Hate Twilight? Hate Bieber? Hate Women?

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 8.442% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

There’s a little misogyny in the hatred of Twilight and Justin Bieber and all the other things that teenaged girls love, and I wanted to unpack that.
Because one of the things I said yesterday that Twilight was a teenaged girl’s power fantasy, which it clearly is – the drab girl goes to a new school, finds that every boy there wants her, but she can ignore all that because the most special boy in the world who’s waited his whole life for someone like her comes along to change himself in every way for her.
This may seem dumb.  But consider the teenaged boy’s power fantasy, wherein your parents are shot dead, leaving you free with your wealth to buy all the cool gadgets and go beat up clowns in alleyways, and you’ll see that almost all power fantasies are, at heart, silly.
Now, admittedly, the phrase “teenaged girl’s power fantasy” is going to get some hackles up because, yes, not all teenage girls are the same and there are many who would rather go running with Katniss than Bella.  Fair cop.  But there are millions of girls reading and re-reading Twilight because for them, it’s the dream of what they want to be.
And it is scorned.
Twilight is the butt of everyone’s jokes, the automatic punchline.  Even people who’ve never read Twilight hate Twilight.  And there are very legitimate reasons to dislike Twilight, but I think a large part of the reason Twilight slips so easily into that “Need a flavor of the month to kick?  Why not Twilight?” is because girls like it.
Because stereotypical teenaged girls also like Justin Bieber… And as I’ve noted before, he too is the automatic kicking boy of jokes.  It’s not like the metal and rap bands that boys like, with their over-the-top posturing and hyper-masculine shouts, aren’t equally as stupid, but somehow Insane Clown Posse (or even more popular bands) never quite reaches the level of “auto-joke” that Justin Bieber does.
Stereotypical teenaged girls also like romantic comedies.  And rom-coms, another female power fantasy, are widely agreed to be awful, acquiring both critical denigration and a “Eeyew, who’d watch that?”  But action films, the teenaged boy’s powerful fantasy, may not get the critic’s thumbs-up, but mostly society thinks that well-done action films are kinda cool.
Compare, say, The Transporter to 27 Dresses.  Which one’s the more joke-worthy?  Even though they’re both by-the-numbers, competently-done versions of their genre?
And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the more embarrassing versions of power fantasies are invariably the girly ones.  The quiet message here is that what you want now is not just foolish, but actively embarrassing, something to be shucked aside.  You women with your silly dreams, go discard them the moment you grow up, because what you want now is to be gotten rid of.
There’s some very deeply-rooted misogyny in there, I think.  It’s like we’re almost afraid of young females agreeing on something, as though it scares the shit out of us as a society.  And if it was just one instance, I might write it off… But the fact is that every time I see something that teenaged girls think is cool, everyone immediately jumps on the bandwagon and agrees it is only not awful, but cringeworthy.  Which sends a bulletin to teenaged girls that whatever you like, you should change that shit right away.  Because you’re kind of silly and stupid, and maybe you should alter yourself to like better things.
Meanwhile, comic books and videogames, the secret male nerd pasttimes of my childhood, have gone mainstream to the point where pretty much everyone agrees Batman’s a badass and hey, can’t we play some Madden or Assassin’s Creed?  Aw, man, wasn’t Pokemon great?
(Which is why I think YA is causing some discomfort in the nerd communities, because mostly girls read YA, but reading is cool… isn’t it!  Should we take it seriously now that girls own it?)
Which is why I don’t make them the butt of my jokes.  Yes, Twilight’s problematic.  So’s DC’s nearly female-free comics reboot, along with the inflated breasts and suddenly submissive, dully-sexual women.  And it’s perfectly okay to analyze why they’re difficult from a sexual perspective, and to discuss the bad lessons they may be causing people to internalize.
But as far as making “Edward and Bella” the butt of my auto-humor when I’m searching for “the worst book in the world”?  I’ll pass.  Because hey, those teenaged girls may be silly, but they’re no sillier than I was when I was rooting for Batman to be the most bad-ass, smartest guy in the world.  Hopefully, like me, they’ll take the best parts and leave the silly behind.

10 Comments

  1. Ann Marie
    Apr 5, 2012

    See, it’s because I’m a feminist that I hate Twilight. As the mom of a teenaged girl, I find it sends out some pretty horrible messages. Messages that some girls are taking to heart, and that’s a bad thing.
    My daughter read the books but wasn’t crazy about them. She may have seen the movie with friends but it wasn’t an event.
    She never liked Beiber, she likes that gawdawful Dubstep stuff. (And some other things I will never understand.)
    You may have some points with the misogyny, but it is a book that isn’t powerful, and sends out bad messages.
    Also, did you see the piece in K–oh what is that website about anime and comics? It was about how males treat women who try to get in on the whole comics thing, and it wasn’t pretty. And the comments only proved the articles right. 🙁

    • J. Andrews
      Apr 5, 2012

      @Ann Marie, I just want to say ‘like’. Mixing my social media metaphors.

    • Pasi Malmi
      Apr 6, 2012

      Ferret, please try to understand men and boys, for a while! Many boys do not like Twilight, because it gives the impression that young boys should be able to run 100 yards in 3 seconds and that they should be able to kill bears with bare hands – or otherwise, the girls are not interested in them.
      Twilight is like a picture of a naked, Photoshopped woman, who is making girls angry because the picture is creating a culture in which the girls are not good enough the way they are.

