The Importance of Family and Gender Roles 

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The Importance of Family and Gender Roles

One of the bigger themes in the Twilight Saga is that of the nuclear family, in line with the neo-conservative family values of the post-feminists, as well as the traditional roles women and men are expected to take within that family. The terms of these roles are made obvious by Bella’s phrasing when Renee goes parachuting: “I felt a little frustrated with Phil, her husband of almost two years, for allowing that” (Eclipse 44), as if her mother needed her husband’s permission to do as she pleases.
When these gender roles are taken to the extreme, like in the case of Bella and Edward, the emotional state of the relationship may resemble that of an abusive one.

The Right Kind of Family

As the first novel begins Bella is separated from her primary caretaker and moves in with her father. Even if Renee offers to give up her newest adventure to continue to raise her daughter, Bella ultimately recognizes “the sacrifice . . . behind the promise” (Twilight 4), which is evidence of Renee’s unwillingness to take on the traditional role of motherhood Meyer so highly praises. Bella, on the other hand, immediately accepts the domestic chores at her father’s house, which shows her eagerness to “[step] into the role that her mother rejected” (Silver 124). Furthermore, while Renee is depicted as childlike and erratic, Bella strongly separates her own personality from her mother’s, “I was a very different person from my mother. Someone thoughtful and cautious. The responsible one, the grownup” (Eclipse 450). Both this separation of personality and willingness to take on traditional gender-roles, one could argue, is the first indicator of the maturity and strength Meyer will attach to motherhood and the conventional family values glorified by the post-feminists.
Silver claims that “Bella’s desire for eternal life as a vampire with Edward Cullen is closely connected to her longing for a stable family, which she has been denied” (122). The fact that the Cullens currently live as one family when Bella meets them, although they occasionally live as more distant relatives, supports this. Carlisle, a name perhaps symbolically close to that of Bella’s father, Charlie, is not only portrayed as the perfect caring father, but is almost godlike in this role, as he essentially chose and created (sired) his own children. Likewise, Esme is portrayed as the perfect, caring mother and the rest of the family as squabbling siblings. Essentially, Meyer is disregarding of the unnatural aspects of the family and they are portrayed as the ideal traditional nuclear family celebrated by post-feminism, in contrast to Bella’s own broken home. Appropriately, Bella is depicted as, in terms of personality, a more suitable member of the Cullen family than her own: I have already mentioned her difference from her mother; her father is a simple man, interested in football and fishing while the Cullen family, like Bella, is interested in literature, classical music and domesticity.
Bella’s choice to join the Cullen family is further celebrated by the second wave feminism backlash, as it values consumer capitalism, and the luxury consumption the Cullen family lives by, with their luxurious home and multiple expensive sports cars. The way Bella moves up in class when becoming a part of her new family is valued, as well as the eternal youth she will be able to enjoy. One might even take it so far as to claim that a post-feminist would agree with Meyer’s idea that this move would help Bella in finding herself, considering Negra’s statement that, “post-feminism suggests that symbolic forms of time mastery (particularly management of the ageing process) will provide the key to the reclamation of self”. She continues to say that it is “common in a post-feminist [to] act on a sense of temporal urgency” (quoted in Taylor 40). The phrasing of this immediately draws attention to Bella’s urgency to become a vampire as she every day grows older than Edward.

