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Column: 'Twilight' delivers a bad message to women

Christina Stiehl

Nov. 3, 2009

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

Even if you don't keep up with popular culture, it is impossible to escape the phenomenon of the last couple years that has been the "Twilight" book saga and now movie series.

Usually, I would shrug off this franchise as another Disney-esque cash cow, designed to tug at the desires of the pre-teen to teen demographic and subsequently their parents' checkbooks. But the series has infiltrated older generations, causing college-aged girls to obsess over the fictional Edward Cullen and 30-somethings to tote around the teen-vampire novels as if they were on Oprah's Book Club list.

Not wanting to be behind the curve, I began reading "Twilight" last year before the release of the movie and it was OK. I took it with the proverbial grain of salt, but even so, I couldn't figure out why the novel bothered me so much. Sure, Stephenie Meyer has the writing style of an eighth grader entering a Young Authors competition and I don't think it's fair to excuse her poor writing as a means to relate to a younger audience.

Aside from the melodramatic first person narrative and love interest with no personality, I still couldn't put my finger on why exactly "Twilight" was so overrated until I began reading "New Moon," the series' second installment: Bella, the main character, is a pathetic role model for adolescent girls.

Basically, the series revolves around a 17-year-old girl who falls in love with a boy in her school, only to find out he is an immortal vampire. Fine, even the most cynical of us can appreciate a good love story sometimes.

But the protagonist and her boyfriend, Edward Cullen, are so in love after only weeks of knowing each other, they can't spend more than hours apart. Edward uses sappy lines like "You're my life now," and then sneaks up to her room most nights to sleep over.

As if the first novel isn't enough of an advertisement for teen co-dependency, "New Moon" chronicles Bella's depression when Edward decides to abandon her for the better part of the novel. Hint: When your vampire boyfriend leaves you alone in the woods, he's just not that into you.

Moral of the story? Your teen boyfriend truly means it when he declares his love for you after a few days. And though the young couple doesn't technically have sex until they get married (at age 19, mind you), teen girls might be more naïve in falling for the sappy lines and horny antics of adolescent boys in pursuit of their own Edward.

Or like in "New Moon," if someone breaks up with you, it's perfectly acceptable to pass out in a deserted forest for days because really, life isn't worth living anymore. Although I couldn't force myself to read past chapter eight in the second novel, I hear the rest of the series continues in much of the same, needy manner.

I can understand why many optimistic teen girls are infatuated with the series, but as older and hopefully more mature young women, we should know better. Besides, don't teen girls deserve a role model who can maintain her independence in the face of not only supernatural creatures, but also heartbreak?

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Article comments

Nov. 3, 2009 at 5:11 a.m.

Stephanie Patton: I wanted to thank you for writing this. As a Mom, I just caught up in the entertainment of the movie and didn't even think of the underlying message. I did enjoy Twilight and have already bought our tickets for New Moon. But, when we critic the movie I will be bringing up her "dependent" character and make sure she understands its just a movie.

Nov. 3, 2009 at 9:15 a.m.

Jessica : I'm sorry, but I have to do this. I'm one of those 30 somethings and have read the series 4 times. Maybe you should have read the rest of New Moon. The main character (Bella) does go on with her life. She isn't in the woods for days just hours. Bella finds a new kind of happiness with her friend Jacob. You must not have ever had your heart broken. Good for you, but most of us have and it HURTS. As far as Stephenie Meyers writing goes. Lets see she is a millionaire and you are writing for a local college newspaper. And I would like to know what is wrong with having sex a 19 especially if you are married. I was married and 18 had my first child at 19 and I'm still married to the same man. Maybe you should remember that it is a work of FICTION.

Nov. 3, 2009 at 1:50 p.m.

EdwardLover4eva: There is a such thing as unconditional love you know. What those two had was real. LEAVE TWILIGHT ALONE!!! ;)

Nov. 3, 2009 at 2:29 p.m.

