Exploring how Twilight: Reimagined reinforces the damsel in distress

Some of you may know that my favorite fantasy creature is the vampire. My freshman year of college (this was before the height of the Vampire craze) I tried to explain, with little knowledge on gender theory, how the coffin symbolized “the closet” and how vampires are beautiful pan sexual creatures before I could even think of sexuality beyond a binary. It seemed like a natural evolution that in a desperate suburban summer of 2009, I would find myself at a Borders. This was a midnight party and I was accompanying my, then 14 year old sister, to get a copy of Stephenie Meyers new release Breaking Dawn. Up until that point, I had never heard of the Twilight saga, but seeing the pandemonium around the release and getting a brief synopsis from my sister (Vampire love story? Sign me up! Let’s do this!) I decided to read the series. Approximately 72 hours later, I emerged from my bedroom, likely covered in mozzarella stick crumbs and Sweet Baby Ray’s (this was the majority of my vegetarian diet at the time), looking like Carrie Bradshaw during her post-Big “honeymoon” in the Sex and the City movie, and feeling really confused — what had just happened to me?

(a picture I had my sister make of a friend and I after we watched the Twilight trailer 20 times in a row)

Don’t get me wrong, I was totally sucked into the eroticism of a vampire/human story, but despite my crazed 72 hour Twihard binge, I was seeing some red flags. The release of Breaking Dawn and the first Twilight movie coincided with my senior year of college, and I spent an entire year trying to understand and rationalize what had happened to me over the summer while analyzing the apparent issues of this series — reinforcing gender stereotypes, erasing inane sexuality and desires, promoting classism and heteronormativity, and romanticizing abusive relationships.

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of Twilight and to address the criticisms received that Bella is essentially a “damsel in distress”, Stephenie Meyers released a new edition of Twilight with a reverse side gender-swapped story. She claims that this will prove that Bella was not just a damsel in distress, but a human in distress.

I don’t need to read Twilight; Reimagined to know that the “human in distress” theory is total bullshit, but for the sake of this blog and quite frankly, my own curiosity, I decided to read it. Paying money for the book was out of the question. I couldn’t bring myself to feel the embarrassment of holding the book in public, or even having someone look over at my Kindle screen. So, I made what I consider, the second biggest mistake of my adult life (first was paying for grad school) and used my free audible credit to listen to the audiobook.

I want to start off by saying how lame I think it is that Stephenie Meyers basically wrote fan fiction of her own writing. I like the possibility of fan fiction, 50 Shades of Grey was created from Twilight fan fiction (problematic story as well), but this is an author, taking her text and just changing her stupid Victorian names with more stupid Victorian names. The whole concept of Bella, or Beaufort, in the reimagined version as a human in distress just doesn’t hold up because she still plays into the same boring gender tropes and heteronormativity that the original Twilight is based on. This gender-swapped version is basically cementing the criticisms of the Twilight saga.

Here are a few examples:

  • In the original, Edward saved Bella from being sexually assaulted, he would later tell her “you don’t know the vile things they were thinking of doing to you”. In the reimagined version, Edythe saves Beau from being attacked due to a mistaken identity. Using the fear of sexual assault immediately put Edward in a position of power over Bella; he could protect her and keep her “safe”. This relationship does not happen in the reimagined version, because in Meyer’s world, men don’t have to fear sexual assault (wrong), but it also positions Beau in a way where his masculinity isn’t threatened by Edythe’s protection, in fact, it wasn’t even needed.
  • Beau doesn’t deal with the same insecurities about his looks as Bella does. There are no self-deprecating comments on Beau’s end, he never mentions how plain he is in comparison to Bella, which is always at the center of her inner dialogue.
  • In the series, Bella’s sexual attraction to Edward is portrayed through being flush and her heart fluttering. I can’t be the only one that was thinking how Beau’s physical manifestations, specifically with loose linen pajama pants on with a hot ass vampire laying on his lap and kissing his ear would fit into the chaste Twilight world. If Beau is as flush as Bella, he’d always have a boner.The most shocking part of this gender-swapped story is that Beau never had to beg, he didn’t have to beg Edythe to turn him into a vampire, he didn’t have to beg for sex — Beau never even had to ask to be changed. Where in the original, Bella’s humanity and morality was the most important thing to Edward, in the reimagined version, Beau was handed everything he wanted. There was never an issue of power and trust because Edythe didn’t hold that position on their relationship.

I can’t imagine why Stephenie Meyers’ response to her criticisms was to provide more proof to their arguments. I tend to have the same issues with a lot of Young Adult books where the main female protagonist is, essentially, the damsel in distress. One of the few YA books that succeeded in giving the lead female character power and agency is Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy with Katniss. But, in the end, I can criticize all I want, but I still used my audible credit (I HAVE to remember to cancel my account), I’ve seen all five of the Twilight Saga movies, and cried the entire way through Breaking Dawn Pt. 2 the last time I saw it on T.V. The truth is my consumption is adding/has added fuel to this series, and unlike most things that I unashamedly consume, I’m hoping that this will be the last time I pay attention to Stephenie Meyers.

Originally published at 1800pizzagirl.com.

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