What Women Want and How Twilight Answers Part of That Question

There is an excellent article up on The Huffington Post about Twilight in the place of pop culture and how it not only gives women an escapist fantasy that they know is escapist fantasy, but how Hollywood can’t figure out what women want. Here are some of the highlights, but the entire article is well worth the read.

On fantasy

Men get a bye when it comes to their fantasy life – no matter how disturbing or buffoonish – but women are expected to be the grown-ups, even though it’s not much fun being the designated driver. In a strange way, we take female fantasies too seriously and not seriously enough. Our movie fantasies are supposed to be tame and measured, lest they cause alarm. You rarely hear people worrying about protecting society from James Bond’s or Batman’s exploits, but when something lowbrow for women comes along, like the blockbuster Twilight series, the hailstorm of scorn and anxiety rains down. It’s hard to be both insipid and harmful, yet that’s often the standard rap about chick flicks. But if you can ignore the din of derision, a seemingly lightweight adventure like Twilight offers some interesting clues about the female inner world.


On unplanned motherhood

…But Breaking Dawn – a movie helmed by an Oscar-winning team — captures the fear, longing, and emotional isolation of motherhood more than almost any movie I can recall. We see this first in the immediate discovery of the pregnancy as Edward, who refers to the embryo as a “thing,” retreats into a whirlwind of manic energy, deflecting his anxiety by packing and arranging flights home, while his young bride stands quietly absorbing the gravity of her situation. In the taxi to the airport, the formerly enraptured couple sits apart in frozen silence. Like voyeurs, we watch the unfolding of an age-old truth: in an unplanned pregnancy story, there can be only one protagonist.

On the dangers and fears of giving birth

Breaking Dawn also engages seriously with the idea that childbearing can be a scary and very bloody business. It’s easy to forget that more than 500,000 women worldwide still die every year in childbirth, and even that staggering number doesn’t begin to capture the many millions more who come close to death or who are left with disabling physical injuries. Not to mention the agony of pregnancy loss, neonatal death, birth anomalies, and other undesired outcomes. Women know this, of course, the way generations of men have known battle stories. War movies, of varying degrees of realism and quality, have always provided a window into men’s hopes and fears.

I mention maternal mortality because it’s not only women’s dreamy fantasies that are absent in mainstream movies. Women’s fears are missing, too. It says something deeply unflattering about the state of American culture that it takes a teenage vampire movie to capture women’s worries, imagined and real, about reproduction and motherhood. For all its freakish implausibility, critics who panned the nauseating birth scene in Breaking Dawn were missing the point.

Check out the rest on the Huffington Post. It part on of the three part series. We are looking forward to part 2 on Wednesday.

Comments

  1. Elizabeth (EverythingRemindsMeOfTwilight) says:

    This is really an amazing article! I greatly appreciate Erika Christakis’ clarity and excellent writing. I particularly like how this article builds off her previous article after BD1 came out, “The Harsh Bigotry of Twilight-Haters,” that appeared in TIME. http://ideas.time.com/2011/11/21/the-harsh-bigotry-of-twilight-haters/

    It is refreshing to see such articles in the Huffington Post and TIME; and I hope that, perhaps, Hollywood and the rest of the critics will take notice.

    Thanks to the Lex for bringing it to my attention.

  2. It is honestly amazingly gratifying to see someone take something that has truly touched my life and examine it with intelligence and an open mind, rather than derision. There is so very much here to pay attention to and to learn from about why the absolute majority of Twilight fans (both within the movies and the books) are not screaming Tweens and Teens, but mature women who look at the series and even to themselves wonder exactly what it is that touches us so deeply. I’ve been amazed over the last four plus years that my husband has embraced the series openly and has encouraged my love of all things Twilight. But, the reality is, he sees in it exactly what Ms. Christakis so wonderfully points out. It is something that I love and that brings me joy. Because he loves me and wants to see me happy, he enjoys it to. If only all of the haters, detractors and downright meanspirited hateful people out there could be so accepting.

