(A note about spoilers: I will keep Harry Potter spoilers to a minimum, only letting go the kind of information that you could pick up from your standard movie trailer and have probably picked up on already, unless you live in a world without other people. Twilight spoilers, on the other hand, abound, because I can’t “spoil” Twilight any more than I can “spoil” a compost heap.)
The main protagonist of Harry Potter is a boy, while the protagonist of Twilight is a girl, so you’d think that Twilight would be more feminist in its message.
But anyone who has read that series would laugh hysterically at the suggestion that it was anything other than unempowering anti-feminist sludge. Well, anyone except the author.
Stephanie Meyer doesn’t agree with the rest of the Western World that Twilight is sexist codswallop.
Sure, Bella is pretty weak and useless. And sure, Edward tends to make all of the decisions. And yeah, Edward frequently ignores Bella’s preferences (drags her to the car/prom/house/birthday party/altar against her will, hides information that he doesn’t think she should hear, steals the engine out of her car to keep her “safe” from his rival…) in the name of knowing what is best for her.
Well, and ok, she is constantly needing her butt saved by someone, and she does do all the cooking and shopping around her house (because her father, after being a bachelor for 16 years, can’t even cook pasta, apparently). And she does attach all of her life’s value to the presence of a man.
But, Meyer doesn’t understand why we make such a big deal of all that.
Just because she doesn’t do kung fu and she cooks for her father doesn’t make her worthy of that criticism.
Meyer has also pointed out that there are other strong female characters in Twilight other than, er, Bella.
I am all about girl power—look at Alice and Jane if you doubt that.
Okay, let’s run through your other female characters, shall we? We’ll start with Alice and Jane.
A Sampling of Female Twilight Characters:
Alice – Alice is a clairvoyant vampire of dubious skill who is obsessed with throwing parties for Bella despite the fact that Bella hates parties, buying new clothes for Bella despite the fact that Bella doesn’t like fancy clothes, and giving Bella makeovers so Bella won’t feel so ugly. She also tends to steal things.
Jane – Another example of “girl power”, according to Meyer. Jane is a young female vampire with the ability to mentally torture others. She functions as a sort of attack-dog for the powerful Volturi (a trio of male vampires who rule the vampire world). That’s right, she’s not a ruler herself, she just forms part of their “guard” and attacks people when she’s told to do so.
Rosalie – Rosalie is a beautiful blonde who was gang-raped by a bunch of dudes and then “saved” by Carlisle, who turned her into a vampire. She was originally named “Carol” and I sort of like her, because she thinks Bella is an idiotic twerp. She is eternally pissed off that now that she’s undead, she can never have babies.
Esme – Failed at committing suicide when her baby died. Eventually married Carlisle, who had thought she was hot in the morgue and turned her into a vampire, and adopted all the other Cullens as her “children”. Doesn’t do much in the stories except pat people on the shoulder in a motherly way when they are sad.
Renee – Bella’s mother, who we rarely see but is characterized by Bella as scatterbrained and totally unable to take care of herself. But it’s okay – she can live without Bella now, because she has a new husband to look out for her.
Lauren – a high school girl who is supposedly bitchy to Bella, so we are supposed to hate her. Meyer likes to think about bad things happening to her.
Jessica – a high school girl who was very nice to Bella at first, but then grew disgusted with being constantly snubbed and withdrew, joining Lauren on what Bella calls the side of “evil”.
Angela – a high school girl who was nice to Bella and continued to put up with Bella’s icy moods long after Jessica got sick of it.
Victoria – A vampire who spends two books trying to hunt down and kill Bella with spectacularly poor success. She wants to kill Bella because Edward killed her boyfriend (which is odd, because according to the end of Twilight, it was actually Jasper and Emmett who killed him), and as you know, when a man does something bad, it’s another woman’s fault.
The Volturi wives – we never actually meet these ladies, but they are apparently the wives of the all-powerful Volturi. They spend their time mewed up in a tower, and are only let out every couple hundred years or so, when their husbands want them to act as witnesses.
Oh yeah, I am overwhelmed by the display of girl power in these books.
Let’s move on to Harry Potter, shall we? You know, the series about a BOY hero? Doesn’t it seem odd, even sexist, for a female author to choose a male hero instead of a female one? What’s wrong with her own gender?
I’ve thought about why I didn’t choose a heroine, but I didn’t want to change him. He was too real to me, and it would have felt very contrived to feminize him. . . . There are plenty of strong females in the books.
Well, J.K. is right about that. There may be a male protagonist, but Harry is far from the only hero in the Harry Potter series.
For those who haven’t read the Harry Potter series, there’s something you should know:
One of the most interesting things about the character of Harry Potter is that he is not portrayed as being startlingly talented or, really, all that special in any way. This is part of what makes him so likeable – he’s a nice kid, you can’t help but like him, and he isn’t a SPESHUL SNOFLAKE.
