Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Author guest post: Why the Twilight hate needs to stop (Part 2)

Without further ado, here is the second part of South African YA author Joanne Macgregor’s guest post on The Twilight Franchise.

To find out what got this age-old debate started up again, head on over to part 1 of this post.

Over to Joanne.  

She is condemned because her heroine isn’t “feminist enough” (as if there were some calibrated thermometer), though heaven help the writer whose heroines are “too feminist”!

I don’t know if the definition has changed, but last time I looked, being a feminist included such things as making your own choices, according to your values, and not succumbing to individual or societal pressure to conform to a set of “suitable” standards.

Bella does this.

She dates who she wants, though everyone else judges her. She trusts her own judgement.

She refuses to exclude her male friend from her life when her boyfriend desires this, and refuses to drop her boyfriend when her male friend, his father, her father, the community, the mostly male “pack” demand it.

She insists on going to college. She holds out on marriage for years despite enormous pressure. She takes charge of her sexuality and pushes for a sexual relationship.

She isn’t scared to show her intelligence to her love-interest or to disagree with him. She makes her own decision about whether or not to keep her pregnancy, despite pressure from all quarters. She busts a gut trying to survive as both a mother and an individual.

She saves her partner and his family and hers on more than one occasion. I don’t know what else critics expect her to do – what they would do, I suspect, but this is not their story. It is hers.

If I bring my shrink brain to bear on trying to understand why else Meyer has come in for such ill-will and enmity, I come up with some other theories.

The books are not about traditional tropes, they have subverted many of them and made them much more to do about issues which are of deep concern to women.

Whether or not she did it consciously, Meyer has encapsulated, in mythical terms, a dilemma which, like it or not, faces every girl and woman.

The truth is, in real life you are more likely to be harmed, hurt, bruised and killed by your boyfriend or husband than any other person on the planet.

The danger is domestic, it’s here and now – stalking you in your bedroom, your kitchen, your school. It’s not some in some castle comfortably distant in Transylvania.

 The person most likely to abuse or even murder you, is the very one you may love most deeply.

How do we, as women, get our heads around that fact? How can women love men when men may be dangerous, how can we trust when we cannot be sure, how can we return even when we have been battered?

And how can the man who says he loves you with all his heart, sometimes, in some small or not-so-small piece of himself, maybe want you dead?

Specifically, in the books, Bella could die from sleeping with Edward. So can we all, if we make unwise choices in our sexual lives.

There have been some truly interesting analyses of the Twilight books in terms of AIDS, Edward being the outsider who never asked to be infected and who could himself spread the contagion to his beloved, how it seems it will stop him from having children in cause he passes the illness to his offspring, etc., and they are worth reading.

So Bella falls for someone who she thinks is fabulous, who says he loves and wants to protect her, especially from himself – because Edward recognises that he, himself, poses the biggest threat to her.

This is a fascinating theme, but not one that people are necessarily comfortable acknowledging or exploring, so they get very judgy about Edward hanging about in Bella’s room, watching her sleep.

Of course this is odd behaviour – in real life.

But this is not real-life – it’s a freaking story! You don’t expect teens who read the Hunger Games to start killing each other, and teens who read Twilight will not find it unremarkable or un-creepy should they discover a man huddling in their curtains.

But on a deeper level, many young and older women we do have stalkers in their bedrooms – literally and metaphorically.

I have worked with women patients whose husbands/lovers follow them, check their phones, inspect their underwear, demand an accounting of time and money, plant tracking devices and apps in phones and cars, hire private investigators, and sometimes – yes, it happens – just stand and watch their female partners.

Girls and women want to be in love, to be loved AND to be safe. Edward offers this – he tries to have himself destroyed when he realizes how the intersection of his life with Bella’s endangers her.

In him you have the hero who loves you, who will protect you from all dangers, including and especially that posed from himself. No wonder he is such an appealing hero!
But the intimate-enemy is not the only theme that Meyer examines.

