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Posts Tagged ‘abuse’

Masks and Monsters

holding hands

Even a beautiful monster is still a monster

It’s Halloween, it’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and teen exploitation and human trafficking are on the news.  So this is about Twilight, and horror. And clothes.

I knew I wouldn’t love Twilight.  I probably shouldn’t read Teen Vampire Romance if I find the danger / love  thing distasteful.  But I didn’t realize what a painful read it would be.  I’m late to the party as far as arguing whether Twilight is anti-feminist  (Answer: Yes; it unravels everything women have accomplished in the past 50 years  ).  But Twilight is worse than that.  It tells a true horror story about a girl who loses herself to abuse and doesn’t realize it.  The book doesn’t even realize it.  That’s terrifying, because that’s how abuse really works.

I love you because you taste so good

"Temptation." Fan Art by twilight~fan~art at deviant.art.com

The love story between Bella (highschool Junior/ girlfriend) and Edward Cullen (vampire/boyfriend) is a story of power plays, isolation, manipulation, insults, belittling, intimidation, and of course, violence. Edward is a boyfriend who sneaks the key to her house and spies on her while she’s asleep, ignores her when he’s talking to her Dad, and drives fast and laughs when it scares her.  Bella tends to respond with sarcasm, the closest she comes to having personality.  Which is sad, because sarcasm is the last resort of powerless, angry people everywhere.  I won’t list all the relationship red flags in the story, because the debate has been raging for awhile and there’s a lot to read out there already. I recommend Rachel Vampirely’s The Twilight Saga and Domestic Abuse   and Edward Cullen: Abusive Boyfriend (heartening, because it’s written by a young fantasy-genre fan ). For advanced parody, there’s a pretty hilarious piece (including Mormonism references) here: Sparkledammerung .  Of course, the criticisms are outnumbered about 50-to-1 by women and girls who wish they were Bella. For real.

But this is a fashion blog.  So what does Bella wear?  Bella’s clothes, like Bella, are boring.  I wish I could say that her clothes don’t matter because the story is about her genuine personality, not her appearance.  But Bella makes no decisions and has no character.  Edward falls for Bella because of the way her blood smells to him (which, fair enough, sexual chemistry) not because of anything she does or says.  Bella has few character traits beyond “clumsy” and “brave.” Brave in the face of how dangerous her boyfrirend is.  Ahem. 

A girl can annoy you by being obsessed with a boring guy, for year after year, and still do (and wear) fascinating things.

After 500 pages of longing-for-him, I kept waiting for some character development.  At some point, doesn’t she have to stop whining “Oh, Ashley,” get her butt back to Tara to save the devastated plantation, and go make a brilliant dress out of the curtains to sell herself to Rhett Butler?  Is that too much to ask?

Okay, yes, it is.  I’ll stop complaining that Bella is a badly-written protagonist.  I will complain that she is (inadvertently? insidiously?) a fundamentally awful character: The obsessed and submissive woman in love who stops caring who she is. Just look at what she wears. 

Crossing the line between modest and invisible

All 16-year-olds in Forks dress like this when asked to go hiking with a cute guy they like.

 

 

1. Tan sweater, jeans, and white shirt

Day-hike date wear.  Yawn. You might think, a nice-ish sweater and collared shirt for the woods?  Don’t worry, Bella is not much of a hiker, so she’s not going to get it dirty:  “he held the damp moss and ferns aside for me . . . when the path took us over fallen trees or boulders, he would help me, lifting me by the elbow.”  On the way back, he carries her.  Bella is clumsy, not weak, but either way she’s helpless to the point of dysfunction.  The real plot point of the tan sweater outfit is that Edward wears the same outfit (YAWN), but he looks like a “supermodel” in it.  Bella feels inferior, which is a theme of their relationship.  Why does she “deserve” such a God-like creature? They go into the forest where Edward vents his pent-up vampire thing and rampages around tearing up trees.  It’s okay, they’re just trees, even though he wants to hurt her he won’t because he loves her.  She trusts him, and feels impressed, which is not surprising for someone who feels so inferior and has no sense of their own self.  Violent rages are not romance. They are a big fat warning sign that says: “Girl. Get out, now.”

Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, teachers at Holy Name of Jesus School

If you are a Sister of the Sacred Heart of Mary, a long khaki skirt is a really appropriate fashion choice

Long, khaki-colored, casual skirt with dark blue blouse he likes.

