More thoughts on TWILIGHT:

 

He caught my face securely between his iron hands, ignoring my struggles when I tried to turn my head away.

“Please don’t,” I whispered . . .

His mouth was on mine then, and I couldn’t fight him.  Not because he was so many thousand times stronger than me, but because my will crumbled into dust the second our lips met . . .

So I kissed him back, my heart pounding out a jagged, disjointed rhythm while my breathing turned to panting . . .

 

That’s a passage from “New Moon,” the second book in the “Twilight” saga by Phoenix author Stephenie Meyer (the Post copy editor erroneously changed the spelling of her first name to “Stephanie”).  More than 80 million copies of the “Twilight” saga books have now been sold – almost exclusively to girls and young women.  

In my op-ed for the Washington Post, I asked the question:  why are these books so phenomenally popular with teenage girls?   In the week after my op-ed appeared in the Post, my article was picked up by many smaller regional newspapers, such as the San Jose Mercury News (California), the Austin American-Statesman (Texas), the Hartford Courant (Connecticut), the Daytona Beach News-Herald, and about forty other newspapers.  Several hundred bloggers have commented on my article as well. 

The negative comments in the blogosphere fall into two categories.  Some bloggers think I am giving the Twilight saga books a negative review.  Others think I am attacking feminism.  But I wasn’t reviewing the books, and I’m not making any comment about feminism.  I’m simply expressing puzzlement about the fact that these books – which endorse very traditional gender roles – are wildly popular. 

Imagine going back to the 1940’s, when the Nancy Drew books enjoyed huge popularity.  Contrast the Twilight books with a typical Nancy Drew book, The Hidden Staircase.  In The Hidden Staircase, Nancy’s father is kidnapped by three bad guys.  Nancy tracks down the bad guys, has each of them arrested, and rescues her father from the dungeon where the men have been keeping him prisoner.  Nancy’s boyfriend is a minor, peripheral character who plays no role in the rescue of Nancy’s father.  In the Twilight books, by contrast, Bella’s boyfriends Jacob Black and Edward Cullen are always the central focus of the story, from start to finish.  The teenage heroine Bella is not, technically speaking, a heroine at all, but rather a perpetual victim – at least in the first three books.  In the final book, after becoming a vampire, she is able to use her new supernatural powers to protect her loved ones.  But what’s the message there?  That a girl has to become a vampire before she can be fully independent and self-reliant?

I’m not saying that the Twilight books are bad.  I actually enjoyed all four of them.  And I’m not saying that feminism is bad.  I’m just trying to point out the irony that in our supposedly enlightened and hyper-modern 21st century, girls are flocking in huge numbers to books which are arguably less “enlightened” – by feminist standards – compared with the Nancy Drew books of two generations past.    (For a comment on the Twilight series by a bona fide feminist, see Carmen Siering’s article “New Moon, Same Old Sexist Story,” Ms. Magazine, online at http://www.msmagazine.com/Fall2009/newmoon.asp.) 

Incidentally, the New York Times recently had an article about the fact that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Sonia Sotomayor, were all huge fans of the Nancy Drew books when they were growing up.  The article, by Mary Jo Murphy, is entitled “Nancy Drew and the Secret of the 3 Black Robes”; it’s available online at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/31/weekinreview/31murphy.html.

 

-- Leonard Sax