Is Twilight Really Sexist? Mormon? Gothy?

Is Twilight Really Sexist? Mormon? Gothy?

The answers are respectively “no,” “no!” and “oh sweet Christ yes, absolutely, it is so gothy, so very gothy.” As gothy as the Hohe Domkirche of Cologne.

So today I decided to cash in my Y chromosome once and for all by going to see Twilight.  First, let me share the song I would have played over the opening credits if I were the director.  Just start the clip and let it run in the background while you read the post.

Was the movie any good?  I’ve got no complaints, although I suppose I should warn you that I’m notoriously easy to please.  Compared to other movies reviewed by this site, it’s neither good enough to merit one of our flagrantly overthought rave-ups, nor anywhere near bad enough to deserve an increasingly histrionic series of pans.  Still, there are a couple of things worth examining here.

I:  The Feminism Issue

Take THAT, heteronormativity!

Take THAT, heteronormativity!

Some people have complained that Twilight reinforces traditional gender roles. This is a pretty easy argument to make:  the power dynamic between Edward (super strong, incredibly rich, kind of a jerk) and Bella (giant klutz, lower-middle-class, apparently finds jerkiness charming) is a little shady. But if you’re going to damn Twilight for this, you’re also going to have to throw out about %40 of western culture.  So long, Beauty and the Beast.  Later, Pretty Woman.  Have a nice life, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre.  This doesn’t mean that we can’t point out Twilight‘s shortcomings, but we should take them with a grain of salt.  And we should give Twilight credit for the one one major challenge it does offer to male chauvinism!  To wit:  Edward is soooooooooooooooo hot.

This isn’t as trivial as it sounds.  It’s not just a question of the actor being dreamy, although I suppose he is; it’s the way that the camera lingers on his face and form (or in the book, the female narrator’s frequent comments to the effect of “OMG he is so beautiful OMG”). Twilight is hardly the first book or movie where a female character is allowed to be strongly attracted to a man, but there are a *lot* of books and movies in which female desire is denied, glossed over, or presented as toxic.  If we’re going to buy into the idea that Twilight will program the subconscious of American girlhood – questionable, but hey, taking stuff way too seriously is kind of our mission statement ’round these parts – then let’s celebrate the good along with the bad.

I’m pretty sure Germaine Greer has my back on this.  And is it just me, or does the cover model from The Beautiful Boy bear an uncanny resemblence to Twilight actor Robert Pattinson?

But nothing can excuse the scene where Edward admits that he has been sneaking into Bella’s room to watch her sleep “for a couple of months now,” and she reacts by making out with him.  That’s just creepy.  I don’t care how hot you are.

II:  The Mormonism Issue

The author of the Twilight series, Stephanie Meyer, is a Mormon.  This has gotten a certain amount of press, and drawn some interesting responses from Mormon culture bloggers.  Mormonism is exotic enough to the general public that it’s almost impossible not to go hunting for symbolism.  The way this plays out, basically, is to imagine the Cullen family of vampires as an analogue for the LDS church.  They are “different.”  They are “misunderstood.”  They have unusual dietary restrictions (here for “human blood,” read “caffeine”) which separate them from others of their ilk.  And while the pure, noble Cullens live in an isolated corner of the American hinterland (for “Forks, WA,” read “most of Utah”), the blood-drinking vampire mainstream is based in Italy.  You know, where the Pope lives.

Kind of cute, right?  But Utah is no longer the hinterland.  (I’m not sure that we’ve really got one anymore… maybe Wasilla Alaska?)  And in my limited experience, Mormons are about as likely to abstain from caffeine as Jews are to abstain from pork, i.e. not very.  So my little analysis has everything to do with the popular idea of Mormonism, and probably nothing to do with actual Mormons or the Mormon self-image.  Really, I’d be surprised if there was any actual religious subtext to the series at all…  C.S. Lewis it ain’t.  It ain’t even that painfully arbitrary scene at the end of Harry Potter where he goes on a vision quest to the King’s Cross [ahem Cross nudge nudge cough] subway station.  The generalized dimensions of “otherness” that float around the Cullen family do attach rather well to Mormonism, but they also work with any other religion, as would the focus on “restraint” pointed out by the Time article.  Heck, the vampires’ special diet would be a much better symbol for kashrut than for anything that Mormons do.  And although Mormons are agressive prostelytizers, Bella has to spend three and a half books pleading with Edward before he finally [spoiler alert] throws her down on the mattress and gives her a good hard sucking so that she can join his special vampire club.  This again is a lot more like Judaism, if Sex and the City is to be believed (wait, when did I say I traded in my Y chromosome?).

