Why Teens Shouldn’t Read Twilight

Why Young Women Shouldn’t Read Twilight.

In order to verify this I went to the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s website and took a look at these fifteen criteria. Now you go read them.

In order to go further, I have to admit that I have read the Twilight series. I did it for my 7th graders. In undergrad I was an education major, and since all of my 7th graders were buzzing about Twilight, I wanted to understand what on earth they were going on about. I finished the series, because my friend’s daughter was super excited about the books. I felt I could give her better books to read if I understood the appeal.

Here’s the thing – the books aren’t just terrible, but they’re the kind of easy read that sticks in your brain. They’re candy. But from this piece of information I have to conclude that they aren’t just candy – but incredibly dangerous candy. Because the checklist checks out. It’s true. On all sides. 

The books young women read have to stop setting the example that being abused by men is OK. Authors need to set out to not treat their characters this way, with particular regard to YA fiction. We are already raised in a society where it is hard to learn how to have a backbone. We already live in a society where saying “no” is not okay. We live in a society where the scene in which Jacob kisses Bella against her will gets her father to give him a high five. (and is meant to be funny).

Consent, care, and personal autonomy are all missing for women in this series. Yet it is always the woman’s fault. Every time I hear a young woman say that she wants to be like Bella Swann, or that she wants to have an Edward, I cringe. Because I would hope that they want a relationship free of harm.

It should not be considered “romantic that a man you barely know watches you sleep. It should not be considered “heartwarming” that in order to get her man back, Bella has to risk her life.

These are not the role models we need. We need women who stick up for themselves, women who find good partners, whether they be men or women. We certainly don’t need all fifteen criteria popping up in young adult fiction. Not in a world where domestic violence survivors are asked why they didn’t just run, or how they could “let” it happen to them.

Abuse is never romantic. Don’t let it seem that way. Give the young women in your lives books they can look up to, and books they can live by. Books that will teach them how to love, not how to submit.

Do you have a favorite positive role model for young women? Please share in the comments!




Filed under Feminism

14 responses to “Why Teens Shouldn’t Read Twilight

  1. The female protagonists in the Abhorsen series, by Garth Nix. I’d be good with suggesting the series as far down as 4th/5th grade, if the indiv. reader was mature enough to handle it. Sabriel, the daughter of the Abhorsen, is a magically savvy teenage necromancer about to graduate finishing school. She experiences fear and trepidation when dealing with serious necromantic threats (and does her best to respond to them on her own.) She has a very subtle romance with another character, and they become a partnership as much as a marriage. Her story doesn’t end with getting married or become a mother, either. Lirael, a relative, gets an entire book in the trilogy and is just as determined nuanced as Sabriel, who plays a part in Lirael’s path of self-discovery. Neither of them are super women, and are portrayed as young women with identity issues, growing pains, and gaining competencies in their fields of magic. Fabulous heroines who utterly side-step creepy, abusive romance.

  2. Sadly, I don’t think I have found a positive role model for young women in YA fiction, although perhaps Hermione or Anne of Green Gables fits the bill (there are some antiquated notions in the Anne series, being as old as it is, but she is a strong female character). I was disappointed in the main character in Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer’s “Between the Lines” because of how much she is willing to sacrifice for a boy she barely knows, but she’s nowhere near as bad as Bella (based on your description; I haven’t read the books).

    • In this case the problem isn’t even so much Bella, as it is what she’s willing to put up with.
      My two favorite role models in YA fiction are Cimorene from “Dealing With Dragons” by Patricia C. Wrede and Alanna from the “Song Of the Lioness” Quartet by Tamora Pierce. Both of them are willing to pursue what they want on their terms, and they definitely tell people “no” when necessary.

