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Bite Me: An Analysis of the Myth of Woman in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight

Since being published in 2005, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight has gone from just another young adult fantasy novel to a cult phenomenon that has gripped millions of readers of all ages. When a piece of literature becomes as widespread as Twilight, it becomes especially important to examine the messages it is sending to its readers – many of whom, in Twilight's case, are impressionable young women. By applying a feminist lens to the novel and examining it in terms of Simone de Beauvoir's myth of woman, it is revealed that Twilight is a hotbed of antifeminist sentiment, from the skewed balance of power to the simple fact that none of the women in the novel are employed. If only because of the book's wide range of impact due to its bloated and romance-blinded fan base, it is important to take de Beauvoir's advice for viewing literature and expose how the myth of woman is perpetuated in Twilight.

First, it is necessary to explain Simone de Beauvoir's myth of woman in order to understand how the examples from the novel will apply. The myth of woman is basically the idea that "woman" is an immutable essence. Should an actual living female contradict the expectations put in place by this myth, it is that woman who is considered wrong, rather than the myth itself. "We are told not that Femininity is a false essence," de Beauvoir says, "but that the women concerned are not feminine."  There are many aspects of this myth, but the basic idea is that it causes every woman to be held to an archetype of Femininity. This myth is, in part, perpetuated through female characters in literature who fit these archetypes the way real women do not. Showing how Bella conforms to the myth of woman will in turn expose how Twilight maintains that myth in popular society, falsely teaching both male and female readers what a woman "should" be.

The basic plot of the novel is that seventeen-year-old Bella Swan moves to Forks, Washington and meets Edward Cullen, part of a family of "vegetarian" vampires who survive off of the blood of animals. Bella and Edward proceed to fall in love, and over the course of the novel, Bella is pursued by nearly every man or vampire whom she comes into contact with. Edward, of course, protects her from all of them. After the climactic final scene where Edward saves Bella's life by drinking poison out of her blood, Bella asks Edward to turn her into a vampire, and he refuses.

The main myth of woman that Twilight perpetuates is one of the power balance of gender. Edward is shown as holding more power than Bella in every possible way – physically, sexually, and emotionally. This places the female in a position of dependence and secondary value and strength to the male.

The physical power that Edward holds over Bella is the easiest to spot, and the most explicitly stated. Just after Edward has revealed to Bella that he is a vampire, he carries her to a meadow where he demonstrates his strength to her. First he shows his speed: "Unexpectedly, he was on his feet, bounding away, instantly out of sight, only to appear the beneath the same tree as before, having circled the meadow in half a second. 'As if you could outrun me,' he laughed bitterly." (Meyer 264) Then he demonstrates his strength: "He reached up with one hand and, with a deafening crack, effortlessly ripped a two-foot-thick branch from the trunk of the spruce. He…threw it with blinding speed, shattering it against another huge tree, which shook and trembled at the blow. 'As if you could fight me off,' he said gently." (Meyer 264) The combination of these two actions paired with his words set up Bella as physically inferior to Edward in every way, and furthermore, unable to defend herself against him were he to decide to attack her. But more disturbing even than this set-up is Bella's reaction: "He'd never been less human…or more beautiful." (Meyer 264) Not only is the balance of power between Bella and Edward portrayed as unequal in masculine favor, but it is made clear that such an imbalance is desirable.

Although it's not stated quite as explicitly as Edward's physical superiority to Bella, his sexual and emotional control over her is just as pronounced. The first time he kisses her, Bella responds with an outpouring of sexual frustration, which causes Edward to literally push her away in order to keep himself in control of the situation. The second time he kisses her, Bella faints. "No – that wasn't the same kind of fainting at all," Bella tells Edward. "I don't know what happened. I think I forgot to breathe." (Meyer 320) Although Edward is shown as having a similarly difficult-to-resist attraction to Bella, the main difference is that Edward is able to suppress and control these feelings, while Bella is not: "I'm stronger than I thought," Edward says of his ability to resist Bella's kiss. (Meyer 283) This demonstrates Edward's stronger control over his own emotions, as well as Edward's use of his sexual power over Bella.