Gender and Gender Roles

Throughout the first three novels, before Bella becomes a mother, in addition to her own eagerness to enforce typical gender roles by keeping house for her father, she is depicted as weak and dependent on men, both physically and emotionally. The difference in power between men and women is emphasized by all the men in her life being supernatural, incomparably strong, beings: the stone hard vampire and the ultra-strong werewolf. The physical hardness of the males’ bodies, Edward being compared to marble and Jacob’s jaw breaking Bella’s hand as she hits him, could be seen as symbolically representing the mental strength and hardness of males in general. While the female vampires in the novels also posses this hard, physical body Meyer never focuses on this while describing them; furthermore, they are never the ones using physical powers in battles, but fight by either mental abilities, such as Alice’s ability to see her opponents moves and simply avoid him, or Victoria’s use of manipulation to get others to fight for her.
The dynamic in the relationships Bella have with men is one of “perpetual rescuer and rescued” (Silver 125) and Bella even refers to Edward as her “perpetual saviour” (Twilight 79). It could be argued that Edward’s ability to read minds presents him as mentally superior as well, though Bella’s personal protection from this particular ability of his may be used as a counter argument; this does not, however, hinder him from taking part of her conversations and actions with others through their minds, while his mind is completely shut off from hers. The men of the novels repeatedly enforce traditional gender roles by opening doors, pulling out chairs, lending Bella jackets to ensure her warmth and even carrying her when she is tired. In the ideal family of the Cullens, the man of the house is the only one with a profession, which further strengthens these ideas. Sometimes Meyer allows for as obvious referrals to the difference between genders as Bella’s statement while listening to men talking about mechanics: “Many of the words they used were unfamiliar to me, and I figured I’d have to have a Y chromosome to really understand . . . ” (New Moon 139 ). While this may seem to be an innocent statement, the values regarding men and women lying underneath are easily detectable if one examines it: we have our place in society based on our biological gender. Moreover, up until the final novel, the difference between Bella and Edward is not only shown by illustrating their physical differences in regard to power but also grace and beauty. Her clumsiness and his elegance as well as her “obvious ordinariness” (Twilight 79) and his beauty are often pointed out, and even compared: “I wasn’t interesting. And he was. Interesting… and brilliant… and mysterious… and perfect… and beautiful” (Twilight 79). Later on, while Bella examines a picture of her and Edward together she contemplates “The contrast between the two of us was painful . . . I flipped the picture over with a feeling of disgust.” (New Moon 65). This, one could argue, is to emphasize the inequality not only between the human and the vampire, nullified when she is changed, but also between the woman and the man, nullified in marriage and motherhood. According to Jessica Benjamin “masochism is a search for recognition of the self by an other” (quoted in Taylor 33) and Bella’s conviction that she does not deserve Edward in any way grants Edward the power to bestow that recognition.

The Masochist and the Sadist

The masochistic characteristics of our “heroine” are plentiful in this teenage love-story: Bella’s compulsive repetition of how undeserving she is of Edward; the fact that she takes pleasure in his anger, “I felt a thrill of genuine fear” (Twilight 23-4); the fact that her narrative, and therefore her self, is non-existent without him and her self-destructive striving towards (un)death, all point to a masochistic personality. Moreover, Bella’s coping mechanism after Edward leaves her in New Moon, to submit herself into dangerous situations to make herself an object of his (even in mere imagination) wrath, is an example of typical masochistic self-punishment. The self-loathing narrative voice of Bella, recognized in that her earliest description of herself only brings up negative aspects of her looks and her character (Twilight 10), establishes her as weak and her overall clumsiness and physical (as well as mental) awkwardness accentuates a lack of control over the self; a control she seeks in others, mainly Edward and Jacob. As a result of her vulnerability, Bella is, throughout the Saga, dependant on Edward for both physical safety and psychological stability, which helps ensure her subordination to him.
One could without difficulty argue that the image of a vampire is the quintessential sadist, and siring “the ultimate sadomasochistic act” (Taylor 41), supported by Bella’s narration in Eclipse, as she describes a willingness to be “polluted” by his venom (324). Even though it is Bella’s choice to be turned, it is narrated as something being done to her instead of something she is choosing to do. In regard to Edward, the interpretation of him as a sadistic personality goes further than his symbolical lack of humanity. Freud states that sadism is a result of sexual aggression (quoted in Grimwade 157), and Edward’s physical need to harm, consume and ultimately kill Bella is easily interpreted as sexual. The vampires’ need to feed is often portrayed this way, and in the Saga it is closely tied to Edward’s and Bella’s intimate moments; from the simple act of physical closeness to their inability to perform sexual acts, or even kiss, from fear that his sexual desires might overpower him. Silver also agrees that the drinking of blood is “clearly analogous to sexual desire in [Twilight] and other vampire lore” (128).