  3. Dora

    I think a good addendum to this is to let your teenager read books like this, but be ready to read (or skim) it yourself and start an appropriate discussion. It’s so easy for many parents, siblings, aunts, and cousins to be proud that the female teenager in ther lives is devouring such thick books, and it’s equally easy to be ignorant about the plot and content of those same books. I admit that I was the reason my (at the time, tween) niece read Twilight…mostly because I wanted to get her reading more and I knew this was an easy enough read to get her interested. It worked, partly to my chagrin. She became obsessed…as tweens are wont to do with fanciful love stories. But it also opened a door for both of us. It got me even more interested in YA lit, and it got her reading all kinds of books she would not have read otherwise…. Twilight led me to getting her to read Speak, partly because I could entice her with Kristen Stewart having played the lead character in the movie. That book opened even more doors, and it led her to deciding to write a thesis on how women and love are portrayed YA lit, especially in the supernatural genre for her 9th grade English class. And, in her research, it was she who came back to me to let me know just how irrational Bella and Edward’s relationship was….when that was something I had just barely considered myself since I read this book solely on face value.

    Ok…I know my comment is absurdly long, but I feel that we should not be absolutists in saying teenagers shouldn’t read Twilight. What we should do as positive female role models is be aware of the books that the teenagers in our lives are reading and be prepared to have meaningful discussions about the content of those books with them. It’s not always feasible to read every book. But just like we wouldn’t feel comfortable with letting our teenage daughter out with friends we do not know, we should get to know the books, genres, and authors they love. These books shape them more than we can imagine. I have learned how to dig far deeper into meaning in YA lit than I would ever have otherwise if not for the teenage niece that taught me how invaluable discussions are on these books. She can get more meaningful than some of my adult friends in reading clubs I’ve been in!

    • I totally agree that reading books with teens is a huge part of it. It’s the same with movies – and while I’d *never* advocate for putting ratings on books, I think the same philosophy of “watch the movie with/before your child” concept applies here.

      A reader tweeted at me that his daughter did a book report on the series and found herself not liking Bella afterwards. Interrogating the material sees to be key.

  4. Reblogged this on DrBDavisConsulting and commented:
    Very interesting…really something to think about…what messages are we conveying to our youth?

  5. I always loved Lyra from Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy when I was younger. She was driven, complex and generally pretty badass. In fact, I remember being disappointing at Will’s large part in the second book. Also, if I remember rightly, Jacqueline Wilson’s (perhaps more children’s that YA) characters were quite dynamic and her stories not the typical “girl meets boy” format.

    I’ve not read Twilight, but, like a lot of people, I’m disappointed by its wide reception. Especially when I find facts like this. Still, I’m sure there are still YA fiction writers like Pullman and Rowling (though I wasn’t particularly impressed with HP for other reasons) who will continue to provide strong and complex female AND male characters and who don’t centre their stories around love interests.

    • Yes! Lyra is one of my favorites! I also really appreciated the complex nature of the Golden Compass series as a whole. Pullman’s “Ruby In the Smoke” series with Sally Lockhart is also pretty fantastic, although given the Victorian Era setting, it does have other problems.

  6. Theresa

    I fondly remember Eilonwy from Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles. Even though she’s a little silly (and gives up her powers in the end so she can get the guy) she’s by far the least-princessy princess I ever read about, and never turns down a chance for an adventure.

  7. Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games,” Tris from “Divergent,” Eve from “Eve,” (in addition to Anne of Green Gables, number 8 in that series) Rilla from “Rilla of Ingleside,” and if you’re into comic books Adrienne from “Princeless.” There’s some really good new and emerging YA Fantasy for girls coming out lately.

    • Also, Eve explores femininity, patriarchy, abuse, propaganda, rape, etc. It’s kind of a Handmaid’s Tale meets The Road. It’s not the absolute best fiction I’ve read, but it’s entertaining and an easy read.

      • I’ve not read “Eve”, it sounds like a worthwhile read for me. I wish I had good enough sight to read “Princeless”, perhaps the nook will come out with it on their graphic novel list and I can read it someday…

        Thanks for adding to my book list!

  8. T

    I love Aerin from Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown.

    I remember reading the Twilight series and being crazy frustrated. I wanted to scream things like, “Get it on, already!” and then I’d realize the age of the characters. I do not remember being as angsty or as complicated as Bella is. Although, I think “complicated” is not the word I’m looking for. Maybe I’m just simple (my brother is on the autism spectrum and I think I have some socially odd traits), but I did not identify with her at all. I read the books because everyone at work was reading them. After the first movie, I refuse to watch that drivel.

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