Many readers will claim that Twilight can be considered feminist literature because at the end of the series, Edward changes Bella into a vampire, giving her the same strengths that Edward has, and thus making them equals. Although I will not be considering the second, third and fourth books of the series in this paper, it is important to address this idea, since Edward "turning" Bella is discussed in the first book. Despite the fact that Bella eventually gains the same powers as Edward, the method through which she is given power is yet another example of anti-feminism in Twilight. In order to Bella to become Edward's physical equal, he has to change her into a vampire. Even in this instance, Bella is shown as dependent on Edward. The situation is portrayed as though Bella needs not only Edward's help but Edward's permission to become a vampire. At the end of Twilight when Bella asks Edward to change her into a vampire, his response is patronizing at minimum: "You can't really believe that I would give in so easily." (Meyer 498)

Not only does Bella spend the entirety of the novel dependent on Edward and willingly in the shadow of his power, but were she to gain powers of her own equal to his, it would only occur at Edward's hands and at Edward's nod. Twilight is filled with antifeminist ideals, of which the myth of woman and the power imbalance between Edward and Bella is only one, but even if this were all, Twilight is a book that, through its popularity with both sexes, contributes to the strength of the myth of woman both in literature and in society. Stephenie Meyer is quoted in interviews as claiming that Twilight is not anti-feminist; each time she makes such a claim, Simone de Beauvoir undoubtedly rolls over in her grave.
Final paper for my Literary Theory and Criticism class. We had to choose a theorist we'd read and apply their theories of literary criticism to a book or movie.

If you're interested in feminism, I highly recommend reading de Beauvoir's "The Second Sex" if you haven't already. I also suggest this blog, The F Word.

Yes, I know that there are a million more anti-feminist issues with Twilight. Unfortunately, this was supposed to be a 3-5 page paper double spaced, so I didn't have the room to cover as much as I would've liked to.

I'd love to hear your opinions. C: Even if they're pro-Twilight!
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blackkiteekat Featured By Owner Jul 6, 2014
Marvelous and articulate commentary. <3 I would just like to add a few more things:

Bella's mother is portrayed as scatter-brained and excessively dependent on other people. It's mentioned rather explicitly that Bella spent most of her life playing the adult and making "sacrifices" for her mother's sake; her move to Forks is, in fact, not something she wants, but something that will benefit her loved one. The reason Bella can leave her mother now is a direct result of her mother's remarriage- she feels confident that mummy's new husband will take care of her. This reinforces the "myth of woman" that Ginnabean mentioned, in that women are expected to endlessly sacrifice for their family, and it shows both women as being unable to function outside of a close relationship. Indeed, Bella seems to derive some of her SELF-WORTH from what she can do for other people.

Another note on self-worth would be appearance. Bella is never certain whether she's physically attractive, no matter how many men/vampires scramble to court or attack her. One woman who IS assured of her physical attractiveness would be the vampire Rosalie Cullen. Rosalie is portrayed as haughty, aloof, and generally unpleasant. The idea that's being reinforced here is that it's undesirable when a woman is confident in her sexuality and her appearance. Bella is self-deprecating and feeds off of other people's praise, which further weakens her outside of a romantic relationship. A confident woman with an inherent sense of her self-worth an identity? Why waste your time with her, when you could have a doormat?

Now for the really happy stuff! You ready? - Edward is an abusive partner and a sexual predator.… -- the original National Domestic Violence hotline abusive partner checklist… -- an opinion piece that cites examples of Edward's abusive behavior

Edward not only manages to check off almost every item on that list, he repeatedly demonstrates and even says out loud that he views Bella as a prey item, an object. In other words, SHE IS NOT A PERSON. If he were to brutally slaughter her, his own guilt would be the primary conflict resulting from that gory mess. The horror of a 17 year-old girl being killed, or her family/friends' grief would both pale in comparison to Edward's epic guilt-trip. And the guilt in question doesn't derive from being a murderer! Edward's shame, in the event of his killing Bella, would be primarily driven from the perception of his own weakness; in this case, the inability to control his urges. Here's a supporting example: the incident in which another vampire almost kills Bella in the dance studio is portrayed as being Edward's fault because he "should have protected her." (Oh, and his family would have to relocate.) The fact that a man's self-loathing is portrayed as carrying more weight than a woman's ENTIRE EXISTENCE is sociopathic and terrifying.

