I never thought I was going to have such a serious problem with a popular book that I almost didn’t put it on the shelves. I’m a cool, gay, sex-positive, pro-teen agency guy, I thought to myself when I was getting my MLIS, the parents may have problems with my selections, but too bad! I’m here to advocate for the students. And then I read Twilight.
I almost didn’t buy the Twilight books for my 7-8 school library. I don’t hate them because I’m a guy, or because of the excruciatingly bad prose, or the corruption of vampire mythology without acknowledging or commenting on the original, or even because Bella is such a waste of space. I hate them because of the sexual messaging they impart to teens, especially teen girls, robbing them of agency and normalizing stalking and abusive behavior.
Even if I hadn’t purchased the series (or is it a saga now?) for the library, it seems like every third girl in the school has her own copies, right down to the developmentally delayed girls who came in today toting matching copies of The Host. So I have to engage with it, and I’ve been trying to casually counteract the normalization when girls talk to me about their favorite book and movie of all time. (I am saying girls for a reason: Twilight seems to be universally reviled by the boys in my school, most of whom have not read it.) I don’t talk about hating the book, I just say I’m not a fan, and usually cite Edward’s stalking behavior as creepy. Sort of along the lines of this anti-text message harassment PSA. What Edward does is just not cool.
But a good (non-librarian) friend sent me this LiveJournal commentary on the movie adaptation of New Moon. The post has some NSFW language, but goes over the abusive red flags in Bella and Edward’s relationship, as laid out by the National Domestic Violence Hotline. It’s the first time I’ve seen it put so baldly, and it is shocking.
I no longer feel my casual, conversational undoing is enough. I’ve brainstormed with a Twilight-loving teacher about how to approach doing this anti-domestic violence education in a more formal way. I’ve got a call in to the dean of my school to see if I can link this in with the sexual assault education they get from the District Attorney later in the year. I couldn’t keep the books out of their hands even if I thought it was ethical to, but I also can’t sit by while a book with near-universal market penetration negatively shapes the social and sexual agency of the girls in my school.