Friday, November 20, 2009

Twilght - glorifying emotional abuse?

The new Twilight movie opened this weekend. Which has me thinking. I've only read the first book, and it disturbed me deeply.

This fall, I gave in and downloaded Twilight (the first book in the Twilight series)onto my Kindle (as far as inventions go - the Kindle is up there with sliced bread). I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. I was ready for an easy read and a bit of escapism.

Instead, I was horrified.

Twilight is a modern book, written for young adults, in which a controlling, borderline abusive relationship is played up as a great love story. Oh, and throw in a little pedophilia as well (how the hell old is Edward [112 according to a friendly twihard]? and Bella's what - 17?). But I'm probably being oversensitive about Edward's real age. I know - he looks 18. I'll let that go. And the abstinence message? You're not going to hear me complain about encouraging kids to postpone first intercourse. I have opinions about how that should be done, but I'm not against the concept.

I am against controlling, manipulative behavior.

Edward tells Bella that they can't be together. Not because he doesn't want to be with her, but because he knows what's best for her. Then he tells her he can't stay away. After all, they've known each other for two days and are deeply in star crossed love. She follows eagerly along as he pulls the strings.

He watches her 24/7. He doesn't need to sleep, so the fact that he spends all night staring at her in her bedroom is fine right? Um, no. That's called stalking. Doesn't he have something else to do?

She says she doesn't want a party or presents for her birthday. He surprises her with a party and expensive presents.

She asks him to drive more slowly because she's frightened. He ignores her.

He's rich and buys her things. She's middle class and can't reciprocate. Besides, 112 year old rich men have everything they'd ever need.

She wants him to turn her into a vampire. He tells her that will never happen and interferes when she tries to see if someone else will turn her (I would add that here, he may have a point - 17 is simply too young to make decisions that are irreversible by centuries).

Throughout the entire book he contradicts her, he tells her what to do, he treats her like a very stupid but appealing toddler.

She rarely objects to this treatment. After all, he's the hot, unattainable bad boy, and she's the awkward young woman who's new in town, has a distant relationship with her father and has been abandoned by her mother. But when she does fail to listen, people get hurt. Which reinforces her total dependence on him.

The power differential between them is huge. That happens in real relationships. And it's difficult to manage well. Here was a chance to model managing it well (while still being very dramatic star crossed lovers).

Not once in the book is the structure of their relationship challenged or questioned by the author in any meaningful way.

I recognize that when Stephanie Myers wrote these books, she had no clue that they were going to be the cultural phenomenon they have become. But, when you are writing for a young adult market you have some responsibilities. One of those is to not set up an abusive controlling relationship as a positive, sexy relationship model.

I've been in an abusive relationship. They aren't sexy. But, I learned alot. One thing that I learned is that you can not tolerate the least inkling of controlling behavior. Because it's a quick and slippery slope.

People who abuse other people aren't necessarily bad people. In fact they're often lovely individuals with unaddressed issues. That's part of what makes tolerating their behavior so easy. There are always multiple ways to rationalize it. "He's a vampire, he knows best, he's just trying to protect me" When the truth is, he's (intentionally or not) choosing to be with someone who has less power than he does. Rather than looking for ways to balance the power differential, he's choosing to use his power to control her every move. Abuse, especially emotional abuse can sneak in subtly. "Isn't it sweet that he wants to watch me sleep?" turns into, "he needs to know what I'm doing every minute of the day". Which becomes, "I don't do anything without his permission". At the end it's "I don't do anything that wasn't his idea, because the other options create too much pain".

Finding your way out of abuse as either an abuser or abusee is a difficult and painful journey. On the way a lot can happen, including both people finding a way to be healthy. But books like this? They don't help.

It's a lot easier to stop a relationship from becoming abusive than it is to fix it later. And this book sets up a relationship based on power and control as a fairy tale delight.

Teenagers are especially vulnerable to abuse in intimate relationships. One in 10 teenagers experiences physical abuse in a dating relationship. 2-3 in 10 report verbal or psychological abuse. Our teens should be taught the warning signs of this kind of behavior. Not have it glorified as the fictional teen romance of the decade.


Brandie said...

May I post a link to this entry elsewhere?

Jacq Jones said...

Absolutely - link away!

Sarah J said...

Totally agree that they are disturbing. On the other hand, someone came out with a pretty packaged book that discusses the feminism and philosophy behind the books - quoting and referencing the likes of bell hooks and Betty Friedan, among others - both critiquing and pointing out where evolution happens over the course of the books. Way to go clever marketing savvy 2nd wave feminists. If it gets even one teen girl to read some of that more thoughtful, useful feminism, then Yay! Twilight and Philosophy: Vampires, Vegetarians, and the Pursuit of Immortality