Well, I did say not everyone would agree with the selections.
Look, I’m not a fan of the Twilight series. I understand why it’s been so popular, but I found it poorly written.
And here’s the thing: I don’t love Bella. Most of the time, I don’t even like her. What I appreciate, though, is that she’s become a cultural icon who manages to occupy space on both sides of the feminist playing field. I’m not writing about Bella because of who she is on the page – I’m writing about her because of how her character is internalized and interpreted. And I can think of no better character than Bella Swan when it comes to literary dichotomy.
In my world, the anti-feminist perspective is more prevalent: Bella Swan is an awful role model for young women. Bella has no real agency. Bella defines herself through an unhealthy, borderline (if not outright) abusive relationship.
And then there’s a the flip side: Bella Swan is an accurate portrayal of the female gaze.* She’s a contemporary adolescent woman and many readers can relate to her and the obstacles in her life more easily than, say, Hermione or Katniss.
Really, I think that’s what it boils down to for a lot of people: I can relate to Bella, maybe even a bit of the wish fulfillment I want to relate to Bella.
There is such vocal support for the feminist interpretations of what Bella’s character means, but there’s also the readers who internalize who Bella is. They don’t see Bella for what she represents in a social sense, they see her as a kindred spirit. That we can have such a massive literary figure — and yes, for better or worse Bella is a hugely popular character — who is both anti-feminist and easily relatable is telling and problematic.
That’s the piece I think we keep missing. Bella’s legacy is that for a certain segment of feminism, she’s indicative of ever-changing roles, norms, and expectations. Be confident, be brave, be vocal, be your own person. And maybe secretly, you just want to fit in, to not feel so different all the time, and you just want to be loved.
Those don’t have to be mutually exclusive – but I guess when the guy you want to love is climbing into your bedroom at night and watching you sleep, they kind of are.
*young, white, heteronormative female gaze
Thanks for reading! What do you think of Bella (and her new counterpart, Edyth)?