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The Pain of Being Female (a guest post by Erinne Langlois)

October 19, 2010

Before reading the article by Anne Torkelson  (forthcoming in Natalie Wilson’s and Maggie Parke’s Twilight anthology), I do not think I ever would have realized the vast amount of violence against women presented in the Twilight series. Although the violence is there and you read it on the page, it seems so common place and ‘normal,’ that you do not question it. Stephenie Meyers (whether purposefully or not) does an excellent job of showing how ingrained in society violence against women is. There are three cases of violence against Bella in the series, but I will be focusing on the first two, her attack in Port Angeles and when Jacob forcibly kisses her (the first time) in Eclipse.

The violent acts against Bella that happen throughout the novel only go to reinforce rape culture and rape myths, without making the reader realize it. In Twilight, when Bella is almost gang raped, and then saved by Edward it perpetuates the idea that society has, about women being raped by men they do not know. In all actuality Bella would have been more likely to experience violence at the hands of Jacob or Edward (which she later does) than be raped by men in a dark alley in Port Angeles. As it states on The National Center for Victims of Crime website, the most current statistics for the United States say that about 77% of rapes are committed by a non-stranger (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997). Going with those numbers, Bella should have been more afraid to be around and more likely to be attacked by Mike, Eric, Tyler, Ben, Jacob and Edward than some random drunk men in a dark alley.

Although not completely relating this event in the saga to rape culture, Torkelson does quote the feminist blog Shakesville by saying,

“Rape culture is tell girls and women to be care about what you wear […] where you walk, when you walk there […] if you’re alone […] if it’s dark […] to always be alert, always pay attention, always watch your back, always be aware of your surroundings and never let your guard down for a moment, lest you be sexually assaulted and if you are and didn’t follow all the rules, it’s your fault” (McEwan).

From society’s perspective on rape, Bella does everything wrong. Had she been raped (if her knight in a shining Volvo hadn’t appeared) would she have been blamed for what happened? The accusations and blame game could have been thrown at her from every  direction –  Bella should have known better; her father is the chief of police after all. Bella should not have left the girls at the dress shop, going off alone in an unfamiliar town is just asking for trouble. Bella should not have wandered into a darker, seedier side of town, stick to where the streetlights and people are! Why wasn’t Bella carrying pepper spray and a rape whistle like any sensible girl?

What would her defense have been? ‘I might have made some bad decisions, but last time I checked rape was still not the victim’s/survivor’s fault!’ Her defense might have been heard merely because her father was chief of police, or merely because she was the ‘prodigal daughter’ returned, but in the end of all the investigations and questions, would she still have been blamed?

In Twilight the main attempted assault on Bella is by strangers, the first assault by someone Bella knows is when Jacob kisses her against her will in Eclipse. As Torkelson says in her paper, not only does he force himself on her, but “Jacob ignores her when she fights back and when she shuts down in self defense. When Bella asks if he is finished, he responds with a smile” (Torkelson 4). This screams ‘RAPE’ so loudly (and most defiantly in capital letters) that I wonder how as a young woman reading these books (I was 20 at the time I first read them) I did not see anything wrong or unusual with that happened. Was it because I was never really like Jacob that I only used it to fuel the fire, and did not really analyze the situation? Or have the two experiences of almost rape that have happened to me in the past 2 years since first reading the novel, made me wiser and opened my eyes?

I, like Bella, was with someone I knew, on a double date with a guy who was supposedly nice. My friend and her date were in the front of the car and my date and I were in the back seat riding home. I had already gotten a strange uncomfortable feeling about ‘John’ earlier at the bar, but I’d blown it off as paranoia and the fact that there was no way in hell I was paying for a cab ride from downtown SD to Vista. But as we sat in the dark car heading down the freeway I realized how completely wrong my decisions had been. His hands were moving to place I did not want them and whispers of panicked “no”s and “stop this I don’t know you”s didn’t seem to be getting through.  As he forced his lips on mine in a scene close to the one described in Eclipse, all I could think was “If I jumped out of this car right now onto the freeway would I survive?” and then I shut down.

My need to forget what was happening and my hope that it was all a nightmare sent me into survival mode. When we made it home and it all came rushing back I as faced with the same reaction as Bella, ‘boys will be boys’. My friend, sitting the whole time in the front seat, apparently thought I had just experienced what EVERY girl experiences at least once in her lifetime. She kept insisting ‘John’ was a nice guy and that if he had acted in that way I must have given him the idea that it was OK. To quote my ‘no longer a friend,’ “Boys just act that way. He thought you were pretty and wanted to make out. I don’t understand why you didn’t enjoy it. You should have just gone along with it.” It was with those words that I thought maybe I had. He had kept whispering “just relax”; when I shut down in self-defense did I give him exactly what he wanted? Had I, like Bella, played into rape culture? Had I played the role that everyone expected me to?

