy A!

One thing I see in both this article and Twilight is this weird link we make between fertility/an easy childbirth and emotional strength/capability. I work as a doula sometimes and when natural childbirths don't happen, sometimes it's like the mom's pride was hurt, or like some kind of test was failed. When it does, it's this huge accomplishment.

And it's not like that. Sometimes our bodies betray us and disobey us and ultimately, no matter what, they WILL age and fail regardless of the manner in which they have reproduced. Natural childbirth is a common denominator of all human experience, even if it is countercultural in 2011 North America. It is possibly the least unusual thing you can do, especially next to dying a virgin or giving birth in hospital machinery. If you want to have a grand creative act, write a novel or design an experiment or build a bridge.

Reproduction is not a creative act: not for real women and not for Bella. It is uncontrollable and a process of its own. In Twilight, Bella's journey into maternity and beyond (and marriage) happens before the reader has even fully accustomed to the adulthood implied by her marriage and the forming of her own family. She gets the best of both (birth?) worlds: to become a mother and stay a teenager, to take part in a dangerous relationship and to be shielded from the world. It's not so much a coming-of-age story as a story of an adolescence prolonged beyond all previous limits, as Bella's bodily ignorance as she becomes a mother is a Gothic Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret combined with the old-as-time theme of women being controlled by the wild rampages of their uterus and their emotions.

Ellie

@reclusivewanker The natural birth craze (is that offensive to say? it seems like a craze to me!) really freaks me out. I'm not pregnant or planning to become so in the near future, but I can already imagine feeling like a freak for not wanting to touch a "natural birth" with a twelve foot pole. I feel like it's the new indicator of virtue or value in women. And like if you didn't have a natural birth, you better have a terrifying birth story to make up for it. I wonder how much of this is an actual cultural change versus just being blog culture though.

wharrgarbl

@Ellie I feel like a big part of it is the skyrocketing c-section rate. You have a situation that already tends to be pretty emotional and at least somewhat traumatic, and then you look at research that shows how closely avoidable maternal injury and mortality (in first-world conditions) tracks with unnecessary intervention in what was previously a low-risk pregnancy, and then you look at the intervention rates climbing steadily upwards anyway, and it can suddenly seem like maybe you should run screaming from the hospital and give birth in the woods where no one can find you (note: please don't run away to give birth in the woods where no one can find you, it is a bad idea).

Though I think most people are still of the firm opinion that if you've done the research and been offered a full slate of options and picked the one you felt was right for you, whatever it was, you did right by yourself and everyone else can fuck off. The concern comes in where states have made midwives illegal or doctors are pulling that pit-to-distress bullshit to force a c-section or griefing a mom who wants a c-section because there's "no reason" she can't just give birth vaginally.

H.E. Ladypants

I just wanted to say that I was really happy to read this, as a lady with a background in gender studies who has read the Twilight series but enjoyed them with a sense of mindless glee and nostalgia for my own rabid consumption of supernatural-romance as a teen. In conversation I get weirdly torn between my sympathy for the feminist criticisms of the books (which are varied, many and legitimate) and my own sense of identification with some of Bella's behaviors. Isn't it a very human reaction to be utterly overwhelmed and moved to destructive grief over the loss of a love? Even Mary Wollstonecraft wrote reams of letters begging Gilbert Imlay to come back to her and eventually walked into the Thames in despair, ready to be pulled down into the water by weight of her wet dress. If even the brilliant and radical grandmother of modern feminism went through that futile, consuming loss of self through loss of love- why is identifying with those feelings inappropriate?

Again, I agree with most of the criticisms leveled against the series, especially those to do with Edward's behavior. But it's also nice to hear that I'm not the only one who saw something recognizable and human in Bella's weakness.

cocokins

Oh! This is a fun post-and-comments. When I was a senior English major, I wrote my thesis on gender roles and reversals in Jane Eyre, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Two Women in One, and The Woman Warrior (ehhh...I probably picked too many books to compare. I was 21 and excited about life). Anyway, right, that whole thing about "tiny men" is basically what I based my entire paper around, and sadly, grossly, weirdly, it totally fit into all of my examples. I don't think I did a great job of defining "man-ness" and "woman-ness" before I tried to say all the strong female characters are forced into traditional men's roles, but I don't think the sentiment was that far off. It's especially obvious in something like The Woman Warrior, where you get the story of Fa Mu Lan, having to renounce her femininity, but only until she wins a war, and then she gets married.

