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Ruining your childhood: Misogyny, abuse in 'The Twilight Saga'

"The Twilight Saga" is a book-series-turned film franchise that features Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan and Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen.  – Photo by Twilightarchive / Twitter

Vampires, sexism, assault and ridiculously misogynistic men with savior complexes may not be what comes to mind when thinking about "The Twilight Saga," but it is an accurate summary of the series.

Undeniably, "The Twilight Saga" is one of the most successful movie franchises of all time. With the total franchise generating upward of $3 billion in revenue (the finale “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2” generated approximately $341 million worldwide in its opening weekend), it’s safe to say that "Twilight" has left its mark on the cinematic universe. 

But between the rampant sexism, misogyny and even abuse that’s present throughout the series, we might want to rethink stanning this teen classic.

I was never a fan of the saga. Growing up, I cringed every time my friends got into the Team Jacob vs. Team Edward debate and I found that the way all the girls would justify Edward’s stalker-ish and domineering behavior because “he’s hotter than Jacob” was horrifying. When I revisited the series I hated it more, something I didn't even think was possible. 

In case you need a plot refresher: The saga begins with the story of shy girl Bella Swan (played by Kristen Stewart) moving to Forks, Washington. As the new girl, she quickly gains the attention of weirdo high school boys for her beauty, including the creepy-but-hottie enigma, bad boy Edward Cullen. 

As the film unfolds, Edward develops a creepy obsession with “protecting” Bella, and of course, this slowly develops into romance. But Bella's life is put in danger when a group of nomadic vampires: James, Victoria and Laurent, realize she’s a mortal. 

At the end of the first film, Edward saves Bella from James (well, Edward almost kills her too as he tries to suck out the venom from her neck, but I guess we’ll let that slide) and the two go to prom together with Bella sporting an injury and Converse. How romantic. 

In the following films, the two continue to develop their relationship, which is complicated by both Bella’s humanity and infamous werewolf heartthrob Jacob Black (played by Taylor Lautner). In the end, Bella marries Edward and gives up her humanity to become a vampire herself, after the birth of her half-human, half-vampire daughter Renesmee nearly kills her. 

And they lived happily ever after. Sort of. 

The saga is incredibly problematic, to say the least. In fact, many have rightfully criticized "Twilight" for its heavily anti-feminist sentiment and sexism. Like the many romance films marketed toward young women, "Twilight" is yet another stale, predominantly white film in which the “weak” female protagonist needs a “strong” and powerful man to be her “savior.”

In fact, the design of the characters themselves is inherently sexist. In the first film, Edward is established as a toxically masculine, brutish character with an enormous savior complex. He is dangerous, daring and downright impulsive. Wherever Bella goes, he’s there, even when she’s asleep. Whenever Bella is in trouble, he miraculously comes to the rescue.

Meanwhile, Bella is frail and the stereotypical shy girl who doesn’t quite fit in, the submissive who keeps her mouth shut and is basically defenseless unless Edward is there to come to rescue her. 

Despite all the bad that Edward does (he literally confessed to murdering people), Bella gladly excuses his behavior. In fact, she justifies his behavior by saying “it’s a mask” and his way of pushing others away because he’s “been hurt.” Sigh.  

From Bella’s excusal of Edward’s literally murderous actions and stalking to her complete submission to Edward, their relationship dynamic is the quintessence of ingrained societal sexism and is incredibly unhealthy and detrimental for the tween girls watching. 

This film effectively perpetuates the idea that women ought to excuse brutishness and bad behavior, as long as the man loves her.

“But Bella chose to be with someone like him, she wants to be protected,” you might say, and it’s true. But that’s exactly what’s wrong with this film. Why is it that she had to do that? Why is it that Bella was given no justice, no power in her script and left with no options other than Edward?

This isn’t about Bella being shy or overly altruistic: This is about how Hollywood romanticizes and perpetuates the regressive “broken female that needs saving” trope and packages blatant sexism with a shiny bow on top.

Evidently, "Twilight" asserts archaic views of gender roles: It’s the man’s job to be bold and get his hands dirty, not the woman’s, because all she has to do is sit pretty and a man will surely come to save her. This idea is actually sexist both ways — just as much as women can be the dominant force, men don’t necessarily have to be in order to prove their masculinity. 

In the same vein of sexism, we also witness profound misogyny as Bella is repeatedly harassed throughout the film for being beautiful. From a guy kissing her on the cheek without her consent to getting cornered in the parking lot by a group of men, Bella’s character sends out the disgusting message for the girls watching that their beauty comes at the cost of their comfort and basic human rights. 

Here are a few honorable mentions out of the countless sexist instances in this film: Edward’s constant objectification of Bella, whether it be by creepily staring at her or saying crap like “your scent is like a drug to me,” the scene where a group of guys harasses Bella as she’s having dinner with her father by shaking their asses in the window and the absolutely unnecessary scene of the same boys pointing at Bella’s friends' breasts as they try on prom dresses in a clothing store. The list goes on. 

As if "Twilight" couldn’t get any worse, it severely lacks diversity, and in its feeble attempts to diversify, it just ends up being stereotypical. In fact, in the first film, there’s only one Asian character, Eric, who basically embodies the nerdy Asian trope, and one major Black character, killer vampire Laurent. He has an accent for no reason.

And did I mention that both of these characters barely get any screen time? In fact, Jasper, Edward's quote-unquote brother, admitted to being a whole Confederate soldier during the Civil War and we were just supposed to be okay with that?

"Twilight" may have gotten its fame, but for those of us who are now old enough to understand what it truly stood for, it’s shocking to see how much our childhood innocence blinds us. Hollywood's capitalization on both little boys' and girls’ impressionable minds is gross, at best, and is all the more reason that it’s important for us to look retrospectively and recognize the damaging biases these films teach us. 

But until we reach a position where we can finally flip the narrative, we must brace ourselves for the next poorly written romance movie with a tasteless agenda.


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