Twilight, Female Agency, and GODDAMN SIGHING
So I started reading Twilight yesterday after it came in at the library, and I'm already 300 pages in. (I'm one of those people who will read a book just to find out what all the hype is about.)
And yes: it reads quickly. And I'm enjoying it in a vague sort of way. But it's also quite horrifying. And I'm not speaking of the parts that are SUPPOSED to be horrifying.
I'm sure this book has already had the SHIT whipped out of it by feminists, but if not, it's really quite deserving of a SCATHING feminist critique.
Well, for a plethora of obvious reasons. But here are a few examples.
- For how many times Bella goes on and on a) about how she--an average normal girl--can't believe that someone like Edward--an "Adonis" as she refers to him once or twice--could like her, and b) about how amazing Edward's chiseled chest/rippling muscles/unbelievable eyes/perfect face/perfect mouth/perfect nose/perfect body is. And not to any normal degree. The plot is DROWNED in her constant musings about his physical beauty and how she is so plain and boring in comparison. I suspect this has probably already been written about. A lot. Unless this world is an unjust place.
- For the fact that this book is geared towards teenage girls, and yet, the whole thing is about a girl's obsession with a boy and how her whole life revolves around it. NOT to say that this isn't ever the case with teenage girls (we could easily bust out my old dusty diary and laugh our asses off over how many times I swooned over different boys in the course of just a few months). But good god: if you're GOING to have this be the fuel for the story, at LEAST give your female narrator some AGENCY and some general bad-assedness to balance it out. (See next bullet for more on agency.) And don't make her a female stereotype: instead of littering the book with comments made by your female narrator about "I, of course, didn't have a clue about what this car-part could POSSIBLY be" or "I, of course, had no idea what was going on with the basketball games my father was watching" give her at least a LITTLE bit of ability to break the mold. Bella is depicted as a stereotypical teenage girl (which, yes, I don't deny actually exist, but still) and has really no depth of character, and the only force that really gives her agency is her love for Edward.
Interestingly, I just read an article about author Lois Duncan (who was one of my favorite authors as a teenager) in Bitch Magazine which discussed her female main characters as empowering role models for teenage girls--her characters may get smitten with boys but they also come to realize that boys aren't the end-all and be-all of existence and instead choose their own agency over this vague obsession. Twilight is like the anti-Lois Duncan novel, offering young girls up a role model who really has not much more going for her than the attention of a boy.
- And finally--and this is the most fascinating part of the book so far, in my opinion--something really REALLY needs to be written about the activeness/passivity of the verbs used to describe the actions of Bella vs. Edward. It's EXTREMELY disturbing to me that almost EVERY verb used to depict an action of Bella's is passive and weak, lacking any agency. Whereas, Edwards are always very active to the point of being aggressive. Everything he does has an edge and force to it ("snickering," "glaring," etc.). Whereas everything Bella does is soft or quiet or acquiescent ("whispering," "giggling," etc.). And when she's not being/doing any of these, she's not so much aggressive as she is kind of the naggy housewife, "groaning," "moaning," "sighing," and acting put out. It's really kind of disturbing and I really wish that I had a copy of the book in digital form so we could run a search for various verbs and see how many times they pop up and in relation to whom. But suffice it to say, the word choices for Bella DEFINITELY are not infused with any sort of agency.
And all feminism aside, let me focus, for just a moment, on the technical side of this book:
GOOD GOD, STEPHENIE MEYER: How 'bout a bit more variety in the verb-department?!?! If I have to read about Edward "snickering" or Bella "sighing" one more time, I may scream.
Case in point:
I'm on page 285 of the book, and so far (and this is a low estimation, as I went back over the first 150 pages looking for instances of this before I started keeping track, and surely overlooked some) Bellas has sighed 29 times.
That's a 29:285 ratio. Which means Bella sighs at LEAST one sigh every 9-10 pages. Which is what I feel like doing every time I stumble across her doing so.
(I'll probably ramble on a bit more about this in the next week or so since I've yet to finish the book, and since I have some stuff jotted down at home, particularly some phrases chosen. So stay tuned.)