…and it was AWESOME. I am grinning so much at the moment that it is almost causing physical pain.
So here’s the context: MTV asked Twilight fans to submit questions for Stephenie Meyer, with the idea that she would pick out a few to answer tonight at the live concert in New York being held before the book release. I couldn’t resist asking this:
Many feminists are raising criticisms about your characterization of Bella, and her relationships with Edward and Jacob, suggesting that maybe Bella isn’t the best role model for young women since she is strongly codependent, and her relationship with Edward borders on the abusive, especially in Eclipse. How do you feel about the reactions of the feminist community to your books?
I submitted it under the name “Ari,” a nickname from college. (long story), because I was a bit, you know, embarrassed. And I thought that if the question got picked, “meloukhia” would get hopelessly mangled on air.
I really didn’t think my question would get picked, but it did, and MY GOD the audience was furious. There was some serious sustained booing, and the moderator actually said “Ari, if you’re here, you might want to leave,” because the crowd was so menacing. Which was totally awesome. Baxt and I were watching the live cast simultaneously, and the following exchange occurred:
(4:34:31 PM) meloukhia: YAY!!!!!!!!!
(4:34:38 PM) meloukhia: I AM SO EXCITED@!
(4:34:40 PM) baxt: omg
(4:34:41 PM) meloukhia: I GOT BOOED!
(4:34:47 PM) baxt: you just won the lottery, dude
(4:34:50 PM) baxt:
So, I was really glad that Stephenie picked my question, but I was also really disappointed with her response. As soon as a transcript is up, I will add her response here, but basically she said something along the lines of “Bella’s not physically strong, but that’s not all there is to a woman, she is mentally strong.” Now, I happen to agree with the idea that physical strength isn’t the sole criterion for being a strong woman, and I’m glad to see Stephenie saying that. That said, we concurred that the response was generally weak:
(4:35:15 PM) meloukhia: Uhm, weak response.
(4:35:19 PM) baxt: yeah
(4:35:32 PM) meloukhia: MENTALLY STRONG?!?!?!?! WTF?!
(4:35:46 PM) baxt: ouch
(4:36:22 PM) meloukhia: Nice way to totally not address the abusive nature of their relationship, Stephenie Meyer!
(4:36:38 PM) baxt: yeah, that was dodgy
(4:37:21 PM) meloukhia: It’s unfortunate because I feel like the several responses to similar questions I’ve read have all been that way. It’s like “oh she’s not physically strong, but she is mentally strong, yay!”
(4:37:33 PM) baxt: which is not….. yeah
(4:37:48 PM) meloukhia: Yeah, I mean. Yeah.
However, the fact that she very pointedly ignored the issue that Bella and Edward’s relationship is rather abusive really troubled me. She seemed to disagree with my characterization of their relationship, which means it’s bullet point time:
- In Twilight, Edward admits to spying on Bella while she sleeps. This is stalking, and this is creepy.
- In Eclipse, Edward pointedly tries to control who Bella associates with, ostensibly for her own protection. He has his sister kidnap her, which is, you know, kidnapping, which is illegal, and he essentially orders her to stay away from Jacob. This is abusive behaviour. This is what abusive spouses do.
- Later in Eclipse, he chains Bella to control her. Now, arguably, this scene is pretty hot, because I’m all about putting shackles on people, but I’m also all about negotiating a scene beforehand. Given that Bella and Edward haven’t really had any conversations about sexuality and personal limits, this scene pretty much set all of my safe, sane, and consensual Bells ringing.
- Throughout the series, Bella is portrayed as strongly codependent, to the point of becoming emotionally distressed when she is not with Edward. This is not the hallmark of a strong woman. It’s fine to be deeply in love with someone, and I’m all for that, but that disturbing level of codependence is extremely unhealthy. People go to therapy for things like that.
- Bella is often portrayed as emotionally weak, not just physically weak, and fortunately, Edward is there to save her. I’m not sure that constantly having a male rescuer makes you a strong woman.
- Speaking of controlling and stalking, reading the minds of Bella’s friends to gather information is a gross violation of privacy, and it’s just as abusive as reading emails, letters, and other private communications.
- Has anyone noticed that Bella is constantly cooking dinner for her quaintly inept father, just like a good little housewife?
You know, I would go on, but I think this is a good starting point. The fact that Edward is portrayed as an ideal boyfriend is deeply disturbing to me. Edward’s obsessive, controlling behaviour is abusive, and that’s the bottom line. Reading these books is like reading the scenarios I studied when I was training to be a sexual assault/domestic violence crisis counselor. And it reminds me of some of the very real conversations I had with actual victims of domestic violence.
And don’t even get me started on Jacob, the “kiss rapist,” as Baxt calls him. Jacob’s a “nice guy,” says Stephenie Meyer, yet he’s extremely manipulative and very possessive of Bella. He forces himself on her physically several times, and constantly manipulates her emotions in a plot to “take her back” from Edward. This is not cute rivalry between boyfriends, this is abuse. Being non-human doesn’t give you a special pass.
So, Stephenie Meyer, I’m giving you an F on question-answering. But hey, thank you for picking my question. And on the off-chance that you, you know, read this, I would love to talk with you, because I freely admit that I am a fan of your books, otherwise I wouldn’t be reading them. (Or obsessing over them.)
UPDATE: My question made it into the New York Times, sort of, here. Unfortunately, the reporter focused on the “codependent” part of the question, rather than the “abusive” part. Sigh.