Pop-Culture | Posted by Haley S on 04/8/2010

Twilight, Romeo and Juliet and the Disney Princesses: Why Are We Looking Up To These Examples?

Oh hey there

Oh hey there

In light of the New Moon DVD coming out recently, I have to admit, I shrieked like a little girl every time Taylor Lautner came onto the screen. However, despite how absolutely dreamy I think he is, and how I read the books incessantly last summer, there are QUITE a few things that I absolutely cannot stand. These seemingly romantic and harmless books, are actually filled with sexism and signs of emotional and sometimes physical abuse. When I was thinking more about this, I realized that quite a bit of literature, doesn’t actually send out that nice of a message.

Relating directly to the Twilight Saga, I started reading it two summers ago, and immediately fell in love with Edward, he seemed utterly perfect. To have someone love you that much seemed like a dream come true. Then, when I read the next three books, I totally became Team Jacob, and I couldn’t remember why I had once found Edward so appealing. I went back and read Twilight trying to find that feeling again, but it was lost. Instead, I read of a creepy stalker who was obsessed with this random girl that moves into town.

This relationship is glorified for young girls, and even set as an example of what kind of relationship they should be looking for. The books make the relationship between Edward and Bella seem unbreakable, despite the obstacles that they face. They make Edward a heroic character, willing to do anything to protect the life of the woman he loves. They make Bella out to be an average girl, someone that any one of us could be. Girls as young as elementary school are reading these books, and falling in love with Edward’s character, when in reality, Edward is a controlling and emotionally harmful boyfriend.

Knowing quite a bit about the culture of domestic violence, I saw the red flags immediately. It bothered me how protective he was of her. He had just ditched her in New Moon, and throughout Eclipse he would hardly allow her to do anything by herself, and even punished her and put her in “lockdown” when he went out of town. She at one point had to literally run away to see her other friends. This does not seem like a healthy relationship to me. After reading an article posted on Jezebel about this same topic, it became even more clear that he not only isolates her from her family and friends and many times force her from her home, but he threatens to commit suicide if he ever to live without her.

Co-Dependent Bella

Co-Dependent Bella

Not only do these books romanticize emotional abuse, they also don’t give off a very good message about being a strong woman. Instead, it shows that Bella’s character is completely dependent on her significant other, and cannot function without him. When he leaves her at the beginning of New Moon, she crumbles. She is not able to operate normally without him by her side, and she falls into a deep depression. Bella is completely worthless without Edward. It is only when she replaces Edward with a new man, Jacob, that she is able to pull herself back together.

I am not going to lie, Bella is an extremely dull and boring character. She never has anything insightful to say, and getting to be inside her mind as a reader isn’t all that thrilling. That is not exactly the kind of strong female protagonist you would wish to see. Her character could simply not stand on its own. She is whiny, annoying and generally unfunny. I personally just don’t care about what happens to her. Stephenie Meyer makes her main character very unlikable. The Livejournal member who wrote out the signs of domestic violence in the book also makes this claim, “Bella seems to have no purpose, other than to be loved by someone, anyone. When she isn’t around either Edward or Jacob, she mopes around and does… nothing. ” This is not the kind of girl that I would want my daughter, or my sister to be looking up too and wishing to be like, which many young girls are doing.

Despite all of these flawed things in the series, they have sold over 85 million copies worldwide. The movies have been setting records in the theatre, and there is another movie set to come out in June. What is it about these pseudo-romantic books that make us love them so much?

not the best example of a strong relationship either...

not the best example of a strong relationship either...

As the Jezebel article I read points out, the Twilight saga is not the first time that a love story has had some questionable moments. Even Romeo and Juliet, something that we read my freshman year, points out some debatable things that have me trading the “irrevocable love” to “unhealthy love”. These two people were barely teenagers, and they had only known each other a little while, and they died for each other? I know that we are supposed to suspend reality and believe in a love so strong that none of this mattered, but if I was to kill myself for a boy I had just met that I supposedly loved SO much, it would be crazy. This romantic tragedy is hailed as a masterpiece about a love that cannot be broken even by death, but at its core shows an unhealthy relationship that ends with two teens committing suicide. Romeo and Juliet is cherished as a tragic but poignant play, and Twilight is cherished as a tween sensation, our society has made it okay to promote these detrimental love affairs.

Sexism is also apparent in many types of literature, especially movies. Any animated disney princess movie is not a “happily ever after” unless their is a man at her side. In movies like The Little Mermaid, Ariel gives up everything to be with Eric, and in Mulan, she must “become a man” to even have a chance to make a difference. In Grease, Sandy ends up being the one to completely change her entire persona to get the guy.

I am slightly horrified to admit it as I write this entry that I watch and read and love these movies and literature. In the end, I have no idea why these books or films have so much hold on todays culture. They are not relationships that I would want to have, nor themes and attitudes which I would want to promote.

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  • Laura @ at 2:49 pm, April 8th, 2010

    Your experience with twilight is exactly the same as mine- I am now repulsed by the books, even thought I loved them when I first read them.

