Okay, I’m still learning to navigate this stupid editor and this is gonna be a somewhat long and more-seriou-than-usual post, so bear with me, but I’m gonna do my best because I think this is interesting and worth talking about.
I recently started watching Dominic Noble on YouTube. I don’t know how I got into the book review videos recently. I didn’t used to like it very much, but now I’ve been following a few such channels, his included. And when he recently announced he’s covering the Twilight books (RIP, Dom) he mentioned a section of Lindsay Ellis’ video on the subject. This video, if you want the full context. I’m not a fan of Lindsay’s style personally, it’s a little too serious for me, lol, but she makes good points and I’m definitely not making this post to dispute anything she has to say here. I do think she’s right about most of it, if not all. So, watch it if you want the full scope, but I’ll give the gist of it as I make my arguments.
I want to start off by mentioning where I think Lindsay is right in this video: I do think both Twilight and Stephenie Meyer received an insane amount of undeserved hatred. And yeah, I know, I’ve mocked Stephenie Meyer myself in my reviews a lot. Including in my argument that Bella is a self-insert, but a) I’ve been over the fact I exaggerate my anger in reviews a lot and b) I try to the best of my ability to only attack her writing, never her character.
I have a lot of respect for Stephenie Meyer; and I’ve also said this multiple times before. Not because I think her books are good, but because I feel her books are, good or bad, hers. They are what she wanted them to be and she wholeheartedly believed in them. As a creative person, as a writer, I can’t bring myself to criticize an author for following their vision just because their vision isn’t something that appeals to me. I can criticize how that vision was put into practice in the context of a review; and believe-you-me, I will… But I can’t criticize an author for following that vision.
But that’s not the argument that made me want to write this post. It was the argument that… And I’m gonna look this up in the video so I can quote it exactly as Lindsay puts it, just for those of you who don’t want to watch the video:
We, and by we I mean our culture, we kinda hate teenage girls. We hate their music, we hate their insipid backstabbing, we hate their vanity, we hate their selfie sticks, we hate their makeup, we hate their books and the stupid sexy actors they made famous and their stupid sparkly vampires. And then we wonder why so many girls are eager to distance themselves from being the object of societal contempt. (…) It wasn’t just that Twilight was popular, it was who it was popular with. Teenage girls and the mothers of teenage girls.Lindsay Ellis – Dear Stephenie Meyer
Before I go into why I don’t fully agree with this statement, let me start by saying that… I also believe this statement to be absolutely true. There is a lot of stigma in liking things like Twilight, YA, romance in general, swooning over fictional characters, and having nonsensical supernatural-based fantasies. I mean, I’m not saying the type of fantasy being sold by books like Twilight isn’t shallow and stupid, but… So are action movies. They’re shallow, stupid, and a tough-guy wish fulfillment fantasy. So why is it a problem to genuinely like Twilight or Nicholas Sparks books (more on him another day, maybe), but it’s super cool to like Die Hard? Because male fantasies are okay, and female fantasies generally aren’t. That’s a societal fact, it just is. And I very much agree that it’s a double standard that needs to go away.
So where do I fit into all this? Well, I was 16 when Twilight came out, around 17/18 at the height of its popularity here in Brazil when the movies became a thing and, honestly, when I first picked up a copy at a bookstore to browse I didn’t do it because I wanted to laugh at it. I did it because I wanted to like it. I never went into Twilight with the intention of hating it. And for the longest time I didn’t. I just didn’t care about it. But there’s a problem with that, see, because I was also, dun dun dun… A TEENAGE GIRL!
I recently wrote a post on Written In Shadows about writing relationships when you don’t like romance (I’m lowkey proud of it, so check it out). In it, I briefly touched on why romance doesn’t appeal to me as a genre, and a lot of my criticism of Twilight revolves around the romance tropes I hate. Which is why I opened the review series by warning that if you have any strong feelings for these books, my take on it isn’t going to be for you.
I was a demisexual teenager (even though I wasn’t aware of the terminology at the time) and being demi as a teen girl right at the height of this book’s popularity was a living hell to me. Being someone who grew up uninterested in the romantic genre as a whole around the height of internet virtue signaling (aka 2015/2016) means that I had the term “internalized misogyny” thrown at me too many times to fucking count. Because being someone equipped with a vagina who doesn’t want to read about characters whose lives revolve around a romantic relationship means I hate my own gender, anything in between, and am only interested in catering to male power fantasies. Because of course I like Die Hard, that movie is just the shit. I’m not exaggerating, these were things I was told around that time based on my criticism of Twilight and Fifty Shades. Thankfully people seem more chill about it now.