How about all that messy blood, all over the place?

How about that if/(when?) you are targeted by strange men who follow you and intend you serious harm, that you cannot rely on your male partner to rescue you, and that if he does, you may have to dissuade him from going back to wreak murderous revenge – I often see this in the male partners and brothers and husbands of rape victims, for example, and it contributes in no small way to secrecy and under-reporting.

Something else which is a serious threat most women will have to contend with – is having children. Oh sweet heaven, I can already hear the outrage from all quarters, but hear me out.    


Being pregnant comes with risks.

To some small degree, all foetuses feed on and may strip nutrients such as calcium from their mothers.

They certainly leach energy! And there may even be risks to life in carrying a foetus to term – something not many YA books even conceive of.

Giving birth is both profoundly natural and unarguably dangerous, and many women have a deep, archetypal fear of death in the days before birth.

Symbolically, or figuratively, many women experience some “deaths” after they have a child – they may struggle to maintain their own, individual identity apart from their roles as wife and mother; they are likely to lose the body shape they had pre-pregnancy; they will lose time and energy and money for themselves; their careers may be put on the back burner.

Everything changes when that baby comes out and some parts of your identity and lifestyle “die”. Most women eventually understand these “necessary griefs”, and embrace them as part of the joy and fulfilment and never—ending worry and hard slog that comes with being a parent.

Many women, however, suffer intensely with post-partum depression for these and other, biological, reasons.

We are so conditioned, as consumers of popular culture, to expect the big climactic fight-ending in which people are attacked, shot, blown up and everything is “resolved” by means of (dare I say it?) testosterone-fuelled force, that Meyer has been criticised for crafting a different series-ending – a non-violent, negotiated settlement.

But surely it is just as valid, and probably a good deal healthier, to talk your way through and out of dangerous situations.  Why can’t characters live to fight another day?
 

No, the books aren’t perfect – either in terms of their ideas or their writing.

But many books aren’t.

Arguably, none are. Are they the best books ever written for young adults? Certainly not, in my opinion. Is Bella my favourite heroine of all time? No.

But she’s not my worst. Many books have much dodgier content (torture-porn anyone?) but don’t come in for the same vitriol, especially directed at the author personally.

We’re allowed to love or hate or be completely indifferent these books according to our own tastes. 

We’re allowed not to be drawn to reading certain books or genres, but I think it’s damn unfair to criticise work you’ve never read, and it’s never acceptable to attack authors personally for not writing a story you approve of.

And it becomes sad and obnoxious to shame readers for reading and enjoying whatever pleases them.

Here’s what I have to say to the critics sitting so smugly on their moral high-horses: You want stories where the female protagonists are less passive active, more kick-ass, more outspoken, less blinded by love and more determined to change the world?

Good! Go write them. (I did!)


Thanks for stopping by Joanne. So glad to have you on the blog today!


About Joanne:
When not writing books,  Joanne Macgregor is a Counselling Psychologist in private practice in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she deals mainly with victims of crime and trauma. It’s tough work and her brain escapes by dreaming up stories when she’s not consulting.


 She started her professional life as a high school English teacher, and has also been an IT trainer, theatre dogsbody, and a business consultant.

She has always been in love with words and with nature, and is a pretty good cook.


 Joanne’s published books for Young Adult readers are Turtle Walk (Protea, 2011), and its sequel Rock Steady (Protea, 2013).

She has also written two books for younger middle grade readers: Jemima Jones and the Great Bear Adventure (eKhaya, 2012), and Jemima Jones and the Revolving Door of Doom, both of which are available as ebooks. Her first book for adults, Dark Whispers, is due out early next year.

Where you can find her:
Website
Twitter

Disclaimer:
This post originally appeared on Women24.com, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.  


What are your thoughts on Twilight? Do you think Meyer is still being unfairly maligned for writing a series that got many people reading? Is the vitriol justified? Or has the ship sailed on this topic? I’d love to hear your thought on this – whatever they may be.

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