    I always found Bella to be of poor character, though. In New Moon, she develops feelings for a new, hot guy after her ex boyfriend cruelly dumps her. I mean, in the real world, who wouldn’t? If that happened to me, I’d find nothing wrong with moving on to someone new.

    But how does Bella feel about it? She beats herself up for being so horrible and disloyal, and continues to do so for the next three books. She is sending the message that you are not allowed to have feelings for anyone but your first love, even if they dump you, and leave you to be eaten alive in the woods.

  • Valerie B. @ at 5:00 pm, April 8th, 2010

    Here’s a funny little article a friend showed me about how Twilight (and possibly other romances as such) works: http://theoatmeal.com/story/twilight
    I’ve always wondered the same thing. Also how New Moon the Movie sold, since it makes Edward seem extra abusive and yet Bella comes a’running back to him.

  • Twilight, Romeo and Juliet and the Disney Princesses: Why Are We … | The Unofficial Twilight Blog @ at 7:32 pm, April 8th, 2010

    [...] posted here: Twilight, Romeo and Juliet and the Disney Princesses: Why Are We … Filed under Twilight Info Click here to cancel [...]

  • Chelsea! @ at 7:55 pm, April 8th, 2010

    Oh, my goodness. thank you for writing this article! I refused to read the Twilight series, just because I thought they sounded extremely stupid, and I always had a problem with Bella in the movies (I was forced by friends to see both of them), but I could never put my finger on said problem. this explains everything to me (: awesome post!

  • Maren H @ at 8:05 pm, April 8th, 2010

    Yes!
    Especially in the fourth book (spoiler alert) after Bella and Edward consummate their marriage, Bella is left with hand-print bruises all over her body, and brushes them off as nothing! Meyer actually romanticizes physical domestic abuse!

  • Kate @ at 10:59 pm, April 8th, 2010

    “I am not going to lie, Bella is an extremely dull and boring character.” Yes! Thank you! I actually read the first three books and had the exact same reactions as you.

    Comparing the dysfunctional relationships in Twilight to Romeo and Juliet though, really should make Twilight look even worse. Romeo and Juliet was written around 1591, by an author who wrote many other strong female characters, which was to say the least atypical in that century. Juliet herself has an actual personality and spunk and a mind of her own before Romeo comes along– she doesn’t want to just marry rich, handsome Count Paris. And Romeo and Juliet’s relationship isn’t held up as romantic or ideal(hello, they die in the end, the whole play is called a tragedy).

    Twilight however, over 400 years later, has laughably bad writing, a main character with no actual character, and an immensely creepy view on the ideal male/female relationship dynamic(the bruises all over me are just signs of his love!). Hurray for progress? I’m way more okay with Romeo and Juliet being held up as a classic work of literature, not an ideal romance, which is more how I think it’s viewed. Twilight however, I just have to hope dies out as its target age group realizes its utter grossness.

  • kate @ at 2:15 am, April 9th, 2010

    “[Marie] Osmond turned down the role of Sandy because she did not like the fact that Sandy had to “turn bad” to get the boy.” – wikipedia

  • Garen @ at 4:00 am, April 9th, 2010

    Brilliant, articulate and well-reasoned. It’s totally true. I liked Twilight, but possibly because I didn’t ever want Edward for myself, I always found him a little weird. Bella is a really annoying, empty character, but if I let myself go on, I’ll write another essay in this cmment! But well done, I love this post.

  • Samuel W. @ at 11:03 am, April 9th, 2010

    There’s a ton of reasons to hate Twilight, and Romeo & Juliet admittedly can be a polarizing play. It’s not like you can never criticize Shakespeare. And here’s one of the main reasons to hate Twilight, beyond the very questionable aggressive boyfriend-passive girlfriend dynamics: Stephanie Meyers donates 10% of the profits from the series to the Mormon church, which campaigns against gay rights and is using her money for it. Also, many people like critic Roger Ebert think it’s all a big conservative Christian parable about ‘teen chastity’, which makes it more of a sermon than a serious literary work.

  • Shannon @ at 12:55 pm, April 9th, 2010

    I whole-heartedly agree with your criticisms, yet (like you) I lurve this books/movies. I wrote an article here: http://www.girlsleadershipinstitute.org/blog/2009/11/24/new-moon-same-bella about why I think Bella pretty much sucks.

  • Jen @ at 5:56 pm, April 9th, 2010

    How about the song “Kiss the Girl” from the Little Mermaid? “Possibly she wants you too, there is one way to ask her… you have to kiss the girl.” In other words, if you’re not sure a girl likes you or not, you should find out by invading her space – taking advantage of her.

  • Somebody @ at 6:24 pm, April 9th, 2010

    After reading through Romeo & Juliet, I found that it wasn’t portrayed as the ideal romance. In the play, Shakespeare even said that they were only in love with each other’s looks. Pop culture had kind of left that little detail out.

    Edward had nearly every trait of an emotionally abusive partner except for trying to control his partner financially.

  • toongrrl @ at 3:51 pm, April 10th, 2010

    And many conservatives get pissed when they see a gay couple very much in love (‘course I do at a pic of Rachel Maddow and her…girlfriend, but for different reasons), yet obsessive, coo-dependent,and insane straight romances are looked with approval?