Sami : Hey Christina, I would like to lend a little support on an issue that you and I agree on. Jessica, you completely missed the point of Christina's article. Christina was trying to point out how dependent the Twilight series makes women appear. Yes, getting your heart broken hurts (I've been there!), but it doesn't mean that women should just fall apart. There is more to life than having a man, which Stephanie Meyer conveniently forgot to mention. And Bella obviously doesn't move on with her life, as she later returns to Edward. Professionals have noted that in many ways, Edward is emotionally abusive. With Bella returning to Edward, Stephanie Meyer is just propagating the notion that females are easily controlled. Not exactly ideal. Throughout the series, Bella is defined by the man she is with. Is that how you would want your daughter to think of herself? As merely an individual defined by her Facebook relationship status? To compare Christina to Stephanie Meyer, and then insult her by implying that somehow she is doing less with her life is such a cheap shot. There are plenty of people in this world who make more money than you ever will. I suppose that makes them better than you? After all, that's the logic you used against Christina. Making money off crappy novels does not indicate intellect or goodness of a human being. I would like to see you write weekly for a college paper. How about next time, instead of hitting below the belt, and instead of acting like this article somehow victimizes you, why don't you actually read the article for what it is: personal opinion backed up by reasonable arguments. Or are you too busy reading vapid, shallow stories like Twilight to bother actually reading news editorials?

Nov. 3, 2009 at 4:37 p.m.

Becca : Christina, I agree with you in that the series does create Bella to be a dependent person. But it also does the same for Edward. I think you need to take the books for what they are; a quick, fun, and entertaining read. If you want to disect literature, you would have better luck interpreting a poem or a great literary work. The stories main point was unconditional love, not obsession. You could draw the same conclusions from Cinderella; she was never happy until she found Prince Charming. Does that not imply dependency too? In my opinion, young readers will realize that unconditional love is the theme, not dependency.

Nov. 4, 2009 at 10:55 p.m.

Publius: Christina, you are dead on in hating the Twilight series for the author's lack of style. There are a huge amount of other reason to shun the Twilight series and the larger cultural vampure trend it arugably spawned. Stephen March wrote a fantastic piece in last month's "Esquire," about how the recent vampire trend is capitalizing on the fact that teenage girls want to have sex with gay men. I suggest you check it out. However, you happened to pick on of the absolute worst reasons to hate Twilight, or any other work of fiction: that the character isn't a good role model. This is a recurrent criticism offered by Americans, whether it be about TV shows or a novel (usually the former though, since the majority of Americans never read fiction). We shouldn't, and don't, need to like a character to enjoy a book or a TV show. All characters need not be role models. This is especially true of Twilight. You admit that Meyer is a pretty crappy author. How would she know that her awful books would become such a phenomenon? She must, on some level, be aware the she has the literary chops of a 13 year old. You can't honestly expect her to have had the prescience to predict her sci-fi-romance-vampire-trash would become the hottest-childrens-book-that-adults-inexplicably-read since Harry Potter. I suppose that wraps up my comment. But I would like to note that, when I view your column, an advertisement for Twilight merchandise ironically appears in the right margin.

Nov. 6, 2009 at 12:20 p.m.

Catherine: To Jessica: Bella obviously does not move on from Edward, EVER, as she does stupid, dangerous things just to be able to hear his voice again. You would think after the fourth time you read the series you would remember her little cliff-diving episode. To Christina: THANK YOU for writing this column! I actually am a Twilight reader; I read the entire series and I found the books very entertaining. I won't lie; they were hard to put down. However, when people began the Edward vs. Jacob debate, I rooted for both of them! I just didn't want either of them to end up Bella - she is a sniveling, whiny, immature young girl who doesn't deserve either of them. The scene in the hospital at the end of the first book where she begs Edward not to leave her? Sickening ... even worse in the movie. Also, I could not help but notice Meyer's juvenile writing style, although I will admit she improved as the series progressed. So, in conclusion, I liked the books; I do not like Bella. And I think Meyer is lucky to have had this much success with her mediocre writing skills, but I still applaud her for becoming such a universal figure.

Nov. 14, 2009 at 9:44 a.m.

