I recently read about a very disturbing case of domestic abuse. The victim was constantly being manipulated by her abuser under the guise that he was trying to “protect” her because she was fragile. The relationship led her to become extremely isolated from friends and family. The one friend that the victim did have caused the abuser to be extremely jealous, to the extent that he tampered with her car to prevent her from seeing this person. The whole case was very troubling, considering the extent that the abuser went to in order to control and manipulate his victim. However, the most troubling aspect of this case to me is that it is being marketed to young girls as one of the greatest love stories of our time… the Twilight series.
The Twilight books are one of the most popular series in today’s culture and attract girls of all ages who are enchanted by this “classic love story”. The series centers on Bella and Edward. Bella is written as a clumsy and helpless girl, full of self-doubt and always believing that Edward can do better than her and her insecurities are constantly being exploited by Edward. He is often described as being “dazzling”, “god-like” and “perfect” but he constantly manipulates and lies to Bella, claiming that he wants to keep her out of harm and thus attempts to control every aspect of her life. There are a few very specific incidents which emphasize the unhealthy relationship between the two characters:
- After only interacting a few times, Bella realizes that Edward has been coming to her house at night and watching her sleep from inside her room. Rather than being alarmed at this stalking behavior and angry at the invasion of privacy, Bella is flattered that Edward feels so strongly about her.
- Bella wants to visit her friend Jacob, who Edward intensely dislikes. After Edward forbids her from going, Bella chooses to go regardless, only to realize that he has disabled the engine of her car so that she cannot leave.
- Edward bribes his sister to kidnap Bella and hold her for a weekend while he is away to ensure that Bella cannot go see Jacob without his permission.
These examples are just a small taste of the controlling and abusive behavior that takes place throughout the books. In addition, throughout the book Bella is constantly belittled by Edward, and later by an increasingly abusive Jacob, being told by both that she needs to be protected because she is so fragile and delicate. Both the behaviors and language of Edward and later Jacob are marketed as evidence of caring and concern to the young women that devour these books. But really, they are very obvious examples of the power and control that abusers use with their victims. The message that the series sends is a troubling one: abusive or manuipulative behavior from a partner is acceptable because it shows how much they loves you. Perhaps most concerning because the characters in the book are all teens and that these books are intended for teenagers.
According to the US Department of Justice, girls ages 16-24 have the highest per capita rate of dating violence. According to the Alabama Coalition Against Dating Violence, one of the reasons that teens are likely to be involved in violent relationships is because “their boyfriend’s jealousy, possessiveness and even physical abuse is (seen as) romantic” or evidence of their love, which is exactly how Edward’s abuse is portrayed in Twilight. Some of the warning signs of an abusive relationship (extreme jealousy, controlling behavior, quick involvement, unpredictable mood swings, isolates you form friends and family, belief in rigid sex roles, shows hypersensitivity and threatens violence) are characteristics that Edward displays throughout the book.
Meyer claims that Bella is a feminist role model. But feminist how really? Bella’s life and actions are defined by men, primarily Edward and Jacob throughout the series. She is rarely in a position of power, and most of the plot lines of the series are the different situations from which she is being rescued by these two men. Meyer’s critics point out her dangerous romanticization of violence re-enforce archaic ideas about the gender roles in relationships and for romanticizing relationship violence. (With her allusion to classic romances such as Romeo and Juliet, Wuthering Heights, she attempts to further legitimize the relationship between Edward and Bella, referring to them as “soul mates” and each other’s “true love”. ) However, critics of the series including Dr. Natalie Wilson, author of a forthcoming book _Seduced by Twilight_ also point out to racist and homophobic themes which are heavily present throughout the series in addition to the troubling tones of power and control which reverberate through the series.
While we might not ever be able to assess the amount of damage done by these books, it is important to recognize that the Twilight series reinforces harmful social stereotypes about what dating relationships are supposed to look like and to question what these books are teaching young people about how they are supposed to behave with their partner. Perhaps by acknowledging this danger, at the very least we are opening up an honest dialogue about the possible repercussions about such troubling messages.