Bella chooses this special outfit to meet Edward’s family.  I won’t pick on her for wearing the blouse just because he likes it, because we’ve all been there.  The skirt is supposed to be modest, because this is an abstinence-themed book. But it crosses the line to absolute invisibility.  This is what nuns wear.  I’m somehow more creeped out than if Bella had been over-sexed here.  At the Cullen house, they go into Edward’s bedroom, where he gets annoyed that Bella isn’t scared enough of the vampires.  He wants her to be scared (or at least, to know she should be scared.  Because he loves her, right?)  So he growls, attacks her, and pins her down in his Adonis-like arms of steel.  Just to prove he can.  Is this supposed to be cute?  It’s assault.  Threats are sick and wrong.  Pretending they’re a game is just sicker and wronger.

Beautiful blue!

Perfect stylish, warm, hooded, hip jacket worn by Bella in the Twilight movie, where professional stylists had the challenge of giving her some personality while still staying faithful to the book.

Hospital gown: 

When Bella gets mixed up in Edward’s dangerous vampire crowd, things go bad.  She is such a sweet-smelling object of desire that James the Vampire hunts her down (although it’s not about Bella — his main motive is to provoke Edward into a fight) .  She gets almost-killed and Edward saves her life.  She is unconscious and doesn’t get to watch the fight, much less participate.  She wakes up in the hospital with tubes and wires all over her. She’s survived, but there’s not much left of Bella as a person.  She’s totally stripped of her identity and, of course, her clothes are gone.  I love the commentary on hospital gowns from Birth as an American Rite of Passage   by Robbie Davis-Floyd:  

A woman’s clothes are her markers of individual identity; removing them effectively communicates the message that she is no longer autonomous, but dependent on the institution . . . she is a liminal  being, without status, property, insignia, secular clothing indicating rank or role…liminals behavior is normally passive or humble; they must obey their instructors implicitly, and accept arbitrary punishment without complaint.

Bella doesn’t want pain medication because she’s afraid to lose consciousness.  Edward calls the nurse and tells her to medicate her anyway.  Bella insists she won’t consent, and in the creepiest line in the book, Edward says, “I don’t think they’re going to ask you to swallow anything.” Yes, he’s threatening her with forced intravenous sedation.  This is such a profound threat to human rights it normally requires a court order.  Don’t worry Bella, he wants what’s best for you.

quoteProm Dress: I’m not a big prom fan, but I so, so wanted to like the prom ending.  But it’s hard to, because Bella doesn’t want to be there (she is too “clumsy” for dances. What?) No fun primping and being thrilled with how she looked in anticipation of her big night.  The primping was done to her (by Edward’s sister) and the prom was a secret (she was hoping for a secret Vampirization ceremony).  Yuck and yuck, seriously.  But Edward decides what’s best, and then (yuck-est of all) he’s right again, because he can pretty much control her all around the dance floor so her clumsy, insecure ass doesn’t fall.

So it goes with Bella’s outfits: from boring to liminal to a Prom dress she doesn’t even want.  And I’ve suffered through twenty-five chapters of a teen heroine who is so resigned, so inferior-feeling, and so de-selfed that she doesn’t care what she wears. 

Emotional control is abusive because it strips people of their ability — even desire — to make their own choices.  In Twilight , all the control games are okay because Edward isn’t really going to hurt her physically.  This is supposed to be romantic, because it shows he loves her enough to deny his violent nature.  When he warns Bella that it could “end badly” — with her death — she reflects that she loves him too much to care.  She doesn’t want anything but him.  She’d rather die at his hands than give him up.  This is dark, folks.  This is dangerous, dangerous stuff.

So I think I’ve decided that all the primping girls go through when we fall in love is not that bad.  Yes, we agonize over our shape. We debate how much skin to hide or reveal.  Yes, this is about artifice, if not outright illusion.  But it’s also about visualizing and creating our best selves.  Don’t wear a mask of makeup  (it’s fake and clogs your pores!) But don’t give up on liking what you see when you look in the mirror.  If only Bella had one outfit she really liked. She might have liked herself.  And I would’ve liked her so much more.

Go get dressed, Bella. 

Vampire, 1734, from Fr. vampire or Ger. Vampir (1732, in an account of Hungarian vampires), from Hung. vampir, from O.C.S. opiri (cf. Serb. vampir, Bulg. vapir, Ukrainian uper), said by Slavic linguist Franc Miklošič to be ult. from Kazan Tatar ubyr “witch.”

From the New York Times on teen protstitution:  “I’d also fallen for the guy. I felt trapped in a way I can’t really explain.”  

http://www.loveisrespect.org/

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