    • That Other Twilighter Girl says:

      I was twelve when I first read the books.I am sixteen now. Girls are thought to be silly when they start taking first steps looking at love and sexuality in general. This saga is put down because the attention it attracks from girls my age. I thinks unfair to both the girls and the saga. Just because i scream doesn’t mean I don’t see all the things that this article has pointed out. I look at the saga and I see depth. Because its there like the article points out. Just because of my enthusiasm and age doesn’t mean I’m unable to see it maturely.

  3. Could you please put a link up for the entire article? I would love to read it but can’t seem to find it. Thanks

  4. I recently stumbled across a blog that specialized in praising exploitation/shock/slasher movies that also derided Twilight for its alleged misogyny and bad messages for girls. But those other movies are okey-dokey, I guess. As the saying goes, those in glass houses…

    We’re all complex individuals. Some of us prefer romance, some prefer violent thrillers, others experimental film, still others goofy comedies. Some enjoy several or all of the above, and for different reasons. (Aside: One of my favorite action movies is the critically derided Punisher: War Zone, which happens to be directed by a woman.) So where does anyone get off singling out a particular group of fans for scorn and ridicule?

    I’ve seen a lot of horror movies and Breaking Dawn 1 is pretty gutsy and bold in terms of its themes. And even if I didn’t like Twilight I wouldn’t begrudge anyone their fandom; I don’t troll Transformers fan sites and tell them that they’re idiots. Even when the obsessive, insulting brand of Twi-hatred is not driven by insecure machismo (and it often is) it’s nearly always condescending and ignorant.

    An insightful movie on the appreciation of films is Sullivan’s Travels (1941). An aspirating filmmaker wants to create serious, message-heavy films, which he thinks are the only worthy kind of movie. After a series of misadventures he winds up on a chain gang, where he realizes the value of silly comedies to prisoners as a brief escape from their harsh lives. There no single correct reason to enjoy a film, just like there’s no one right way for a film to be.

  5. Great article. Thanks for sharing it. Read the Time article Elizabeth mentioned as well. Nice to read those kind of articles.

  6. So well articulated! I’m so glad that there are writers out there who understand and can intelligently talk about our love for this series. The implications from detractors that there is something wrong with being a big fan of twilight has gotten really old. A lot of us are intelligent, capable, well-rounded women. We like what we like. We love Twilight. Why is that such a big deal to people?

  7. Wow, this article really nailed it! Will Mr. Hollywood listen? Will society finally hear? I won’t be holding my breath. But here’s hoping…

  8. radiowidow says:

    Finally – someone who gets it! Thanks for sharing this link.

  9. I don’t know, I have mixed feelings on the whole Twi-hating thing . . .

    On one hand -
    As a Twi-hard, I hate to see anyone bashing something that I love, especially people who insist on twisting the facts to make Twilight sound like something that it’s not. (There is no pedophilia or bestiality, people!) Equally annoying are the people who sit there and bash it but don’t know enough about it to even recognize obvious things that you’d think they’d know if they bothered to check the facts themselves – like main character names, for example. And do you know how many Twi-haters I’ve confused the heck out of when they insisted that Edward should be staked and I point out that it wouldn’t do a thing to him? They just stand there and stare at me like I’m nuts . . . obviously they know nothing about SM’s “wimpy” vampires.

    The Twi-hard in me LOVES this article for the good and valid points that it makes. I get so tired of hearing that Bella is a “bad role model.” Since when do all fictional characters have to be role models? When did the literary police pass that law? And I get so tired of hearing that Twilight isn’t deep enough, isn’t thought-provoking enough, or doesn’t make some resounding commentary on the human condition, blah blah blah. Were there people out there who were expecting it to be that? WHY? Twilight is an emotional, escapist fantasy, and it’s never been billed as anything else. And that’s why we love it – because we can connect to it on an emotional level, not because we have to analyze the heck out of it to figure out what it’s even about. I did enough of that in college, thank you very much, and I think I’ve earned the right to read things because I enjoy them, rather than because someone else thinks it has redeeming social value.

