Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Series and the ‘Post(-)ing’ of Feminism

Abstract: Immensely popular with a largely female readership, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series and its male hero Edward Cullen have become literary and cultural phenomena to be reckoned with. However, critical readers—especially in the blogosphere—have observed that in terms of gender and sexuality, all is not well in Forks, Washington. This essay seeks to find out if the series indeed “[s]inks [i]ts [t]eeth into [f]eminism,” as one commentator put it (Sax). In recent years, the death of feminism has been proclaimed repeatedly in academia as well as in popular culture. The reasons for the demise of the f-word’ vary according to the standpoint of the obituary’s author: The feminist experiment was either successful enough to render itself obsolete or, by choosing ‘unnatural’ and subversive goals, stripped itself of its right to exist. Regardless of the particulars of feminism’s passing—was it murder, suicide, or death of old age?—critics and commentators seem to agree that we now live in a ‘postfeminist’ age. Against the backdrop of Meyer’s novels, I discuss the contested process of ‘post(-)ing’ feminism and its various theoretical and cultural implications. Focusing on the construction of masculinities and femininities, I relate the novels to issues in contemporary feminism such as alterity, agency, and domesticity.

In 1965, Barbie became an astronaut. In 1973, she saved lives as a surgeon. In 1989, she entered the US Army, and in 1992, she became a presidential candidate. If Barbie has yet to become a feminist, it might seem, at first glance, that this is because she has no need to. Feminism, so the argument goes, is an anachronism in the allegedly gender-blind cultural and political landscape of the twenty-first century. Hence, it is not surprising that the death of feminism has been discussed in academia as well as in popular culture, as Mary Hawkesworth describes in “The Semiotics of Premature Burial” (962). Various causes of death are cited to account for the movement’s extinction: Some argue that basic goals have been achieved and the rest will sort itself out, some claim that feminism’s demands were unhealthy and harmful to begin with, while others simply point out that the time for political activism of any kind has passed. Regardless of the particulars of feminism’s passing—was it murder, suicide, or death of old age?—critics and commentators seem to agree that we now live in a ‘postfeminist’ age (965). Apart from political debates (or the lack thereof), the current state of feminist discourse is both influenced by and reflected in literature and film. According to Washington Post author Leonard Sax, a narrative such as Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series “[s]inks [i]ts [t]eeth into [f]eminism” and thus contributes to the gradual disappearance of the movement. This essay seeks to examine the precise nature of the relationship of the narrative and its two main protagonists, Edward and Bella, to contemporary ‘postfeminist’ discourse.

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