The four books in the series quite simply detail an old fashioned, traditional romance narrative- Bella Swan and Edward Cullen fall in love, marry, have a child and live happily ever after. The series was written by a woman, from the perspective of a first person, female protagonist. However, despite these deceptive advantages, the central character of Bella Swan is overwhelmingly regressive in regards to feminist ideology.
Simone De Beauvoir’s ground breaking theory The Second Sex carefully analysed the milestone positions of women’s lives in Western society from De Beauvoir’s feminist, existential viewpoint. As one of feminism’s core texts, De Beauvoir’s writings have inspired hundreds upon thousands of feminists, sparking activism and eventual social change. De Beauvoir consistently challenged traditional and unequal gender roles in The Second Sex– the same damaging gender roles that Stephenie Meyer blithely resuscitates in the Twilight saga. De Beauvoir’s theory can be directly applied to the characters in Twilight, and it is for this reason that this paper argues that in terms of gender equality, the Twilight saga ignores the progress of feminism obtained in the past sixty years, and is instead framed in an almost archaic
There has been much debate surrounding the Twilight saga, in particular the character of Bella Swan, her personality traits, and whether she is a good role model to the thousands of young women who declare themselves devotees of the series. Many literary reviews of the series label Bella Swan a heroine. By definition, a heroine performs heroic acts- and consistently so. A heroine is noted, and celebrated, for her courage and daring actions. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a heroine as ‘a woman distinguished by exalted courage, fortitude, or noble achievements’. Bella Swan exhibits none of these qualities. On the contrary, Stephenie Meyer’s protagonist displays very little courage, demonstrates very little fortitude, and is constant in need of reassurance or protection from the dominant male figures in her life. Bella Swan spends the majority of the Twilight saga standing precariously on the side-lines of the action, in full faith that men will fight her battles for her. Throughout the Twilight saga, she is constantly described as fragile and breakable, her victim hood consequently exploited and fetishist.
As Bella is passed from care of man to man, she becomes acutely aware of this fact. Halfway through Eclipse, she notes that ‘Edward insisted again on delivering me to the border line like a child being exchanged by custodial guardians’ (282). This is a patriarchal theme that is instrumental to the narrative, and Bella, a teenager on the cusp of womanhood, is constantly infantile by the men around her.
Underneath the hyperbole, Twilight is an idealized love story. Stephenie Meyer’s brand of love is one that renders women incapable of looking after themselves, in constant need of restraint, control and protection, and ultimately stripped of their autonomy. It is a brand of love that requires a woman to renounce her former life and assimilate herself into her husband’s world. In Bella Swan’s case, her transformation into a vampire by the fourth book in the saga (Breaking Dawn) requires her to shed every aspect of her human self into order to live with the Cullen family forever.
A significant proportion of the series idolizes Bella as the perfect woman child – fragile, frail and weak, in need of constant watch and protection. Meyer has spoken out against the criticism herself, claiming that the character of Bella is far from misogynistic.
Bella’s life choices are already decided for her. Her ultimate decision, to become a vampire, is less proactive, and more of the surrender of a woman in love.
The definitive and staggeringly entrenched inequalities in Bella and Edward’s relationship prove this- Edward does not treat Bella as an equal, she understands this and gladly accepts it. Bella does not challenge regressive gender roles, she actively embraces them. This character is not progressive by any means.
Meyer eagerly intertwines the notions of sexual lust and bloodlust. The Twilight saga’s narrative actively encourages the regressive ideology of women as prey and men as predators, painting the notion in a dreamy haze of desire, as well as romanticising the possible violent consequences. Meyers ‘good’ vampires are described as vegetarians because they feed on animals instead of humans. They hunt. They stalk and pinpoint prey. And then, they feed.
Simone DE Beauvoir’s The Second Sex also encompasses this school of thought. Framing men as predators and women as prey renders woman the ever passive object.
In the Twilight saga, human beings are weak, inferior, breakable and in need of protection. Bella Swan’s simpering tendencies can easily be dismissed by Twilight fans as an important requirement- she is human whilst most of her counterparts are vampires. But, taking Carol J Adams’ critical theory into account, there’s a case to be made that suggests Meyer’s constructed gender roles go further than biological sex, depicting weak, fallible humans as female, and strong, indestructible vampires as male: ‘It was against the rules for normal people — human people like me and Charlie — to know about the clandestine world full of myths and monsters that existed secretly around us.
When Bella Swan is bestowed with that vampiric gift- she chooses to restrain herself. When she is human and exerts her autonomous, if somewhat passive, sexuality, she is restrained. When she finally reaches equality with her partner as vampire, when she reaches male (vampire) status in the book, and is presented with the opportunity to prey on females (or humans) she chooses not to.
Because, woven finely through the narrative of the supernatural, romance, vampires, werewolves, family troubles and friendships, is a story that focuses intently on first love and a teenage girl’s reaction to her own sexual feelings- even if she does find these feelings awakened by an external, male source:
We’re living in a time when simply talking about women’s pleasure is taboo in itself and is considered dangerous by the virginity movement, since that kind of discussion frees women’s sexuality from its restrictive only-for-procreation, only-when-married, only-when-straight boundaries .
Bella is ultimately a malleable female character constructed by the men around her. As subversive to the traditional vampire narrative that it is- the Twilight saga does not stray from said boundaries. Meyer offers girls the fantasy of a male gaze that is intense, constant, and faithful.
In an age where the fight for gender equality is still on going, Bella’s primary aim throughout the Twilight saga is to lose herself, and become Edward