Uh, so yeah. Stephenie Meyer:  secret Jew?

III:  But really, it’s a Goth Issue

Vampires are outcasts who choose to be outcasts.  They’re super hot, super athletic, and super charming… clearly they could be prom king and queen if they wanted to.  But they don’t want to.  They want to be left alone.  No one understands them.  Theirs is a high and lonely destiny.

Now if you’re growing up as a social misfit – which even the most well-adjusted goth kid probably is – there is something very comforting about this image.  It’s not so much the being strong and charming and handsome part… it’s just the idea that your isolation is important and marks you as better.  Some people map their difference onto vampires, some onto other forms of geekery.  Many map it onto a rigid moral code.  (No one, but no one, is more passionately chivalrous than an awkward teenage boy who hasn’t learned to talk to girls yet.)  All of these strategies allow the misfits to convince themselves that they are rejecting society, not the other way around.  That their destiny is high and lonely, as opposed to just lonely.

So I guess what I’m saying is that vampires have always appealed to a certain set of teenagers.  With Twilight, that set has gotten much larger, but I’m going to theorize that the symbolic utility of the vampire is more or less the same, which just goes to show that, deep down, the mainstream kids are every bit as awkward and angsty as their purple-haired classmates.  That idea of *choosing* to reject the social mainstream is absolutely foregrounded in Twilight.  Some synopses of the story describe Bella as a neglected outsider, but she totally isn’t:  immediately upon arriving in Forks, she becomes the most popular girl in school.  Boys from miles around line up to ask her out, and she makes female friends too.  And she consciously abandons all of this to go be with Edward.

Which means that despite the fact that Twilight goes out of its way to avoid the capes, coffins, and candles school of Vampirism, it is still gothy as the front row at a Sisters of Mercy concert.  If I were a goth kid right now, I would be furious that my subculture had been co-opted.  The mainstream hasn’t just stolen vampires:  it’s stolen alienated posturing. Now dawns the era of the posturing-poseur.

Incidentally, Carter Burwell’s main theme from the Twilight score so reminiscent of The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now” as to be utterly distracting.  So I’ll leave you with another music video…

Talk about co-opting goth culture!

(Incidentally, Wikipedia informs me that this cover of the song was originally recorded for the 1996 movie The Craft, making it the official anthem of crappy witch-themed media.)

Stokes has been writing for OTI since the very beginning. (No seriously, he wrote the first post on the site.) He’s probably the guy to talk to if you want to pitch an article about music theory or horror movies. Check out his 50,000 word exegesis of Cowboy Bebop, his threepart series on plotting in early video games, or his alternate rules for Monopoly.

27 Comments on “Is Twilight Really Sexist? Mormon? Gothy?”

  1. Tomomi #

    I think your comment about goths is interesting. Because probably 99% of the fangirls are not goths. So what is this new acceptance of vampires into their realm of popular culture?

    As a fan of the books (a truth that I wholeheartedly embrace), it’s probably the fact that the book is really about Bella and Edward’s romance, which dynamic reflects many other great romances in literature such as Darcy/Lizzy and Heathcliff/Catherine. And that dynamic between a man and woman, my friends, is HOT. I’m not gonna say that Stephanie Meyer can write prose nearly as good as Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters. However, she has managed to capture the essence of such a relationship. Vampires were merely a vehicle in portraying that relationship. Plus it makes for awesome characters :)

    What other supernatural being may have worked? Not sure. Vampires are so easy to use. They take human form and can walk among us. They are supposed to be hot and alluring. They are supposed to be sexy. Can you think of other supernatural beings?? Not sure. Vampires *rock*.

    Reply

  2. mlawski OTI Staff #

    I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but, when I watched that South Park clip, I felt really bad for the goth kids.

    Well, back to being a faux-hipster…

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  3. lee OTI Staff #

    …would that be a “fipster”?

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  4. mlawski OTI Staff #

    Fauxpster?

    Reply

  5. stokes OTI Staff #

    Hipstux?

    Reply

  6. Gab #

    Only _South Park_ would be able to use an insult such as “Fagula” and make me laugh.