  2. Mary
    Apr 5, 2012

    Yes. THIS. God, it’s good to read thoughtful commentary on this subject. I’ve been chewing on this subject for some time, and what you’ve said here resonates with me on a gut level.
    Thank you.

  3. Chloë
    Apr 5, 2012

    The reason it’s so easy to hate is that the fantasy is such a flat out lie. It may draw people in with the promise of being special, but when it really comes down to it, that specialty is smashed into the ground. She’s special because someone ELSE who’s special picks her. She’s independent and powerful UNTIL he likes her.
    The message almost seems to be that just because you’re special doesn’t mean you’re special. That just because you found the guy for you, AND he’s all sorts of supernatural goodness, doesn’t mean he won’t just dominate you like the lowly girl you are, and that you shouldn’t only accept, but should LIKE it. That’s not cool, and it certainly doesn’t mesh well with the fantasy it’s claiming to be.
    If it were truly about empowerment, that would be excellent, and I’m sure there’d be plenty of jerks hating on it for exactly the reasons you posit. But as is, it only feels like a way to try and convince young girls that giving up what makes them powerful or special is how to BECOME special. And that’s worthy of all the hate it can get.

  4. Richard Baldwin
    Apr 5, 2012

    Yes, and absolutelly. Yet there’s a big difference between ‘let’s poke fun at Bieber because he’s silly,’ and coherent disagreement with the underlying thematics of something like Twilight.
    I for one won’t attack the series on a craft level–I’ve read the first two books, and I think it’s quite effective as a thriller-romance. But–and it might sound paternal for me to say this, but I will anyway–we as a society decide what is the teenage girl power fantasy, just as we do with the teenage boy version, and some versions of each can do grave danger to the kids involved in them. For boys, this sometimes mean they grow up with a romantic view of fighting, want to be ‘real men,’ then get themselves into trouble going off half-cocked into a warzone or being otherwise equally foolhardy. For girls even more pernicious issues can crop up since as a society we’ve provided far fewer options for women to exercise power.
    We have to combat unhealthy versions of power fantasies, particularly the effective ones like Twilight, because if we don’t then we tacitly approve of them. Those teenage power fantasies go on to help form the contexts by which the definitions of actual power are determined for the adults who grow up on them, so we must respond counter to them if we want healthy power and power distribution available to the next generation.
    But again, yes, I agree that ridicule isn’t getting anyone anywhere good.

  5. Zero
    Apr 5, 2012

    I agree with the post above. I tend to make fun of Twilight BECAUSE I’m a feminist. It is Bella’s attitude of choosing which prince will come save her, her overall disintrest in other aspects of her life outside of the men, the fact that she completely conforms to Edward’s life later on, that I feel are worthy of ridicule.
    I agree with the Bieber remarks to an extent. When I was younger I spewed adolescent hate at Leo DiCaprio and Justin Timberlake. And while it wasn’t because they were chick things, it was because they got chicks so easily. I’ve since learned that I shouldn’t do that, though I still can’t quite embrace them, that would just be pandering.

  6. garfield
    Apr 5, 2012

    As a meaningful social comentary Twilight is very disturbing.
    On my first read I was very upset about he whole “I can not live without you” thing, while so much of my personal growth has been learning that I need to love myself, and not be totaly dependant on what other people think of me.
    After reading it a few times, I realized that the book is fantasy, and the infatuation is part of the magic. I am trying to avoid spoilers here, but this concept becomes more obvious as the series continues.
    So is the series a good role model for anyone? Hell no.
    Is it interesting and gripping (and admidt it, even in Lord of the Rings there are a few chapters where you have to skip a few pages) , hell yes.

  7. Mike Substelny
    Apr 6, 2012

    The butt of any joke must be popular. Actual loathsomeness is optional.
    I have a box full of better candidates for “the worst book in the world.” The problem is that no one has ever heard of them. When you tell a joke you need a connection with your audience and you can’t connect if your audience doesn’t know your joke’s butt.

  8. Brenda
    Nov 26, 2012

    Actually, I dislike Twilight because I find Edward to be a misogynistic, mentally abusive, violent, possessive jerk with the tendencies of a stalker.
    I’ve heard so many girls say that if you wake up and find a guy in your home who was watching you sleep that you did not invite in then it’s totally acceptable if you think he’s cute. WTF?! I don’t care if your a hot vampire, That’s not healthy.
    This thought process reminds me of all the female Chris Brown fans who lately have been trending “Chris Brown could beat me any day!” on twitter.
    It’s that kind of complacency from other females that I find disturbing.
    You also have books like the Hunger Games, who also has a female lead character in some sort of love triangle. Except the guys in these books aren’t jerk offs, and Katness functions pretty well when they aren’t around. (Unlike Bella who apparently stops existing for month after Edward leaves, as evident by blank chapters titled by the passing months.) And you know, I haven’t seen or heard Hunger Games get much flak or hate like Twilight does.
    And it’s not like groups of women didn’t go see the Avengers. I myself went twice with 2 different groups to see it. The second time out of the 7 people that went, only one was male.

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