Most sickening dynamic in the entire relationship, IMHO: Edward sneaks into her room at night and watches Bella sleep. He admits this like it's no big deal, and Bella does NOTHING. Her father is the sheriff, for crying out loud. All she has to do is say, "Daddy, a man was in my room and watching me sleep with neither my knowledge or permission. He has the power and possible intent to hurt me, and I'm afraid." There would have been SO MANY GUNS surrounding her 24/7 that glitterboy would have been reduced to Adonis paste if he'd so much as glanced her direction. And Bella IS afraid, but both the character and the author pass off this dangerous violation of her space and safety as thrilling, maybe even desirable or normal.
Really? Is that a message we really want to perpetuate? "Hey girls, if your significant other does things that make you uncomfortable, or is moving too fast, that means that he loves you and you should just enjoy it! And boys, anytime your partner says 'no' or erects a barrier for their comfort or safety, it's fine for you to blow right past it! No means yes, and stalking is just a valentine that never stops giving... Ever."
And what does Bella do when she's temporarily freed from this dangerous situation? She loses all sense of her own worth and tries desperately to get Edward back, because HER LIFE HAS NO VALUE WITHOUT HIM. Yes, there is a tendency for battered partners to feel dependent on the abuser, but for the author to romanticize and normalize this rather than having one of Bella's friends/family (or, heaven forbid, the girl herself) say, "You might be better off now," is disturbing.

These books are nothing short of dangerous, not only because they heavily reinforce a submissive and powerless role for all females, but because they send a very clear message that a girl's comfort and safety is trumped by the importance of being in a relationship. According to the author that is where we derive our self-worth- our (low and willing) position relative to a man.
And that, ladies and gents, is bullshit.
geminifaerie84 Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2013

Very nice paper. When I first read the Twilight series I found the idea to be interesting, but the Edward/Bella dynamic was a complete turn-off. (I could also go into the whole 'real-vampires-don't-sparkle thing, but that's a little off topic.) In the second book Bella spends months crying n her room, screaming and having nightmares because Edward left her; how is that feminist? Then, she goes out risking her life simply because the adrenaline rush allows her to feel like Edward is with her again-how does that make her character strong? The entire series is based around a girl who can't live without the man of her dreams; there is nothing empowering about that. I don't truly consider myself a feminist because I still believe-or rather want to believe-in a 'happily ever after' and falling in love, but at the same time I like the satisfaction of knowing I can take care of myself. If some handsome prince wants to come rescue me great, but if not I am perfectly capable of using a bed sheet to repel down the side of the tower free myself.

And again, I got off topic, but I really just wanted to tell you that you did a great job on the essay.

the-trio-of-hearts Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
:iconclappingplz: Beautiful. I couldn't agree more.
phoebefitzina Featured By Owner Apr 25, 2012
i just realized i rhymed. We could write an anti-twilight song XD
phoebefitzina Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2012
APPLAUSE!!! There's also the fact that Bella lives with her father, cleaning and washing disheswhile he watched football and fishes.
Because that's not totally blatant X)
Ginnabean Featured By Owner Apr 22, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
K-Wabbit Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
:iconclapplz: So true.
DailyLitDeviations Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2012
Your wonderful literary work has been chosen to be featured by DLD (Daily Literature Deviations) in a news article that can be found here [link]
Be sure to check out the other artists featured and show your support by :+fav:ing the News Article.

Keep writing and keep creating.
Ginnabean Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Oh my goodness, thank you so much!!! :heart:
DailyLitDeviations Featured By Owner Jan 5, 2012
You are quite welcome!
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