Ashleigh: Hey Christina, Im not beating up on you, but do you think its a little judgemental to write such an article when you haven't read the books? Im personally am a fan of the series, and that is my personal preference. They were entertaining and a nice escape just from everyday tedium. That is my opinion and you have yours. Im not defending the series, it being a good or bad collection is by opinion ONLY. I posted this comment to say that, why make a snap decision on something you haven't read, and the parts you have, you misquote. An opinion is dangerous and it is not based in fact. If I were to make a snap decision, with a name like Maneater, Id take you for a lonely lesbian, that can read past as you call it, an "eight-grade level". A seventh-grader could have told you that it was hours, not days. A word of advice, Don't judge a book by its cover, and learn the difference between fact and opinion.

Nov. 14, 2009 at 9:54 a.m.

Hope: What a position to take after reading (half-heartedly) less than a third of the story. You know, if you picked up the Bible, (and I am in no way comparing the two),and read just a couple verses, you would think that God hated everybody. It was supposed to be a piece of entertainment, geared toward young adults. The author just told a story for crying out loud. You don't like it, don't read it. But you hardly make a case when you call it "eight grade" and then prove that you can't read on that level, with the mistakes you made about the part you did read..LOL

Nov. 14, 2009 at 10:13 a.m.

Ashlie: Kind of a silly way to look at something you haven't read?? What's wrong with getting married at 18? It would be better if people did marry young instead of sleeping around and shacking up wouldn't it. I don't know when marriage became a bad thing but I guess yet another of God's gifts isn't acceptable anymore. With a name like Maneater how can you attack The Twilight Series? Your name alone is a negative message to girls, boys, teens, women, and men. You make yourself look bad taking such a stand, when your article is full of mistakes about the book, and you admit that you haven't even read it. You are entitled to you opinion, it's yours and yours alone. But don't take the position as some sort of women's advocate when your very name is an insult to their mates. You cant be pro women and hate men, every women has a father, and it took him to get you here. Not to mention physically we are weaker, so the jacked up name on the top of this page was enabled by a man. Yours is the bad message. Twilight was entertainment. Lot of luck Maneater, kiss your dad and brothers this holiday season, its obvious you don't have a husband.

Nov. 14, 2009 at 11:04 a.m.

Bobbie: This is so sad. Who said Bella was a role model. Or that the author could have known her fate in submitting her pages to a publisher? Its geared toward a younger crowd so why so much highlighting on how it was written. Be glad that something has gotten children to pick up a book. At the very least they will broaden their vocabulary. What is it hurting? What is the harm in getting married as a legal adult. (More people should try it.) If you want to, you can find a negative message in anything, from Disney movies to nursery rhymes. Are you going to pick them apart too? You defeat your own purpose in writing an article on something you haven't read. Admitting that, and then turning and judging it, sends a message too, it says beat your gums at anything you want without having the grounds to do so. There is nothing wrong with the "dependency" Belle shows in the book. As people we are dependent. Try going it alone. Dump a baby off in a dark room, raise it up with no affection, just tell her, all she needs is herself.. You'll have a damn animal on your hands. There is no greater feeling from human to human than true love and affection from the opposite sex. If you're old enough to marry, it is no ones right or place to tell you not to do so. The Bible tells us to marry. And it didn't site an age. Twilight's message was to sit down and make an escape.Fun. Entertainment. Everybody understands that except for the experts and professionals, and people that havent read it. You all think somehow, everyone wants to marry a vampire. Calm down, just about everyone over 3 know there's no such things. Remember when everyone was afraid their kids were going to go over to the dark side of witchcraft and wizardry. It was the same thing then. All Harry Potter fans were brainwashed, when really, we were just having fun then too. I still haven't seen anyone convert to becoming a witch. It wasn't a problem until everyone became a shrink, and made it one. The only people that are unhappy are you guys. We the twilight fans, are starting to worry about you. Calm down, before you give yourself an ulcer. No ones asking you to like it, and you cant ruin it for us or change it. As for the problems you foresee with the harmless message of The Twilight series, music, movies, sitcoms, and even commercials, all do the same thing if not worse, you can almost catch an STD by turning on the radio or television. Where moving in together is the norm, and marriage is the enemy. Speaking of bad messages, take a look at the top of the page. Maneater??? What would you tell a 10 year old boy or girl who sees that? He has no choice but to become a man, unless you eat him of course. For the girl, you either promote homosexuality or a man hating complex. Either way, things that are much more harmful than books found in the fiction section. Thank You for writing the article. Maybe you learn something about yourself.

