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Regina Barreca on Gender and Sex in Twilight

This post is dedicated to my mother who drug me to the movie theater to watch this god-forsaken movie.  And to all my friends who love Twilight and Edward especially  –  sorry to rain on your parade today.  🙂

So yeah, I saw Twilight, and really hated it.  I thought it was a bad case of abstinence porn – a great phrase I learned while reading this article in BITCH magazine.  Despite the fact that the vampire genre has always been about sex (the stake as a phallic symbol, the sucking of women’s blood as, well, sex, Dracula sneaking into your bedroom in the dead of night – how can you deny this?), Twilight has brought the genre to young women by making vampires (the good, sparkly, white ones) abstinent.

Christine Seifert from BITCH explains how Twilight is abstinence porn:

Twilight actually convinces us that self-denial is hot. Fan reaction suggests that in the beginning, Edward and Bella’s chaste but sexually charged relationship was steamy precisely because it was unconsummated—kind of like Cheers, but with fangs.”  I, for one, spent the whole movie thinking, “Oh MY GOD, just DO IT already!”

Agreeing with Seifert, I wondered as a woman, as a feminist, and as a non-abstinent person, despite all the hot “virtue,” is abstinence porn as uplifting as some of its proponents seem to believe?

In an article for Psychology Today, Regina Barreca (who also wrote a really funny book on the gender dynamics of higher education in the 60s) gives five funny and thought-provoking reasons for hating Twilight.

Here’s part of her article; read Barreca’s entire article here.


As far as I’m concerned, the least scary parts of Twilight concern blood-sucking vampires and/or unborn babies chomping on a teen-mom’s cervix to get free. Those are the fun parts compared to the latent, covert lessons of feminine subjection, abjection, and erasure of self inherent in the novels.

Okay, ready? Here are the five best reasons to hate Twilight:

1. The ONLY real reason young women like Twilight is because of Edward. That is sad.

Why? It’s sad because vampire Edward is NOT who you want to end up with, especially for eternity.

Stuck with Edward’s family in a sunless, airless, dull mansion, having conversations that hint at the possibility of ancient patterns of potential incest now repressed, not having sex, and eating game meats? It would be like being married to an Englishman but without the cute accent or the trace amounts of humor.

2. Let’s get back to the sex, or lack of it, which is what hooks girls on the first volume: female readers love that Edward sleeps beside Bella and apparently only wants to kiss her neck.

Why do they like that? Because most real live (i.e. not-dead, not 100 year-old-plus) guys who come within touching distance (so to speak) spend their time lunging almost randomly at breasts and buttocks. The amateur kisses of actual boys taste of gum and burritos, and they breathe audibly through their noses while they slip their tongues down the girls’ throats like they’re lizards hunting for flies.

3. We should be appalled by Edward because Edward takes away Bella’s keys to her very own car saying “You’re intoxicated by my very presence” whereupon she says–wait for it–“There was no way around it; I couldn’t resist him in anything.”

Fifty years of the women’s movement and that’s what we get: “I couldn’t resist him in anything”?

How nuts is this? Lucy Ricardo showed more backbone! Lambchop the Puppet showed more backbone than this “Lamb” does!

How about if Bella kept her own keys–and her own integrity–and drove away from the narcissistic bastard?

By the way, the runner-up for this position was a line from an earlier chapter where Bella exclaims “I couldn’t imagine anything about me that could be in any way interesting to him.”

For all those folks who say we’re in a post-feminist generation: guess we still have a teensy bit of work on the whole self-esteem-building business for our girls, yes?

4. Back to the self-description of the characters as specific members of the food chain: girls, remember that if you’re the lamb and he’s the lion, you may lie down together,but you’re still an entrée.

5. Drum roll, please, as we get to the finale: “About three things I was absolutely positive. First, Edward was a vampire. Second, there was a part of him – and I didn’t know how potent that part may be – that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.”

So the big reason to loathe Twilight? Fear of your lover should not be an aphrodisiac. Ever.

Let’s sum up, shall we? Why is Twilight scarier for a grown-up woman than it is for a younger one?

Because we know that even as a romantic fantasy, it’s a damaging one; that even for a trashy book, it’s a lousy one; and that even – or especially – as an for escape for a young woman who’s longing to break out of her everyday confinements, it’s a trap.


I’d love to hear from other women who found positive representations of women, gender, sex, in Twilight!  And no, I’m not picking on TwilightSex and the City 2 is about to get hit next.



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