    Since this is another post about them, I’m going to say something more about the _Twilight_ books while kind of sort of ish addressing the post. See, even some of the “anti-feminist” problems can also be taken from a purely humanistic perspective. A PERSON should think and do for themselves, at least so long as it doesn’t harm others. SPOILER: Nobody should attempt suicide because they get dumped, and nobody should ignore someone that is CLEARLY demonstrating a desire to do so the way Bella does/gets treated. She presents an unhealthy dependence on someone else, and those around her that should notice it and do something about it sit back and watch, willing themselves to fall for her blatant and textbook excuses because they are too wrapped up in themselves to let anything spoil their own personal paradises. This would be just as bad if Bella were Bob and Edward were Edwina; sex and gender don’t matter because a person is a person and thus shouldn’t base their value of existence on the existence of someone else. But look at the post about the movie being good for women for more on why it’s anti-feminist.

    Mormon? I don’t really care, and unless the author says it’s there, I try not to see it. Religious symbolism is easily thrown upon anything if viewed through the right lens and by the right eye. I mean, Hell, I could rant and rant about an English class I took wherein EVERY F***ING THING in _Metamorphosis_ was some form of Christian symbolism/imagery to the teacher. Drove me nuts. If someone wants to see something, they will. Hemmingway had to come out and say, “NO, people,” when they hoisted a bunch of symbolism he hadn’t intended onto some of his works. Whether that’s the case for Meyer or not, who knows? Perhaps the female passivity comes from her Mormon background, too (I’ve heard that argument). Frankly, I don’t care where the trash comes from: it’s still trash.

    Goths: Aren’t goths pretty much synonymous with “emo” nowaday? Or, rather, haven’t they been replaced by emo?

    Tomomi: I have to ask. What “awesome” characters are you talking about, and what makes them “awesome” in your eyes?

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  7. Gab #

    I don’t think Mendelson’s brushing off the rest of the series is valid, though, because he argues that it is female escapism similar to male escapism because she keeps her friends. Well, yes, in this particular book/movie she does, but not in the end. And fairy tales are totally gendered and promote patriarchy, so describing the movie as being a “fairy tale” in a good way doesn’t really fly with me if the thesis of the piece is the escapism women can achieve in being fans of the movie: escapism into… patriarchy? No, sorry. That’s not escapism, that’s the exact opposite. Further, I don’t see a good comparison to SATC because the women in that series weren’t fictional incarnations and embodiments of the ideal patriarchy-oppressed woman: they were not passive, defenseless, or any more emotionally vulnerable than the men they got involved with (for the most part), and while they did put emphasis on their relationships with men, they did not define themselves via those relationships to the extent Bella does. As I’ve said before (somewhere), my problem(s) with the characters in SATC had to do with how the women were being portrayed unrealistically; but I would never think they promoted patriarchy and female submission.

    His analysis of why it’s sexist is spot-on, but it doesn’t fit with the rest of his argument about how it’s a good thing.

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  8. Lia Hilem #

    Having read all the Twilight books, and having seem my friend become so in love with Edward Cullen she made her boyfriend cry and two of her friends stopped talking to her I have decided that it CAN be harmful. And seeing the way she acts I can say that not ALL teenage girls can be relied upon to be totally reliable in figuring out fact from fiction, though most are (like me.) The movie was a bit of a flop out, and though both books and movie are great escape-ism, they can’t be looked at too closly or they just commit to many crimes.

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  9. Gab #

    My best friend and I were talking last night about how terrible Twilight is this whole thing, and I’d like to lay out something we came up with. The very title of this post is one of the major pro-Twilight arguments, that the author, director, and main character all being women is an automatic plus for women everywhere. JKR is a woman, too, but that wasn’t discussed as much when her books and the movies based on them became so successful. Yes, they did talk about how she was a single mom frequently, but it was done in a different context: she wasn’t portrayed as a beacon of hope for women everywhere, but as a strong-willed individual woman. Why is THIS disparity existent? The only guess I personally could come up with is JKR’s series is/was about a male and there are mostly male execs making the films. And perhaps because her books aren’t absolute trash and don’t need to grasp at straws in defense?

    Any opinions here?

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  10. Gab #

    Damn, I tried some html and it didn’t work. “how terrible Twilight is” should have a slash through it. I fail, sorry.

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  11. Bucket #

    How very typical, talk about a misunderstood religion
    “Mormons are about as likely to abstain from caffeine as Jews are to abstain from pork, i.e. not very.” Well that’s probably because Mormons were never told not to drink caffeine. It is coffee and tea that we are asked to abstain from. It was a good try though. Really, are you over thinking it? Sounds like under thinking to me. (oh burn!)

