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Twilight: The Texts and The Fandom, Sexuality Discussion Questions, Week 7

October 15, 2010

“Cullen Family Values: Gender and Sexual Politics in the Twilight Series,” by Carrie Ann Platt covers the policing of female sexuality and desires in the saga, arguing it reflects cultural tensions in relation to abstinence only education, the fetishizing of virginity, and the hypersexualization of girls and women. Do you agree?

Many claim Meyer idealizes overprotection of females and regressive gender/sexuality norms. What do you think?

Platt argues the saga is “unabashedly pro-abstinence” and that abstinence is presented as matter of life and death. Do you agree? How is chastity equated to goodness, life, and immortality?

How does the saga depict females as needing to be protected from their own sexual desires?

How does the saga equate the loss of female innocence with bodily harm/death? How might we interpret these representations?  What is the effect of these sex equals death equations?

Many argue Bella is simultaneously infantilized and sexualized. What textual evidence proves this claim? What other cultural text similarly infantilize and sexualize females?  What are the effects of such representations?

Female sexuality is often depicted as threatening force (for example, in the recent film Jennifer’s Body). How does Twilight similarly depict female sexuality as monstrous – or does it?

Edward notes that premarital sex is the only sin he hasn’t committed – “You know that I’ve stolen, I’ve lied, I’ve coveted…my virtue is all I have left.” What do you make of this?

What messages do you feel the series sends about abstinence/sex/sexuality overall? What are the possible social implications of these messages for the predominantly young female readership?

Just for fun:

What do you think would have happened if Bella and Edward had sex before marriage?

What if Bella or another female character got pregnant out of wedlock?

What if Bella had sex with Jacob?

And, in honor of National Coming Out Day, do you feel Twilight accords to the concept of “closeted homophobia” in the sense that it champions heteronormativity and has an undercurrent of “that’s so gay” homophobia (I am thinking of the interactions of various Quileute characters — as when Quil is teased for wearing the tiara and Leah mockingly suggests Jacob is gay when he is saying a heartfelt goodbye to another male wolf)?

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. October 15, 2010 1:17 am

    I just want to comment about the part about homosexuality. Why is it nowadays that in every form of entertainment someone HAS to be gay and just in the closet? There is no book of how-to-be-gay or how-to-recognize-a-closeted-gay, especially considering I went to a high school with a noticeable population of lesbian students. Some were super feminine and some were incredibly masculine. Same for college.

    I’ve responded about the virginity questions on another post, but I also want to comment about the abstinence being a life or death situation. The reality is sex can kill you if it’s unprotected. Bella had repeated unprotected sex with Edward. Of course she did so thinking he couldn’t possibly get her pregnant, but it’s not like Edward sits around testing blood before he drinks it. We never know if Edward ejaculates, but if he had, he could’ve easily passed HIV positive blood to her. It’s not like he’s going to die from it, but she could have. This was yet again another goofy move on Bella’s part.

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      October 15, 2010 3:43 am

      I did not mean to imply that someone has be be closeted — rather, I was thinking about how the saga is HUGELY heteronormative and thus poking fun of this (as many existing parodies also allude to). However, I realize the way I worded the question is problematic and thus will go back and edit it.
      I did not mean to imply we should be looking for the “closeted gay” but was rather trying to emphasize that the saga itself is rather on the “closeted homophobic” side – especially considering some of the “thought you were gonna kiss him” and “nice tiara” type comments amongst the Quileute characters — a factor that I write about elsewhere as ironic as Native cultures are generally more accepting of diverse expressions of sexuality. Anyhow, I realize that question was badly posed and I will rectify this now.

    • October 15, 2010 4:04 am

      Oh you can’t get AIDS from animal;s bloods (specially carnivorous like the bears and lions the Cullens eat) thus I doubt they were concerned.

      I want to ask something. Why would Bella and Edward need protection? I mean they were both virgins, and according to what they knew incapable of pregnancy, most people on marriages where they trust each other and use the pill/DIU/vasectomy have unprotected sex according to what I know. So why is stupid for them to no use condoms?

