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