The Abusive Relationship

Edward often disregards Bella’s opinions when making decisions affecting her, even when it comes to things that would not affect him or their relationship in any way. When Edward incapacitates Bella’s car as she decides to visit Jacob, it is even patronizing and insulting, if one considers that when Charlie did the same to her car when she was grounded Edward announced himself disappointed, questioning if that really would be all needed to stop her. When she finally manages to escape and visit her best friend, Edward expresses that she needs his permission before acting and is dismissive about her emotions and wishes altogether: “you can’t expect me to let you- . . . this won’t happen again . . . I am not negotiating this, Bella.” and a physical threat even emerges, “His hands were in fists again. I could feel them against my back” (Eclipse 143). In this instance Bella actually defies him, where she previously had just “gritted her teeth” to avoid a fight even though she had felt dissatisfaction with his behaviour, referring to “Edward’s shielding arms [becoming] restraints” (Eclipse 84), symbolical of his protectiveness turning into something negative. This only result in him involving Alice in his agenda to control Bella, having her keep watch over Bella and even hold her hostage when he is out of town. By doing so he removes another one of Bella’s friends, someone she might have needed to talk to, further isolating her. Edward is effectively removing either the people she trusts, or the trust she feels for them, from her life, which is consistent with an abusive relationship. In accordance with her masochistic, submissive personality, Bella tells him that he can hold her hostage any time he wants, without even expressing the anger she narrates in her head or resolving the issue first (Eclipse 189). This sadomasochistic, psychologically abusive, relationship is, as preciously mentioned, transformed into a healthy, loving family in the final chapters of Meyer’s story. Interestingly enough, the justification, or even celebration, of abusive relationships is found not only between Bella and her mates, in the big picture, but also in a side-story within the werewolf community.
For example, Sam lost control, transformed into a werewolf and hit Emily -if “hit” is the right verb to use when you turn into a werewolf and mauls someone’s face, forever disfiguring him or her. Emily is even fortunate disfigurement was the only consequence of the attack, and not, say, death. Nonetheless, Meyer seems to use Sam and Emily’s story to normalize and even romanticize the idea of a relationship between a werewolf (aggressive, powerful man) and a human (weaker female). Theirs is the only relationship in the novels that experiences physical (non-sexual) violence and the excuses are incredibly similar to those made by a woman being abused by a man: it is not his fault as he cannot control his instincts (urges); it is in fact my fault for provoking his transformation (anger) and when he does control himself it is proof of his love. Sam and Emily had actually had problems making their relationship work before the “accident”, and afterwards she is the one comforting him, which ultimately leads to them finding harmony (Eclipse 124). This could be compared to Bella’s and Edward’s relationship before and after she is “polluted” by his venom, or frankly, before and after he kills her. Considering this, Meyer does not only treat relationship violence as something excusable, but as something that can be mending. The comparison between the werewolves’ instincts and the blood-thirst of the vampire is easily drawn; in which case the provocation simply would be that Bella is alive. She repeatedly apologizes for the fact that she has blood in her, resembling when the woman in an abusive relationship apologizes for the so-called “provocation” she cannot control and a masochist feeling blame when there is none.
In addition to interpreting the physical aspect of Edward’s need to hurt Bella as a symbolism for a man’s lack of control over his urges to hurt his partner, it can be argued as Meyer’s way of making it acceptable for the reader. By making Edward a man with an essentially kind personality, protective of the women he obviously loves, and making his more unpleasant attributes the result of a physical need, forced upon him by his sire, Meyer turns him into a victim as well. The fact that he considers himself a soulless monster for this only strengthens the reader’s view of him as a good man. Not only does Meyer make a man’s urges to physically hurt or mentally control his partner something uncontrollable, she manipulates the reader into agreeing by victimizing Edward.