      • natalie wilson permalink*
        October 19, 2010 3:08 am

        Ana,
        Regarding the “Why would they need protection” question, they are both virgins according to them – and, yes, the text makes it clear this is indeed the case – however, in REAL life, MANY claim to be virgins and/or disease free, their partners take their word for it, and then it turns out they are not being forthcoming. And, yes, they each assume Edward cannot impregnate anyone, but couldn’t we read this as similar to when partners mistakenly assume the other person is disease-free, on birth control, or a virgin? The point is not that all of this doesn’t make sense within the confines of the narrative, but that given its status as young-adult RABIDLY popular fiction, these narrative threads need to be talked about — ie, when you, real human female, find “your Edward” he may claim he is a virgin/disease-free/infertile but what if this isn’t the case? Especially in our era with its lack of comprehensive sex eduction where STDs and unplanned pregnancies are both on the rise, it seems important to use these fictional representations to discuss real world scenarios — AND to point out that Bella and Edward are not the best role models in regard to their LACK of discussion about sex.
        On another note, I have heard nothing about the story you mention in relation to Mike and Eric. Is this documented somewhere? I would be very appreciative if you could send me more info or a link!

  2. October 15, 2010 1:37 am

    I will skip the other ones because I think I mentioned already about the way “I” see the saga. But I will address first that I really liked that Edward considered his virtuous precious given how rare that is a trait considered positive in males it was very refreshing to see him on the other side of the coin most fiction depicts the male as whether desperate to lose their virginity/sex hungry and this case he was the one that really wanted to wait for both physical reasons but also personal ones. It was also fun to root for the girl to have sex for a change as well, again most fiction place whether both of them ready or the girl being the reluctant one.

    Well given that the closest they (Edward and Bella) got before the wedding was in the last few pages of Eclipse I would say that if Bella had taken her chance then she will had gotten the same bruises the morning after and even if Charlie usually doesn’t mind Bella’s injuries, the bruises probably have the shape of Edward’s fingers and I’m sure he will had take that as a excuse to get Edward accused of rape and thrown him in jail. Jacob would had totally picked a fight with Edward assuming the same as well. No to mention that Bella getting her fast pregnancy while still living with Charlie would had caused a lot more problems than the ones she had. So yeah we will had a lot of different challenges to overcome on Breaking Dawn if they wouldn’t had waited to have sex before the wedding.

    Also I think one of the werewolf’s mother was pregnant out of wedlock from one of the married wolf’s this is not explored except for Leah using it to torment him when she was upset though.

    Well and just for fun (and no offense to Team Jacob’s) if I have to pick any of the characters as closeted homosexual I will pick Jacob. The fact that a lot of the atraction he felt towards Bella was explained (at least in part) for the fact that he was going to imprint on her daughter makes me wonder about exactly how much of Edward was part of the imprinting business, after all she is half his and according to Bella description she also looks exactly like him with Bella’s eyes and Charlie’s curls. Its waaay to strange that he only felt the attraction to her mother when one of the two X chromosome of Reneesme also belongs to Edward.

    Of course a this point he is not attracted to her that way so maybe they don’t even get beyond friends when she grows up precisely for that. So its just me trying to make some sense of the imprinting if is indeed genetic like Leah said. Again no trying to provoke Team Jacob’s just wondering about the whole thing.

  3. natalie wilson permalink*
    October 15, 2010 3:46 am

    Ana,
    Why do you say “not offense Team Jacob”? This implies it is “offensive” or “insulting” to be gay… I realize mainstream culture holds this view and is still rabidly heteronormative, but that is not the view upheld at this blog. I would LOVE it if Twilight had one or more gay characters. It would be wonderful if more YA (and other fiction) included positive depictions of homosexuality/queerness.

    • October 15, 2010 4:12 am

      Oh Its a habit from other sites where some (not all posters) resort to “Edward is gay, Jacob is gay…” slurs when things get out of control (and the mods can’t step in fast enough). Given that I’m one of the few Team Edward’s here I didn’t wanted to give the impression that I think less of Jacob or that I wanted to insult him or the fans. Is a genuine concern I have had since I read about the imprinting given that Leah said that there is some sort of genetic component on it. But again at the point Leah said that she was still very bitter to think logically about it. The truth is that in the books there are several theories about it.

      I don’t know if you knew this, but on “Breaking Down” a kind of funny story Smeyer wrote to distract herself about Twilight Mike leaves Bella for Eric Yorkie. Smeyer has not published that one but mentioned that she might place it on her website at some point.

  4. Yasie permalink
    October 15, 2010 10:37 pm

    Why must promiscuous sex be the only way we can show our “liberty”? Why is abstinence demonised?? I find it hilarious that people who are exerting their self-control and making their choise are considered “opressed”!!! I am 30 years old and have CHOSEN to be a virgin until I am married, yet amazingly I am made to look like a freak for not sleeping with every man on the planet and saving sexual expression for the time and place that is right for me. I AM THE TRUE FEMINIST!!