  • Mviebs @ at 7:43 am, April 11th, 2010

    I would just like to point out that Danny (greace) DID start to change himself for Sandy. (working out, joining a team, tried to quit smocking). Though I do have a sad feeling that he quit all that when Sandy changed.
    And in the second greace movie the rolse are completely reversed! There is a straight A, straight-edge boy who falls for one of the pink ladies. And completely changes himself (besides smokings and grades) for the girl. He becomes a “bad boy” that all the girls drool over.

    Other then that (and that I was taught romeo and juiliet were a tragic classic not romantic) I comepletely AGREE!!

  • Allegra @ at 1:03 pm, April 11th, 2010

    You’ve quite probably seen it all ready, but here’s another really interesting article about the lessons that girls learn from watching/reading the Twilight series: http://www.wired.com/underwire/2009/11/twilight-lessons-girls-learn/

  • Talia @ at 3:20 pm, April 16th, 2010

    Wow – I read 3/4 books in Twilight and felt similarly, but I didn’t even think about the elements brought into the article at the end, about the damsel in distress and Disney etc…wow.

  • Harvard @ at 10:27 am, April 30th, 2010

    It seems to me that you are all overreacting. Edward and Bella do not romanticize physical, emotional, or any other abuse. He is a Vampire…she is human. IT is FICTION…get over it! Regarding Romeo and Juliet, Romeo kills himself first…and it is Juliet’s idea to have sex. If anything, Romeo and and Juliet is a warning to young men to not come obsessed with woman who only want you for sex.

    You people need to get real.

  • Sasa @ at 5:04 pm, June 4th, 2010

    I agree with “Harvard”… I agree with this article to an extent but I think we should be able to suspend reality while reading some books… otherwise I would be irritated all the time. I do not think Edward and Bella romanticise abuse… I love Edward as a character… but he’s a vampire! And not to make me sound like an Twilight obsessed person, but the bond between Bella and Edward are supposed to be so strong that they both fall apart… but I don’t want that in a guy myself, because I understand that it’s just FICTION.

    I’m sorry, but if we can’t even enjoy books without finding something social wrong with them, what can we enjoy?

  • Jessica McMahan @ at 3:53 pm, July 1st, 2010

    It is fiction and because of all the things written in the article, I find it to be a tragedy. Stephanie Meyer may not have intended it as such, but that is the message that must be taken from it. Yes, there is all kinds of abuse going on here, but just because literature of this kind exists, does not mean that sexism, gender stereotypes, abusive and unhealthy relationships are what is being condoned. We are all influenced by what we read, view, experience, etc. It is without self-awareness, education, and the tools to succeed as strong, capable women (and people) who demand respect and healthy relationships, that any piece of media becomes threatening. It is not that this literature should not exist. It is that our society should receive education on this media and be taught to look at it with a critical eye. We cannot protect and lock people up people from reading or viewing these books or movies (as Edward might do) and we, surely, cannot keep authors from publishing their work. The point is to teach our society the lessons that might be learned from this literature….whether you are a fan of it or not.

  • The Raisin Girl @ at 1:19 pm, July 28th, 2010

    Okay, I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said. Granted, I’ve heard it all before. Anyone who wants to argue against the fact that the Twilight books display unhealthy relationships would only need to Google the topic to see how many teenaged and twenty-something women have independently come to this very same conclusion. It’s actually astounding.

    I am personally just amazed that Stephenie Meyer, by changing just a few things about vampire lore and the epic vampire love story, has managed to completely keep the antiquated Victorian message that is first portrayed in Dracula, without even getting rid of the abusiveness of the relationship. I would elucidate, but I literally wrote a 15-page essay on this and I don’t think I could clarify what I mean in a comment. Who knows, maybe I’ll blog about it.

  • The Raisin Girl @ at 1:23 pm, July 28th, 2010

    Oh, and to Sasa and Harvard…if you want clarification that this is NOT “just fiction,” but that Stephenie Meyer really just portrays relationships between men and women in an incredibly creepy, unhealthy light, go ahead and read her other book, The Host. It is full of blatant physical violence toward a female character by male characters. There is even a conversation about which of two men a woman’s body belongs to. Meyer attempts to mitigate these scenarios through fantasy and sci-fi backdrops, but the result is always the same: women with little autonomy or individuality in love with men who abuse them, emotionally, physically, or both. If you’ve ever been in an abusive relationship, there’s nothing fictional about the rhetoric here. The things Edward says and does are almost verbatim the things I’ve heard out of the mouths of abusive boyfriends, both my own and others’. Coincidence? I think not.

  • Lily @ at 12:07 pm, November 2nd, 2010

    I disagree with the statement about Romeo and Juliet. I don’t think their relationship is held up as something ideal or to be desired; the purpose of R&J is to show the naivety and excitement of their first true attraction. They are both very ignorant of what love is, and rushed their courtship and marriage due to the excitement of it all. I think Shakespeare was making commentary on teenage naivety and the fact they wanted to rebel against their parents, and not putting their relationship on a pedestal at all.

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