I wonder if I’d have disliked the Twilight books more if I hadn’t been fully prepared by a rather irate segment of the feminist blogosphere for them to be horrifically, offensively sexist.
If I’d just stumbled onto the books and read them, would I be reacting with revulsion instead of “It’s not that bad”?
What’s really starting to get on my nerves, though, is the constant refrain of “I haven’t read the books, but here’s my take on them.” I’m a critic by trade, a rather overeducated one, and so I’ll stand by anyone’s right to read and critique a text. If you read the Twilight books and hated ‘em, great. However, when you haven’t read the text, I think at some point you lose your right to be snotty about it.
Comic fans are quite used to others’ elitism. We get it all the time, the teasing cracks from our friends who aren’t comic folk, the people who look at you funny when you tell them you were at the comic convention or that the best book you read last year was a trade paperback (notice I didn’t use the term graphic novel).
We even get elitist with each other. I’ve been told several times that I’m not a true comic fan because I don’t really read superhero books. Others get told that they’re stupid for insisting that superhero books can be as good as indie graphic novels. We get called out for reading too much Marvel, too much DC, or too much indie.
(as usual, possible spoilers below)
I’ve got a huge contrarian streak that immensely dislikes this kind of elitism, even though I’m certainly capable of it. When I like something that I’m supposed to be too cool for, I flaunt it in everyone’s face. I don’t use the term guilty pleasures, because why the heck should I feel guilty about my pleasures? I despise pretentious namedropping far more than gleeful pleasure in silly things.
And so, I enjoyed the Twilight books. Yes, some of my enjoyment was giggling at the luridly overwritten bits. But truly, I like ‘em. I’m sitting here writing this instead of finishing Eclipse because I don’t want to finish all the books before I have a twelve-hour drive with no audiobook to keep me interested.
Part of the elitist reaction to Twilight, I think, is that the books are so unabashedly GIRLY. There’s a whole subset of feminism that seems to insist that women must shed everything feminine in order to gain equality with men.
I hate that argument. I like dresses and makeup and boys, and I’m still a feminist. I maintain that I can also be a romantic (when I’m not being a cynic) and be a feminist, too. What’s wrong with a feminist enjoying a love story? Must the love story have a twist to it, be something like Jeannette Winterson’s Written On The Body? (And is there a more romantic book than that one? I think not.)
Yes, Bella Swan in the Twilight books is obsessed with her man. But she also argues that she can’t stay human while he’s a vampire because he can’t keep saving her. She says, “I want to be Superman, too.” She insists on staying friends with her male best friend, despite him being a werewolf and the mortal enemy of the vampires. She runs off to Italy to save her vampire boyfriend, argues with him constantly, and presses for sex while he holds back.
This last part is one of my favorite things about the books. They’re all about female desire. Teenage female desire. Yes, there’s an underlying message that abstinence is the only safe way to handle sexuality–vampirism and werewolf-ism both being metaphors, mostly, in these books, for male sexuality–but Bella is the one who pushes for premarital sex, both literally and in the metaphoric sense, premarital vampirism.
So yes, the books are full of gushing descriptions of how perfect Edward Cullen is, and that can get annoying. But when I was a teenage girl obsessed with the dark side of things, all I had was Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, and those are always told through the male voice. Wouldn’t I have loved a series of books that showed, for once, what it was like to be a teenage girl who wanted sex and danger?
(The connection between teenage girls, and vampires is a subject for another essay. But I’ve got theories.)
And why do we have this need to look down upon female-driven love stories? “Chick flicks” is a common derisive term that we’ve all heard and probably used. And (male and female) writers of female-driven comics know this problem all too well.
The ladies of BUST magazine (full disclosure: I also blog for them) discussed this problem with their Twilight movie review. (Read the comments, too.) And indeed, why can’t we have some entertainment squarely targeted at teen and preteen girls? Bonus points if it appeals to adult women, too (and most of us agree that RPattz certainly appeals to adult women as well). But really, being a teenage girl is weird and messy enough, what’s wrong with a book that reads like a note from your best friend when she has a crush?
After all, who hasn’t talked to a teenage girl with a crush? Or, for that matter, talked to me when I have a crush…