And again, I’m not saying that type of misogyny doesn’t exist. There are too many ‘not like other girls’ posts online that are 100% legit and yes, some girls, and some grown ass women even, try their hardest to distance themselves from the societal stigma of being ‘those girls’, but in the midst of combating said stigma, someone like me can get accused of perpetuating it by simply… Being. I’ve never mentioned ‘other girls’ in talking about things I like or dislike. I only ever mentioned me, but by expressing those opinions in the past I’ve also had those implications projected onto me. If I think Twilight is shallow and stupid, then I must have the same opinion towards people who like Twilight too, right? No. Okay? I love Friendship is Magic and My Immortal. I stood in line at a bookstore, straight faced, holding a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey because my mom wanted to read it. If you think I’m over here sitting on some high horse… Hi, you must be new here, welcome to my blog. This is a judgment free zone.
No. I understand why it appeals to people and I understand that it’s shallow and stupid by design. The things you like aren’t an extension of you, don’t internalize anyone’s criticism of a fifteen-year-old book and feel bad about yourself. It’s okay. I’m personally telling you: it’s okay.
So, back to this stupid ass book, lol. As a teenager my hate for Twilight didn’t come from hating teenage girls, it came from hating the teenage girl society wanted me to be. From being called out even by my friends for ‘only liking guy stuff’. Which I did… Because everything and anything marketed at my own demographic revolved around something I couldn’t bring myself to feel interested in. From once or twice being told I was ‘acting superior’ for wanting to say the stuff I liked was better. Because I genuinely felt it was better and I wanted to feel allowed to like it and talk about it.
Now, I mentioned the fact I’m doing the Twilight reviews because a friend called me on my bluff that I’d only review it if someone bought me the books. And even though she has said I don’t have to keep doing it, I still want to. I’ll do it at my own pace and I may not be able to cover the whole series at this pace, but I do want to look back on Twilight.
I want to talk about why Bella Swan never resonated with me, and why even though I agree with Stephenie Meyer’s sentiments that fictional characters should be role models, I think hers are absolutely terrible down to their core. But I also have to thank her, because her books are the embodiment of everything I didn’t want as a reader. And their popularity, this undying trend they set off, drove me to write characters I wanted to read. That I wish I could have seen at that age. It pushed me to start my own roleplay to get away from all the high-school vampire crap being played on Roleplay Gateway at the time. Hell, I might even go as far as to say that if it wasn’t for Twilight, there would be no Valcrest.
If you read Arc 2 of Shadows Rise you’ll see that it revolves mainly around a female cast and has a particular spotlight on a teenage girl. A girl about to turn sixteen who’s being trained to become an assassin, who has a world of responsibility weighing down on her shoulders, but she is at her core still a teenager with a childish side, with maybe a little too much compassion considering her future line of work, who wants to spend her time exploring the woods and playing with her younger sister, and feels like those freedoms are being stripped away as she grows up. Who doesn’t feel like doing her best could possibly ever measure up to expectations. Who has trouble communicating her feelings to her mom so bottles them up and says that she’s fine.
And while I don’t write my characters to be role models in any capacity, I do write them to feel as human as possible. To be as relatable as possible. I want to write a sixteen year old girl who any sixteen year old can relate to in some way, even if not completely, regardless of whether they’re interested in romance or not. Maybe the more romance-oriented teenage girl will want to yell at Dani for ignoring the cute boy flirting with her in that one chapter, or saying no when she’s being asked to dance at the party at another, but I hope they’ll still relate to her in other ways. Because, here’s my take on character relatability… No one is just one thing. I don’t treat my characters as though they are and I don’t expect my readers to be either. That’s how I wish popular culture had treated me as a kid. I wanted to like Twilight, but Bela Swan wasn’t anything other than a generic teen girl, Twilight was designed to appeal to a general audience and let kids like me slip through the cracks. Do I blame Stephenie Meyer for this? No. She did what she wanted to do with her book, it became wildly popular, and the industry did what it always does. The rest is history.
So that’s my latest Twilight rant. Hope you guys found it interesting. If you haven’t yet, check out Lindsay’s video, I really did like it a lot. And I promise I’ll review chapter 3 as soon as I have the free time to read and make notes.