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This is not another article about how the Twilight series corrupts young girls. What else, you ask, might a gender and sexuality studies concentrator have to say in reaction to Breaking Dawn's release at the Providence Place Mall?

That girls of all ages are already corrupted and turn to series like Twilight for consolation and resolution.

Twilight was required reading for a Brown course a few years ago. Though I didn't take ENGL0200: "On Vampires and Violent Vixens: Making the Monster through Discourses of Gender and Sexuality," I find the books and movies rich in gendered and racial symbolism.

Vampires symbolize the masculine in that they are cold, unfeeling slaves to their appetites, while werewolves, who connect to nature and morph with the moon, are associated with the feminine — though, of course, both a werewolf brand of machismo and a vampire brand of vixen exist.

The slippage between vampires and men runs throughout the series. The vampires are bloodthirsty, literalizing the stereotype of men as seeking war, revenge and violence. Their victims are irresistible to them — the rhetoric of voracious male sexuality seen in discriminatory sexual assault defenses and in grandmotherly warnings to girls coming of age. They are told to keep their eyes open and their legs closed because men cannot control their physical urges and will hurt them. Is this not how our mothers would warn us about vampires if they existed?

These folk ideas about the nature of men and women leave girls in an impossible place: They are taught to gear their lives toward attracting men and earning their approval, yet they are also told that men are up to no good and cannot be trusted. They are told not to "be a slut" or "put out" but are also taught that their bodies are the best way to get what they want, especially if what they want is a guy's attention.

Enter the Cullen family.

Bella's mixture of fear and desire toward Edward and his lifestyle reflects young women's similar ambivalence toward the opposite sex. They want relationships, but they are afraid to trust men.

These movies invite girls into a world where, by replacing men with vampires, these problems have easy solutions. Sure, they're vampires, but they're nice vampires! Sure, Edward gets caught up in the throes of passion and hurts Bella during their first sexual rendezvous, but he didn't mean it — he's a vampire! Even stalking — yes, it's fair to call teleporting into someone's room and watching her sleep stalking — takes on a morally acceptable air when the stalker is using his vampire powers to do so.

The use of creatures that are not human is a tactic employed in fiction to depict acts that would be wrong for humans to do as less disturbing. This exceptionalism allows for taboo topics such as war and rape — which many argue is symbolized by vampires' violation of their victims' skin — to be explored without any recoil reaction.

I remember reading the first book in the series when I was 17 and impressionable. I loved that Bella had the courage to pursue Edward even though she knew what he was capable of, and that she tried to initiate sex even though he warned her that vampire sex is dangerous. She ignored the warning, including those of Edward himself, of what vampires (men) are like, and it worked out for her — if being threatened by several vampires and then becoming one yourself can be considered working out. I guess that's a matter of opinion.

In Breaking Dawn, Bella not only makes amends with the vampires but also gets to become part of their world. But first, she must suffer. This is also a reality of our society: Women are expected to suffer for men, and this suffering is romanticized. In the most recent movie, Bella plays out the worst of this ideal, nearly dying from an unwanted pregnancy. A bloody, bloody one, may I add.

Blood carries many meanings: pain, sacrifice, impurity. The image of blood against pale skin, or more broadly red against white, is a trope in vampire fiction. Breaking Dawn begins with a beautiful wedding scene where everything is white but sprinkled with red roses. This is foreshadowing: In order to become a Cullen, Bella loses her purity — a virtue that girls are still too often taught to defend. But when she becomes a mother, she bleeds for her husband and child and even drinks blood to feed the vampire baby, taking on a Madonna-like peacefulness and self-sacrificing maternity. Ultimately, she is rewarded by becoming a white, bloodless vampire.

While I agree with critics who say the Twilight series promotes the idea that women must suffer for men, I think it is doing more than that. It is reassuring its demographic, which has undoubtedly already received this message, that such situations have a happy ending. That is, as long as they devote themselves fully to their husband and fetus, who, in Breaking Dawn, is clearly not a fetus but a baby with thoughts that Edward can read, everything will end well. Yeah, this stuff is effed up.

But it is also a really beautiful love story. There is a reason for the raving reviews.

And I may or may not have cried. That is all.


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