The Twilight Zone

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Kristin Devine

Kristin is a geek, a libertarian, and a domestic goddess. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals and works with women around the world as a fertility counselor. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of https://atomicfeminist.com/

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52 Responses

  1. Avatar Kolohe says:

    I’ve been mulling over if the Hallmark Christmas Movie is a counterpoint to or a proof of your thesis, and in the main, I think its the latter.

    Because there, you do see the accomplished, urban and urbane professional woman. Though, the primary way this woman finds hapiness is not discovering away to juggle ‘having it all’. Rather, it’s usually to give part or all of it up and move (or move back) to a small town with a blue collar but artisanal hunk. (nttawwt)Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kolohe says:

      Or a prince, don’t forget the real true actual princes.Report

    • Avatar atomickristin in reply to Kolohe says:

      I have watched very few of those to be honest but I suspect it goes a little something like this:

      “I have done and achieved and possessed all these things and yet still no one really thinks I’m particularly important. I’m a cog in a larger machine and if I died tomorrow Sally from Marketing would take my place and I really don’t matter that much to anyone. No one really cares about me and these accomplishments, now that I have them, are hollow and meaningless. Maybe all these things that I’ve worked so hard for were really not the way to get what I wanted from life. They aren’t making me happy, I don’t feel appreciated, or cherished. Maybe there’s something more for me out there.”

      It’s just as much a “taking away from the dull everyday world” scenario as Twilight is, really. The small towns are always supernaturally delightful (I lived in a small town for most of my life, and there are NEVER any spraypainted trailer houses with cardboard duct taped over the windows in a Hallmark movie, for example) and the neighbors are just like one big happy family – see Maribou’s point about Bella, a girl with no family, joining Edward’s big and close knit one.

      And the reason it’s a blue collar guy is because it has to be someone not in her world – it has to be someone who knows things she doesn’t know about the world, if that makes sense. The blue collar, small town man initiates the woman into a foreign world she never knew and yet she’s welcomed in it. If it was Bob from accounting, she wouldn’t be leaving her boring, ordinary existence where she runs constantly to simply stay in one place, fights for accolades she never really gets, etc to go to a different, better place where she’s appreciated as the irreplaceably special gem that she is?

      I think it’s roughly the same type of thing – just a slightly different flavor.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Kolohe says:

      I wonder who the main audience for those movies are. Is it urban and urbane professional women or is it women who already live in small, blue collar towns?Report

      • Avatar atomickristin in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Because surely everything anyone enjoys is a clear battleground in the Culture Wars.

        It is OBVIOUS and APPARENT that the women who watch these are simply a bunch of toothless obese hicks with a burning need to feel superior to urbane professional women.

        Urbane professional women never feel any dissatisfaction with their lives. Urbane professional women never have any reason to escape into fantasy because the life of an urbane professional person is always the cat’s pajamas every minute of every day.

        It is only rural blue collar people who have any dissatisfaction with their dull and dreary lives.

        It is known.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    What is getting to me about romance is all the hypocrisy that is wrapped up in it. Its rather easy to find women get really annoyed that the male equivalent of the Twilight novel, where you have this average or even slightly bellow average man and a really hot attractive woman or women after him, think there is Something About Mary or the average harem anime, as irredeemably sexist rather than just a harmless fantasy like Twilight. Or when as was directed at me on a dating forum site, with way too many upvotes for my liking, “remember you have to make it easy for us but we don’t have to make it easy for you.”

    The way that many people in the heterosexual world is greedy and selfish. The ideal partner is somebody who gives and gives but doesn’t need anything in return. If your a heterosexual man, the “I’m a special princess” is something you are just expected to deal with even if it makes dating seem more like a slog and having to pay a big downpayment to a very tough bank rather than something fun. At least I find the entire process exhausting. I want somebody who will romance me and make me feel special to but if you are a man you need to earn everything.

    Maybe this is why so many men are bitter and cynical about romance these days. It feels like getting the worst of tradition and no benefits of modernity. Nearly every conversation about heterosexual romance is what a man needs to do for a woman. Nothing is about what he should reasonably expect in a relationship.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    From what I understand about Twilight, it’s not merely about Romantic Fantasy, it’s specifically about being raised Fundamentalist Mormon and *THEN* having Romantic Fantasies.

    The passivity of the main character is part and parcel with the culture that the author grew up with and it was a way for the author to explore the whole “rebel without rebelling” thing.