His only real talent is flying on a broomstick, but that never once saves his butt from Voldemort, the evil wizard whom he is forever battling against.
You know who saves his butt a lot?
Meet Lily Potter:
For those who haven’t read the series and think of Harry Potter as being about a boy magician’s adventures at boarding school, let me tell you how the story starts:
A psychopathic wizard shows up on the doorstep of the Potter home and blasts his way inside. He is intent on killing their 15 month old son, Harry, but Harry’s mother flings herself in front of the crib and lays down her life to save him.
Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!”
“Stand aside, you silly girl … stand aside now…”
“Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead…
And so, the story starts with baby Harry watching his mother be murdered before his very eyes, and her sacrifice saves Harry’s life not once, but at least three times through the course of the series.
But still, Stephenie Meyer might argue, Bella has enough bravery to die for love. If you can call it “bravery” when Bella clearly doesn’t value her life BUT AT ALL.
Fair enough, but guess what, Stephenie? There are other ways to be a hero other than just laying down your life.
Meet Hermione Granger:
Hermione starts the series as a bossy, snotty little know-it-all, and though her character makes great progress through the books, she certainly always is a know-it-all:
Hermione knows almost everything, and anything she doesn’t know, she quickly discovers through diligent research.
Bella, on the other hands, believes that there are certain things a girl can’t know or understand, like how machines work, for example:
Many of the words they used were unfamiliar to me, and I figured you had to have a Y chromosome to understand all the excitement.
Thanks for that, Bella.
Anyhoo, Hermione turns her tendency to lecture to good use, telling off her male companions when they’re being stupid, which is often.
Been having a nice little chat with her about whether or not I’m a lying, attention-seeking prat, have you?” Harry said loudly.
“No,” said Hermione calmly, “I told her to keep her big fat mouth shut about you, actually. And it would be quite nice if you stopped jumping down Ron’s and my throats, Harry, because if you haven’t noticed, we’re on your side.
Ron,” said Hermione in a dignified voice, dipping the point of her quill into her ink pot, “you are the most insensitive wart I have ever had the misfortune to meet.
Aren’t you ever going to read Hogwarts, A History?”
“What’s the point?” said Ron. “You know it by heart, we can just ask you.
It’s not just book knowledge and a razor-sharp wit, either. Hermione can cast spells and brew potions well above her grade level. Basically, she’s just all-around frigging brilliant. She is constantly saving Harry’s sorry ass, from helping him with his homework to whisking him right out of Voldemort’s clutches.
It can safely be said that without Hermione Granger, Harry Potter would have kicked the bucket long before the end of the books. Her knowledge and sharp intelligence save the day more times than I could count, and she physically rescues him through her spellwork at least four or five times… probably more if I actually went through the stories carefully.
Even better, Hermione is the one of the only characters in the series to engage in the noble art of fisticuffs. The characters in Harry Potter fight using their wands – once disarmed they stand around wondering “now what?”
But not Hermione.
Harry and Ron both made furious moves toward Malfoy, but Hermione got there first — SMACK!
She had slapped Malfoy across the face with all the strength she could muster. Malfoy staggered. Harry, Ron, Crabbe, and Goyle stood flabbergasted as Hermione raised her hand again.
“Hermione!” said Ron weakly, and he tried to grab her hand as she swung it back.
“Get off, Ron!
But “oh”, you say, “Bella hit someone too!”
Right. Except that this was presented as humorously futile, and the male characters all have a good laugh at Bella’s expense, including her own father, Charlie.
Emmett grinned, “fall down again, Bella?”
I glared at him fiercely, “No, Emmett, I punched a werewolf in the face.”
Emmett blinked, and then burst into a roar of laughter.
“Why did she hit you?”
“Because I kissed her,” Jacob said, unashamed.
“Good for you, kid,” Charlie congratulated him.
Fwaw, little Bella trying to protect herself against sexual assult. It’s so darling!
This is the big difference between Rowling’s writing and Meyer’s – it’s not just what the character does, it’s how others react to it.
When Hermione shows off her brilliance, or scolds her friends, or smacks an asshole in the face, her male friends are impressed with her. They respect her and boast about her brilliance to others.
Oho! “One of my best friends is Muggle-born, and she’s the best in our year!” I’m assuming this is the very friend of whom you spoke, Harry?”
“Yes, sir,” said Harry.
Hermione turned to Harry with a radiant expression and whispered, “Did you really tell him I’m the best in the year? Oh, Harry!”
“Well, what’s so impressive about that?” whispered Ron, who for some reason looked annoyed. “You are the best in the year- I’d’ve told him so if he’d asked me!