Both Twilight and Eclipse show violence against women in a normalized way. What happens to Bella (and too many of the other female characters) is just part of life in Stephenie Meyer’s world. Books written for a young female audience are only working with society to play up rape culture and rape myths. With messages like this can we really be surprised when girls blame themselves for what has happened to them at the hands of men? If we want anything to change we need more characters like Bella to take charge and not play into rape culture.

Works Cited

Torkelson, Anne. “Violence, Agency and the Women of Twilight.” Seduced by Twilight. Natalie Wilson. 2010. Print.

The National Center for Victims , . “Acquaintance Rape.” The National Center for Victims of Crime. N.p., 2008. Web. 6 Oct 2010. <http://www.ncvc.org/ncvc/main.aspx?dbName=DocumentViewer&DocumentID=32306&gt;.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2010 3:53 pm

    I will refrain of the kiss by Jacob because I made clear how do I feel about him already.

    But I do agree that there is a lot of victim blaming on the case of Bella specially on the side of haters. I had read a lot of them telling that Bella was an idiot for not been more aware of her surroundings, wander alone and so on like she should be on a 24/7 watch for being raped and it was stupid of her not to be aware that as a female she should be expecting to be raped. So I do think there is a lot into it about how is the victim’s responsibility to be on guard for that. Of course I’m not against safety precautions or advises in the same way I wouldn’t be against it, advising to secure your house because you might be robbed or to use your belt because you might have an accident, but blaming the victim its not the same than giving advice.

    Great post!

    • October 19, 2010 10:12 pm

      A “hater” is someone who is jealous. I really think people overuse that slang term, but anyway, I don’t fit into that category. While I do think she set herself up for pain with Edward and knew it was going to happen so she was beyond goofy for going through with it, the situation in the alley was not her fault. However, trying to find the guys once again just so she could see Edward in illusions was. It’s difficult to sympathize with someone who keeps putting herself in harm’s way. Had she stopped with the alley guys, I’d have agreed with her. But the REST of the times (outside of Jacob forcing to kiss her ONE time) were her fault–the baby pains, the rough intimacy, etc.

      • October 20, 2010 2:20 am

        Oh I was talking about the situation on the ally I don’t think the bruises during sex as rape: the sexual encounter was consensual and Edward explicitily asked her that if she felt any pain she should tell him at once so they even had that part worked out so again rough sex or after bruise consensual sex is not rape, you know that.
        Not sure what other situations you mean I mean its not her fault she got pregnant given that neither of them knew that could even possibly happen neither is her fault that she loved her baby and wanted to keep her. The book explain that Nahuel’s Mother also loved her baby even if she knew what was going to happen. Bella did had a lot of pain on the saga, but she decided that what she wanted was worth the consequences and endured it. In fact she proved Edward wrong with it, given that he always though that her love for him wouldn’t last the first test and that she will ran away as soon as the danger was too much: she didn’t. Thus I will never say she was a victim just because she experienced pain. In this case she always had the choice to turn back and she didn’t. I mean many people endure pain to get things what they wanted whether as simple as getting a tattoo or as complicated as trained on the military. Pain not necessarily =/= victim.

        I do agree though that the series addresses a lot of different levels of abuse women go through but it doesn’t shy away from the people that know you can abuse you I mean Esme’s firs rt husband, Rosalie’s fiance were known to both of them, so I will think they had Bella representing the other part that is assaulted by strangers.

  2. October 19, 2010 9:54 pm

    Maybe it’s just me, but when I think of a strong term like rape, I don’t think of kissing. You can’t take a rape kit or go to the police about a kiss. I’m not sure what “rape culture” entails, but Merriam Webster defines rape as “unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usually of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent.” I’d consider what happened to Bella as assault, not rape. I never thought she deserved the ONLY kiss that she was forced to give though. I thought Jacob was wrong for that. He apologized. They remained friends. Matter of fact, her father didn’t do anything, but I think he was under the impression of Jacob just being flirty. Had he known the overwhelming strength that went into that kiss, I’m sure he would’ve responded differently.

    I still stand very strong that “rape” is too strong a word for that incident though.

    • October 20, 2010 1:04 am

      I came back one more time, and this will definitely be my last post. The mention of rape when I first heard about this course left me perplexed because there was no rape in any of the six books (including Bree’s and “Midnight Sun”). Rough sex? Yes, but this was agreed upon and repeatedly requested through four books before it was done. The agreement was made even after the two guys being questioned repeatedly tried to talk Bella out of it. Forced kiss? Absolutely. One time. The other two were requested. As much as I thought this course sounded like it would be enlightening and entertaining, there are some ideas that are treading on incredibly dangerous grounds.