I don't even know what I'm saying. The Twilight series is boring. Edward is sparkly. I don't know. I just get what the writer is trying to say. Read Jeannette Winterson and Maxine Hong Kingston, I guess is my point. Are they old news? Probably. Do it anyway.

cocokins

@cocokins Also, for the record, I had such an author-crush on Jeannette Winterson after I wrote my paper that I went out and bought four of her other books, and I LOVE THEM ALL. She has a new one out, too, more memoir-y. I can't wait!

Hot Doom

@cocokins Girl, I know whatcher sayin'. Although it's a different example, the idea of a Fa Mu Lan character reminds me of women working in WWII, where they assumed what had always been "masculine" identities, even down to the fashion of having suits with padded shoulders. Yet, by the end of the war, they went back in to the domestic role as mother and wife and relinquished their masculine "mask, as other 'pinners have mentioned.

Magpie Shinies

Ayla, FTW as a well rounded heroine. She kicks ass, has babies, is devoted to her man and tames LIONS. And hunts. The hunting was very big.

tesslacoil

Her danger lies precisely in how real she is. Bella’s character speaks to that insecure teenage girl in all of us who really believes that she just can’t make it. The fact that the Twilight world revolves around Bella and gives her everything she wants (not even in spite of, but because of her reckless, irresponsible, and weak behavior) romanticizes and validates the negative views we have internalized from the way our society views girls and women. Yes, she is an interesting study of how we view ourselves, but she is also a dangerous archetype to perpetuate, and Twihards’ adoration for her is a red flag for all true feminists.

wee_ramekin

Okay, I don't think anyone has mentioned this yet: can we talk about how awesome the title of this article is? Kudos, Sarah Blackwood.

palliata

Equality is not in treating different things similarly, but in treating different things differently.

I think feminism, as a movement, has a great deal to work through philosophically. Much of the dogma is still very much from a masculine viewpoint, and that which is not often borders on the irrational. In the end, equality is as it has always been an internal struggle which cannot and will not be achieved by protests, political wrangling, or even converting the dubious. It is about coming to terms with ourselves and those around us and allowing ourselves to be free of old bindings.

Daniel Fahl@facebook

You know I'm just curious enough to wonder how this author would or has reacted to the My Little Pony Friendship is Magic show. You know with some people saying its a wonderful feminist show depicting six very different female characters (the booky, the care giver, the hardworker, the girly, the nut, and the sporty) and their interpersonal relationships. Others feel the bright colors and girly look of the show is a detraction.

I'd argue that Buffy for the time it was written was more original and was a nice counter balance to the long trope of a guy needing to save the girl. I could argue that Buffy as a character did have a lot of opportunities as caregiver (such as with her sister Dawn) and to be a little girly but that also got sidelined with the monsters and demons she had to fight.

In depicting tough women we've made a mistake in that a lot of them are flat. They are tough girls with no agency beyond reacting to events 9in a more violent manner) who don't have a reason to be tough except for the sake of being tough. That doesn't do a good job as we don't need tough women we need well rounded women in literature, movies and TV. Women who are human. This is why I love Gail Simone's work in comic books with the old Bird of Prey Series and Wonder Woman. Yeah she had rough and tumble tough girls but she also bothered to developed their interpersonal relationships, motives and actions beyond just the fighting. Yes its comic books with the unreasonable proportions and body images but that isn't always the biggest fight. Having well written women, or really characters, is a huge deal in any medium.

There isn't anything inherently wrong with archetypes and flat characters but I'd like to see more female characters out there with more to them then just the archetype. Male characters seem to escape the archetype fall back hole more often then women. I guess that is my problem with Twilight's Bella. Yeah she represents a type of woman and femininity in our culture. Yes the representation of Pregnancy rougher aspects isn't that far off if we're honest. Yes Bella represents the longing a lot of people have to be cared for by a bigger mate or to have their needs met.