Meanwhile, when Bella tries to tell someone off, or defends herself against a SEXUAL ASSAULT, everyone thinks it’s funny, and then they congratulate the guy who was harassing her. As for her intelligence, it’s never really mentioned (probably because she’s dimmer than a 40 watt bulb).
That’s not just a matter of character differences and Bella not knowing kung fu; that’s sexist writing.
Meyer is right – you don’t have to be physically impressive in order to be a feminist character. But you could at least get the men around her to take her seriously.
Meet Ginny Weasley:
Ginny starts out as a bit of a Bella – she’s a moonstruck wet-blanket who mopes around all the time and whines about how good, kind, handsome Harry will never notice her.
She gets herself kidnapped and Harry has to go rescue her and she’s really quite useless. But here’s the best bit: Harry has no romantic interest in her.
Then Hermione (to the rescue again!) gives her a good piece of advice:
Hermione told me to get on with life, maybe go out with some other people, relax a bit around you, because I never used to be able to talk if you were in the room, remember? And she thought you might take a bit more notice if I was a bit more – myself.
Good old Hermione. Even better, Ginny actually recognized a good piece of advice and acted on it. She dated other guys. She got on the Quidditch team (and later in life, ended up becoming a professional Quidditch player).
Do you hear that, Bella? She (stay with me here) ACTUALLY MOVED ON.
I don’t want to be happy with anyone but him.
Good for you, Bella.
Ginny, now, decided to be happy any way, and she ended up dating several other guys, and generally toughening up quite nicely.
Yeah, size is no guarantee of power,” said George. “Look at Ginny.”
“What d’ you mean?” said Harry.
You’ve never been on the receiving end of one of her Bat-Bogey Hexes, have you?
She ends up impressing Harry with her excellent Reductor curses and her swift Disarming Charm (that’s actually a spell, not the same as disarming charm). She even tells off Harry, former love-of-her-life, when he gets too mopey and emo.
I didn’t want anyone to talk to me,” said Harry, who was feeling more and more nettled.
“Well, that was a bit stupid of you,” said Ginny angrily, “seeing as you don’t know anyone but me who’s been possessed by You-Know-Who, and I can tell you how it feels.”
Harry remained quite still as the impact of these words hit him. Then he wheeled around.
“I forgot,” he said.
“Lucky you,” said Ginny coolly.
And here’s the thing – once she stops mooning uselessly after him, Harry begins to take notice of her. Older Ginny is frank, tough, smart, and doesn’t make a fuss over much. All of these traits appeal to Harry, who is minorly phobic of emotional expression.
She was not tearful; that was one of the many wonderful things about Ginny, she was rarely weepy.
So she gets the guy by getting over herself and getting a life, instead. And when her noble hero man breaks it off with her, supposedly for her own good, she handles it with dignity.
[Harry] knew that at that moment they understood each other perfectly, and that when he told her what he was going to do now, she would not say “Be careful”, or “Don’t do it”, but accept his decision, because she would not have expected anything less of him.[…]
“I can’t be involved with you any more. We’ve got to stop seeing each other. We can’t be together.”
She said, with an oddly twisted smile, “It’s for some stupid, noble reason, isn’t it?
That’s our Ginny. She doesn’t whine, or beg, or plead. She just gets a little sardonic and tells him that his dedication to killing evil wizards is pretty hot. Then she just goes on with her life.
I’m sure you would have handled it just as well, though, Bella. Right?
The waves of pain that had only lapped at me before now reared high up and washed over my head, pulling me under. I did not resurface.
…Alrighty, I’ll just leave you to wallow, shall I?
Then again, Stephenie Meyer has argued that Bella’s reaction to her break up with Edward doesn’t say anything about feminism.
I can only say that we all handle grief in our own way. Bella’s way is no less valid than any other to my mind.
When hectored about feminism, she has responded that to her, feminism is about the power to choose, not what you choose.
One of the weird things about modern feminism is that some feminists seem to be putting their own limits on women’s choices. That feels backward to me. It’s as if you can’t choose a family on your own terms and still be considered a strong woman. How is that empowering?
Okay, fair point. I have made that same argument myself. But here’s the thing – Bella doesn’t choose squat.
“In what parallel dimension would I ever have gone to prom of my own free will? If you weren’t a thousand times stronger than me, I would never have let you get away with this.”
I didn’t know if there ever was a choice, really. I was already in too deep. Now that I knew — if I knew — I could do nothing about my frightening secret. Because when I thought of him, of his voice, his hypnotic eyes, the magnetic force of his personality, I wanted nothing more than to be with him right now.
She doesn’t even want to marry Edward – he basically blackmails her into it, because he refuses to have sex with her until she does. So she does it to get into his pants, and then she feels all guilty for leaving her father.
I feel just horrible, leaving you to cook for yourself – it’s practically criminal negligence. You could arrest me.
