Adolescent Girls and Twilight

Book CoverHere’s some lunchtime reading for you, should your day be at that point where you’re hungry and looking for things to read and ponder whilst you munch: The Atlantic has a fascinating article by Caitlin Flanagan about the allure and, dare I say, sparkle of Twilight for adolescent girls. Flanagan gets a few things spot-on, in my opinion, most notably the secret world of adolescent girls and the walking, shifting maelstrom of ambivalence that is your average pubescent female barely balanced between childhood and adulthood, and how the novel allows readers to access that time in their lives, regardless of age. I mentioned in my review that reading the book reminded me of my angsty teenage self.

While I didn’t continue past book 1, I watched many people around me gulp all four volumes in as few days as possible, downing the novels in a drive so intense I’m surprised they didn’t leave flaming tire tracks behind them as they revisited that teenage angsty wasteland themselves. And while I still have bone-deep problems and a not-insignificant level of discomfort with the degree to which Bella subsumed her identity into Edward’s – she herself wanting to be ‘gulped down’ literally and figuratively – I find myself pondering the article, because perhaps Flanagan has identified part of the element that makes these books so very, very gulpable – and it’s not gullibility on the part of the reader. It’s a vulnerability to teenage emotional time travel.

[Thanks to Holly Watson and Barb Ferrer for the link.]

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General Bitching...

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  1. 1

    My teenaged daughter has told me that she really has no interest in reading Twilight—but since EVERYONE she knows is talking about it, she feels like she must be “in the know.”  I told her she can borrow a friend’s.  I’m not buying the book.

    I’ve dealt with enough angst from her over the past few years, who needs more? LOL!

  2. 2
    Jessa Slade says:

    And maybe the desire is a bit to “fix” that angsty, lost teen self.  Or at least reassure her that she’ll end up with a hot, powerful guy :)

  3. 3
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    Well, that article has done for me what I hadn’t thought possible—it’s actually made me eager to read Twilight.

  4. 4
    EJ McKenna says:

    That was a great article.

    If a novel of today were to sound these chords so explicitly but in a nonsupernatural context, it would be seen (rightly) as a book about “abstinence,” and it would be handed out with the tracts and bumper stickers at the kind of evangelical churches that advocate the practice as a reasonable solution to the age-old problem of horny young people.

    Fair bit of resonance in that.

  5. 5
    Lisa Dale says:

    1st time poster, long time lurker. Twilight was loaned to me by the 13-yr-old daughter of a co-worker, and I spent a whole night reading it, giggling like a suddenly re-virginized version of myself. It was fun, but I didn’t read the rest of them. Virginity is overrated when you’re 29.

  6. 6
    Judith says:

    A friend of mine pointed out that part of it is that Edward is so entirely unlike the teenaged male that most girls have to deal with.  He’s interested in her, he wants to know all about her wishes and hopes, and what her favorite CDs are and what posters she has in her room.  He doesn’t want to get into her pants.  Didn’t we all wish for an attentive guy who was hot for us, but was interested in what we thought, not just in getting some when we were teens? I can see the attraction.

  7. 7
    SonomaLass says:

    Fabulous article!  That pretty much sums up what I felt when (at the insistence of my teenage daughter) I read the book.  I completely understood (and temporarily shared) how compelling it is for adolescent girls.  Looking back on it later, and from safely outside in my grown-up world, I went through the whole “OMG he’s a creepy stalker” thing.  But while I was reading it, I was back in high school and it all made absolute sense.

  8. 8
    Tibbles says:

    !!!Possible Spoiler!!!
    Well, I read all four.  Books two made me cry and book four was freaking me out.  Angsty doesn’t even begin to cover book four.  Way too many emotions that just seem to go on and on and on. 
    Don’t get me wrong, they were excellent reading but I felt like I needed to keep reading hoping one of them would get some sense not out of any need to gobble them down!
    Spamword: general98

    Yep, 98 was my year of angst!

  9. 9
    Diane says:

    That article totally hit the nail on the head for me.

    The first time I read the books, I didn’t analyse why I was so hooked. I just rode the wave of the relationship but the sexual tension in Eclipse when Bella kept trying to take the physical relationship to the next level and Edward kept refusing was so intense.  Then I was disappointed in the final novel when there was no build-up to the fade-out honeymoon sex scene.

    Then I read the first three books again. I was still carried away with the emotion but even more puzzled as to why because I could see the clumsiness of the writing.

    But this article explains why I was so sucked in, and I remember when reading those scenes that I felt it would be so amazing (but also frustrating) to have a guy who loved you so much that he could resist you physically.

    When I was 17, I only remember two types of guys. The ones who weren’t interested and the ones who were only interested in one thing.

  10. 10
    Helena says:

    I think that the article supports what I have been telling all my friends about the books: that they are popular because they feed the vulnerability of wanting complete and utter adoration and love from someone NOT your family. It’s the fantasy fulfilment, plain and simple.

    I know that I couldn’t get past the first book without hurling it against the wall. But then I saw more and more people reading the series, so I got curious and bought the rest of the books.

    When reading “New Moon” it totally hit me why people were so gaga over the books: they hit you at that emotional level and describe that place so well that it’s nigh on impossible to extricate yourself from as a reader. I was fairly immune to wanting to know the rest of the saga (I am like one of the few that really loathes Edward, the creepy SOB) until I read that book, where Jacob gets fleshed out a hell of a lot more.