    #TeamJacobReport

    • Avatar atomickristin in reply to Jaybird says:

      Welp, I know a lot of Fundmentalist Mormons who are anything but passive and ~personally~ I find that particular criticism to be a little bit Mormon-bashy.

      I have read many a non-Mormon-authored romance novel and they got the exact same vibe.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to atomickristin says:

        Please understand: I was the Protestant kid who wore slacks to the beach in order to witness about Young Earth Creationism to passers-by. Any of my criticisms of Religion that seem harsh at first may soften when viewed through that lens.

        (Or, hell, maybe they’ll appear even harsher when viewed through that lens.)Report

        • Avatar atomickristin in reply to Jaybird says:

          Sorry, that rebuttal was not directed at you personally at all – I’ve heard the criticism many times. I know that you and everyone on here is coming from our own unique place and sees things thru our own lenses.

          I just think this may be a larger trend that transcends the author’s religion.Report

  4. Avatar Maribou says:

    Ha, I think you’ve just explained to me what my romance-novel-fun-for-Maribous-to-read sorting mechanism is:

    a) interesting protagonists who would be FINE, just FINE on their own but have inconveniently fallen in love and now have to deal with that on top of their own complex and satisfying (and/or incredibly difficult, see a lot of the paranormal subgenre) lives: A+++ will read at least once, happy to reread if I don’t have anything better to do)

    b) everything else: only if I have the flu or am otherwise literally running a fever and somewhat delusional. Or if the worldbuilding is Really Good and there are at least some hints of a) (there are some fantasy/romance authors that I really wish were writing straight fantasy because their worldbuilding is amazing.).

    I contest that *most* modern romance novels do not have the void protagonists you describe – at least the ones that aren’t published as part of a series line – but I do think the most popular “break out” ones still do.

    One thing that I found telling about the Twilightnovels , and which supports your thesis very well (though remember I had a fever when I read them) is that some of the characters are competent, and do have (relatively) complicated, challenging lives that interfere with their plot actions – even Edward *should* have, if he hadn’t dropped everything – so it’s not that Meyer can’t write that, she just deliberately doesn’t allow Bella or Edward to be that way.

    #teamalice

    And then also I find it very telling, as to appeals – Bella is very isolated, her parents are divorced, she has no siblings living with her, doesn’t make a bunch of friends at school – and Edward is not just Edward, he comes with a whole Cullen family. I know for a lot of people know who married into big close-knit families, especially but not only women, the big family was definitely part of the dream, not a downside….

    I really enjoyed reading this post, esp since as I said, I read the novels while feverish so haven’t reflected on them most. Thanks for writing it!Report

    • Avatar atomickristin in reply to Maribou says:

      I could actually write a doctoral thesis supporting the original assertion “everything you ever wanted to know about women you can learn from watching twilight” and the marrying into a big supportive family is definitely part of it. I picked just the one angle because I wanted something article-length plus it ties in with some other stuff in the next couple

      I also enjoy the types where the women would be fine on their own and romance is inconvenient. I’d class a fair number of the Hallmarks in there (although to be honest, I kind of loathe those and have very little experience with them)

      And I can’t agree more about the fantasy/romance writers. There have been several of these genre where I got insanely frustrated with the series because I was so intrigued with the world and the plot and then there was this romantic bull– to dispense with.Report

  5. I became aware of Twilight only because I was, through machinations and skullduggery I won’t get into here, forced to drive my little cousin and her friend to the theater to see it. Aside from the romance angles Kristen brings up, and I laughed out loud at several spots in this piece, my original question from that view has yet to be satifactually answered by fans of this genre: why would a immortal being of nearly unlimited power…be in high school in the first place.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

      Because middle school is objectively terrible, duh.Report

    • Avatar atomickristin in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

      The official story (which you’ve probably heard already) is that in order to stay in the same place for more than a few years AND live together as a family without revealing that they were not visibly aging, a family with teenage children made the most sense. That way they could stay for the years of high school, college, maybe a couple years beyond before people started to wonder why they looked the exact same age forever and always.

      Living together as a group of adults seemed to invite too many questions – like, were they a weird commune, or something. It kind of made some sense in the book.Report

  6. I have made a point to ignore Twilight, but have always been a little curious how they get around the traditional piece of the mythos that vampires kill people. Regularly.Report

  7. Avatar bookdragon01 says:

    I only know enough about Twilight to avoid it. After all, even among teens, “Still a better love story than Twilight…” has become a meme.