At the same time Bella is the ostensible star of four books. Wouldn't it be nice to see her develop interests and acts outside of Edward or Jacob. I'm not picky i'd settle for her being into macreme or scrimshawing. I'd like to see Bella without either of them dominating her thoughts and time. Just as I'd like to see the female star of the dragon series perhaps relaxing a bit and letting herself do something soft. This wouldn't always work for movies or TV but in a multi book series I'd argue we have the time and space to do more.

But going back to my original thoughts i'd still like to see Ms. Blackwood's opinion of My Little Pony Friendship is Magic

Beck Rea@facebook

Hm.

Salient points...however, the one thing I simply cannot get past is how poorly written the "Twilight" novels are. The thinly veiled Mormon propaganda doesn't bother me nearly as much as the abuse of language that occurs in all of Meyer's work.

But just in regards to depicting teenage characters...I'm sorry, I'm going to have to pull another LM Montgomery card:

Anne Shirley is silly, overly romantic, clumsy, overwrought, and foolish.

But?

She grows the fuck up.

(So does the author's prose--compare "Anne of Green Gables" with "Rilla of Ingleside"--so much better!)

Being a teenager is awful, emotional, confusing, and often ridiculous. What I don't appreciate about "Twilight" is that Meyer allows Bella to stay that way. There's no hope, no redemption, not even a satisfying tragic ending brought about by the central character's inherent flaw.

I don't think it's too much to ask that a book allow its characters to develop, or to die in a satisfying way. :)

marianlibrarian

@Becky Rea@facebook ANNE SHIRLEY ANNE SHIRLEY!!!

Beck Rea@facebook

@marianlibrarian: RIGHT?!? She's just so lovely and flawed. Do you remember the bit in "Anne of Ingleside" where she thinks Gilbert doesn't love her anymore? And how she flies into battle when Christine walks into the room?

LOVE. UNDYING LOVE.

bright_virago

Give me Lily Briscoe over Bella Swan any day.

Kirsten Zoe Hyer@facebook

Heres the thing... the author of this article compares 18th century fluff novels to 21st century fluff novels. While relevant to the time, and valuable in providing us with perspectives on societal structures, I don't believe that they are inherently valuable to learn from. It is valuable to see what women have written for women, and have had successfully published. This show us what society views as acceptable for a woman to be interested in. I don't have an inherent problem with women getting pregnant, or for a story to revolve around a pregnancy. its part of our lives as women, and whether or not we choose to become pregnant, the ability to reproduce is a defining part of our lives. But really. No. I'm sorry. I cannot be on board with praising twilight in anyway. Its ill written drivel that feeds into the preconceived ideals we have for women in this society. I don't have a problem with wanting to become a wife and mother. its something I want for myself one day. BUT ITS NOT ALL I WANT. And I'll give someone 100 bucks if they can come up with something that Bella doesn't want that doesn't fit into that stereotypical mold. The point of Feminism is that we can be whomever we want regardless of preconceived notions, and that we all want something a little different. SHE DOESN'T EVEN HAVE A HOBBY.

end rant.

Beck Rea@facebook

@Kirsten Zoe Hyer:

Yes.

teaplease

Granted, this doesn't address the pregnancy/mothering issue at all, but as far as the rest of the realistic feminine teenage experience stuff goes...I feel like Angela Chase runs circles around Bella Swan. If only Jordan Catalano were a vampire.

etoile

@angermonkey and @Ms. B: Had to chime in! Sadly, being part of a trainwreck couple doesn't stop the Edwards of the world from being creepy stalkers to someone other than their girlfriend (who are often much more bad-ass than Bella). They only get more creative in how they do it - even using feminist discourses, media, and lit to try to enthrall one before revealing their need to possess and control. Apparently this is the novel that needs to be written...If only I had the free time!

I feel conflicted. I'm definitely appalled by the messages that Twilight sends to young women, the anti-woman sentiments expressed in the novel, the lack of substantive and historical reflection of vampiric lust within the canon of western literature, etc. However, I'm uneasy with the idea of irresponsibility on the part of Ms. Meyers. While certainly books written for young women ideally have good messages (whatever "good" is), I cannot get past the problematic notion that all young women should be given books with a message.

As literature becomes, or perhaps continues to be, a consumer product, I think it's possibly problematic to argue that Meyer's publications are dangerous because they don't have a good message, or uphold abusive behavior as the definition of love/desire/fulfillment. Just because it's young adult literature, does an author have a duty to impart certain ideals?

That said, I think these books are horrific. But hopefully, the readership is not as impressionable as we might think.

D.@twitter

http://www.npr.org/2011/11/17/142248824/dawn-breaks-and-much-baroque-nonsense-ensues

THIS puts the books/movies (especially the final installment) in a far better perspective.

"In other words, our actualized female heroine might as well be a tiny man."

No. Why are we saying that zipping around on a motorcycle, being a computer hacker, or punishing people who wrong us is in the sphere of masculinity? How, exactly, does this make a young woman into a tiny man? Because she engages with society through means traditionally thought of as being for men? Because her expression is assertive enough to be thought of in terms of masculinity?

Masculinity isn't strength, and that's a two-way street. When we see a character who is strong, and recognize the locus and expression of her strength, it is highly problematic to equate this with manliness, mannishness, or masculinity. It only reinforces the idea that strength, intelligence, and badassery are not the norm for women, thereby creating a sub-class of women who are "just like men."

This is the same issue that comes up when smart, assertive women are told, as a complement, that they "think like men," as though the ability to be assertive in one's convictions and engage with the world in a logical, political, and direct manner makes a woman unlike a woman -- that obviously to have these qualities, her brain must be like a man's. How else would she ever think that way?

Sure, a strong female character could ride a pink fixed gear bike. Would that make her more of a woman?

@S. Elizabeth and ohmygoodness I meant "compliment" and not "complement." Apologies, all. I'm running on 4 hours of sleep and haven't had coffee yet. #epicfail

Jane Doe@twitter

@S. Elizabeth Thank you. I find Blackwood's article to be just as troubling as Noah Berlatsky's in the Atlantic. Both Blackwood and Berlatsky seem desperate to reduce the possibilities for female characters to two (false) choices between "masculine" and "feminine". They compound their error by pretending that there are definitive masculine and feminine characteristics with absolutely no crossover between. Not only is that lazy thinking and lazy analysis, but it's just irritating.

demi-mondaine

I think there is a problem surrounding how we conceive of female strength -- that it can only be defined by these very specific set of signs. Luckily, women who write and read and love books are discussing this in all kinds of interesting ways. In an essay that's mostly about Zora Neale Hurston, Zadie Smith tells this story about how lots of adult women she knows who finally read Middlemarch basically say, "It's just about her picking which guy to marry! Lame!" And Smith kinds of wonders when this decision of choose to spend your life with, how you come to relate to another human being so different from you in many ways, got automatically dismissed as this insignificant, girlie thing.

I remember when my best friend -- also a graduate student -- and I sheepishly mutually confessed that as we grew older we both really came to love Mansfield Park. And in the course of the following conversation it occurred to me that everyone always talks about how weak and annoying Fanny is, but for someone whose main goal in life seems to be to not have anyone yell at her for most of the book, she could have saved herself a lot of trouble and made everyone happy by marrying Henry Crawford, but she stuck to her guns.

I think the whole "she does stereotypically male things, therefore she's basically a man" is a reading that needs a lot more finesse. There's a lot of ways in which the Salander books are just another flavor of male fantasy, for me most strikingly in that Mikael is one of the only principal male characters who isn't a raving sexist pig and consequently every woman wants to sleep with him. But that scene in Dragon Tattoo where Lisbeth and her boss acknowledge their mutual attraction but decide they're not going to sleep together is extraordinary and addresses the "how do we both sexual beings and rational adults in the modern workplace" far more intelligently than that damn Katie Roiphe essay.

I have to confess that I found it very hard to get through any of the books, even when I was leading a book club on them for middle school girls; I just found the writing to be so godawful. (I had to chuckle when Sarah listed the blank pages as one of the best parts.) good writing is, of course, inherently valuable, and it renders characters more nuanced and issues more worthy of discussion. But both Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre -- which have clearly influenced Meyer -- depict romantic relationships that are in their own ways abusive, and would we ever discourage young girls form reading those books?

