Recently, in honor of Twilight’s 10th anniversary, Stephenie Meyer released a genderbent version of the book called Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined, which I have not read and will only read if I find myself really desperate for new material to write about. But considering that Star Ocean 5 is almost out, I just watched Gotham Season 2, and Game of Thrones’s latest season is about to finish up, that’s not going to be a problem for me anytime soon.
Since I haven’t read Life and Death, I only know about it through what other people have told me—and it’s been nothing good. Part of the reason Stephenie Meyer wrote this book was to address the complaints people had about sexism. Almost immediately, I knew she wouldn’t be able to succeed in her endeavor and that Life and Death would just be another rehashing of the same sexist garbage. This is because, from reading Twilight, I’m going to guess that Stephenie Meyer clearly has no idea why Bella’s role in the story is sexist, especially because the sexism could have easily been fixed without changing any genders at all.
When you see the two versions of the same story compared to each other, the changes suggest that Meyer should’ve ignored complaints about Bella being a stereotype and maintained the value of what was undeniably a successful franchise. Instead, she ended up adding slight variations that feed into traditional gender stereotypes: Females receive more unnecessary physical description than their male counterparts did in Twilight and Bella almost cries where Beau doesn’t. (via Entertainment Weekly)
Thankfully, fandom is always there, and a group of dedicated fans have stepped in to create a reimagining that’s actually more progressive than either of these books. Twife or Death, originally titled the Twilight Lesbians Project, has sprung up in the last week on Tumblr, spearheaded by Tumblr user tallulademetriou.
Sometimes when we’re following a story we come to the startling and awful realization that our protagonists are horrible characters. Maybe they’re not written very well, or given a good role in the story, or maybe they’re just terrible people. Whatever the case is, some protagonists are just unlikable. And that most certainly is not supposed to be the case as often as it is. The other day while replaying Star Ocean, I got to thinking of all the horrible protagonists out there that I am supposed to like, and I came to a not very startling conclusion: most of them are cishet, white men who are also full of entitlement. This is not the case for all unlikable protagonists—but it is the case for enough of them. And it really goes to show just how boring and generic our stories are, since there is very little variation in this character type. As such, I decided to compile a list of my Top 5 worst protagonists who I am supposed to like, but who are really just giant assholes.
Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey are two of the most polarizing books that I have ever been unfortunate enough to read. It’s important to remember that it’s all right to enjoy something with problematic material. You just need to be aware of why it’s problematic. I’ve read and liked a lot of stories about abusive relationships—even recced a fic or two—but the biggest difference between reading fanfiction with glorified abuse and the Twilight and Fifty Shades books are that these fic authors are actually aware that their stories feature abuse and use disclaimers accordingly. Fanfiction is also often less about telling a cohesive story and more about expressing interpretations to already preexisting works of art. It’s not the same as writing for cash and putting a copy of their work in every bookstore out there. Stephenie Meyer and E. L. James don’t seem to realize the abuse they wrote, and what concerns me about their novels is that they do trick real people into believing that abuse—sometimes even rape—is a sign of love. Both these stories are incredibly misogynistic. They mistake abuse for love, sometimes even use love to excuse abuse, while also encouraging male entitlement and female submission.
Spoilers for both Twilight and Fifty Shades below, as well as a trigger warning for suicide, abuse, rape, and unhealthy relationships.
Werewolves have never really been the most popular monster; they’re usually second fiddle to vampires or zombies. I suppose there’s some sense to that. Vampires are sexy romantics and zombie hoards are harbingers of the apocalypse. Werewolves usually act alone, and, outside of Twilight and Teen Wolf, aren’t typically portrayed as having much sex appeal. In 1941, The Wolf Manbecame the first successful werewolf film. Our monster has a furry face, spreads his affliction through biting others, kills people, and is ultimately killed by his own silver walking stick. He’s monstrous, not sexy. We can understand why vampires and zombies scare us, too. Vampires might represent a powerful person draining us of our own power for personal gain. Zombies drawn on our fear of pandemics and the ignorant masses destroying those of us just trying to survive. But what about werewolves? The most common answer I find is that werewolves speak to the changes a teenager experiences during puberty. Pisces already explored how this dynamic works in Teen Wolf. But if that’s the case, then where are all the female werewolves?
