One of my readers with her own blog recently sent me a tweet about how my work on social justice was quoted on multiple related blogs, including one that expresses skepticism on the Twilight phenomenon. Why? One of my chapters in Twilight & Philosophy: Vampires, Vegetarians and the Pursuit of Immortality (Wiley 2009) discusses how the concept Stephenie Meyer uses in creating the fictional situation in her Twilight novels is eerily similar to the "reality" of having a male stalker, who ultimately, becomes intimate with his victim before killing her--a sad statistic that was on the rise in 2005, the year Meyer came out with her first novel. In the chapter, I refer to having personal experience in this area--not as a stalker, but as the victim.
The problem isn't with Stephenie Meyer or Twilight; it's with the audience. Why are we so eager to romanticize love relationships with the "bad boy"? And why are women fascinated by dangerous men? Do we deserve the patriarchal scrutiny we've had to deal with ad infinitum? Or are we merely brainwashed by the prevalent discourse of the dominant social group--and girls, that's not us....
I live with men. And I have many male friends and colleagues. I'm not a man-hater--in fact, it's just the opposite. The way I think and behave are often classified as more "male" than "female." I'm decisive, action-oriented and straightforward. My instinct when there's a problem is to hash it out in person, face-to-face....mano-a-mano, as it were. I grew up pretending to be Tarzan, Zorro, and Wolverine. I played with guns, swords and read comic books. And yes, I even got into a few minor scrapes here and there--but there was never any grudge. Once it was over, it was over. I climbed rocks and tramped around the woods. I broke more bones than I had dolls. But I did have dolls. I did wear pink. And make-up, and I still do. But I was fearless and confident--and apparently, the gentle, gentile socialized picture of a soft, sweet girl--a girl I wasn't--was a disappointment to many. But it doesn't mean I wasn't taken in by the hype...please! I was a teenager in the 80's...the era of John Hughes. Pretty in Pink? Claire in Breakfast Club? Ione Skye and John Cusak in Say Anything? Demi Moore in St. Elmo's Fire? Interestingly, when I look backward at the "boys" I was "attracted" to, I realize that I wasn't so much attracted to them as much as I was to the IDEA of them--the idea that popular culture insisted into my hormonal, pre-pubescent consciousness, the idea reinforced by the behaviors of other women in my life...and men. I was to be a secretary--because I'd only get married and have babies anyway--despite the fact that my two career interests since I could talk included becoming a dentist and/or a lawyer. I was writing and selling my work as young as six. I was ambitious. I was intelligent. And I had lots of initiative. So why was the idea of becoming a secretary even introduced? I didn't even play house with my dolls! Usually, I dressed them up to be taken hostage so I could play Robin Hood or Zorro or Tarzan and save them.
It took me a long time to find my way out of the maze of gender-based social expectations--and I still struggle with it today. Down to our very language, women are objectified, marginalized and pushed into "otherness." There is no equivalent of a male-whore. There is no word for a male-slut. Men are congratulated, still, for sexual promiscuity. Women are thought of as "cows," or creatures from which you can "purchase" "milk" through marriage or otherwise simply try to get it for "free." We still hear that phrase in common usage. In 2010.
Chattle. That's what women were considered until 1920. 1920! Less than a lifetime ago? You betcha. Statistics show that women make less money than their male counterparts, still. Women hold MANY less CEO positions, Senate seats, seats as Supreme Court judges...or just judges in general, and are still far-less represented in fields like medicine. The States has NEVER had a female President. The closest we've come was a choice between a moose-killing beauty queen or a pant-suit wearing control-freak with a bad hair cut...and by the way, these sentiments are not mine--they are taken right out of the media. You never heard that kind of criticism of President Obama, Vice President Biden or Senator McCain. Do you know that even Pakistan has had female leadership? And forget about the context of Abrahamic religions--the most prevalent theologies in the Untied States. Women's bodies are meant for male-legislation--whether it's abortion or stem-cells. Still. In 2010.
And this isn't debatable, though most men reading this will undoubtedly balk at the idea that patriarchy is alive and well with retorts like, "I have a female boss," or "my sister is in med school." Those facts don't preclude the body of evidence otherwise. Do you know that the World Health Organization (WHO), declared violence against women a PANDEMIC? Now, tell me women are equals. I know it's hard to swallow--believe me--but we're not. Not really. And those women who do claw their way to power often have to adopt a kind of viscious ruthlessness to do so, something they seem to apply, in large part, toward their female inferiors.
My uncle, a wonderful, totally non-patriarchal supportive person, asked me about "otherness" this weekend, commenting on how using it as an accepted term is actually buying in to the marginalization. And I agree. I think that using terms like "heroine" for a female hero or "actress" for a woman-actor is ridiculous. I'm not a "shero" or "heroine"--I'm a hero, like any other person. Most foreign language has definitive forms built-in to their structure that indicate the feminine or masculine. And unless there is a MAJOR sea-change in the global social climate, that will NEVER change. And neither will the marginalization of the female gender.
The bottom line is: Different IS NOT deficient. Women ARE powerful--we have babies while connecting everyone and maintaining households and going to school and working and feeding our families. We have a higher tolerance for pain. We can endure more physical trauma. And, because we are resourceful, and feel so connected--we live longer. Some people are frightened by this--and fear's twin is hatred, otherwise known as misogyny. It's why menopausal women in the 17th through early 20th centuries were given "hysterectomyies"--because, you see, they were acting "hysterical" and female dogs given hysterectomies appeared to be calmer after the procedure. Don't believe me? Look it up. Of course, if the hysterectomy didn't work, there was always lobotomy....
Any recent progress you can point to in equality was hard-fought, hard-won and continues to be each and every day. So yes, I am concerned with social justice. As should anyone with a mother, wife, sister, or daughter in 2010. The word "feminist" has become a badge of nuttiness, of zeal, of lunacy. Even amongst women. And, it's because of the undercurrent of patriarchal discourse that permeates our culture, and consciousness--equally--from birth. Feminists are often referred to under the veil of humor as "femi-nazis." Really? You're comparing a call for equality to genocidal maniacs? Really???
That's part of the frustration. There are men who "get it" but there are many others, like many women, who don't. And why? Because they have all been brainwashed to believe that society mainly moves in one direction, despite tweaks here and there; the status quo is good, fine, solid, and all-in-all, the American way. Mediums like Twilight perpetuate that party-line, as do many, many, many other pop culture influences--like the fact that most Hollywood actresses are sizes 0-4 yet the average American woman is a size 14 or higher--at least 60% of us, girls! And fat, sloppy (even old) men can marry gorgeous, young, thin women on TV and in films, but it's NEVER the other way around. Never.
I can yell and scream until I'm blue in the face but none of it will sink in very far.
How could it? I'm only a woman, after all.