From my own experience talking about these books with 13 and 14 year-old girls, many of whom came from their own horrific home situations, I would just say that as much as these texts fulfill fantasies for these girls, running alongside this they are very aware of the more disturbing aspects as well. We should have confidence in our young readers (hopefully, among them, some future Hairpinners!) and treat books like these as an opportunity to open discussion with them

Beck Rea@facebook

Also?

SWEET AND FANCY MOSES:

http://io9.com/5860232/the-25-most-disturbing-twilight-products-of-2011/gallery/1

Kayla Hersperger@facebook

I'm wondering what everyone thinks of this article: http://womensmediacenter.com/blog/2011/11/exclusive-breaking-bella%E2%80%94when-love-equals-violence/

Sarah Elizabeth Gibson@facebook

I think this was very well written and valid in many aspects. As I have read the comments, I have seen many complaints against Edward's behavior. For me, his bahavior wasn't odd at all, for his character. Edward is not a human boy. He is a supernatural preditor, with preditor-like behaviors. Though creepy, it works quite well. If you think about it, someone that is programmed to track/stalk and kill by instinct, would act simillarly when dealing with someone they like. Stalking is just part of Edward's "kind". i always thought of him as like... a jungle cat. I know it's a cheesey thing to compair him to, but he isn't too far from one. When jungle cats want food, they go for it and get what they want. When they want a mate, they don't back down with that either. Vampires are animal-like preditors. They don't think the same way as humans. Their brains and DNA have been changed. Now I know I am speeking of them as if they were real haha. Did not mean to make it sound that way. Still, when Tolken wrote Dracula, he must have had simillar things in mind. Though the description of a vampire has changed down through the years, them being creepy hasn't changed. No matter how romantic you try and make them, they always have their creepy side. So the character of Edward, I believe, was just fine. The problem here is with the girls reading the books. They need to realize that if normal "human" boys are like this... it is BAD. So for all you tweens out there, Edward is a fictional vampire. Normal teen boys should not act the same way as he.

AmbiSinister

@Sarah Elizabeth Gibson@facebook For future reference, Dracula was written by Bram Stoker, not J.R.R. Tolkien. :)

Sarah Elizabeth Gibson@facebook

With Bella however. She is very much like the inner workings of a teenager. I am a teenager so I would know. Most girls hide how they really feel inside and so does Bella. The book is inside her head, so you freaking out over her thoughts is kind of irrational. Thoughts are extreme and are not deffinate. Trust me, hang out with a girl breaking down over a boy... it's intense. :)

Amy Hoy@twitter

Color me shocked. If, before I started reading, someone were to tell me "You'll come away with a new appreciation of Twilight, maybe even why it could be important" -- I wouldn't have believed it in a million years.

Brava, lady.

Mrs Badcrumble@twitter

I would agree with this if it seemed as if Bella was meant to be portrayed as a realistic teenager or even as an unlikable/atypical heroine.The problem is that Bella is often self-obsessed, rude to other people, whiny and helpless - which one could say is typical of some teenagers - but we don't see the consequences of this in her relations. She's loved by everyone, immediately. Everyone at the new school wants to be her friend, several guys immediately falls for her. The only people who don't like her are the villains and Rosalie - who is jealous.

We're also told that Bella is ordinary and that she was unpopular back home. But we're not showed any of this, instead everyone who meets Bella immediately takes a liking to her. In some cases I would even use the word 'adored'. And we're also showed that she's a very special snowflake who doesn't even get held to the same rules of vampirehood as the rest of them (i.e she somehow doesn't have to even go through the newborn vamp phase).

So no, I don't think the problem with Bella is that she's portrayed as an ordinary teenager or that she has flaws. It's that she has these huge flaws, but no one ever react to them. No one calls her out on her selfishness and she's always adored. Her flaws aren't really presented as flaws, and that's where I think the problem lies for Bella as a character.

Strom

Ms. Blackwood, I have to ask - In all of this gloriously messy and horrific depiction of pregnancy and birth, how do you feel about Meyer's representation of the infertile woman?
For example, when Leah Clearwater and Jacob talk about how Leah's period stopped after she became a werewolf. The phrase Jacob uses when he considers the fact that she's likely infertile is "what was she now?" He wonders if she became a werewolf because "she wasn't as female as she should be." What's your take on the implication that Leah is somehow not female (or at least not wholly female) based on the functionality of her genitalia?

