Caitlin Flanagan took on Twilight in the Atlantic in a recent issue, and I think got wrestled to a draw. As I’ve mentioned previously, I have a problematic relationship with Caitlin (yeah, when you get a phone call from a nationally known author, you get to call them by their first name) — I pretty much disagree with everything she writes. But I can’t stop reading her.
It’s a win win!
I was surprised, actually, that I thought she had a point throughout much of the article. The thing is, I draw very different conclusions from her observations than she does. Caitlin sees the psychological makeup of girls and women as fragile and delicate and therefore the normal adolescent process of growing up and way from their parents is a violent one, no matter what. There will always be loss and regret and it will always cause harm.
I think girls should be parented so they grow up strong and independent and always know that they can be captains of their own fate, and that maturity is not loss but an essential step to being a full human being. Adolescence is rocky, no doubt about it, but if we treat the adolescence of young girls as a huge loss of innocence and and exile from childhood then we are indulging the same narcissism that Caitlin describes thusly: “typical of the narcissism that can make living with a teenage girl one of the most unpleasant experiences God metes out to the unsuspecting…”
That’s just it. Yes, teenage girls can be narcissistic. But that’s not something to indulge. Girls need to be gently but forcefully drawn out of this inwardness with respect but also with the assurance that they can handle the world and themselves.
I am convinced Caitlin loved Twilight because of the essential premise of the books — Bella never grows up. And for Caitlin, that means paradise is never lost. Bella is forever fixed.
She also seems to have taken away from the books an idea of Bella that is laughable and a little sad.
“Bella is an old-fashioned heroine: bookish, smart, brave, considerate of others’ emotions, and naturally competent in the domestic arts.”
We certainly do see her cooking. But under the most generous of interpretations she is hardly smart, hardly brave, and hardly considerate. Her treatment of Jacob and her other friends, whose only faults are that they are not vampires and who have concerns of their own, are breathtaking in their self-absorption. Caitlin goes on to say that Bella “gently” tries to push one of the boys who has a crush on her toward one of the girls in her circle of people she hangs out with. Actually, Bella’s attitude is sneering, dismissive.
They are not vampires. They are not Edward. They are not Bella. They do not matter.
Here’s where I think Twilight wins and what I think Caitlin is getting at. It’s the allure of being greatly, overwhelmingly loved. Adored. Obsessed over. To be a queen and a hero, not for any attribute or accomplishment (Bella has none), but just by mere existence to be worthy of this great, life-altering love.
It’s a powerful, attractive idea. I can see why tweens and teens are infatuated with it.
I just think that it does girls a disservice to say that this is all that they are worthy of.