Monday, December 14, 2009

How to Talk to Girls About the Messages of New Moon

My friend Alyssa posted this link to an excellent blog by a female writer and educator named Rachel Simmons. She writes a fantastic blog post about how Twilight can be used by educators as a teaching tool. While, she looks at the two movies, her lesson plans can also extend to the books. So I'm posting part of her blog here along with my response. This is an important issue. As much as I dislike and belittle Twlight, its impact on young, teenage girls in PHENOMENAL which is really disturbing. Someone needs to sit down and have discussion with these girls without belittling them. In the words in Simmons, "Challenging it would be like taking on rock and roll." So here's the post in italics. My comments are below.

I think there’s been enough written about the dizzyingly bad messages “New Moon” telegraphs to girls. Among the cringe-worthy morals of this story: When you’re in love, the only thing that matters in life is your man. If you get dumped, your life is over, so feel free to act suicidal to get him back. Even if he tells you he never wants to see you again, manipulation and game-playing are effective ways to get his attention. Your friends are only ornaments; just kick them to the curb when he comes back.
No matter how you slice it, Bella Swan’s one reason for being is Edward Cullen. She’s got no hobbies. She’s got no opinions. She pretty much has no friends. The girl has nothing on her or about her that extends beyond one burning, fangy desire: Get. Edward. Back. Is it any wonder that when Bella extends her hand to the mind-reading Italian vampire, he is stunned to see “nothing?”
Which puts adults in a thoroughly uncomfortable position. Sitting in a sea of girls twittering and swooning at the phenomenal acting skills of Taylor Lautner’s torso, I found myself praying quietly for a scene where Bella paints, or sits on a bus with the debate team, or does something unrelated to obsessive, self-destructive pining. And I began to wonder how we could talk to girls about this film.
My suggestion is that we don’t come down like a ton of bricks on it. That’s a debate we’re sure to lose. Twilight isn’t just a phenomenon of dollars; it’s a social obsession among girls. It’s something they bond over and believe in together. Challenging it would be like taking on rock and roll.
So let’s talk with girls about New Moon on their terms and ours. This is a terrific opportunity for you to communicate your own values as a parent about intimacy, love and relationships. 

This is a really great work of writing and very informative. I read this to my fiance who is soon to become a high school English teacher; he’s bemoaning the fact that he’s going to have to read Twilight eventually because it’s what the students are reading. I think this a great way to use popular fiction to facilitate class discussion.

I read all four books and saw the first movie, and personally found myself disgusted. I personally found Bella to be very flat and uninspiring. She has zero personality; she defines herself entirely through Edward. Contrary to what some say said, I don’t think Bella has any hobby much less a deep love for reading books. She only reads ONE book (albeit over and over): Wuthering Heights. If you think about it, that’s another book which revolves around a couple with an equally, actually more, destructive relationship. They’d make interesting companion pieces.

I can see how New Moon in some ways, accurately captures the loss and despair teenage girls feel after a break up (the whole world is over; I’ll never find love again). But the level of obsession, to the point of danger, that Bella has is disturbing. I really dislike the way she treats Jacob. I personally think he was better for her; their relationship seemed more playful and intimate than the control, distance, mixed with intense, obssessive passion that characterized her and Edward’s relationship. However, after Edward comes back Jacob turns into a total jerk. Both are at least borderline abusive towards her; it's a running joke that while watching the Twilight movies you can check off all the things on the domestic abuse hotline list.

Issues about sexual activity also need to be discussed. To me the whole book reads like tract on on abstinence. Edwards constantly tells Bella they cannot have sex until they are married. Bella just throws herself at Edward, not concerned the least bit about the consequences emotional or physical. Edward's reason for not wanting to have sex seem more belittling than noble; he's afraid of "breaking" or "hurting" her. Way to perpetuate the stereotype and paranoia. Granted, Bella enjoys it later on in spite of all the injuries. Why is it the fact after all the hinting and denying, when the two are finally married, the reader never sees them having sex?! It's like saying, this is something secret girls aren't allowed to see. I'm not in favor of a hardcore smut scene, but it'd be nice to see a little action, even if cloaked in metaphors, like romance novels. Lastly, comparing Twilight to other “high school” or “teenage” vampire novels to see how they treat similar issues could make another great lesson.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, I missed this post before but I think it's a great one! I know you said you are into writing as a professional so I just wanted to point out this mistake. (I put the mistake in caps):
    "I personally found Bella to be very flat and uninspiring. She has zero personality; she defines herself entirely through Edward. Contrary to what some SAY SAID, I don’t think Bella has any hobby much less a deep love for reading books."