    From what I have read about it though, it’s less about Bella being so very special she utterly captivates Edward than about a girl so focused on having and keeping a boy that that is the whole focus of her life. Her only goal, her only self-worth. (as Stephen King put it: “Harry Potter is about the importance of having friends who will stick by you no matter what. Twilight is about the importance of having a boy no matter what.”) In fact, a teacher I know dissected Bella as a classic profile of a woman in an abusive relationship. She yoyos between fear of displeasing him and the high of being told she’s ‘so special’ – which is the hook abusers use. “I only hurt you/control you because I love you so much it makes me crazy….”

    Even the description you give, Kristen, sets off all my ‘potential stalker’ alarms. So, no, this type of romance does not appeal to me in the slightest.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to bookdragon01 says:

      Most fictional romances aren’t really that romantic as a real relationship. More than a few of them are quite scary.Report

      • Avatar bookdragon in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Very much so. There is a difference – a very important difference – between love and obsession, but so many of these stories, as well as general tv/movie romance plots, routinely blur it.

        Maybe I’m more sensitive than most because I know someone who had to escape from an abusive relationship, particularly from an abuser who couldn’t give up a woman who was ‘meant’ to be ‘his’. I mean, I find the common framing of ‘winning’ the girl (or guy) like some sort of trophy for the most having points in a competition off-putting (not to mention referring to sex as ‘scoring’).

        Obviously I don’t read a lot of books labeled as ‘romance’. But romance is a subplot in quite a lot of other genres so the tropes and plotlines are unavoidable. The only ones that appeal to me really are the kind where two people with common interests and/or goals meet, become friends, and eventually discover a romantic attraction. They can come to admire each other for talents they share or for each having talents the other lacks, but I need a basis of respect and friendship there to find the romance part worth reading.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to bookdragon says:

          A realistic depiction of a healthy romantic relationship would probably not be that exciting for the viewers because it would lack passion. Passion makes for much more exciting stories.Report

          • Avatar bookdragon in reply to LeeEsq says:

            I have not noticed a lack of passion in a healthy romantic relationship. 😉

            But I think that points to the generally messed up definition of passion in a lot of stories. It feels like what they mean by ‘passion’ is a borderline psychological disorder rather than a mutually compelling emotional/sexual attraction. So I think the term we’re looking for here isn’t passion, it’s ‘plot complication’.Report

        • I hope you’ll stay tuned for the next installment where I tackle this issue head on.Report

    • Avatar atomickristin in reply to bookdragon01 says:

      There is a school of thought (which I uncovered in the writing of these pieces and haven’t yet had time to fully research and incorporate into my thought processes) that claims that to some extent, the disturbing parts of romance novels serve to speak to different elements of female sexuality. So the reader is equal parts pursuer and pursued, controller and controlled, stalker and stalkee, hunter and prey, and thru those shifting perspectives she’s able to wrestle with and disentangle some elements of her sexuality in a safe environment.

      I don’t know that is fully true or not, but I do think romances can be a way for women to work some issues out for themselves – kind of a sandbox, if you will – and so are not necessarily as toxic as they appear to be at first blush. I think the “men who really love you never stop pursuing you, and you must do whatever it takes to please a man” trope is so much more widespread in non-genre entertainment and even news sources, that romance novels honestly fade into the background. Everyone knows Twilight is a made up silly story and that Bella is an obvious nincompoop, but I’ve read many an article in magazines targeted at women and teen girls (and boys) where these toxic messages are reported as NEWS, as helpful information, as facts that are coming down from experts and authority figures. Bella is so dumb that half the time the reader is yelling at her and thinking “Holy Sheep, I would never do something so incredibly stupid” so maybe it’s inoculatory in some way.

      (50 Shades of Grey on the other hand is another thing entirely and I wrote about that too, coming up next)

      Personally, I think Harry Potter and the “paramount importance of friends” notion that reigns supreme in children’s fiction is equally toxic. But of course I never had any friends so I would think that.Report

      • Avatar bookdragon in reply to atomickristin says:

        I never had a lot of friends, but I find real friendship a goal worth aspiring to and pursuing. The fake quasi-obsession romances however are not only not worth it, but something I’d actively avoid. (I did not read 50 Shades of Grey. Just the premise made me cringe).

        But as I said above, I see friendship as essential to real romance. My husband is at the top of the list of my best friends.

