Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Twilight & Om

"Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man, at twice its natural size."

Virginia Woolf

Recommended Tea: Tazo's Om Tea
(because if you're like me, you'll need something to calm you down after you're done with Twilight)

I work in the kids department at a bookstore. "Kids" doesn't just mean Eric Carle and Dr. Seuss - it also includes the "Young Adult" section - Tamora Pierce, Sarah Dessen, and (shortly after I started working here) Stephenie Meyer. I began my job at the bookstore a few months before Twilight hit the big screen. My first week there, I shelved two carts of Twilight books. That's two FULL carts of just Twilight.

My first thought was, "Geez, this Stephenie lady is rolling in the dough."

My second thought was, "What the crap is this series and what makes it so popular? And why can every book in this series also function as a door stop?"

Seriously, we had so many of these things, and they were so brick-like that I literally constructed a house out of them when we ran out of shelf space. "Just build something with them," my boss said.

"OH," said one of my co-workers. "Twilight is the most popular book right now. Think about when Harry Potter was at its most popular. That's Twilight now."

"Is it good?" I asked co-worker.

"It is the worst thing that I have ever read in my life," she replied.

Week after week, I watched eight and nine year old girls (and 50 and 60 year old moms) run into our department.

"DO YOU HAVE TWILIGHT?" they would scream.

I would start to lead them towards the shelf, when said co-worker would gain on us.

"NO! Nononononono, you don't want to read that. Believe me. You don't. Here, read this!" she would say, picking up a copy of Graceling or A Great and Terrible Beauty. "It's so empowering!" Sometimes she was even so desperate to keep these little girls from reading Twilight that she would work on the moms.

"It's inappropriate. Believe me."

Then the moms would nod appreciatively, dragging their girls away from the pictures of Robert Pattinson with copies of Graceling in their shopping baskets.

I would sit in the break-room and complain about it. "I mean, if the customer wants to buy the book, why talk them out of it? If they want it, what's the big deal? Stop being such a book snob! It's just good fun! You shouldn't expect these kids to be reading Jane Eyre. At least they're reading!"

Kids AND their mothers would GUSH to me about Twilight at the registers. After telling them that, no, in fact, I had NOT read it, their reply was always "WHAT!?!?! You have to!!! It's the best thing that you will ever read. I read the whole series in thirty minutes and then re-read them all in twenty. It's so much better than Harry Potter. It's the best thing that I have ever read."

Now that I'm not constructing Sphinxes and Taj Mahals out of copies of Twilight (in fact, we only order about four or five copies of each book in the series now), I decided to bite the bullet (or the neck), sit down, and read the damn thing. After all, it's kind of like a job requirement, right? How can I be a good employee if I am not knowledgeable about one of the most popular books we sell?

So, I checked it out at the library, cracked the brick open, and started reading.

About 100 pages into it, I was hooked. "Wow!" I thought, "This book is really enticing! I can't put this thing down." I went to work and gushed about it. "I'm sucked in! Why was co-worker so anti-Twilight? It's good fun!"

And then, Edward and Bella started dating.

All of my thoughts of, "it's just a fun book!" and, "at least kids are reading," flew out of the window. My copy of the book ALSO would have flown out the window, but I resisted destroying it because it was library property.

Here - one of the bestselling books of, well, NOW - is one of the most disgusting, sexist, chauvinistic things that I have ever read.

I hesitated to write ANYTHING about Twilight, because (a) I know that a billion things have already been written about how bad it is (b) some of my friends loved it and I don't want to question their intelligence (and I don't) and (c) I'm so angry about it that I don't want to waste anymore of my time doing anything that has anything to do with it. But never in my life have I had such a violently negative reaction to a book, and to me that justifies at the very least a blog entry.

This is not fluff, this is not fun, this is damaging, dangerous literature. Not that I'm pro-book-burning or pro-book-banning. I AM, however, pro-empowerment and pro-feminism.

The reasons that this book scares me are the following:

  • It encourages dangerous, unhealthy relationships
The relationship between Bella and Edward literally goes from first date to, "I would rather die than live without you," in about five pages. She says on several occasions that life would not be worth living without him, which to me is a fairly risky sentiment to be placing in the minds of young girls who are prone to obsession.