    The fact that Bella is willing to give up her virginity prior to marriage is her decision. It was also Edward’s belief that he did not want to “sin” since this was the only sin he had not committed himself. Instead of applauding him for sticking to his personal conviction, we claim that he is “controlling” Bella and imposing this on her and taking away her freedom. Funny, if Edward was the one who wanted to have sex so badly and was trying to push this on Bella, we’d label him a rapist!

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      October 19, 2010 3:30 am

      Who said sex was the only way to show liberty??? And I wouldn’t say abstinence is demonized, but rather that abstinence is unrealistic — the vast majority of humans are sexual creatures. Sex is pleasureful. It releases endorphins, reduces stress, and boosts the immune system – just to name a few benefits. If people want to choose not to have it, fine, but those of us who wish to have sex should be given the same freedom. And, your suggestion that women who have sex are sluts (your use of the term “sleeping with every man on the planet”) seems rather derogatory. Finally, to say “I AM THE TRUE FEMINIST” is, ironically, against the tenets of feminism — there is no one TRUE feminist nor one true feminism but a multiplicity of feminisms, all of which share the commonality of working towards equal rights, opportunities, and respect for all humans and ALL their choices – whether those choice be to remain abstinent or no.
      Finally, your use of the phrase “give up her virginity” indicates you agree with the virginity as a prize model. This is problematic as it monetizes something that should not be monetized yet has been historically — the female body. One book that I find fascinating in relation to the subject is The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti. If you decide to read it, I would love to hear what you think.

      • Yasie permalink
        October 19, 2010 5:45 pm

        (Thank you for the book suggestion, I will look forward to reading it!) I am not trying to judge what is right and wrong for each person, that is a personal decision. Also, I was not generalizing that women who chose to have sex are all sluts who are sleeping around-I was referencing how many mainstream books and shows/movies depict women having sex (Sex in the City, the Sookie Stackhouse series, etc.). In this one example of literature that has gotten a large following and mentions the idea of abstinance, the series has gotten nothing but criticism for it.

        If the intention of the book even happened to be to push the idea of abstinence for some reason, I agree based on who the target population was. Twelve to sixteen year old girls need to be thinking about how to deal with their very healthy sexual desires and even a little pause to think about when to have sex, be it before or after marriage. I see every day at work as a nurse in the maternity department, the disservice we have done for our young women in the media. Empowering girls and women on sex is giving them the tools and the options to make a serious decision and not a hormonal one. Controlling our hormons is the only thing that seperates us from animals. The irony in this book series is that it is the non-human who is controlling his impulses. Edward does it every time he chooses to abstain from human blood and every time he chooses to abstain from acting upon his sexual impulses. Again, I think if the tables were turned in the story line and it was the male insisting on having sex there would be nothing but outrage.

        And for me, the thirty year old virgin, it’s nice to finally read a book where I am portrayed as “normal” (my normal). I get to read about and watch everyone elses “normal” every other time. That is probably my main attraction to this series of books, and yes, you can call me old-fashioned. I specifically enjoyed reading about a love story which portrayed unwaivering committment and devotion where when you decide that you wish to be with no one else, you get married and then make love. That is what made me read the series an innumerable amount of times. It is also why I read Jane Austen. If she had written her books in this century, I wonder what we would be saying about her…

  5. October 19, 2010 5:01 am

    I meant as husband as wife. If you marry a person suspicious of him lying about something as important as disease and pregnancy risk. I think that is the best indication that you shouldn’t get married at all. I would say that for comitted relationships and I do agree that naive trust is not to be encouraged, but paranoia shouldn’t be either. In Edward and Bella’s case neither had reasons to distrust the other in this aspect so they not using protection shouldn’t be looked as stupid.

    Of course that should had been a discussion we should had seen, but it was on the part of twilight edited as the days Bella visited the Cullen’s when having her period, or the quizzing they did when the met. I do hope that maybe we have a reference on Midnight Sun when Smeyer finishes it.

    Mmm the quote is one of her interviews on one of the fansites, but I don’t remember where I had the link. I will try and get it for you.

  6. November 4, 2010 12:22 am

    Hi natalie I found a nice Qand A from Smeyer that do has a mention of gay vampires sort of;

    24)This is not meant to be offensive in ANY way, shape or form, but do gay vampires exist? What if someone changed a human, intending them to be their permanent companion or something and it turned out they were… er… well, gay?
    24) If someone was to bite a gay person, that person would still be who they were before, so they would still be gay.

    Here is the link with the rest. http://twilights.webs.com/personalcorrespondence.htm

    At least it looks like Smeyer doesn’t believe on “gay cures”.

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