Nov. 17, 2009 at 2:10 a.m.

Bob: I love how people froth at the mouth screaming "it's just a book" when defending it against criticism, and yet, minutes later, will run off to post on some "Twihard" forum about how wonderful the romance is, debate whether Edward's possessiveness or Jacob's violent sexual aggression are better attributes in a boyfriend, and insist that it's not just a book but rather a phenomenon. There is nothing wrong with imperfect characters if you set them up as imperfect characters, but that's just not the case with the Twilight series. Stephanie Meyers has compared the series (and left not-so-subtle references in her books) to classic literature, even Romeo and Juliet (someone who studied literature should know that the whole Romeo and Juliet story wasn't actually about love, but I digress). And her fans are even worse. Bella is the most pathetic excuse for a female character ever. She has no goals, no hobbies, no talents, no ambitions, nothing. Well, unless falling down is considered a talent; she's quite good at that. Her existence begins and ends with her relationships. Edward is a joke. The guy has to constantly fight the urge to bite and kill her. What an amazing character to idolize... "I also want a boyfriend who is always struggling to avoid the urge to kill me! OMG EDWARD!!! Please, let me faint for you!" The guy has people lie to her to keep her from doing what she wants. He sabotages her vehicle. He deliberately hurts her when ***HE*** decides what is best for her. Don't mention this to a fan, though, because they'll say that he's doing it for her own good. They don't even see how that's a problem. The idea of him actually TALKING TO HER / her making her own decisions is something they can't even comprehend.. he should just control her life, that's romantic. The only reason she even likes Edward (or Jake, for that matter) are because they're "OMG SO HOT I'M GOING TO FAINT OMG OMG OMG!" Their reason for liking her? She smells nice. Great. And that is the basis for an "I'd die just to hear your voice" relationship? Please. With these sort of ridiculous conceptions about love and relationships, I'd bet anything that this generation is going to take that 50% divorce rate to new heights. The Twilight Saga is not about love or romance as it exists. It's about a retarded, 13-year old girl's vision of relationships: you see someone hot, find out they're off-limits, get their attention somehow, live happily ever after. Ever notice how long relationships last for girls that age? Right.

Jan. 7, 2010 at 6:38 p.m.

Carly: This book does nothing but pull at the hearts of women and young girls. Its all pure fluff and while at times enjoyable to read the aftermath is never good. I was always left feeling a bit empty after reading them. But the fact is there is nothing good about this series but a bunch of corny fluff that can make your heart flutter. The writing is terrible, Bella is possibly the worst character to ever exist, the story line just drags on, the plot is full of holes and brings the wrong message to young women. What really bothers me is when people say "Well its fiction, its heartbreak , its real" Well yes that is true. but who are the majority age group reading this series? Young girls just starting to get feelings about the opposite sex that they never had before and girls filled with horomones. While yes an adult women can hopefully step back and realize that its just a story, girls see Bella as the luckiest girl in the world because she has her "Edward" , without him she is nothing and its okay to risk your life to hear that persons voice because its "true love" . Oh please.

Jan. 22, 2010 at 7:56 a.m.