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  12. Gab #

    Hm… I thought, when I posted a few places above, I was looking at the one about why the movie is good for women. Still, I stand by what I say. Just pretend it was on the other post. ::whistle::

    Reply

  13. Alyssa #

    I hate when people get up on their soap boxes like they know what they are talkng about. If you want to know the truth about Mormons ask a Mormon not your preacher.

    Reply

  14. Gab #

    Bucket and Alyssa- I think you both missed this line:

    “So my little analysis has everything to do with the popular idea of Mormonism, and probably nothing to do with actual Mormons or the Mormon self-image.”

    Mmmm, flayme warz?

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  15. Syd #

    I’m with Lia H. My cousin read all of the books, and is obessed with the Edward character. I’ve only read a few paragraphs, and I’ll admit the romance is okay, but I’m afraid that her obessession (seeing the movie multiple times; owning multiple posters; reading books over and over again) is keeping her from seeing the reality of what men are in real life. She’ll spend her life looking for her “Edward” while missing out on great guys who’d do anything for her. And for another thing, You shouldn’t relate “Gothy” with “Emo” I saw on the bio channel about a group of “Goths” whom this girl fell in love with a somewhat creepy guy and he ended up killing her because “He and his friends wanted to know what it was like to kill someone.” Emo kids are mearely just teens following a fashion, and the stereotypes can confuse them with Gothy types, while Emo is more fashion than action. Emo, In my opinion, has been replaced with “Scene” a more colorful and lighter version, while is a bit touchy, and I couldn’t see any “fashion” or fad replacing it as long as the internet thrives.

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  16. Syd #

    Oops. *While Gothic is a bit touchy, and I couldn’t see any “fashision” or fad replacing it as long as the internet thrives.* Left out a word. Sorry.

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  17. Gab #

    Syd: I like the argument that Emo is more like following a fashion than acting out a real lifestyle- but I don’t agree. While an Emo person may not go so far as to kill someone else, they *do* do things like cutting themselves and committing suicide. Killing someone else “to see what it feels like” is a form of narcissism, which is lifestyle, yes; but, arguably, so is cutting and suicide. Both hurt others, only one is more direct than the other.

    BUT. I do concede that perhaps Emo and Goth are different. Similar, but not the same entity, since yes, both groups exist simultaneously still.

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  18. Heidi #

    I find your comments interesting, but I find people’s opinions on the Mormon aspect of these books to be a bit irresponsible. IT IS GLARINGLY OBVIOUS THAT THIS IS A MORMON BOOK SERIES.

    Just like Parents want to know about sex, violence and course language. I think a parent has the right to know that a book is filled with someones religious dogma. I think the books were written to be Mormon and she disguise it with moody emo vampires and clumsy girls.

    There are very unrealistic views about love, sex, relationships, and family in these books. There is a lot of irresponsibly, by the author, in filling girls heads with “This is how a man acts” men are human beings that have flaws and faults and sometimes they make the man better and more interesting then a perfect man that is willing to let (bella) walk all over him while almost having an affair with another man (Jacob)

    There are also glaring issues with simple grammar and editing in these books they are for the most part 2 times bigger then they need to be an I really do think that Stephenie spent a great deal of time just typing out words so her vicarious life could continue as long as possible. There is no doubt in my mind and others that she is Bella.

    When I discovered these books I did so with my niece she asked me to read them with her and I did. After reading the first book and researching the author, I sat my sister and my niece down to discuss the religious nature of the books. I had to point out very adult things to my 13 year old niece so she would have a clear picture of how the real world is and how normal people deal with lie and love and that people do have to have hardship and pain and should suffer the consequences of life.

    One of the best things about the Harry Potter series ( And I have to tell you hearing it constantly compared to this vanity project is getting tiring) is the Jk Rowlings showed how life really is filled with joys, heart break, death, pain, elation, regret, and every other emotion you can imagine. She did it with class and regard for her readers and mostly for her biggest fan her daughter.

    Stephenie Meyer gave us 2000 odd pages filled with nothing but rainbows and Bella getting everything she has ever wanted wrapped in a baby blanket with the name Renesmee on it. ( really Stephenie? )

    Sorry this was so long.

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  19. Woushou #

    What about a French point of view?