    On the other hand-
    I have to remind myself that Twi-hating is a normal reaction. There are always people out there that have to hate anything that’s popular just because it’s popular. I have heard some VIOLENT bashings of Star Wars, Star Trek . . . even people that hate animated Disney fairy tales. (Dude, not cool. Bashing Disney is right up there with kicking puppies.) But they’re always out there, and they’re completely unavoidable. There are some people out there who just aren’t happy unless they’re raining on someone else’s parade.

    Now I can’t remember how much of a backlash there was for the original Star Wars trilogy (I was just starting school when it finished coming out in theaters, so I was too young to notice), but I’d imagine there was one. (Can anyone shed any light on that?) I can’t deny, however, that the backlash for Twilight seems to be much worse than I remember anything being for Harry Potter or anything else that’s come out recently, and it’s probably for all of the reasons mentioned in this article . . . and a few more. I just have to remember that “haters gonna hate” no matter what.

    And remind myself how amusing it is when I explain to some uninformed Twi-hater that Buffy really wouldn’t be very much of a threat to Edward . . .

    • The backlash against Harry Potter was much worse than Twilight. I’m a school librarian and we aren’t even allowed to show HP movies at school because of parents who insist it’s witchcraft and teaches kids about the occult. The same was said about The Hobbit when it was released in the 70s. Twilight has never faced nationwide attempts to remove the series from school library shelves like HP has.

      • That is true. I had forgotten all of the “anti-witchcraft” people running around screaming about how “Harry is the devil,” lol. (Insert eye roll here.) Of course, when HP came out, I was in college, living on campus – in other words, I lived under a rock for 4 years. World War 3 could have started, and I’d have had no clue.

        I don’t know about any national movements or court cases involving banning Twilight, but I know it made last year’s list of the 10 most challenged books.

        http://www.myfoxboston.com/dpps/news/ala-kicks-off-banned-book-week-dpgoh-20110926-fc_15194614

        Interestingly, The Hunger Games is on there, too. Once the movie is out in March, and the series is more well-known among people who like to find things to protest, I wonder if there will be a loud and rowdy group protesting that series, as well? Considering the amount of violence in the subject matter, I’m sure it’ll be ugly. (Amy sits back and waits . . . and then remembers to mark her calendar to go see it opening weekend.)

  10. I bet it just killed the haters when BD make all that money despite their mocking and negative reviews. BD was a wonderful movie and i am sure BD2 will be amazing. The “Big Three” did an amazing job. I will never forget the look on Edwards face when he thought he has lost Bella. Robert nailed it in that scene. The birth scene is already iconic. Screw the haters. We love Twilight and will forever love Twilight.

  11. Um… I like the Twilight series; books more than movies for sure. Regardless though, I’m laughing here. Laughing. The birth scene said NOTHING to me as a mother. It spoke volumes to me as a “let’s pretend this is real OH MY GOD POOR BELLA Twilight fan”. I never once in either of my pregnancies worried about my child making me crave human blood. I never for a moment thought “Oh no…what if this baby tries to claw and chew it’s way out of my abdomen?”
    To say you’re stretching it is an understatement here.

    • ????

      I think the point Ms. Christakis was making was about normal women’s fears during normal childbirth, not the more “out there” aspects of Bella’s pregnancy. As she points out, in this modern age we tend to forget just how dangerous it really can be. That’s half a million women that die every year. The author herself mentions that she lost half of her blood with her first child – her normal child, no half-vampire baby needed.

      I live in the US, and we have good hospitals here, but it wasn’t that long ago that a woman died at the local hospital just after giving birth. She had multiple hemorrhages, and they just couldn’t stop them all in time. Sadly, it does still happen.

      • I’m a 31 year old mother of six children (yes, you read that right.) Three of the deliveries went smoothly and three were more difficult. During the fifth, in particular, my heart rate suddenly dropped extremely low ; I vaguely remember everything going foggy, and they had to give me a shot of something…it’s been two years and my husband still refers to our daughter’s birth as “the time I almost died.” I’m not that dramatic about it, as the doctors had everything in hand, but that’s how it felt to him as an outside observer, helpless and yet completely invested. Every time I watch the BD birth scene I wonder if that’s how I looked to him, if that’s how he felt. This article is interesting and relevant because it makes an excellent point. No one is arguing that the story covers typical situations. It is most definitely a fantasy, and Bella’s marriage, pregnancy, birth and death are all part of that fantasy. BUT, the reason we do love and relate to the fantasy is that beneath the “unbelievable” parts of the story are “real” things we CAN relate to and identify with…love and commitment and the highs and lows of marriage, the excitement and anxiety and even fear surrounding pregnancy or birth. Anytime you care about someone that much and their well-being is essential to you, there is a cost paid for seeing that person in pain or in need. Those are real things immersed in a fantasy world, and it’s great that people are beginning to understand why the Saga resonates.