    Jacob was my emotional weakness because he resembled someone in my past that I had a near-obssession with and had just recently said good-bye to. When I made the connection I understood and kept on reading the books, (gritting my teeth at the sloppy writing and character murder and latent racism in the narrative) with a better understanding of what made them popular.

    I won’t call them great literature, but they are a good time-waster.

  11. 11
    Jackie says:

    I guess I’m the minority: I hated the article; it read like a propaganda pamphlet.

    “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is about female empowerment as it’s currently defined by the kind of jaded, 40-something divorcées who wash ashore at day spas with their grizzled girlfriends and pollute the Quiet Room with their ceaseless cackling about the uselessness of men.”

    Oh noez!  God forbid women have a less than positive view of men – our overlords.  Women talking with other women is “pollution.”

    “…she immediately takes over the grocery shopping and cooking in her father’s household, and there are countless, weirdly compelling accounts of her putting dinner together”

    That’s right!  Women belong in the kitchen!  Teach that to girls as early as possible!

    “And over and over, out of nowhere, shoving the speeding car out of her way, or lifting her up in his arms, or scaring the bejesus out of the men who would harm her, is Edward.”

    How is having a damsel in distress, a too dumb to live heroine a good inspiration for girls?

  12. 12
    dangrgirl says:

    Jackie, I’m right there with you. That article didn’t sit well with me even from the intro:

    Why wouldn’t a girl buck against leaving her hometown? Never again will she have such intense friendships, such a burning need to be in constant contact with the circle of girls…who sustain her…

    The intro to this article paints girls as only reactionary, that all this domestic upheaval happens to them and they don’t try to be proactive in their lives. I tend to a see a “big move” event in a story from a Hero’s Quest perspective of leaving the Ordinary World behind.  Bella doesn’t choose to move in with her father, she is forced to, further illustrating how reactive she is. In many classical examples, the hero might suffer horrible consequences of Refusing the Call, but he eventually *consents.* It’s a proactive moment, not a reactive one. The opposite seems to be true in Twilight, but I admit to not having read it yet. I’m not sure I can exist in Bella’s head for hundreds of pages.

    The salient fact of an adolescent girl’s existence is her need for a secret emotional life—one that she slips into during her sulks and silences, during her endless hours alone in her room. . . that she is a creature designed for reading in a way no boy or man, or even grown woman…

    Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I’m still like this. :)

    Other bits of this article that bothered me: The comparison of the romance of Twilight to a man’s unexpected glimpse of porn. She also promotes the idea that the worse men treat women the more women want them—“Chicks thrive on rejection.”

    RE: Bella cooking: Indeed, the book…carries a strange—and I imagine deeply comforting to its teenage-girl readers—aura of an earlier time in American life and girlhood.

    Why is the drudgery of cooking being Romanticized and what the heck is so compelling about it? I don’t have a problem with cooking, but I’d far rather read a story about a celebrity chef heroine who meets a vampire than endless accounts of Bella cooking for her dad and then meeting a vampire.

    Bella, despite all of her courage and competence, manages to end up in scrape after scrape: finding herself in the path of a runaway car, fainting at school, going shopping in a nearby city and getting cornered by a group of malevolent, taunting men.

    Back again to Bella being reactionary. Really, I understand I’m in the minority here, but I the more I hear about Twilight, the less I want to read it.

    Either they will do it or they won’t, and afterward everything will change for Bella, although not for Edward.

    Well, it should. Even if he is a vampire. That’s what happens to every alpha hero who encounters the magical hoo-haa in Romance. That’s one of the reasons I like to read Romance. The hero could be a total womanizer, but for once sex isn’t just sex for him and it changes his world.

    Because it takes three and a half very long books before Edward and Bella get it on—during a vampiric frenzy in which she gets beaten to a pulp, and discovers her Total Woman…

    This actually makes me want to gag—and I usually love vampire Romances. Is there any explanation as to how Edward became a vampire? What was his transition like?

    One of the signal differences between adolescent girls and boys is that while a boy quickly puts away childish things in his race to initiate a sexual life for himself, a girl will continue to cherish, almost to fetishize, the tokens of her little-girlhood.

    Wha? Men continue to play with toys their whole lives. What planet does this woman live on? Sometimes it’s actual kid toys like Star Wars figures or remote control cars. Sometimes the toys are big boy toys like cars and boats etc.

  13. 13
    Ann says:

    Jackie, you’re not the only one. I don’t know who the hell the author was when she was a teenager, but I guarantee she was no one I wanted to talk to.  But then, I hated Gone With The Wind too. :P

  14. 14
    Tabitha says:

    Who cares about the content of Twilight, the writing is painful. Just absolutely, unforgivably bad. I couldn’t get past page 13.

    He’s interested in her, he wants to know all about her wishes and hopes, and what her favorite CDs are and what posters she has in her room.  He doesn’t want to get into her pants.

    And that’s not attractive, that’s highly suspicious! lol All descriptions of Edward that I have read set off alarm bells in my ” hopelessly emotional and idealistic” teenage mind.

  15. 15
    Susan says:

    Mrs Giggles’ review was mordantly snarky.  “Oh boy, I have to hand it to Stephenie Meyer: she has created the most potent kind of pornography for teenage girls in Twilight – the Mary Sue epic love story… Bella is … embodiment of what every young girl secretly dreams of: for the world to finally recognize how special she is and to bow down and worship her because of her innate purity, beauty, and magnificence.”

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