(And here you were thinking I was over that Twilight-bashing phase I had when I was sixteen. Psych!)
I just read Lily Edelstein’s article “Why Bella Swan Is My Hero” on Birdee, and it started the Critical Fandom Thought engines in my head. You should probably read that before you read the rest of this. Go on, I’ll wait.
Alright, are you done? Cool. I’m just going to jump right into it and expand on a couple excellent points Lily made.
And you know what? Bella isn’t weak. She actually confronts Edward many times about his elusive, controlling behaviour and communicates her feelings to him.
She then goes on to cite several examples.
“…Bella’s a good girl” not intended for greatness, with low self-esteem and heavily symbolic clumsiness. Perhaps this is a reflection of Meyer’s expectations of married life, and her views on sexuality pervade the stories quite heavily.
Here’s my thesis (at the risk of sounding stuffy): Bella isn’t weak, especially not in the beginning, but her moments of objection to Edward’s controlling behavior are framed in such a way that the narrative silences her. This happens because Meyer’s antiquated notions of gender roles pervade the whole saga to an extreme degree.
Put another way: if we think about this as if the characters were real, Edward is to blame for abusing Bella. If we think about this at an authorial intent level, Stephenie Meyer is to blame for writing a story where Bella is treated like a pile of dog turds. But if we think about this in terms of influence, what influenced the author to write this story this way, our fingers should point to the institutions that planted those ideas about gender roles in Stephenie Meyer’s head.
I probably sound like I’m Mormon-bashing at this point, and I know I wouldn’t be the first one to do that in relation to Twilight, but Mormonism definitely isn’t the only religion to have issues with highly patriarchal and sexist notions of gender. I’m not trying to generalize, either. Not every religious person subscribes to the aforementioned notions, for which I am extremely thankful. And here’s my last disclaimer: I’m only bashing the problematic gender roles that have historically been part of religion. I’m not bashing religion itself, I promise. 🙂
If I were to explain these ideas about gender roles in one word, that word would be patriarchy. I’m using this word in the more modern sense. This includes social hierarchy rules: men know best, men are superior to women in every way, women are expected to be submissive to men, etcetera. More importantly, it also includes rules that have resulted from the social hierarchy rules: women are supposed to be exclusively domestic, women are baby machines, etcetera. Not only does this sort of system exclude people who aren’t in a gender binary, but it also demeans women and at times reduces them to mere objects.
Honestly, you don’t even need to look at the story through patriarchy-tinted glasses to see all the patriarchy in Twilight. Just look at the Wikipedia articles on the books or something. I don’t need to summarize them. It should be entirely obvious that these stories are strongly rooted in patriarchy.
This means only one thing: at the end of this saga, patriarchy wins. There’s no doubt about it. As far as Stephenie Meyer and folks who think like her are concerned, there’s really no other way Bella Swan’s story can end.
Bella’s greatest misfortune (and she has many) is being written into a story where she was forced into the role of the weak one.
She can’t be blamed for that, nor should she be.