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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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Bella wants to be a vampire even though Edward and Jacob hope she can stay human and have a good human life, but her suicide by demon-childbirth leaves them no choice but to turn her vamp (the final shot of the latest film in which her new vampire eyes open is a stunning one), so now she’s a vampire--and she loves it! And (spoiler alert) in the second installment of Breaking Dawn, her desire to hang with her human relatives despite her new thirst for their blood will win out, as will her desire for the bad vampires to leave her family alone. She ends up being the strongest vampire around, too; now that she’s immortal her desires take physical, supernatural form and allow her to shield her loved ones. But this new power is an afterthought, almost redundant. For the entire series, what Bella wants, Bella gets.

Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg answered a question about the anti-choice and misogynist overtones in the book by alluding to this quality and acknowledging her own concern with the material in an interview with Vulture:

...as a pro-choice feminist, that was certainly my concern going in. No matter what, I would not have done this movie if it violated my own beliefs — I would have just walked away — so I had to find a way into it that was in line with my own thinking and yet not violating anyone else's beliefs. ... from the very beginning — and certainly in this film — she knows what she wants and goes for it, hell or high water.

 

It seems that Rosenberg was as struck as many readers were by the sheer force of Bella's will.

Still, all this wish-fulfillment can be boring, and Bella has rightly been criticized as a "Mary Sue" character (one who exists as a stand-in for the author and has no flaws). But as for the substance of her wants, therein lies the perversely haunting twist. I’d argue that Bella's desires are direct responses to the patriarchy we actually live in. In fact, Meyer has created for her heroine an inverted version of our unjust society.  In this invented, inverted world, Bella is allowed to want sex, and vocalize it, and initiate it, while her partner is the gatekeeper who makes sure she is safe and married before she gets “hurt.” In her world, the men around her urge her to abort her fetus for her own safety, but she gets to “choose” to deliver it even though it kills her. In her world, her boyfriend can urge her to attend college and better herself while she can push for an early marriage--and be right! In her world, she can reject her body and trade it in for a new one that is agile, strong, lithe. Her choices are consistently to fall into the arms of the patriarchy and trust that it will catch her, and her faith is validated: she gets a perfect husband, angelic child, new body. 

What if we could do this, the fantasy suggests? What if we could just will ourselves to accept the prescribed roles society gives us (damsel in distress, object of protection, vessel for childbearing) and make it okay through the power of our wills? And what if the men in our society were horrified by their power: physical, social, sexual, and curbed it themselves and we didn't constantly have to be on our guard?

I’m fairly convinced that this stuff, along with the blood and guts and the sex that is always expressed in chaste, PG-13 terms but underlies everything, comes right out of Meyer’s subconscious, that it’s almost a gargantuan effort in self-deception or at least suspension of disbelief.  She herself has said:

 
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