Twilight, Religion and Misogyny

At The Hooded Utilitarian, there is a fascinating essay by Mette Ivie Harrison, herself a Mormon writer of YA fantasy, about how Twilight relates to Mormon beliefs. Found via Sherwood Smith, where she also shares some observations made during a con panel, where the Twilight bashing panelists were shamed by a group of librarians who shared how empowering Twilight was for teen girls from problematic neighbourhoods who were forced into the caretaker role for younger siblings, because the parents were absent or inadequate.

I always find articles illuminating the Mormon content in Twilight from an insider perspective (because there certainly is no shortage of outsider perspectives) fascinating, because I freely admit that I don’t know a whole lot about the Church of Latter Day Saints, to use the politically correct term, since it’s a faith that doesn’t have a big presence in Europe. Though I do know enough to know that many of the usual stereotypes are incorrect and often border on the offensive. Not that “I don’t know very much about this denomination” has ever stopped cultural pendits from pontificating about the implications of Stephenie Meyer’s religious beliefs. I don’t think I’ve ever read an article about Twilight or Stephenie Meyer that does not include an aside about her religion. Meanwhile, the actual audience of the books couldn’t care less about Stephenie Meyer’s beliefs and how they are reflected in the books. As a student of mine said, when the subject came up, “Who cares about the woman’s religion?”

The Hooded Utilitarian offers up even more good Twilight related essays, such as this one by Emma Vossen about Twilight hate and why it’s a symptom of rampant misogyny. She’s a lot more positive about Fifty Shades of Grey than I am (because Fifty Shades is highly problematic), but I agree with her overall point. And some of those memes are horribly offensive. Luckily, I haven’t come across any of those memes yet, but then I never hang out on Facebook where that sort of thing seems to reside.

I’d add that it’s not just Twilight, because the general vitriolic hate directed at urban fantasy and paranormal romance in the geekier online spaces is in fact a example of the rampant misogyny in parts of the SFF community. And yes, I’ve got a post coming up about that, which will likely piss a whole bunch of people off.

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9 Responses to Twilight, Religion and Misogyny

  1. Sherwood Smith says:

    Thanks for the Emma Vossen link!

  2. Estara says:

    I don’t know if you ever read really racy contemporary romance on the side, but I came across Moriah Jovan, who’s a faithful Mormon herself, setting her contemporary family soap opera/romances within the culture.

    Now, she also has a STRONG libertarian worldview on economics which makes me go bzzuh, but I love the characters and the drama – so I recommend Magdalene to you, which is set the most within the faith because the romance hero is actually a Mormon bishop (so we get a lot of information on how that works)! And the ladies in all her books are totally empowered, may I add. Here‘s my spoilery review of it.

  3. Laran says:

    Very interesting article on Meyer and Mormonism! But I don’t get why it can be considered “empowerment” when women in Mormon religion are highly valued eplicitely because of their mother role. Not much of a choice in what way you want to be empowered, there – in my opinion. What about all the women incapable of bearing children? What about the ones who don’t want to conform with this quite limited female role? It seems to me, the word “empowerment” (not only here but elsewhere, too) is used far too liberal and too often to mean anything anymore. Sometimes it seems like a sticker of legitimicy to me – look here, we are very empowered females even so we are in the grip of an inherently backward religious worldview which doesn’t allow us equal opportunities and freedoms to men.

    What do you think?

    • Cora says:

      I don’t find “empowerment only through motherhood” empowering either. Most other Christian traditions at least have a role for the unmarried, childless woman – not that nun, sister, Diakonisse, etc… is all that enviable a role either. I wonder whether Mormonism has an equivalent or whether you don’t get to be “empowered”, if you don’t have/don’t want/are unable to have children.