  • It encourages weakness
Edward is interested in Bella because she smells good and because he can't read her mind - not because of her intelligence, her convictions, her beliefs, or her abilities. He carries her - literally CARRIES her - everywhere that they go, as if she's incapable of even walking. In one scene, he seduces her into doing what he wants her to do. He yells at her, he tells her what to do, he treats her like she is five years old.

  • It sends the message that it's okay to leave your life behind for a man
Bella's life BECOMES Edward. She ignores her friends, her family, and good advice because "they just don't understand!" Her every waking moment is now centered around him - not developing herself, forging her own independence (which is such an important thing at that age), or embracing her individuality.

Essentially, Twilight's message is "You're nobody until a guy likes you."

Not that having a man in your life ISN'T great, but a real man wants you to be strong, wants you to improve yourself, wants you to stand on your own two feet, know what you believe in, and stand up for it. A real man loves your mind. A real man loves your independence. A real man gives you strength, he doesn't take it away.

What has happened to our society that has changed our heroines from people like Jo March and Elizabeth Bennet to Bella Swan? Anne Shirley broke a slate over Gilbert Blythe's head for calling her "carrots!" What would she have done if Gilbert tried to carry her everywhere? Why are we glorifying a weak, unintelligent lemming?

Bella's narration is very real, very much like the way an actual teenage girl thinks, and I will give Stephenie Meyer that. I felt like I was inside the mind of a 15 year-old. She is insecure, obsessive, and willing to please. Yes, this is what most teenage girls are actually like. BUT, does that mean that she is worthy of being looked up to? I remember admiring strong women and longing to be like them, but what happens when girls start admiring and emulating weak girls? Should girls strive only to find a man who will protect them, carry them, and tell them what to do and what to cook instead of developing their own abilities?

"Well, at least young girls are reading." Why is this our reaction? Why do we think so little of the younger generation? Why do we praise them for merely being able to pick up a brick book and read until the last page? Where have our standards gone?

What Would Virginia Woolf Do?

"Hey, 8 year-old customer, I know that Robert Pattinson is dreamy and all, but have you ever heard of A Room Of One's Own or The Second Sex?"

"I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee's life of the poet. She died young--alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the crossroads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh."

- Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

Hey! Check these out!

Also, watch this! Patti Smith and Virginia Woolf. Strong women of the world, unite!


  1. I try not to discuss Twilight even with fellow haters because I get terribly worked up--once, running through a list of objections very similar to yours, I nearly burst into tears at the tragedy of young girls using this shit to construct their identities. I really don't know what's more heartbreaking: the kids who eat it up, or the grown women who buy into it with just as much (and more) fervor.

    And you didn't even get to the second book, where Bella spends the entire trawl trying to kill herself because she is nothing without Edward. There's literally a few chapters left blank to illustrate how she doesn't exist without his presence. Sickening.

  2. Hello, Clara! Thanks for reading, and thanks for your comment.

    Yes, I usually get really worked up when I discuss Twilight, too. I can go on and on about it! My husband has definitely had his fill of my rants.

    I think it's fine to read book candy when you're young (and even when you're an adult), as long as you understand that it's book candy and not gospel. I think that the line there is being blurred, and that's what makes me nervous. Had I read the book before seeing that seven and eight-year-olds were buying it, I may have enjoyed it more.

    I'm definitely thinking about reading the rest of the series to see if anything changes. I actually had a friend tell me that Bella becomes stronger in the second book which, after reading what you and others have said about it, kind of frightens me. We'll see, though! Maybe I should read the rest of the books before forming my complete opinion.

  3. Thank goodness someone who just lays down the concrete facts about TWILIGHT. I will admit, I was into for quite some time. Well over a year actually but, I finally saw all the truths you have just explained and the books are now deep in my closet gathering dust. As you said, I am PRO-FEMINISM.

  4. I completely agree with you. I must admit, I was a fan of TWILIGHT for quite a while. Over a year, actually. But, I finally saw the truths you jsut explained and now the books are in the back of the closet gathering dust. As you said, I am PRO-FEMINISM.


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