Of Twilight and Sexism

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:53 pm

It’s been kicking around for a few months now, but I wanted to comment on Sady at Tiger Beatdown’s post, The Edward Cullen Underpants Conundrum.  I think said post offers one of the most original and level-headed discussions of Twilight mania (and people’s discomfort with it) that I’ve come across.

Because there’s more than just literary criticism or high art/low art debates to the dismissal of twilight fans as “Twihards” and the looking-down-upon older women who are fans.  There’s a snideness levelled at them that you just don’t seem to see aimed at other fans of highly successful authors whose books trip into the pop culture realm, like, say, Dan Brown.

Part of it is sexuality.  Part of it is sexism.

Now, as a cranky loose-moralled feminist type, I will be among the first to say that the books’s promotion of abstinence and obsessive relationships disturbs me greatly.  And there’s a lot of ink that has been spilled over that fact, by people probably more clearheaded than me.

The interesting thing, which I think Sady really highlights, is that despite or because of this (and I’m sure arguments can be made for both, and I’m sure there’s truth to both for individual fans), is that the books (and, undeniably, films) seem to lend themselves to a highly sexual reading; seem to provide a conduit for sexual fantasy in a way that even other frequently-slashed popcult phenomenons like Harry Potter just don’t.  I would argue that is has got to be in part because the books themselves are completely sex-obsessed; they’re just coming at it from the perspective of abstinence rather than consummation (at least until the fourth book).

Sady writes:

“…Edward Cullen is porn. Weird, pre-sexual, socially conservative, deeply repressed and fucked-up porn, but in a world where ladies’ sexy feelings are fenced in with shame and warnings of danger from Day 1, is it any wonder that porn which consistently ties sex to death and fear and the urgent need for repression is selling to the girls? I mean, consider: Edward Cullen has no characteristics, as a person, other than wanting to “protect” Bella and being beautiful and gorgeous and perfect all the time. (And also an insufferable asshole, but that seems more like a mistake than a purposeful effort to give him a personality.) He has no goals in life other than being with Bella. He is over a hundred years old, and he’s never had sex with another person. He’s never wanted to have sex with another person. There is not and will never be a person or a thing or an event that is more important to him than (eventually) having sex with Bella. He is an object designed for the gratification of female desire. He’s the most ridiculous person who’s so amazing at everything, and he’s so beautiful you creamed yourself. And that’s it.”

Sady’s main point, the conundrum her title refers to, is that Edward Cullen as a character (and Robert Pattinson as an actor, now) is the focal point of the kind of sexual objectification that is usually in the domain of men; she refers to Pattinson as a “male Megan Fox”.  Objectification is usually a male privilege, and seen as a male prerogative, and it’s discomfiting to see it being utilised so forcefully by a group of fans that are largely (but not entirely) comprised of teenage girls and young women.

And this is where the sexism comes into it, and is arguably discrete from the quality or lack thereof of the Twilight franchise.  Because, while the series may be eminently mockable for a number of reasons, that fact that it’s so beloved to females shouldn’t be one of them, and yet this is happening.  There’s been a number of posts to oh-snap blogs like Lamebook and various sites in the Cheezburger empire in which guys are mocked for acknowledging that they – gasp! – might have read or seen and even enjoyed a foray into the world of Edward and Bella.  Like all good eighth-grade insults, there’s a lot of questioning of the victim’s sexuality, and a lot of feminisation as ridicule.  Because, seriously, being a girl is, like, the worst thing ever.

Twilight itself may display a world view that’s deeply uncomfortable with sexuality, but those who would mock it for daring to appeal to a feminised fan base are revealing themselves to be the flip side of the same coin.


  1. Me said,

    08.02.10 at 10:04 pm

    thanks for the education, and commendation to you for actually reading them. makes me almost feel ashamed for picking on them without having read the books or seen the films. almost. it’s just – sensitive vegetarian vampires? snigger. had no idea re the disturbing rest, evil afoot n’ all that. those crazy american religious zealots!

    do you think the appeal = the sexual restraint being refreshing in an aggressively sexual culture? something controlled and private and belonging to the imagination, as opposed to more confronting sexual roles demanded of younger women who may want to slow the pace down a little? you’ve given me something interesting to think about.

  2. Aimee said,

    08.02.10 at 10:30 pm

    I do think there is something about restraint that has to do with the appeal, yes – and I do think there’s a backlash going on. However, I suspect that backlash is a lot more about feminism than about sexuality culture, because Bella is a very traditional heroine.

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