      What I mainly found interesting about this post is that it actually addressed how Mormonism influenced Twilight from the perspective of someone who knows what she’s talking about. Now pretty much every article, paper or essay on Twilight ever – and since paranormal romance and urban fantasy are my research interests, I’ve read a lot of them – mentions that Stephenie Meyer is a Mormon without stating what that means. I’ve only come across three articles so far, all written by practicing or former Mormons, which actually illuminate how Mormon doctrine is reflected in the series. Besides, there’s also a lot of reflexive bashing on the internet of Stephenie Meyer and other SFF authors who happen to be Mormons (there’s quite a lot) not for anything they’ve actually said or written but just for the fact that they are Mormons. Now I fully agree with bashing Orson Scott Card for his homophobic views, since he has repeatedly stated them. But Stephenie Meyer has never to my knowledge said anything negative about gays or made any other politically problematic statements (she even is okay with E.L. James and Fifty Shades of Grey) and still gets attacked for her religious beliefs.

      As for Twilight bashing in general, a lot of this is based on misconceptions by people who have never actually read the books or even watched the films such as the very common charge that Bella is passive and lacks agency. For while Bella is not a kick-ass feminist heroine, she certainly isn’t passive and clearly has agency. Throughout the Twilight series the same pattern is repeated over and over again. Bella wants something (Edward, sex, confront evil vampire James to save her mother, go after Edward to Italy, get married right out of highschool, have a baby even though the pregnancy may kill her). A man (Edward, Jacob, Carlisle Cullen, Bella’s Dad Charlie) tries to talk her out of it. In the end, Bella gets what she wants anyway. Of course, Bella’s choices are not very good (getting married and having children right out of highschool is generally a bad idea and going alone after dangerous vampires is a very bad idea), but she makes her own choices. Besides, Bella is a product of a broken family (her parents divorced and live far apart, the mother is a bit flakey, the father is nice but rather useless, Bella basically runs the household). And kids from such backgrounds often want a family of their own. I have a lot of kids from problematic backgrounds mainly in my Hauptschul classes and “Even if you know you want children, having a baby too early is not a good idea” is a common topic of discussion. It’s not just girls either, but boys, too.

      In short, the gist of a lot of Twilight bashing seems to be “This is something that women like” and “This is something that teen girls like – won’t someone think of the children.” Now I don’t think a steady diet of Twilight and nothing but Twilight is not all that healthy for teens, but most Twilight fans quickly branch out to other YA paranormals, adult paranormals, general YA, manga, etc… and get exposed to a wider variety of female role models. Besides, I certainly read a lot of problematic things as a teen (Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear, V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic and umpteen sequels, bodiceripper style romances) and turned out all right.

      • Laran says:

        I totally agree 🙂

        By the way, other than maybe most Germans I had some contact with Mormons and learnt a bit about their religious system. Two young guys came to my door in the UK and tried to convert me – young men have to do this year of service abroad they told me. Because I don’t know anything about Mormonism I asked them in, gave them some tea and let them explain. Very interesting indeed! Sadly for them, I couldn’t connect with their alternative world history concept at all even so I thought it curious. I asked what young women are doing – do they go abroad for a year as well? Answer: No, they are supposed to marry early. Hm. They explained to me about the rightful place of women in society and in God’s big plan which was a bit offensive given that I am female and that I made it quite clear that I am a working woman living with a male partner filling the role of house-husband. Well, very interesting indeed, the whole coversation. Poor guys, I suppose they where happy enough that someone actually opened their door…

        • Cora says:

          That sounds like an interesting experience. I’ve never had any Mormons at my door when I was in the UK, probably because I was living in a Church of England vicarage house in North London (which was a fascinating experience in itself, including answering the phone to people wanting to plan weddings or funerals or telling a man who showed up with his daughter on the doorstep one evening that no, I really could not sign whatever form he needed for his daughter’s school, because I was not in any way affiliated with the church). And in Germany, I’ve only ever gotten Jehova’s Witnesses and people wanting to sell fertilizer or magazines.

          Though some Mormon women apparently do go abroad as missionaries. SFF writer Nancy Fulda once mentioned that she came as a Mormon missionary to East Germany, met her future husband there and is now living somewhere in Schleswig-Holstein.

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