For an explanation of this, go here.
Point 4: The sexual relationships are skewed, wrong and carry a manipulative message.
When I finished the first book, I was sad that teenage girls would aspire to this kind of relationship and the passive demeanour that Bella so unashamedly displays. No-one reading this book should believe that this is what love feels like. It’s not. It’s not what affection feels like. It is like nothing that you should ever feel because it is idealistic and over-perfected and kind of soul-destroying (as Bella herself freely admits). But it struck me today that when I was a 16 year old girl, I was adamant that teenagers were not that stupid and knew what the word ‘fiction’ meant. Now I’m older, I’d like to still believe that, so I’m not going to make that generalisation. What makes me sad about Twilight now, is that teenage girls can buy into it and identify and want to be with Edward.
As previously mentioned, Bella ‘re-awakens’ to life once she is validated again by a man. I feel that this emphasises the books worrying trends regarding sex and relationships. Only when Jacob shows physical affection and interest in her does she start to engage with her other, platonic, friends. Bella’s insistence that her girl-friends are bitchy, boring and only useful for maintaining the norms of high school life shows exactly what little regard she has for people who aren’t interested in having sex with her. And I’m not sure what Meyer is trying to acheive by this. Sure, Jessica, Mike and the others are only really concerned with the not-groundbreaking topics of high school, their relationships and prom – but they are nonetheless supportive of Bella and supportive of each other. They call her daily, yet she does nothing. They forgive her silence of four months and try to make amends, yet she runs off at the slightest sign of something supernatural and then looks down on them for being confused by her actions. Because Mike is not overtly sexual with her, he simply asks her nicely if she would like to go on a date and backs down when she refuses, he has no worth. He can’t wake her up. But Jacob can.
I’m not sure what this is saying to the teenagers who apparently identify with Bella Swan. It’s ok to give up completely unless there’s a man by your side? Sex is the most important thing, never mind friendship?
Yet, sex is not allowedin Twilight. Part of Edward’s manipulative demeanour comes from his attitudes towards Bella and her obvious desire for him. As the sexual gatekeeper in the novel he has a position of power over Bella – who herself is untamed and desperate – and, boy, does he exercise that power. Bella is ‘allowed’ to kiss Edward once, maybe twice, a meeting; all kisses are to be entirely chaste, with only the minimal amount of bodily contact. Of course, the idea here is that should Bella get too close Edward will bite her and she will die. But the analogy is clear. Sex = death. Sex is dangerous, children, and going all the way before you’re married will surely result in all sorts of danger and sorrow that – most importantly – you brought on yourself. It isn’t too much to connect Edward’s fear of violently overpowering her by killing her to overpowering her sexually. Both stem, apparently, from his being overpowered by lust. And it is key to this argument that Bella is always the one to initiate something more than a chaste kiss, always the one to say “I want you” with more emphasis than Edward and so it is clear to the reader that should the worst happen and Bella be irreperably damaged (killed? overpowered? raped?) it will have been her fault.
One can only extrapolate the message that Meyer is sending out here: although sex is desirable, it should be exercised with caution. Not a bad message. The delivery: scaremongering. Sex does not only equal death, the path is presented as linear: attraction leads to lust leads to violence leads to overpowering of the woman leads to rape. Great message. Way to scare kids to death.
There is (as yet, although I’m lead to believe in later books that there is a get-out clause in the form of marriage) no alternative option. Bella simply cannot kiss Edward as when he becomes too aggressive it will be her fault. She can’t say he didn’t warn her. Similarly, ‘losing control’ violently becomes an analogy for ‘sex/rape’ in the case of Sam and Emily. Sam lost control, Emily got badly hurt; yet it’s never considered that this might have changed things. In spite of all the violence brought on my “Emily standing too close”, it is Sam who we should pity.
It’s difficult not to make the connection between sex and violence here, as the same language is used throughout. It is always Edward’s ‘control’ that ensures he does not bite Bella, he does not attack Jacob, he only eats animals and stays away from humans. It is Jacob’s ability to keep a lid on his anger that prevents him from transforming as soon as he becomes annoyed.
What’s more, Meyer is stepping into a tradition of vampires and sex. Most obviously, Dracula draws the line pretty close with Lucy Westrana’s staking:
“The Thing in the coffin writhed; and a hideous, blood-curdling screech came from the opened red lips. The body shook and quivered and twisted in wild contortions; the shaarp white teeth champed together till the lips were cut, and the mouth was smeared with a crimson foam. But Arthur never faltered. He looked like a figure of Thor as his untrembling arm rose and fell, driving deeper and deeper the mercy-bearing stake, whilst the blood from the pierced heart welled and spurted up around it.”*
It’s just that in Twilight, all mention of this sex is tinged with not only violence, but fear and loss of control. Not only that, it’s Bella’s fault if Edward loses control. And she is so willing to accept that she is always to blame for any violence and Edward must be pitied for the difficult job of resisting her. And it’s this message that I find so difficult to accept. That is not how relationships should work. And so I cannot understand how it is possible to identify with Bella. As I’ve said, I want to know what happens, and I’ll say without qualms that when other characters are introduced and the action is not solely concerned with Bella and Edward’s relationship, then the world Meyer creates is interesting: I want to read on. It’s just unfortunate that so much of the book is spoiled by these questionable, out-dated morals and – for me – a lasting sense of frustration and disappointment.
* Stoker, Bram, Dracula, ed. John Paul Riquelme, Boston University Press, (Boston: 2002), p. 223