        I do think there may be something to the idea of romances being psychological ‘sandboxes’. My personality seems to be more hunter than prey, and in non-explicitly-romance novels with a traditional romance component, I notice that I identify more with the male protagonist. The women are kind of poorly fleshed out in most of those though, so that might not mean much. I do know there was something about women in bad relationships, particularly those that were abusive either physically or psychologically, tended to read the sort of romance novels where the nice girl falls for the bad boy and somehow her love is what redeems/reforms him. The question about why came to chicken or the egg: where they attracted to bad guys because that was the sort of romance they consumed or did they consume that sort of romance because it gave them hope he’d change or let them cast themselves as something other than a victim.Report

        • One of the essays I read along the way that I’m still mulling over was one where it was claimed that the male character is supposed to be more relatable than the female one. Contrary to my interpretation, the author claimed that was the reason the women in many romances were so bland – to better enable the reader to relate to the guy in the scenario. At first blush I dismissed it, but I’ve written several stories (including 2 here on OT) that were from the male perspective and I enjoy – possibly even prefer – writing in a male voice, so there may be something to that.Report

          • Avatar bookdragon in reply to Kristin Devine says:

            That’s a really interesting point.

            Personally, I do often prefer to write male characters, but I always thought it was because I’m sort of a ‘tom boy’. I’m in a very male dominated profession, tend to like stuff that’s typically considered to be more ‘guy things’, so I have spent most of my life being more ‘one of the guys’ than one of the gals. So much so, that I feel a bit fish-out-of-water among certain groups of women since I never learned how to do the sort of small talk you hear at, for instance, hair salons. ‘Girly-girl’ culture is truly foreign to me.

            However, I can see where identifying with the male in a romance would be part of the fantasy, even if it was subconsciously so. Especially for women my age who grew up being told not to be forward, not to make the first move, there is something compelling about being able to relate, to ‘ride along in the head’ of a character, who is supposed to be the active pursuer rather than the one passively waiting for notice. It’s a level of agency that’s both liberating and feels a bit like forbidden fruit.

            I wonder if that explains the odd phenomenon of homosexual romances being so popular among straight woman? You get to identify with a male, who is allowed to take on the role of pursuer, but the pov of view is that of someone who is romantically and sexually oriented toward to males.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kristin Devine says:

            Romances aimed at men also tend to have bland male protagonists though. The real reason for the generic, bland protagonist in romance is so the audience can project themselves into the protagonist role and experience the romance vicariously.Report

      • …paramount importance of friends…

        My kids were old enough that as we got into the later books, I was encouraging them to consider that Dumbledore wasn’t the kindly old man he seemed, but was, rather, running an ongoing war and grooming Harry and his friends to be weapons without telling them. Given Dumbledore’s strength as a sorcerer, what were the chances that he didn’t know everything that was going on in the castle or on the grounds? How often did they receive special or lenient treatment? Didn’t many things make more sense as live-fire exercises than accidents?

        One of these days I’ll have to sort through the fanfic and see if anyone has rewritten the story from that perspective.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to atomickristin says:

        My interpretation, although this might be based on my bitterness at being effectively frozen out of this area of life, is that a lot of desire is really messed up and politics makes have an effective conversation about this impossible. Even if you use the most careful wording possible you might get an explosive anger directed against you. This is mainly because when dealing with heterosexual relationships, the topic of what the male should get is a third rail. The most extreme patriarchal position is anything he wants. The extreme in the other direction is only what the woman wants to give him even if it means he has to give more than he receives. I think most people realize that neither is a healthy basis for a relationship but coming up with a middle solution is not easy.

        One thing that always struck me when talking to other people about heterosexual relationships, this includes close friends and people more distance, is how much passive acceptance there is at the state of things. My friends once attempted to introduce me to a woman, a professor. It didn’t work out because she had a boyfriend. The advice they gave me was that “Lee, you are probably just as knowledgeable on the subject as she is but just agree with her rather than debate her in order to impress her.” Or as an allegedly feminist dating site put it “would you rather be right or would you rather get laid” when giving advice on how to argue with women. From my point of view, going along with whatever a woman says seems more sexist than getting into a conversation about it but I’m still a bachelor, so what do I know?Report

        • Avatar bookdragon in reply to LeeEsq says:

          From my pov as a woman, I think you’re right – I’m more likely to find someone interesting who will debate and challenge me. Completely geeky example, but my husband and I are both engineers. When one of us mentions a design or testing issue, the other almost immediately jumps in with ‘but why don’t you..?’ leading to a debate on methods, materials, etc. Knowledge presented in a way that makes you think (rather than a way that questions your competence, which I have seen from some guys in the past) is stimulating.

          “This is mainly because when dealing with heterosexual relationships, the topic of what the male should get is a third rail.”