      As someone who grew up knowing girls who really were molested and/or raped who were too ashamed to admit it or report it, if people REALLY start believing that a forced kiss is equal to rape, this will create an even worse issue in the female community about reporting rape. It’s either rape or it isn’t. While I certainly do think in real life people should report assault, this idea of blaming someone who was not the victim bothers me a great deal. If a woman was really to go to the police station and say she’d been raped from a forced kiss and the next woman really did have forced sexual intercourse, imagine the ridicule the latter would receive if women started reporting a forced kiss as rape. If you think women don’t speak up now about really being raped, if this kissing thing comes into play NOBODY will.

      I’ve covered several events from companies that speak to women who have been raped or molested, and these are women who have to take rape tests and have a difficult time proving if they’ve been raped if they shower first, etc. If women start running around saying they were raped because of a kiss with absolutely no anal, vaginal or oral sex, that just makes fun of real rape. That bothers me. It bothers me that this is even being entertained in this course. It also bothers me that Bella is being looked at as the victim even when she repeatedly ASKED for sex and somehow Edward is the bad guy. *shaking my head* Although there aren’t many guys in the course, I’m going to speak up on behalf of them. This is when open communication must be had. This is the type of conversation that needs to be established between any woman and any man. In the book, Edward and Bella had that conversation, he refused, she bugged him, he finally gave in. To believe it was rape then and she was being punished is the type of idea that desperate women get as revenge. Women who report false accusations of rape make those who want to reach out less likely to do it, and if Bella was a real person, I’d be furious if she was to try to equate the two. I certainly don’t understand why a college course would even humor the idea.

      While I thought this course was going to be something I would’ve loved to have taken if I was at CSU, it disappoints me that the idea of rape is even being entertained. An academic course discussing the issues that actually happen in the book make sense, but reading entirely too much into something that’s just not there and could give impressionable minds the idea that it must’ve happened to them, too, is frustrating to those friends and family who actually had to deal with people who really were raped.

      Anyway, this is my last post on these blogs. I certainly do hope other topics are explored–ones that actually did happen in the book. For those who believe otherwise, we will agree to disagree.

      • Leah permalink
        October 20, 2010 1:49 am

        Do you know what sexual assault is? Do you know what the psychological ramifications are from forced sexual contact? Do you know what it feels like to have someone force themselves upon you, ignoring your protests and doing whatever they please? Women should not be ridiculed, or denigrated for filing a complaint against someone for touching them in any way they do not feel was appropriate. A forced kiss is sexual assault and that is punishable by law. Also, those that assault others sexually are likely on their way towards raping someone. Violent criminal acts normally start out small and build to larger, more serious offences. If a man (or woman) gets away with forcing themselves upon others with no punishment, they will take it further. These are serious issues in our society and you do not get to decide that if the act of rape was not committed, that the woman has no valid complaint.

  3. Leah permalink
    October 20, 2010 1:40 am

    The kiss was indeed sexual assault. I have thought that since the first time I read it. There is no other way to describe it. It was in that moment that I developed a strong sense of contempt for the character of Jacob Black and even stronger contempt for Bella’s father, who seems to think the fact this his daughter broke her hand defending herself from unwanted sexual contact was funny. Just typing that sentence has my blood boiling. Bella tried to fight him off and when she couldn’t she had to shut down and just accept what was being done to her.

    “He kissed me angrily, roughly, his other hand gripping around the back of my neck, making escape impossible.” Then next paragraph… “I grabbed at his face, trying to push it away, failing again. He seemed to notice this time, though, and it aggravated him. His lips forced mine open…” page 331

    The above is taken right from the book. He gets angry when she tries to push him away so he becomes more rough with her, forcing her mouth open. That is textbook sexual assault. There is no grey area. His being desperate does not excuse it. His being young does not excuse it. I don’t see Jacob as anything more than an abusive jerk, and I think Bella acts like a woman with battered woman syndrome, the way she always goes back to him and apologizes when he does and says horrible things to her. If a so called male friend treated me the way Jacob treats Bella, we would be friends no longer.

  4. AstiE7 permalink
    October 20, 2010 9:51 am

    I do agree that there is a lot of violence against women in the saga. Somehow I never saw Jacob’s forced kiss as an instance of sexual assault but I have to say it clearly is!

    I think the problem is, when I first read the scene, I was tricked into thinking that Jacob would be the better choice for Bella (he would not force Bella to go through a painful transformation, he didn’t seem as controlling as Edward, he wouldn’t tie sex to the condition of marriage) and so I didn’t realize the violence.

    I think after reading New Moon and most of Eclipse we are so convinced that, at some hidden level, Bella also wants Jacob, and that surrendering to him would be some kind of liberation (from Edward’s abstinence policy) that we don’t realize he has no right kissing Bella against her will.

  5. cat permalink
    September 10, 2011 5:16 pm

    In fanfiction, fandom has noticed more and more of the false romanticism of negative relationships and female stereotypes since Twilight and books like it have become the social norm. It is one thing I think, to get the girls to read, but we also need to pay attention to the message they are given.

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