I linked this article by Monika Bartyzel last week. Monika showed up in comments here and has had a bunch of interesting thoughts. I thought I’d highlight some of them here.
This is Monika’s first comment.
I was quite surprised to see the responses to your piece. They seemed to decide that you have some sort of antiquated view of men and women, rather than note that the piece is speaking in stereotypical generalities. I thought you brought up an interesting and important alternative to consider.
I’m sick of the arguments against Bella because I’ve yet to see one that doesn’t try to morph the facts to fit the argument. Any agency or personality that Bella has is removed before arguments fly against her. Likewise, any blemishes sported by characters like Katniss or Buffy are dulled. The tough girls are coded in perfect terms, and Bella is made into the perfect loser. Essentially, they’re perfect because all faults can be forgiven by the overall package. People hate the romance and Meyer’s writing, so she doesn’t receive the same privilege.
Even in Amber’s piece, the similarities between K and Bella are obvious. If we boil all of this YA entertainment into checklist points, the girls are not all that different. No amount of bad writing, Mormon values, or indignation changes that.
What I thought was fascinating about Bella was that as much as the book journey was about Edward, it ultimately became about her. I completely disagree with: “Contra Berlatsky, it is laughable to read Bella’s desire for Edward as secondary to her desire to be a vampire—if Edward died, would Bella want to become undead? I think not.” She most definitely would. In fact, some might argue that Edward’s appeal is infinitely enhanced by how much his world helps Bella find her identity. The confused human klutz becomes the calm, impressively controlled vampire. Humanity was a banana peel that always kept her off-kilter.
I think there is a certain.. allergy to femininity because of its implications. Classic definitions of femininity certainly have their place, but I think many of us see that as problematic because of how those notions are fostered by the suffocating media presence around us. It is hard, if not impossible, to signify “natural” moments of femininity because of how much shlock girls get taught from an early age. I often see women act in ways that clash with their own personal ideologies, but are right in-line with the plentiful stereotypical characterizations we’re fed.
So perhaps it’s not so much a matter of hating the feminine, but mistrusting it, and finding it problematic in today’s social environment. But it’s still something we need to consider.
Also: It’d be interesting to talk about how strength fires up forgiveness. The stronger a heroine is, no matter how well or poorly she’s written, the more likely we are to forgive problematic aspects that surround her. Most Buffy fans seem to all-out deny the darker side of Buffy’s world (stalker boyfriends, forgiveness of killers, etc). With Katniss, we get a strong heroine who is literally kept out of a hearing about her life while literally watching her skin melt off, who has no choice about where and how to live, is pressured into having children she doesn’t feel comfortable having, is in a romance that still doesn’t inspire her to say “love”. She seems to never be in control of herself. If no one watched/read either Buffy or Hunger Games, it’d be easy to turn off the populace by the same methods used to turn Bella into a complete fool.
btw: I’ve got to thank you for that 2009 piece, which I hadn’t seen before. I had completely forgotten about the hideous storyline that condemned Buffy’s strength and made Riley morally superior with his blood-prostitute ways. (Much like the other Xander gem when killing a frat-massacring Anya would make Buffy cruel, but trying to help Angel made her foolish and selfish.) I imagine that I find it easy to see Buffy’s weaknesses and Bella’s strengths for this very reason.
And here’s a follow up.
I agree about Buffy. Perhaps for a little while in the beginning she was allowed to revel in her strength, but there was so much condemnation in that show. Since Xander most often lobbed the bullshit condemnation, I just funneled my hatred into him rather than the show. He seemed to act like some sort of condescending moral compass that always emotionally beat her down with flawed, self-serving opinions. There IS one moment where Buffy really flourished in her strength though – Prophecy Girl when she killed the Master. After she was resuscitated, she seemed downright gleeful about her role as a slayer. Unfortunately, the beginning of Season 2 took that all away and re-coded her as being severely emotionally damaged by the whole thing.
Funny, I was just going to type about Katniss’ failure to feel much of anything except loyalty/protectiveness and aggravation/anger … but that once again makes her more like Bella. She just gets “better” reasons to feel it, whereas Bella’s are much more realistic to people today.
I think it’s said in the book, but it’s definitely in the movie that Bella tells Edward she wants to marry him because of how she finally feels like herself. “This wasn’t a choice between you and Jacob. It was between who I should be and who I am. I’ve always felt out of step. Like literally stumbling through my life. I’ve never felt normal, because I’m not normal, and I don’t wanna be. I’ve had to face death and loss and pain in your world, but I’ve also never felt stronger, like more real, more myself, because it’s my world too. It’s where I belong.” And then she specifically says it’s not just about him. It’s just that these points get muddled in the Edward lust.
Yes, I think Bella is attracted to that familial life, but I think that the audience is even more. Twilight might be ridiculous and in some ways problematic, but it fills holes. If your familial life is traumatic or nonexistant, you can go into the books feel the warmth of the family. If you have relationship problems, you can get swept up in the love. More than anything, the Saga speaks to the dissatisfaction and emptiness in life, or most distinctly, offers a really defined sense of reliability. The Cullens are honest and reliable without condemnations about how people live their lives; they love their family no matter what crazy choices they (Edward, Alice, etc) might make. I think that probably appeals to the readership just as much as the romance. (I know that to be true for some friends of mine who like the series.) Of course, it also means exacerbating expectations of love to inhuman forms.
And yes, there is a real problem with how loathed Bella is. If she was just immediately dismissed as problematic with a list of reasons and that was the end of the story, fine. She is far from an ideal heroine. However, the vehemence against her is strange, and not at all in line with how she’s presented in either the books or the films. I think that’s partly due to people taking up the argument from other’s opinions and not reading for themselves, and maybe some of it is the anger towards Meyer’s style making any positive point irrelevant? I don’t know…