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.