Actually, I'm curious to know how you feel about her use of Leah altogether.
The kid's life sucks. Over the course of the novels, her long-time boyfriend disappears for days (weeks?) without a trace, only to reappear and refuse to tell anyone where he was or what he was doing. As they start to repair their relationship, he inexplicably dumps her for her cousin. Said cousin is then 'mauled by a bear,' and nearly dies. Leah becomes a werewolf, triggering the heart attack that kills her father. Unfortunately, being a werewolf means that she now has no privacy, even within her own mind. Her brain is being shared with some half-dozen young men, among whom are her ex and her little brother. This will also be about the time that she discovers her cousin (who's now engaged to Sam) wasn't actually mauled by a bear, but was attacked by Sam. So now she's grieving for her father, guilt ridden for being the cause of his death, worried for Emily's safety, all kinds of emotionally confused about Sam, and trying to handle all this with a bunch of guys who don't particularly like her listening to her every thought while she hears every thing they think about her. Throw in a pregnancy scare and the realization that she won't ever have kids if she wanted 'em, and that's a lot for a nineteen year old to deal with.

You think it's wonderful when Bella goes into an emotional coma for months over Edward dumping her. How do you feel about Leah being vilified for lashing out when faced with all this confusion and tragedy?

seymourblogger

@Strom I liked your comment. Maybe you will read my two below in which I discuss grief.

As for Leah and gender problems I would suggest you begin to delve into Judith Butler Gender Troubles, etc as gender ambiguity is a major issue today. Mayer fictionalizes this in her character of Leah. I, and I often feel alone in this, think Meyer is a major "CUT" into the history of sexuality but here is not the place to pursue this.

http://twilightirruption.blogspot.com/2011/10/reading-twilight-through-foucauldian.html

seymourblogger

I am having trouble with your posting.

1. Since you are teaching undergraduates why not do Kate Chopin's Awakening. It lies in that break of modernity of a woman's consciousness that she is not property. And like Bella she commts suicide but is successful. All these are Tristan and Iseult and continue to be T/I, variations, inversions but nevertheless T/I.

2. Bella is simply an observer. She is the young girl who unknowingly is a candidate for becoming a writer. Like Kate Chopin who married, had 5 children, and then wrote everything in 10 years!

3. If one reads Baudrillard: Bella is Other, just as Edward is Other to her. She is engimatic, singular, individual among all the high school girl clones, who jump around, act active, think alike, but think they are individuals. They are on the way to PC Feminist Dominating Discourse.

4. Your error is in participating in the Dominating Discourse with your students. Trying to explain within the Discourse only leads to more and more interpretation with no resolution in site. Have you read Susan Sontag's Against Interpretation, and/or Foucault on Hermeneutics.

You are on the right track so I am trying to give you a little push.

I write on a number of things always reading them through post modern thinking. You might like my twilightirruption @ blogspot where I am seymourblogger. I'd like to dialogue with you. I see Twilight as a Foucauldian "CUT" in the Discourse of sexuality. Foucault wrote 3 volumes on The History of Sexuality on all this that you are trying to impart to your students with your hands tied behind your back because of the Discourse you are in.

seymourblogger

Also the new Lars von Trier Melancholia with Kirsten Dunst is to give a contemplation of what it means to be a melancholic. The clinical term is depression, which has only been around a short time. Meyer was courageous in not turning Bella's grief into a clinical situation and medicating her. Giving her the time to come to terms with it herself and growing from it, surviving it. Have you read Josephine Hart? She is literary, intoxicatingly intelligent and intuitive, personally knows about love and loss, which she writes about. Your students would like her, but perhaps you might not be able to use her in a classroom unless it would be in a University. Her sex is startling. Your students are dmaybe reading fanfiction on Twilight which is an eye opener for a literary reader.

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it allows impressionable girls to romanticize behavior that many self-actualized women find weird and not at all compatible with their own sense of independence, and I wonder if/how something with such a strong impact will affect them down the line.
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