I just started watching the Twilight saga, five years after the first movie came out. I had known the basics of the plot forever, because the franchise is larger than life. I think Twilight has had more covers of Entertainment Weekly than the Entertainment Weekly logo. I decided to give it a sit-down and see what I’d been missing.
I’m on the third movie now, Eclipse, and I’m enjoying the series. It’s a timeless story with modern (and monster) flourishes. The special effects are cool, and the cinematography is magical (that’s the kind of stuff we say out here in Hollywood). I admit I’m having a little trouble even looking at creepy, pasty-faced Edward (I do not see what that girl sees in him). That’s the primary reason I’m leaning Team Jacob, but I’m hoping that kid can learn to control his aggro a little. Maybe put him on a light dose of anti-psychotic. But another thing keeps creeping into my mind, like Edward stalking Bella in her room while she’s sleeping: All the feminist critiques I’ve seen floating around about Twilight.
A lot of feminists hate Twilight. If you Google “Twilight” and “anti-feminist,” you get around 30,000 results. I started watching the series fully expecting to cringe frequently from a feminist perspective. Instead, I’m left scratching my head. I just don’t see how Twilight is so anti-feminist. I’m here to defend Twilight from a feminist perspective. Over a few posts, I’ll cover just a few areas of criticism and explain why I think they have it wrong. Here’s the first one:
BELLA IS WEAK. WHY CAN’T SHE BE STRONG, LIKE HERMIONE FROM HARRY POTTER?
Take, for instance, this pop-feminist Buzzfeed list, summing up all that is supposedly great about Hermione and awful about Bella. But it’s not even a good comparison.
You can’t compare Twilight and Harry Potter from a feminist perspective, nor can you compare Bella and Hermione on that level. They’re apples and oranges. Let’s start with the story: Yes, they’re both paranormal stories about teenagers. But that similarity is irrelevant for this discussion. Look at what the stories are really about:
Harry Potter is a story about friendship. Twilight is a story about a young woman madly in love. Do you really expect characters to behave the same in these different contexts? You drop Hermione into a mad love at that age, and I guarantee you she’s going to lose it at some point. She’s a teenage girl, not Anna Wintour. Remember how she got all giggly around Viktor Krum? Harry Potter and Twilight are different kinds of stories, and it doesn’t make sense to expect their characters to have the same kinds of goals and behaviors.
Also, look at their support systems. Hogwarts is a highly-structured environment, run by the wizarding world’s best and brightest, where excellence is expected and misbehavior is punished. It’s like Exeter Academy. Bella is being raised by a well-meaning but distant father, who she calls by his first name because he hasn’t been present in her life for most of it. Her town is middle-class to poor. You’re going to compare a boarding school kid to a one in a rural, single-parent home? Ten points from feminists!
Bella and Hermione are different kinds of characters, so you can’t really compare them just because they’re both female. Bella is a human in a magical world. Hermione is a witch in a magical world (okay, she’s half-muggle, but her human side doesn’t weaken her witch side). Hermione is able to use her special powers and magical objects to protect herself and others, but Bella doesn’t have special powers or magical objects. I mean, she had to try to fight a vampire with pepper spray (which worked until it didn’t). She requires protection. So do all of the other humans in the story. Humans—muggles--also require special protection in Harry Potter. Bella is a muggle in a world of monsters. In this story, humans require protection. Don’t forget, Bella’s dad, Charlie, is the town sheriff. That’s a symbol of male strength if I’ve ever seen one. But one of the tensions of the story is that Charlie is also vulnerable prey. This is a theme of human weakness, not female weakness.
HERMIONE IS A HOT MESS
Plus, Hermione is not all that. Everyone likes to tout Hermione’s positive characteristics as a female role model. But let’s examine her from another perspective: The girl’s not immune to acting like an idiot around boys. We saw how she acted around Viktor Krum. She even swooned at that cad Gilderoy Lockhart! She ultimately married a man who is un-intellectual and often fearful. Would she feel challenged by him? Probably not, but he’d been around forever, and they had a trauma bond.
Hermione settled for Ron, yo. You know she should have been jetting around the world with Viktor, raising funds for her stigma-reduction foundation, Half-Muggle Magic. Hermione is never going to self-actualize with Ron around bumping his nose into things all the time like a drunk Neville Longbottom and screeching at spiders. But she did what she did—for love! How feminist a character is that? Sounds like Bella Swan or something. Well, I guess we’ll just have to evaluate that part of Hermione’s story within the context of romantic love.
People say Bella is passive (she’s not—more on that in another post), but look at Hermione. I’d rather hang out with brooding Bella than know-it-all Hermione any day (until Bella started ditching our walking dates for Edward). Hermione just never stops letting everyone know how smart she is, or sending withering glares at someone for comically cracking their wand while they’re trying to levitate a feather. Genius opprobrium! Remember when Snape called her an “insufferable know-it-all”? In general, when are you on the side of Snape? Girlfriend’s got some issues.
Hermione’s a powerful witch, sure, but she also was kind of a neurotic mess—I’m surprised there was never an incident in which she took too many Bernie Botts’ All-Flavor Dopamine-Tastic Caffeine Pills. Alertimus Spano! Hermione’s pressured and crazed studying, with no insight into its dysfunction or her motivations, ultimately saved the day (that’s how she got the magical timepiece). Why is there no feminist criticism that Hermione represents the false ideal of the woman who has it all? Or any criticism that paternalistic Dumbledore was sadistic? He encouraged her manic striving by giving her the timepiece. I’m not going to make that criticism, because I think it’s about as baseless as the idea that Twilight is anti-feminist.
I know I haven’t seen the whole thing yet. I heard there’s something symbolizing abortion, but I think I’m just going to enjoy the movies. If Stephenie Meyer is anti-abortion, there are ways she could have said it a lot louder than with symbols in a story. There are more pressing threats to reproductive rights than subtext. I’m just hoping the birthing scene involves sunlight and sparkles. And I hope none of you who have seen it are laughing at that.
Hermione vs. Bella, Harry Potter vs. Twilight. Many comparisons can be made between the two: Who has better monsters? How do wardrobe changes signify Bella’s and Hermione’s place on their journey? Are there any conflicting rules between their magical worlds? But on the level of whether Twilight is “feminist enough,” there is no comparison. Bella and Hermione are different kinds of women in different situations.
Okay, kids, like I said, I’m still in the middle of Eclipse, the third movie in the saga. As I watch more, I’ll write a couple more posts on this issue. Til then, you do you: chick, dude, or emu. Take care of yourselves, magical creatures.
Read more of my thoughts on Twilight here. It's some fun stuff after watching Breaking Dawn, Part I!