  12. Brilliant–I wish everyone who accused Bella of not being a good role model would read this to know that that is NOT what she is, and not what she was created to be. The story’s characters do not admire her for her outstanding and extraordinary traits, but the simplicity that embodies her in every way. With every supernatural aspect of these books, a bit of normalcy is something to desire.

    • That Other Twilighter Girl says:

      I wish every one would stop saying Bella is a bad role model, yes in some ways she could be seen as not – people could argue about misogyny a topic that she herself was critical of ( if you read it that way ,when she does a paper on Shakespeare about it )
      She does have some very good role model points – she knows what she wants and sticks to that as much as humanly possible. – she has morals that she sticks to as much as humanly possible. And she listens to her feelings, not always more then what she knows and thinks, but she considers them. I think we are to often told to ignore our feelings completely. She’s responsible and caring ,she looks after both her mother and father, cleans and cooks in the house she lives in for the duration of the books.She tries fairly hard at her school work too!
      While I don’t call Bella my ‘role model’ there are parts of her personality and character that I know are better then my own , and I aspire to better myself in these areas.

    • That Other Twilighter Girl says:

      I too, wish every one would stop saying Bella is a bad role model. But I also wouldnt say she isnt a role model at all. I supose in some ways she could be seen as not – people could argue about misogyny a topic that she herself was critical of ( if you read it that way ,when she does a paper on Shakespeare about it )
      She does have some very good role model points – she knows what she wants and sticks to that as much as humanly possible. – she has morals that she sticks to as much as humanly possible. And she listens to her feelings, not always more then what she knows and thinks, but she considers them. I think we are to often told to ignore our feelings completely. She’s responsible and caring ,she looks after both her mother and father, cleans and cooks in the house she lives in for the duration of the books.She tries fairly hard at her school work too!
      While I don’t call Bella my ‘role model’ there are parts of her personality and character that I know are better then my own , and I aspire to better myself in those areas.

    • That Other Twilighter Girl says:

      I too, wish every one would stop saying Bella is a bad role model. But I also wouldnt say she isnt a role model at all. I supose in some ways she could be seen as not – people could argue about misogyny a topic that she herself was critical of ( if you read it that way ,when she does a paper on Shakespeare about it )
      She does have some very good role model points – she knows what she wants and sticks to that as much as humanly possible. – she has morals that she sticks to as much as humanly possible. And she listens to her feelings, not always more then what she knows and thinks, but she considers them. I think we are to often told to ignore our feelings completely. She’s responsible and caring ,she looks after both her mother and father, cleans and cooks in the house she lives in for the duration of the books.She tries fairly hard at her school work too!
      While I don’t call Bella my ‘role model’ there are parts of her personality and character that I know are better then my own , and hey, I could better myself in those areas.

  13. truly “word of wisdom” ~ twilight world is the BEST ~~~

  14. Bella is a normal girl,who has to deal with these extrodinary circumstances. I think some people(perhaps the ones that haven’t red the books),forget that all of the characters went through some trauma before they became vampires. Her situation isn’t any different. What I like about Bella is that she’s willing to fight for her family and friends. They needed her most of all,to stand up to Aro and the rest of the Volturi in the end. Her family and their friends were greatful to her for saving them,from what could have been a catastrophic fight. So she had to be released from her human shell if you will,so that she could become a powerful creature. Great article and I’m glad that when some take the time to really study the books,they see they’re just as rich in mythology as some others.

  15. Thanks for showing us the link!! The article (both of them) are awesome! I totally agree with everything!

  16. love it !

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