The Choice Between Childhood and Adulthood

In the final novel Bella’s uncertainty about her place in the world, which she has been pondering for the last 2000 pages, is settled. Though she early on decided to join the Cullen family, she has been unable to fully come to terms with the consequences of her choice. She has found it difficult to make her peace with leaving Renee and Charlie, as well as Jacob. Furthermore, Edward’s condition of marriage is not one she accepts lightly, she even calls “matrimony” a “dirty word” (Eclipse 440), which emphasizes her submissive nature as she reluctantly goes through with it. Nevertheless, the choice to become a vampire and spend eternity with Edward was never one she questioned, excruciatingly painful death be damned. Silver points out that this decision “stands for any adolescent crisis” and that “Bella’s identity crisis is one to which many teenage girls can relate”. To Bella, becoming a vampire represents unbecoming a teenager. It is, therefore, “the fulfilment of masochistic desires to be rid of one’s ordinary self” (Baumeister quoted in Taylor 39), the impossible act of ending all that is yourself, without actual death.
Jacob, her other option, symbolizes what it would mean not to be with Edward, to not choose adulthood. To select Edward would not only mean marriage and motherhood for Bella, but to be part of the Cullen family, depicted as reserved, elegant and full of knowledge: the ideal of adulthood. Jacob, on the other hand, is unpredictable, fun, carefree, and often compared to the sun. His whole essence brings happy summer days of childhood to mind. Even though he is erratic and somewhat emotional, with his uncontrollable anger and openly shared emotions, he also presents a kind of safety associated with the simplicity of childhood: what you see is what you get. Edward has more going on under his perfect surface, more than the secret of vampirism. The love Edward and Jacob feel for Bella is never portrayed as unequal, only different. The latter is more blatant, like the love of a child, whereas the first is the more complex love between adults.
To examine the consequences of the choice between the pack and the coven is also interesting. In choosing Jacob, the pack and her old, human family, Bella symbolically chooses childhood in more aspects than Jacob: the whole pack is described as a gang of youthful brothers being taken care of by the elders. The simple fact that Sam, the alpha, is much older than all the other wolves also underscores their youthfulness. Additionally, Bella’s mother, as I have already shown, is depicted as childlike, and Charlie simply lacks the sophistication of the Cullen family. To choose the coven would not only be to select said elegance and grace, but put onto Bella a burden of secrecy and responsibility to the degree of seclusion. She would also have to give up her pack, her human family, and her Jacob: everything that ties her to her childhood. In the choice between these two families, by looking from a post-feminist perspective, one also finds the choice between the upper class and the working class, further emphasized by the werewolves’ ethnicity and the Cullen’s exaggeratedly pale (white) skin.

The Fear of Maternity

In addition to Bella’s inability to fully accept her choice to take the path which leads to marriage and motherhood, the Saga is full of symbolic fear of children. This is especially prominent in the two later novels, Eclipse with its animalistic newborns, and Breaking Dawn with its uncontrollable immortal children. Furthermore, Bella’s own little “abomination”, species unspecified, growing in her stomach reflects the fear of the unknown a first-time mother may experience. The fear of the uncontrollable toddler phase lasting forever is later morphed into the fear of your children growing up too fast, mirrored in Bella’s own halfbreed’s accelerated growing rate.

Table of contents :

1. Theory 
1.1 Psychoanalytic Sadomasochism
1.2 Post-feminism
1.3 Abusive Relationships
2. The Importance of Family and Gender Roles 
2.1 The Right Kind of Family
2.2 Gender and Gender Roles
2.3 The Masochist and the Sadist
2.4 The Abusive Relationship
3. The Choice Between Childhood and Adulthood
4. The Fear of Maternity 
4.1 Newborns
4.2 Immortal Children
4.3 The Dangers of Pregnancy
5. Motherhood and Marriage 
6. Female Sexuality 
7. Pro-creation and Anti-abortion 
Further research


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