Could the References to Abuse be Any Stronger?

Now that I'm done with my thesis and am taking a much needed break from grading (for all of a few days), I decided that what I needed was some good, old-fashioned mindless entertainment to relax my brain and, hopefully, my body. I haven't indulged in any reality TV (yet), but did pick up a copy of Breaking Dawn, the last of the Twilight series. It's been a few years now since I read the first three (well, okay, two and a half, considering I couldn't finish the third one), and thought I might as well give the last one a shot, just to see how the saga ends. Nothing like trashy teenage romance, right?

I'm not even 100 pages in, and I'm already appalled -- so appalled, apparently, that I had to blog about it. I know that I've had this tired conversation with people many times before, but this deserves to be said as well as read, especially if you have anything at all against young adult authors promoting abusive relationships. Ms. Meyer goes a bit far with this one, in my humble opinion.

I won't waste too much time going over plots and such, but just so you get the gist of what I'm saying, here's what's been happening: the beginning of the book indulges in Bella and Edward's wedding. They get married at long last, go on their honeymoon and have sex for the first time. That's the basic plotline thus far.

But okay, let me back up a bit. I should throw in that they get married despite Bella's objections throughout the first few chapters. Yes, she begrudgingly marries Edward even though she doesn't really believe in marriage as part of a deal with him. He won't have sex with her until they're married, so she agrees. The entire deal is that they'll get married and go on a honeymoon while Bella is still human so that she can experience sex with human emotions and see what it's like before she becomes a vampire forever. Edward's not cool with this, as apparently a vampire is so powerful that sex with a human is very dangerous for the human, but ... a deal's a deal, right? So they get married and voila -- as soon as it's done, Bella is overcome with wonderful feelings. She's with her soulmate. Why had she been doubting this?

But the end of the wedding is where I started getting a little uncomfortable. Because Bella is becoming a vampire soon, and vampires must protect their secret from every human (except, I guess, if you're dating one) she acknowledges that she's never going to get to see her parents again. "My father and mother could not be allowed to see me again," she says, and she's okay with this because she's got her man. This is just like those Little Mermaid-esque stories about women who give up everything they know and love for the sake of being with their chosen man. For that to happen, the man should be pretty damn awesome. But, as you're about to find out, Edward is not.

Once they reach their tropical island honeymoon destination, Edward and Bella have sex in the ocean, and Bella wakes up the next morning with large bruises all over her body (such a strong, powerful vampire is he). We then spend pages and pages reading about Edward's moping ("I hurt you ... but I didn't mean to"), and Bella's reassurance ("It wasn't your fault!"). This ongoing conversation had disturbing undertones. We then learn that, in a fit of rage over what he'd done to Bella the night before, Edward had destroyed the bed pillows, and when Bella asks why, he responds, "I don't know ... we're just lucky it was the pillows and not you." Yes, he actually said that. Then Bella proceeds to shower (wash it away, wash it away), and then dresses herself in, quote, a "white cotton dress that concealed the worst of the violet blotches." Edward then makes her breakfast, we get more of the "it's not your fault" dialogue from Bella, and Edward finishes his sulking with the favorite promise: "I'll never hurt you again."

That's where the chapter ends. That's where I stopped. I don't know what Stephenie Meyer intended when writing this book, but for me the disturbing undertones were clear: "Sometimes your perfect man will hurt you. It's okay. He loves you. It's not his fault. He didn't mean to. Cover it up and show him love and support him and hopefully he'll never do it again." I know that the situation wasn't blatant -- in this situation, Edward really didn't mean to hurt her. But, still, that's part of the problem here. Edward didn't want to participate in human/vampire sex because he knew it could hurt his beloved, but Bella talked him into it. In the end, the entire thing was Bella's idea, so Edward can't be blamed because she had "made" him do it. Do you see what's happening here? Regardless, the messages are remarkably clear.

I realize that Ms. Meyer may not have meant to metaphorically slap across the face every woman who has ever been in an abusive relationship, that she probably didn't mean to leave me feeling so unsettled, but those things aren't even what's bothering me the most right now. It absolutely kills me that there are literally millions of girls and young women out there who are reading this shit and really believe that Edward Cullen is the epitome of male perfection. I know there are plenty of smart women out there who read these books for what they are, but I do know that there are some -- especially here, where they're most popular, in Meyer's home state of Utah (she now lives in Arizona) -- there are plenty more who will take this to heart. Knowing that there are so many girls who will believe that they can (and should) be coerced into a marriage they don't want, with someone who has a track record of controlling who her friends are, even if they have to give up ties to friends and family to do it, and that he might hurt you but it's okay because he didn't mean to kills me. It just kills me. And it's rhetoric like this, which is stronger than you think over here in Utah, that makes me so angry about the predominant culture here.

I don't know what other disgusting examples of abusive behavior take place in this book. What I've talked about occured in the first 98 pages of a 754-page book. I know that I don't entirely want to know, but the bigger problem is how to fight against such rhetoric. How can we make stronger women's voices heard over ones like "heroine" Bella's, and how do they override the damaging messages that media such as the Twilight saga, in all their popularity, endorse?

I know many people will roll their eyes at this. They'll say I'm making a mountatin out of a molehill, that I'm taking things out of context, that this is a love story and why am I making such a big deal out of it? I've heard it all before, and I call bullshit to it all. In many instances, Edward shows himself to be an abusive boyfriend, and no girl should be taught that he is the ideal. And while many girls read it as fantasy, someone should be standing up for the girls who are not, the girls who will be telling themselves to shut up and endure somewhere down the road. I won't lie -- it pisses me off, and I wish there were more people interested in being vocal about women's rights. It seems almost taboo these days.

So what can we do in situations like this one? Perhaps we should turn away, mind our own business, but I really wish more of us had more of a desire to push strong women in society, to give little girls real role models to look up to. At the risk of ranting all night, I'm closing now. I didn't get what I was looking for with the book, so I'll go play some Avatar: The Last Airbender on the PS2with Brendan...