Literary Heroines – Why Bella Sucks

I hate Twilight.  I think the books are a load of drivel full of overdramatised teenage angst and don’t get me started on vampires who “sparkle”.  However, there is no denying that these books have taken the world by storm and there are lots of little girls (and quite a few bigger girls too) to whom Bella is their literary heroine.  This is why I loved Jordan Baker’s article in today’s SMH – “Twilight Girls Learn To Give Up All For Love“. Her conclusion is right on the money:

For more than a century, Jo March and Anne Shirley have been teaching little girls that there is more to life than hooking up with a rich, handsome bloke. Now, in 2009, we have a heroine who tells them that it’s worth their family, their education and their soul. Bella may well be immortal, but I hope for the sake of all little girls that Jo and Anne outlive her.

I am sure that there are quite a few Twilight fans reading this and thinking, “what’s the harm in a simple story?”  The harm is that Bella has become a role model for these tweens and teenagers.  She is what they will aspire to be like.  There will be the more discerning readers amongst them who just enjoys the books for the story and won’t take any life lessons from them, but there will be many more who will.  There will be girls who think that you should sacrifice everything in your life for the love of a good looking man.  Is this really want we want to be teaching the next generation of women?  Even the most rational of us do stupid things when we are in love, especially when we are teenagers. These are stories we reveal to our friends many years later over a bottle of wine whilst shaking our heads over how stupid we were.  They definitely aren’t stories we tell to our kids to encourage them to do the same thing – unless of course, you are Stephanie Meyers.

What I fail to understand is why these books are so popular.  Stories about vampires seducing young women have been told for generations – and are usually much better written than the Twilight series, so it can’t be the whole paranormal thing.  Teenage angst is the staple fodder for almost every single young adult book targeted at girls ever written, so it definitely isn’t that.  So what is so damn appealing about a spoilt, sullen brat in love with vampire that has everyone falling over themselves?  Surely it is not teen angst mixed with the forbidden love of a vampire cause Buffy covered that ground over 10 years ago and had the decency not to make vampires sparkle along with a heroine with some redeeming qualities. So what is it?

Whilst I wait for someone to explain it to me that doesn’t involve the much used line – “once you read the books you will understand” cause trust me, I won’t, I will be here in my rocking chair reading Anne of Green Gables and wondering how a book written in 1908 has a heroine who is more independent than one written a century later.

Edit: Just after I posted this post, this appeared on the ABC News website – Twilight’s Bella ‘sets good example to girls’ about how Kristen Stewart (who plays Bella in the films) thinks that Bella is a good role model and is quoted as saying

“For a character in literature, I think it’s awesome that so many girls can look up to her, because she’s fickle and unabashedly [so].”

Someone needs to tell this girl that being fickle is not a good character trait.

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8 responses to “Literary Heroines – Why Bella Sucks

  1. I so agree. I read the article in SMH this morning and thought the author was bang on! Now, I must admit to not having read the book but I did watch the first movie (I was forced to) and for the life of me, I couldn’t fathom what the fuss was about. Bella is a wimpy and clingy girl and as a person that works with teenagers, I can just see how influential she will be. As it is, there’s a lot of girls out there that think they should do things that their ‘boyfriends’ want them to do…or that all that matters is having a boyfriend. And without proper, strong role models like Jo March or Anne (or even Darrell Rivers from Malory Towers…I loved her character), girls these days have hardly any hope. Sigh.

    • I loved the Malory Tower series and also St Claire’s when I was a tween. I spent an entire school holiday reading the the St Claire’s series.

  2. Well, we’ve been priming them for years to fall head over heels for a sappy, pathetic ‘heroine’. Watched any Disney movies lately? Looked at the little girls running around shopping centres? With few exceptions, they’re all wearing pink and desperately wanting to be princesses and marry princes when they grow up.

    My theory? The ‘we can have it all!’ generation discovered that we can’t have a career while being a fulltime parent and having a social life, and got disillusioned. And we passed the lesson onto our daughters – don’t try to have it all, just live for your man. Because that’s all you’ll finish up doing anyhow, no matter how big you dream.

    Do I sound bitter? I’m not, just sad. I’ve seen so many of my generation go from big dreams to being quietly miserable with their loved ones fencing them in. Sigh.

    • I was only looking at literature in this post, not movies. If I was to delve into the portrayal of females in children’s movies, trust me, Disney would get a licking. However, credit where credit is due, they have improved over recent years, but they still have a long way to go.

      I am sad that you feel the way you do, that women can’t have a career and a family. Is it easy to do so? No, but it is possible.

      • I am sad that you feel the way you do, that women can’t have a career and a family. Is it easy to do so? No, but it is possible.

        Umm. Maybe I need to clarify a bit. I’m a mother with a fulltime job, a couple of hobbies, and… well, pretty much no social life outside the internet, thanks to a medical condition or two. And I’m relatively happy – but I’ve had to fight tooth and nail a few times to get here. You might be surprised just how many people consider me a bad, unnatural mother for not always being home to tuck in my toddler, or frequently leaving him with my husband for the day.

        But you can’t do it ALL. You can’t have great performance at work and be there every second for your child(ren) and go out clubbing every week. It’s just not possible to do everything to the level that almost every woman I know feels she SHOULD. A lot of women give up on the whole work/life balance concept. About 80% of the the women I know personally and via the internet have let go of dreams of a career, or of pursuing a much-loved hobby (eg. rock-climbing or martial arts) in favour of staying at home with the kids. They’ll take it up again ‘when the kids are older’. If they can.

        I honestly do think that this next generation of girls are often being encouraged, subconsciously, by their mothers to just let go. Go with what society still, deep down, expects from them. It’s easier if you don’t start out with unrealistic expectations.

        My point in bringing up Disney wasn’t to say, “but look at how bad THEY are!” but to say that girls are taught ideas in the princess movies which set them up to fall in love with and emulate Bella type figures – give it all up for love.

  3. You’re spot on. What is needed as role models are women/girls who can fight for themselves and who don’t need to be “saved” by some “shiny” guy!

  4. As someone who has endured through the books, I can tell you now, even if you do read them you still won’t get it. I don’t get it! I couldn’t stand Bella, she has got to be one of the biggest losers written in a long time. And apart from the obvious issues the books raise and the questionable message they send to those young girls with vulnerable minds (and there are plenty out there!) these books are HORRIBLY written! As in, I don’t know where Meyer learnt to write, but how they even got published is beyond me. If that is the finished copy I hate to even think how bad the first draft was! I wrote a massive rant about these books on my blog after I’d finished reading them. Now there’s quite a few hours of my life I’ll never get back!

  5. Finally! Someone, other than me, has seen the light! I can attest to having read all three books mentioned, and Twilight is, by far, the worst. I have also stumbled with the answer to why this series is so popular. I have a younger sister who is a fan, so I may have some answers. These girls are shallow. To fall in love with Jo March and Anne Shirley takes sophistication that many teenagers and young girls don’t possess much, these days. What I mean is, they don’t like to read. In a way, girls have gone backwards in time. As a high schooler, I can see the subtle social pressures to become a ‘couple’. This book offers that. It offers the the knight in shining armor that all girls crave, until they get older and realize that is NOT how life works. Unfortunately, I have met adults who have fallen head over heels for the story, and I have no excuses for them. The story is lame, people. No offense to Stephanie Meyer, but COME ON! Real vampire novels are written by Anne Rice. She is the true vampire biographer. Vampires are supposed to be more attractive, but they’re also supposed to be borderline insane and/or homosexual. Whoever likes Twilight needs to be educated in the world of Anne Rice.
    In concluson: Go Jo! Go Anne!