Ness Stark: I agree that you should have read the rest of the books. It's not fair to critique something that you didn't read. However, the message that the books sends isn't always positive. Teen girls do want love (all of us do), but they still believe in it. The truth is... at the beginning of the book, Bella loves sunshine. Bella doesn't want to get married. Bella is brilliant and has a chance to go to an ivy league school. Her mother is her best friend. She and her father have a shitty relationship, but it has a chance to improve. She's generally a good girl, and makes several friends when she first moves. By the end of the series, Bella has given up sunshine. She has given in to marriage. She has given up the chance to go to college (and if she does go, it's going to be in like...Alaska). Her mother doesn't even know about her "change." It's not discussed. They're not close anymore. She basically stopped writing to her early on in the series. Her relationship with Charlie (dad) improves, but is never honest. She runs away, disregards other people's feelings (Jacob, her dad, her friends from school), systematically alienating every friend that she made along the way. A nd, she DOES basically shut down after Edward. Her life is miserable. She wants to die, and even though Edward goes off to kill himself after he thinks that Bella is dead, it doesn't have the same meaning. He abandoned her- maybe because he realizes that it's not healthy for a teenager to be in love this way. Remember that he is really in his 90s... By the end of the series, Bella has died in more than one way. Her real self has died. She gave up everything she was, wanted, and had for Edward's love. He remains unchanged. That's why it sends a bad message to young girls.

Feb. 2, 2010 at 2:41 p.m.

Lucien: Christina, I am a guy and I agree completely with your article. It's ridiculous how many 30-50 year old women are ENTRANCED by this 1-dimensional trash. Edward Cullen isn't a real person, ladies. Bella, who cant do anything without Edward, basically tells all girls: Youre nothing without a man, and its okay to be abused and 100% dependant on a guy, as long as he is really, really, really hot. Don't let all of the other comments get you down, cause youre totally right.

April 2, 2010 at 12:36 p.m.

Megan: Okay, I read three and a half of these ridiculous books, so I think my opinion is legit (I couldn't finish Breaking Dawn, it was just that terrible, and I always finish a book). I agree so completely with your article, Christina. The only good thing about this stupid series is that it gave me a solid idea about my future career. I'm going to work as a Young Adult fiction editor and prevent books like this from getting published. Not only does Twilight send a bad message, but it seems a lot of folks are jumping on this bandwagon and producing more terrible novels for young women. Weak female characters there are abound. They can't live without a man. Life is about finding your own true love. Blah blah! Bullcrap! There's more to life than getting a man and having kids. Oh, and hobbies? Talents? Interests? Bella has none of those. When she's not cooking for Dad, she's mooning over Edward. And I don't think her putting herself in danger after Edward leaves her is sending a very good message to girls either. These books are awful. Simply awful. And Jessica, you're an idiot. Stephenie Meyer got lucky. Her millions of dollars don't make her better than Christina. And to those who argue that they're just books and at least they're getting people reading are also...ugh! Yeah, they're getting people to read, blah blah blah, but that doesn't mean we have to respect them! The fact that people AREN'T reading is a rant for another day, though. Argh! I can't wait till this trend dies. Put a stake in Twilight. Please.

Nov. 2, 2010 at 10:11 a.m.

Casey: Who posted a link to this article on the Twilight fan forums?

Feb. 7, 2012 at 12:52 a.m.

joe : it also sends a bad message to men. how is an average guy supposed to live up to the physical ideal set forth by jacob or edward? the media is way worse to men than women in terms of body immage. men are expected to be fit. and any guy that is a bit out of shape is worthless.

Dec. 1, 2012 at 1:56 a.m.

Angel_s: I agree with Lucien. Christina, you are right and I would also like to take it a step further. Having read all four books multiple times i would like to add the following critiques.Bella demonstrates a classic case of Stockholm syndrome, in which they develop positive feelings for their captors. While Edward/Jacob never expressly "kidnapped" her against her will, they both engage in socially and mentally destructive behavior towards Bella. This sends the message that it is ok to fall in love with people who are controlling and abusive. Then there is the fact that Bella completely implodes when Edward leaves her. She has nightmares, doesn't respond to any stimulus, and ignores everyone and everything around her. This is a classic description of clinical depression, which the book depicts as fine as long as you lost your "true love." Then there are also the episodes of doing reckless and dangerous things, including encouraging a romance that never has any chance of becoming real with a pushy and unstable friend. All to get Edward back, fight between Jacob and Edward, get married at 18, and have a child together thereby sealing the "whirlwind love story together." All the while, the total message coming out is "all you need is a man and you are nothing without one." Am I on crack or did we have a feminist movement?

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