It’s a little known fact but Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga is still my favorite series. Hands down. It was the book that initially sparked my passion for reading but better yet, the gloomy little town of Forks, Washington became an escape or sorts. Teenaged Alexandra could have lived, folded between the pages of Bella’s world, forever. And yet, when do you ever really hear me talk about my unconditional and irrevocable love for these books?
Not a whole lot – and for good reason.
Twilight as a whole has developed a seriously negative reputation. Not only is it considered “cool” to bash the actual crap out of these books [and their characters] but if, like me, you do love Twilight you are automatically branded anti-feminist. Then there’s the whole idea that, as a blogger, admitting that Twilight is your favorite book somehow diminishes your credibility and intellect as a reviewer.
How is that fair?
And while I’m, by no means, the first to ask this question, an impromptu self isolation re-read has forced me to acknowledge that society’s treatment of “Twihards” was not only unfair but harmful.
In order to really understand my love for this series, you first have to understand one thing – teenaged Alexandra was going through some tough shit.
Let’s flash back ten-or-so years. It’s 2009 and I was twelve years old, finding my footing in high school. Lady GaGa was huge, Barack Obama had just been sworn in as the forty-forth president of the United States and the Swine Flu was officially declared the first pandemic of the twenty-first century. Amidst all the chaos, in the budding world of young adult fiction, vampires were everywhere.
But all of that was nothing compared to what was going on at home. I grew up in a Conservative Small Town™ under the oppressive thumb of an abusive father. I was close with my mum, who was my best friend and I felt responsible for her welfare. At school I was a quiet learner, what you would call an extroverted introvert. I didn’t really click with the beat of my friends and the isolation was made worse by the fact that no one knew what was going on at home.
I remember it as though it were yesterday – it was Friday afternoon and we were suffering though the last period of the week. A substitute teacher was occupied in their feeble attempt to wrangle in the boys while my best friend flipped through a dog-eared, movie-tie-in edition of Twilight. I remember watching the clock as my friend turned to me and said; “You know, you really should give this book a chance. You might even like it.” It was the same argument we’d had a thousand times but, seriously bored and with nothing better to do, I reached for the book and read the first chapter.
Stephenie Meyer had me at hello.
Twilight was the first taste I really had of “fandom”. And while I never really considered myself a “Twihard” or “fangirl” [my devotion being more of the quiet, subdued kind], I constantly found myself retreating into the pages of Bella’s world. When things got too much at home, Twilight became my escape. I saw my struggles and insecurities reflected in Bella and I latched on to Stephenie’s book like a life line.
It’s at this point that I should probably acknowledge the fact that Twilight isn’t award winning modern literature. Okay, that’s not what this discussion is about. The prose is firmly emotion driven and it’s simplistic in nature. I mean, Stephenie Meyer was a mum who essentially wrote Twilight for herself after having a dream. But what did you expect? Twilight never set out to be groundbreaking, it’s a wish fulfillment novel targeted towards young adults that resonated with a wider audience. And that doesn’t make Twilight any less valid. Readers shouldn’t be made to feel shame for enjoying what is basically an immersive, deeply atmospheric fantasy series.
But we see this judgment all the time because society as a whole has this aggressive, over-all contempt for anything even remotely relating to teenaged girls. There’s this destructive habit of degrading and belittling which only promotes that ancient belief of female hysteria. This harmful idea that women are somehow less than. It’s further proof of the inequality between the sexes because apparently it’s socially acceptable for a guy to don a Marvel shirt and rave about how Endgame is a cinematic masterpiece. Talk about a freaking double standard.
And while I respect the guys [and women for that matter] who are just as passionate in their opinions of Marvel [or any other franchise], it’s not fair that society slams those who support Twilight. Respect goes both ways.
Let’s address Bella Swan, our controversial protagonist and Twilight’s anti-feminist claims. I can already hear the masses assembling, pitchforks in hand. Honestly, just what is it that apparently makes Bella so anti-feminist?
You’ve heard it all before; Bella and Edward have an unhealthy relationship. Edward Cullen is emotionally abusive and manipulative. Bella Swan has no personality. Bella Swan is a cardboard cut-out, a paper doll – a blank slate.
Maybe some of the criticism is valid, there are problematic elements to Twilight but Bella is honestly such a strong character. Kristin Stewart aside, Bella is a passionate seventeen-year-old girl who feels things deeply. She’s a genuinely realistic portrayal of a teenaged girl, fully fleshed with authentic, almost pliable emotions and flaws. Initially insecure and awkward, Bella is compassionate and selfless who develops into strong woman capable of making her own choices.
Actually, what I admired about Bella, and why she was secretly one of the first young adult feminists, was the fact that she wasn’t the typical manic pixie dream girl. Bella didn’t cater to the whims of the men around her. She didn’t pander to Mike or Eric or Tyler. Comfortable in a blouse and converse, Bella was a quiet intellectual boasting a sarcastic, almost dry sense of humor – she didn’t conform to society’s expectations of what a girl should be.
And she chose Edward.
Bella’s not the spineless, anti-feminist, Mary Sue that critics and readers alike make her out to be. She constantly holds her own against Edward’s protective, sometimes overbearing nature, going so far as to rebel. He’s flawed and she knows it – she accepts him for it.
At the end of it, Twilight is an escape. It’s an escape the same way reality TV is an escape for others. Even now, as a twenty-something adult living independently, re-reading Twilight is nostalgic, comforting and all-consuming. And that’s okay. That doesn’t make me any less of a feminist or a critic. It just makes me human. And, with the release of Midnight Sun only months away, a whole new generation is poised to discover this vivid literary world. Suffice to say, I’m wary of the coming onslaught of backlash and criticism.
Bottom line: Twilight has value in the literary world, Bella Swan is a valid character and I will no longer be apologizing or justifying myself for loving for these books. So wear that Team Edward shirt with pride and stick it to anyone who ever made you feel shame for being a Twihard.