Teen Research Trending: What do we do about Twilight: Continuing the conversation.

Jarvis, Christine. “The Twilight of Feminism? Stephanie Meyer’s Saga and the Contradictions of Contemporary Girlhood.”  Children’s Literature in Education, 45 (2014): 101-115.

As a subscriber of yalsa-bk, YALSA’s listserv about young adult books, I was interested to see a few months ago through messages posted to the listserv that we as professionals still struggle with what do about the Twilight series. Much has been written and discussed regarding the problematic themes in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight saga, including (but not limited to) issues of abuse and power imbalance.  At the same time, these books have proven to be wildly popular and have served as “the hook” that has opened the door to reading for many adolescents.  

Jarvis acknowledged the problematic themes inherent in this series in her introduction to her own research, in which she attempts to make sense of the enormous appeal of these books by a population of girls whose cultural context no longer reflects the stereotypical gender norms of the early-mid 20th century that Jarvis and others claim are portrayed in this series.  Jarvis researches the transformative nature of literature at the University of Huddersfield in the United Kingdom where she also serves as the dean of education and professional development and professor of teaching and learning in higher education.

In her research, Jarvis identified and examined two tropes she found in the Twilight series – the beauty makeover and the runaway heroine.    She analyzed these tropes through the lens of research conducted by education scholars that has examined social and academic pressures that girls face today in schools.  Such research suggests that girls experience a great deal of tension in their lives.  Girls today understand that they’re not supposed to be defined by their appearance but by their success in academics and, later, in the job world.  At the same time girls seemingly judge themselves and others by their appearance and their abilities to attain unachievable standards of beauty.  As Jarvis noted, “Girls are in charge of their own destinies – they can be anything. They are in charge of their own bodies – they can make them slim, smooth, and immaculately groomed and fashionable” (p. 105).

Jarvis noted that the trope of the beauty makeover is one often used in Western popular culture; however, with regard to the Twilight saga, Jarvis explained that Bella experiences multiple beauty makeovers, which she rejects as someone who does not care about physical beauty, but ultimately receives anyway.  This allows readers to enjoy both the character’s feminist perspective and her acceptance of the importance of feminine beauty standards.

Jarvis also examined the trope of the runaway heroine in the Twilight novels.  In various episodes in the books, Bella places herself in danger when she experiences anger toward Edward at times in which he takes actions that prevent the couple of being together or furthering their relationship.  Bella has placed her relationship with Edward above all other concerns and thus feels extreme pressure to succeed.  Jarvis argued that the kind of self-harm that Bella enacts serves as both acts of revenge for Edward’s actions as well as reminders to Edward of the preciousness of Bella’s life.  In other words, you’ve learned your lesson: don’t do it again.

Jarvis argued that understanding the contradictions girls feel today may help us better understand how Twilight serves as a fantasy vehicle by which girls can mentally resolve the pressure they feel to reject traditional gender norms while also succumbing to them.  While the Twilight series may (or may not) be losing popularity with young adult readers, the issues Jarvis presented exist in other, more recent YA books.  Jarvis’ research may help us better understand how series like Twilight appeal to readers and better help practitioners look for other YA book recommendations that can help girls make sense of this tension.

Robin A. Moeller is an assistant professor of Library Science at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina where she researches visual representations of information as they apply to young adults.

 

The Cure for Twilight

With New Moon topping the box office, most of us are experiencing a resurgence of Twilight madness. Here, at a private K-9 school, we have about six copies of each book in the series and they are rarely in on our YA shelves. But, as with any trend, there are always dissenters.

Some have hated the whole thing from the start, or some, like me, have just had enough. I read them, I saw the first movie, and I’m sure I’ll see New Moon eventually. I get it, it’s fun, it’s escapist, (though I agree with L. Lee Butler’s post from last week, it does normalize some pretty creepy behavior, but I digress). At this point, I’m over it and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. I overheard some students the other day asking each other if they were going to see the movie, and one girl replied: “I never got into those,” as if it were a point of pride.

There are plenty of reasons to be tired of Twilight, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on vampires, or even on supernatural romances, forever.
So, for your perusal, I present cures for various Twilight related ills:

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Twilight and Abusive Relationships

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.

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Twilight Movie Licensing

Many of you YA librarians probably know that the movie version of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight will be released on March 21, 2009. And lots of you are probably planning on hosting Teen Movie Night screenings of the film. If you’re responsible for organizing the event at your library, here’s a piece of information to consider. Twilight was produced by Summit Entertainment, a fledgling studio which is NOT covered by many (probably any) of the blanket public performance licenses most of us hold. Continue reading

Twilight

Last night at 12:01 AM I, along with a theater full of teens, gasped with delight when the opening scene from the movie Twilight began. The delight was evident again with the first appearance of Jacob and even more so with the first appearance of Edward. This movie is great! Agree with me or not, I think we can all declare with full confidence that this blockbuster hit is going to make the Twilight Saga even more popular with readers of all ages. Continue reading