    (just forget my awful English, I’ll try my best but I know i need to improve it)

    I red the 4 books and i wonder why i loved them so much. The fact is the writing is simple (and the translation is very poor, mixing old fashion way to speak like “mon amoureux” to a rough imitation of teenagers language , From what i have red from the V.O. it sounds better).

    I really thing that the point is the “passion” and the fact that for quiet a few decades children (especially girls) have been raised with the idea that love must be passion. Thanks to the fairy tales, the love stories ends there they should start: At the beginning of the true relation ship.

    That’s why modern fairy tales show us a “non-human love” because this is NOT love, this is never ending passion.

    In the twilight sag it’s worse than that, even in the vampire standard, their love is more than just common love.

    spoiler: When Bella become at last a vampire, she is supposed to be obsessed with blood, human blood… but no, she is much more obsessed by her hot vampire husband’s body…

    According to me we are so used to watch, read… fascinating stories ( and I’m not talking about love only but every kind of passions) that life become dull.

    I’m not a teenager anymore, I mean I’m a little more than 19… 11 years more to be exact. But I come to realize with some of my friends that we are still teenagers in the facts. To become an adult is to accept what we are or more accurately, what we will never be. Compared to all the fairy tales how can we be satisfied with normality?

    That’s probably why i liked those novels, and why teenagers are too. I understand why some girls are pursuing Robert Pattinson in order to ask him to bite them…. It makes me laugh and cry at the same time.

    Passion is not something we can feel all the time, and it’s more like a drug. Bella’s Edward fix and in the other way around… and this story is an huge fix to those like me…

    I maybe over thinking it? but isn’t it all the point here?

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  20. Ethan #

    As a Mormon, I do see some similarities in the books. Nothing dogmatic or blatant. There is the elegant LDS belief of eternal marriage and the eternal nature of the family unit.

    Also, most Christians belive in becoming spirits (ghosts) in heaven without bodies. Mormons believe that God and mankind will have perfected bodies eventually, something similar perhaps to the vampires without the gothed-out Lestat angle.

    Mormons also believe in something called eternal progression, basically the idea that people will continue to learn and adavnce forever until they become perfect, reaching the full potential that God (their literal father) has for them to become like them. The same way we hope our kids grow up to be like us.

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  21. Sibyl #

    From a goth kid point of view: no, I don’t particularly like Twilight, but not because it’s ‘co-opting’ my culture. Some of it does have common threads with goth culture: isolation, the romanticization of vampires, etc. but the whole high school prom setting kills all the gothic romance, to be honest. None of the goths I know are fans, and I don’t think anyone is going to become goth because of Twilight. If you’re part of a culture steeped in the traditional concept of vampires, like Stoker’s Dracula and the movie Nosferatu, Twilight seems horribly watered down and wimpy in comparison. Vampires that sparkle in the sunlight, and don’t drink human blood – seriously? They’re just not interesting, seductive, or dangerous anymore. To boot, Twilight is trite, full of cliches, and reads like a sexless Harlequin romance.

    And I don’t know if I’d call it sexist so much as silly. The man of your dreams being a 100 year old virgin who is stalking you? Seriously? You said that Twilight is good because it shows female desire as a good thing, but you can hardly consider a good that that desire means making out with a lurking stranger in your bedroom.

    Oh, and Syd and Gab – as a 19-year-old goth I can say that you guys have the wrong idea about the goth subculture. I’m not experience with emo, but goth is a subculture based around a style of music and fashion. NOT self-harm, murder, or violence. The kid who killed his girlfriend must have problems that transcend subcultures.

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  22. Gab #

    Sibyl: Re-reading what I posted, I can see why it sounded to you as though I was implying goth=self-harm, etc. I apologize. People kill “to see what it’s like” and self-mutilate all the time and no, being goth or emo isn’t a pre-curser- the subcultures and actions are, indeed, different circles on the ven diagram. That pre-curser is some sort of mental illness or instability.

    Mea culpa!

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  23. Phoenix #

    Strange that you mention that.

    There is a website that has posted a rather intelligent response that states that these books clearly ARE sexist.

    They are known as Azrim’s Rebuttals and they point out who truly flawed the Twilight series is… which includes Edward being Abusive, Imprinting to be Sexist and Pedophilic, Bella being an absolute Idiot, why Edward and Bella are in petty LUST and not love, etc.

    I recommend taking a good look at them.

    Reply

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