Recently a group of cinemas in Sweden decided to institute a ratings system based on the Bechdel test. As moviegoers enter one of these cinemas, they would see a rating by each advertised movie, telling them whether or not the movie had passed the test. Controversy ensued, with the Telegraph calling the test “damaging to the way we think about film” and the Guardian almost immediately rebutting by saying it was “a provocation that works”. Both sides of the argument have some merit to them, but it’s clear that the Bechdel test now has enough cultural clout to propel a more in-depth discussion on feminism and gender in the film industry. The test has long been held up as a measure of how feminist a movie is, but does it really fulfill this purpose? Or is it time for this test to make way for newer tests like Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Sexy Lamp test or the Mako Mori test?
When it’s done well, fictional magic combines a certain amount of mystery with a solid set of rules. Without well-defined limits, magic takes away any and all problems facing a protagonist, and no one wants to read a story without conflict. Magical creatures are no exception. Magical creatures need a list of things they can and cannot do. Vampires are a good example of this. There are plenty of variations on the original pop culture vampire theme, and the strengths of each version’s limits gives us a good idea of how much staying power each variation has in our culture.
It’s been a while since Breaking Dawn came out, and by this point in time, I think most of you are probably already well aware of what happened in it. However, for the whole two or three of you who don’t know—spoilers!—Edward and Bella have a child. I briefly talked about this a few years ago, and looking back, I disagree with my assessment of Bella’s character in regards to her pregnancy.
I thought Bella was selfish for wanting to keep the child—mostly because Bella always gets whatever Bella wants—but I don’t think that’s true. This pregnancy is something that will kill her, and her desire to have the child at the expense of her own life is a selfless act that I, as a pro-lifer, cannot even be sure I would have gone through with.
However, my disdain over the whole situation remains the same. Twilight should never have been able to bring up the subject of abortion, mostly because Bella’s pregnancy shouldn’t ever have happened.
As a Catholic woman, the Catholic Church has told me that the person I should look to and emulate as an example of my gender is Mary, the Mother of God. I always had a problem relating to Mary, however; this is perhaps heretical, but I used to feel like Mary didn’t do anything. She gave birth to Jesus, she has a few other scenes with the gospel, but that is mostly it. I also felt Mary has largely no personality. She passively and humbly accepts everything God or Jesus does. Now, in the Catholic tradition Mary is considered sinless, so you might argue I couldn’t relate to Mary because of that. For example, in fiction, characters who have no flaws are pretty boring, right? But Jesus is also sinless and I could relate to him just fine. Jesus weeps over the death of Lazarus; he feels sorrow over Judas’s betrayal; he yells at God and attempts to bargain with God; he gets angry and flips the tables of the money changers. But Mary is always just humble and serene. At least that is what I thought—but I was wrong.
This version of Mary as the passive submissive female to a male church, savior, or god is what feminist theologians call the patriarchal feminine. This is a female figure who is lifted up as the ideal woman for a patriarchal society. Mary’s acting the submissive passive female to a male God and Christ, or even her husband Joseph, sends the message that if women truly want to follow God, then they too must be submissive to men.
Of course this version of Mary lifted up by the patriarchy is not in any way accurate. Mary is actually a very empowered figure. However, Mary as the patriarchal feminine is what we find in both theology and in pop culture.
Lately I’ve noticed a lot more of those Native American memes as I scroll through my various web feeds (maybe it’s because Thanksgiving is coming up?). You know what I’m talking about—pretty little pictures of serene and wise (and sad) Native Americans with some kind of superimposed message about listening to your elders and/or being one with the Earth. For some reason, a significant number of people really love spreading those around (I’m looking at you, elderly relatives). I’m not really sure why—maybe it’s something to do with looking for meaning in an increasingly post-Christian world. There are so many problems with those little memes; I won’t go into them all here. But some filmmakers have taken on a similar attitude. How do film versions of Native American religious beliefs match up to the real thing?