I have to say, I’m not overwhelmed with the power and decisiveness and feminine strength of Bella’s “choices”.
You want a strong woman who chooses to be a homemaker?
Meet Molly Weasley:
Mrs. Weasley is a stay-at-home mother who enjoys cooking, knitting, mooning after attractive celebrities, listening to sappy love songs, and caring for her large brood of ginger children. When she joins the anti-Voldemort rebellion, she spends most of her time scrubbing the new headquarters. She takes great pride in her husband’s career, and she likes him to call her ‘Mollywobbles” in private. She happily adopts Harry as a seventh son, calls him “dear”, feeds him a lot, and sends him a knitted sweater every Christmas.
Oh, and she kicks ass.
Mrs. Weasley was marching across the yard, scattering chickens, and for a short, plump, kind-faced woman, it was remarkable how much she looked like a saber-toothed tiger.
Mrs Weasley may have her priorities set at protecting her children and making sure everyone is well-fed, but damn she does it with gusto. She rules her family with an iron fist, including her husband.
“Tell me what, Arthur?”
Mr Weasley hesitated. Harry could tell that, however angry he was with Fred and George, he hadn’t really intended to tell Mrs Weasley what had happened. There was a silence, while Mr Weasley eyed his wife nervously.[…]
“Tell me what, Arthur?” Mrs Weasley repeated in a dangerous sort of voice.
She can do serious magic, too, even if she does choose to use it for household chores.
Mrs Weasley jabbed her want at the cutlery drawer, which shot open. Harry and Ron both jumped out of the way as several knives soared out of it, flew across the kitchen and began chopping potatoes
Despite the fact that Mrs Weasley is as homebody as they come, no one looks down on her for it or minimizes her skill as a witch. She is treated as a witch to be reckoned with, and her ability to terrorize others with her fierce opinions extends outside of her family boundaries and towards pretty much anyone else who crosses her path.
No one crosses Molly Weasley and gets away with it, including Voldemort and company.
Not my daughter, you bitch!
I could go on and on about the awesome female characters.
I haven’t mentioned Professor McGonagall (a favourite of mine), or Tonks (who is as clumsy as Bella, but not nearly as useless), or Luna Lovegood (who wins our admiration against incredible odds), or Bellatrix Lestrange (who, like another Bella, is also infatuated with an undead white guy, but is much more useful to him), or Narcissa Malfoy (who defies evil wizards for the sake of her son) or Dolores Umbridge (who is probably the next most evil character to Voldemort himself).
I think I’ve made my point, though.
But wait – I’ve realized there IS one strong female character in the Twilight Saga.
Meet Leah Clearwater:
Shut up, Jacob. Oops, I’m sorry – I mean, shut up, most high Alpha.
Leah is an extremely minor character, and it’s never clear why she even exists. You spend a lot of Breaking Dawn thinking that she’s being set up as Jacob’s future love interest, but that gets shot to hell.
Basically, Leah used to go out with Sam, the first guy to transform into a werewolf. They were engaged and stuff. Then he met her cousin Emily and “imprinted” on her, and immediately ditched Leah.
The cousin, Emily, thought that this was a bit douchey of Sam, so he got pissed off and mauled her. Emily (now permanently disfigured) immediately fell in love with the guy who had put her in the hospital, and Leah was left to watch Sam and his mutilated new girlfriend live happily ever after. They even badgered her into agreeing to be a bridesmaid at the wedding.
For some reason, all this made Leah rather bitter and pissy.
Then a fit of anger makes her transform into a werewolf, even though werewolves are supposed to be all boys. The shock of his DAUGHTER doing such a masculine thing as turning into a werewolf gives her father a heart attack.
So basically, she killed her father.
Because she did something that men do.
So now she’s part of the werewolf pack, and everyone resents her feminine intrusion on their cozy little man-club. It doesn’t help that they can read each other’s minds, and Leah’s pissiness about the whole my-boyfriend-dumped-me-for-my-cousin-and-now-I-hear-all-his-horny-thoughts-about-her thing just adds to their disgust with her.
Oh, and becoming a werewolf apparently made her infertile, because women in Twilight can’t be supernatural and capable of making babies at the same time (but men can).
Leah is almost always referred to negatively, with words like “harpy” and “shrew”.
In the middle of Breaking Dawn, she and Jacob start to get close, because Jacob’s mooning over Bella helps him understand what it might be like for Leah to have lost HER love of her life, and he realizes that while anger certainly is unbecoming in a woman, it can sometimes be understandable.
But then Jacob falls in love with a cute, curly-haired vampire baby, and Leah is left out in the cold with no one.
The moral? If you aren’t a helpless martyr and a complete doormat, you don’t get love.
Thank you, Captain Obvious.
You’re welcome, Leah. I’m sorry you weren’t born into the Potterverse instead.