          I think that topic itself is honestly counterproductive, if not downright destructive wrt finding a romantic relationship. Love isn’t about who gets what. When you love someone, you want to give them everything you can to make them happy. And you want that not because it conforms to societal expectation about your gender role or because means you’ll ‘get laid’, but because making the person you love happy *makes you happy*.

          One of the most attractive traits anyone, male or female, can have is the simple ability to care about others and want to make them smile with no expectation of pay off beyond the satisfaction of seeing them a little happier.Report

        • Avatar Kristin Devine in reply to LeeEsq says:

          Gosh, I missed this the first time, I’m sorry. I wish I’d replied immediately.

          I have heard this experience before and I totally believe you, and please don’t let what I’m about to say in any way come off as me trying to negate your experience in any way, shape or form.

          That having been said I’ve experienced a relationship with a controlling person and at times have been put in a position where I felt pressured to give way more than I wanted to or felt at all comfortable with, in pretty much every arena. And the strange thing was, he would have said the same – that I wanted everything my way, that I was willing to give nothing. It was on the surface a Mars/Venus kind of thing but below the water, it was more of a method of control for this person (in no way equating this to you) to use common criticisms of women when IMO it was not deserved. In order to keep things the way he wanted them, and to keep me in a role, and in “my place” basically.

          My point in bringing this all up is to very humbly suggest that ~maybe~ if this concern is coming more from things you’ve read and not as much personal experience, that some of the people who say things like that about gold digging selfish women, etc may have their own motivations for saying stuff like that and they may not be imparting the most accurate information about what’s going on in the heads of actual women.

          As for arguing and debating in relationships, I agree that any advice to “tell a woman only what she wants to hear” is really weird and Victorian – as if our fragile minds cannot endure conflict and controversy, or something? Personally I enjoy debating (respectfully) about stuff in a safe environment with a person I’m comfortable with and I suspect that is likely true for many of the other women on this site as well. It may be that there’s room for that in a healthy relationship but probably not on a first date. And maybe not challenging someone’s area of expertise, I suppose – but one probably wouldn’t do that with a guy, either. You might talk shop but probably wouldn’t have a debate, particularly if the person had a bit of an ego. But that’s just basic politeness and not any deeper secret about gender differences, I don’t think.

          I sometimes wonder if there’s not a cottage industry fanning the flames of relationship issues in order to make us buy books or something. Maybe it’s not all true, or real.Report

  8. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I’m a notorious anti-genre snob but it seems to me that there are plenty of women out there who hated Twilight and hated 50 Shades of Gray. The hate was big enough to the point where women who read those two books were accused of not being big readers at all.Report

  9. Avatar j r says:

    Twilight is not the best romance novel or even close to it; it’s simply the best example of the genre. The Twilight series is like Romance 101 – a basic introduction to a complicated subject. It’s romance distilled to its most essential form…
    Good stuff, Kristin. It’s worth noting that there is whole history of similarly constructed stories for boys and men. Victorian literature abounds with stories of orphans and boys from seemingly modest backgrounds who go on adventures in which it is revealed that they are really from higher social stations. Their specialness ultimately comes down to their breeding, it’s an innate quality. Kipling’s Kim, for example, may be the highest form of the British boy’s adventure genre of the 19th century.

    The interesting thing to me is that the male’s unique and special qualities are often what help him go on some adventure and/or overcome some obstacle, while in stories about women, their special qualities are usually what help them land the boy or become part of some sought-after social group. You can find lots of people talking about how culture is through the stories that we tell ourselves and it is. But we don’t spend enough time, in my opinion, talking about the demand for those stories.Report

  10. Avatar Em Carpenter says:

    Chiming in late here…
    And outing myself. You will all think less of me but such is the price of honesty….
    I enjoyed the Twilight series. I enjoyed the movies even more so.
    I do not feel bad about it.
    I have a degree in English with a concentration in lit. I feel like I know good writing when I see it; Twilight is NOT good writing (but heaps better, IMO, than the writing in the subject of your next installment, Kristen!). I don’t care. I still enjoyed the story. Maybe because I am one of the few people who find Kristen whatsherface charming, and also because everyone in the movies was so beautiful. The movies were beautiful, actually. Aesthetically, I mean. Also, Anna Kendrick is just fantastic, always, and maybe the best thing about the movies.
    But I also hated Bella (especially in the books) and the undeserved worship heaped upon her by not just one but two super hot amazing guys.
    Instead of thinking “gee, maybe some super hot amazing guy could fall for super not special me, too!” I just though LOL no, this would never happen.Report

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