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The Bloody, Twisted, Inverted World of Twilight: Violent Vampire Sex, Demon-Babies and Overwhelming Female Desire

Twilight is saturated with sexist tropes--to the point of being disturbing. But that disturbing element is compelling, too.

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“The politics I never think of when I’m writing. It’s about a story that is interesting to me,” she said. “I’m not going to say that ‘Breaking Dawn’ doesn’t get weird, because it does. But these are things that as I was exploring what it means and meant to be a woman, particularly to be a mother because that is a big part of my life."

My strong feeling--and yes, it’s a total guess--is that Meyer has a host of mixed emotions about her own role in her patriarchal religious tradition, her role as a mother, her role as an American woman; all that ambivalence, that understandable fear and horror, bubbles up in these pages and then is shut down again by the author.

Thus, Bella’s story reads as a fantasy--but it is also uncannily compelling because it’s  so fantastical. A real Edward would be an abusive stalker. A real Bella would probably be labeled a slut for pursuing Edward, or maybe end up dead from carrying his child. A real Bella might want an abortion and be stopped by men in authority, instead of the other way around. A real Bella might want to continue her education or career but feel pressured to get married, instead of the other way around. And if a real Bella were able to express her desires freely and escape stigma, that would be due to feminism, not a chiseled killer who watches her while she sleeps.  

In the real world, female sexuality remains so taboo that the Breaking Dawn sex scene had to be re-shot when  Kristen Stewart, who plays Bella, "thrust" too much (no joke).

So yes, the universe Stephenie Meyer creates gets creepier and bloodier and more like a Christian Rosemary’s Baby in this final installment--so much so that there was a " fan revolt" and backlash when the book first appeared. On the other hand, it's consistent with Meyer’s MO throughout the series: advance a threat, then let it retreat because Bella (and Meyer, and her readers) refuses to face it. 

Just like a superhero fantasy in which a man gets to kick the villains out of existence, Bella gets to will the monstrous consequences of patriarchy into the ether.

And here's why that's such a hard lure to resist for readers. All the potential horrors that Meyer conjures up are actual fears women face: being shamed or hurt because of our own desires, being raped, death and deformity in childbirth, our bodies and their needs leaving us vulnerable. The greatest magic of  Twilight is that for the duration of its pages, Meyer makes those fears seem groundless.

 

Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet, a staff writer at RH Reality Check and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published in Jezebel.com and on the websites of the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. Find her at sarahmseltzer.com.

 
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