If you have read or seen any of the Twilight series (don't worry I won't tell anyone) you probably noticed that the story takes some dark and twisted turns.
Along with other hit YA book series like Hunger Games and Divergent, one of the profoundly obvious themes of the books is violence. However, while there is a lot of talk about the violence displayed between characters, there is very little discussion about abuse. There is a fine line between violence and abuse, but it is a crucial one when we are talking about the lessons our children are learning from these books.
Violence is the intentional use of physical force or power. Abuse, on the other hand, is improper usage or treatment for a bad purpose. More importantly, abuse can come in many forms, such as physical, verbal, sexual, emotional and abuse towards others or oneself.
As a society we have tried to teach our children that violence is wrong by saying things like "Use your words, not your fists," or "Never hurt another person," from a young age. But abuse is a bit more complicated. How do you speak to kids about emotional abuse of a partner or self-abuse with eating disorders?
Gigi Meenakshi Durham is a researcher who investigated the Twilight Saga and looked at gender stereotypes and dating activities and customs. She also found that the Twilight series presents a troubling view of gender roles in which females are helpless and require male protection and that there are many parallels between the attitudes of women in battering relationships.
In the films and texts, the author identified five themes:
• The characterization of violence as part of masculinity.
• The acceptance of male violence in heterosexual relationships.
• The definition of masculinity in which "good" males subverted their own violent feelings while "bad" males did not.
• The placement of female protagonists in dangerous situations.
• Male characters influencing and dominating female decision-making and life choices.
I would also add the following unhealthy ideals presented in the series:
• Love scars are cherished. Bella is often brutally bruised and sore from Edward's vampire strength. Instead of being horrified by these injuries, her character wears them as proud battle wounds symbolizing her love for Edward.
• Smothering behavior is romantic. Another unhealthy relationship behavior in the book is Edward's penchant for watching Bella sleep. The character often sneaks into Bella's room to watch her during the night. In the book, this is shown as romantic, but in real life it would be both creepy and unhealthy.
• Dangerous sentiments are romantic. Bella's relationship with Jacob also takes on some abusive undertones. In Breaking Dawn Chapter 4 Jacob tells Bella, "Kiss me or I'll kill myself" and then, "I'll kill you. I'll kill you myself! I'll do it now!" when he thinks of her with Edward. This kind of threat and idea is dangerous.
• The most desired women don't eat. When Bella is human she is never hungry. She never eats and is always saying that her stomach is just too filled with 'butterflies' to eat. There is more than one scene in the cafeteria where she either has a Coke for lunch, an apple or nothing. Her character also insists that she does not like to eat around Edward because he doesn't eat.
• Lying to parents is justified and goes unpunished. Bella's almost constant lying never seems to have consequences. She sneaks boys in her bedroom window left and right and constantly lies about where she is going and who she is with.
As young girls read these books and begin to discover their own first loves, we have to think about what messages they are internalizing from the books they read. It's not just about violence, but abuse and gender roles as well.
Durham, Meenakshi Gigi. (2011). Blood, lust and love: Interrogating gender violence in the Twilight phenomenon. The Journal of Children and Media, 6(3), 281-299.