Earlier this week video essayist Lindsay Ellis released a clip entitled “Dear Stephenie Meyer.” In it, Ellis revisits the Twilight hype and comments on the excessive hate which the series received. Most teenage girls (and occasionally their moms) loved the largely uneventful supernatural romance centered on Bella, a vampire-dating, werewolf befriending, high schooler. The rest of the world saw things differently. Twilight was publicly ridiculed for being a vapid, poorly written book, while its author, Meyer, was attacked in countless comments and videos. The vitriol flung against her was puzzlingly intense, considering she is but one of many commercially successful authors whose work is not exactly Booker Prize-worthy. Millions of awful books are written and published every day, yet no one starts crusades against their authors. So why did Meyer get singled out?
According to Ellis, the reason lies in the fact that Twilight was a craze among teenage girls, who are society’s least favourite demographic. A look at contemporary mainstream literature, films, and TV series confirms this idea. In general, teen girls are portrayed as judgmental, shallow and catty creatures, obsessed with clothes, fads, and selfies. A notable exception are the girls who have adopted traditionally male characteristics. Audiences tend to like young heroines like Katniss (Hunger Games) or Tris (Divergent) who are physically strong and prefer to fight than flirt with boys.
“Ordinary” teenage girls, however, are usually seen as a menace and, as a result, their interests and likes are portrayed as silly and unimportant. This is especially true when it comes to fantasy literature and films. While narratives featuring fantasy elements that traditionally tend to appeal to boys are tolerated by the general audience, those made specifically for girls are met with contempt. Twilight’s scriptwriter, Melissa Rosenberg, highlighted this issue in the following terms:
We’ve seen more than our fair share of bad action movies, bad movies geared toward men or 13-year-old boys. And you know, the reviews are like ‘OK that was crappy, but a fun ride.’ But no one says ‘Oh my god. If you go to see this movie you’re a complete (…) idiot.’ And that’s the tone. That is the tone with which people attack ‘Twilight’.
Rosenberg’s comment is mirrored by lecturer Erika Christakis:
Millions of females, like their male counterparts, enjoy their fantasy life straight-up weird, sexy, and implausible. The male species is allowed all manner of violent, creepy, ludicrous and degrading movie tropes, and while we may not embrace them as high art, no one questions them seriously as entertainment.
No vitriolic hate was hurled on films such as Transformers or The Fast and the Furious, and they are just as shallow and ridiculous as a vampire-human love story. Everyone is free to indulge in simple, light-hearted entertainment, be it a film that celebrates machinery and machismo, or a bland teenage book exploring an uninspiring teenage romance. So why is society so absolutely okay with the former but wants to burn the latter on the stake? Why is “girls stuff” so universally hated? Why did a woman who wrote a deeply flawed but ultimately harmless book series get treated like she single-handedly destroyed literature for all generations to come? These are questions we should all be asking ourselves.
A large portion of the people attacking Meyer and the Twilight fans were teenage girls who wanted to be taken seriously by society. For them, Bella, who is constantly in need of protection, and whose sole interest is her boyfriend represented weakness. By association, everyone who was a fan of the series was weak and anti-feminist. While the damsel in distress trope is definitely overused and perpetuates harmful stereotypes, there is ultimately nothing inherently wrong in admitting you need protection. Strong female characters are interesting and empowering but is it truly always necessary for a woman to adopt characteristically male qualities in order to be taken seriously?
Teenage years are notoriously difficult for most kids – they struggle to fit in and grapple with body-issues and bullying, in a social environment that is getting progressively more stressful every year. For girls, it is especially testing, as they often struggle to meet the impossible beauty standards constantly pushed by mainstream media. On top of this, they get judged and shamed for their interests – be it a book series or a boyband. Perhaps it is time to learn how to be more respectful of their choices.
You can watch Lindsay Ellis’s video essay here: