"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Abuse, Literature, and My Childhood

Now Playing: Magnets by Disclosure ft. Lorde (I was wondering about you and that girl, she your girlfriend? Face from heaven, bet the world she don't know, pretty girls don't know the things that I know) 

So Twilight turns 10 years old this year and Stephenie Meyer continues her long tradition of inexplicable decisions and has released a gender swapped 'reimagining' of the book.

Twilight was released in 2005; I think I read it one or two years later, at about eleven or twelve. And I was, like most teenage girls, enthralled. I was part a generation of young, bookish girls who saw Bella as a kind of real-world Hermione with the Best Boyfriend In the World, which is an insult to Hermione, boyfriends, and the world.

I didn't think they were well written. Some of it didn't make sense and a lot of it made me laugh out loud. But I adored Twilight, and I know exactly why.

It was the first time I had come across any media specifically targeted at my age group that explicitly discussed sex and sexuality. The only romantic stories before Twilight were fairytales, but that was less romance and more 'inexplicable marriage to man I barely know'. By age eleven I had hit puberty like a freight train but between my nerdiness and Asianness and general unprettiness I was treated as borderline disabled. It was only by being Bella, by stepping into a character's shoes for a moment, I was allowed to explore all the things that flooded my younger self's brain.

If there is one thing to be commended about Twilight is that Bella is an excellent reader surrogate - it was so easy to pretend to be her. So I, and millions of other young, vulnerable girls,  had a relationship with Edward.

Later on an older and wiser me read all the literature about Twilight being violent and abusive, but when I first read Twilight I thought everything about their relationship was romantic and passionate and exciting. It was all I wanted. I was totally drunk on the idea of a relationship like that; and that was when my All Consuming Need for a Boyfriend kicked in. I knew I wouldn't meet Edward, but I thought I could recreate at least a part of it.

Turns out, I did.

I met someone who, to my eye, was incredibly beautiful, extremely charismatic, charming, polite. The conversation was always witty and fiery and our relationship had an intensity that frightened me; but that was okay, because Bella is always frightened of Edward and she was his one true love and all of that. I had stopped reading Twilight by then, mostly because it wasn't cool, but I had internalized those ideas and even though I stopped pretending to be Bella I never stopped wanting what Bella had.

Abuse, it turns out, does not end in a pretty cottage and a perfect wedding and an adorable child who somehow never needs nappy changes and everyone gets to live forever. Abuse tore me apart. It happened so long ago but it casts a shadow over every day.

I'm not saying that Twilight caused me to end up in an abusive relationship; I was very young, and extremely gullible. But Twilight was a huge part of the media I consumed that taught me what I wanted, and it had the special distinction of being the only book in my childhood that acknowledged female desire; even in the most toxic, twisted ways. I had been such a punky, rebellious kid but I became a total doormat around the people I thought I loved and even now I struggle with the many misogynistic attitudes that I have internalized by reading garbage that perpetuates harmful ideas about gender and sex and relationships.

I am part of the Twilight generation, and I'm angry. I've learned not to put too much value in 'firsts'; I know that they don't define you, that you can rebuild after a bad experience, but that was my first encounter with a heroine who had any concept of sexuality and I was so starved of that that I drank it up blindly. When you're a child, especially a weird, isolated child, you trawl desperately through books to find someone like you; and even though I never really found myself, in Bella there was a tiny acknowledgement, a little bit of validation, for things and thoughts and feelings that people taught me were wrong and that I should hide. There are dark consequences to selling a story about an abusive relationship, even if it is a fictional story in a badly written book about a hilariously uninteresting student and a sparkly chandelier of a vampire. Yeah, it was just a book. But I was just eleven; and now I am just nineteen and I am still trying to navigate the moral quagmire of sex and relationships and the more Stephenie Meyer tries to revive and reincarnate her dead dog of a franchise, the more damage she will do to little girls who deserve better.


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