One of the biggest phenomenon to shape public discourse around female sexuality over the last few years (besides 50 Shades of Grey!) is the Twilight series whose final film installment is now in theaters. The teen romantic fantasy series centers around an intense romantic triangle between a human, Bella, her vampire boyfriend Edward, and the werewolf Jacob who is also in love with Bella. And, like 50 Shades, Twilight has received a lot of harsh criticism in response to its record breaking popularity. While some of the criticisms of the vampire/werewolf teen romance are about the depth and skill of the writing quality, others make heavier accusations that Edward and Bella’s romance depicts abusive elements of control and stalking. Additionally, some feminists have criticized the abstinence until marriage message, Bella’s heartbreak in the second book driving her to supposed near-suicidal depression, and her seeming lack of personality and substance in contrast to Edward’s unrealistic perfection. To unpack all of these big concepts we will give this blog two segments: in the first focusing on the serious issue of defining stalking and abuse.
As a big fan of the books as well as someone who works in and cares deeply about domestic violence, I wanted to share my perspective on the series with those who may be wondering if they depict unhealthy role models that we should protect children from. Stalking and controlling behaviors and male dominance are serious concerns to mental health professionals, and those terms need to be clearly defined and not just casually thrown around.
The behaviors that some people jump to define as stalking happen in a specific context- 1: Edward and Bella are dating and she enjoys and craves his company, 2: His reasons for standing guard at her house usually have something to do with intending to protect her from the many magical creatures that are threatening her life, and 3: he doesn’t sleep because he is a vampire and so has his nights free anyway. So while the behavior could look superficially like stalking in the real world, it is in fact very different than real life abusers who are stalking victims with whom they are not in a consensual relationship, who have the intention to frighten and intimidate, and who are not doing it for the main purpose of protecting their loved one from a magical fantasy life-threatening danger. Given these differences, it is not exactly fair to make the accusation that the millions of fans of Twilight enjoy stalking as it is defined in the real world. These are important distinctions to maintain, as real world stalking and abuse are serious concerns not to be made light of or compared to a protective magical boyfriend reacting to magical dangers.
So for now Twilight fans, you have our blessings to continue to enjoy the series without judgment that you secretly want an abusive stalker by real world terms – you just want to have appropriate magical protection if you were faced with equivalent magical life-threatening dangers. Stay tuned for Twilight analysis part 2 to break down some of the other criticisms of the series!