Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Morals, Girls, Morals!

It was early 2009 and Twilight's popularity was at its zenith. Three girls in my seventh grade English class presented reports on books in the saga. When they were done, my English teacher rolled up the screen and turned to face us.
"Girls," she said, "If a boy ever treats you the way Edward treats Bella, run away."
That was the first of many anti-Twilight sentiments I heard.
I've only read the first book and seen the third movie, so if you want to hear it defended, go elsewhere. If you want to hear it criticized, go elsewhere. Frankly, I'm sick of people saying Bella Swann has singlehandedly brainwashed an entire generation of girls into craving abusive relationships. It bothers me because
1. If you need a book to teach you what it means to be a strong woman, you're never going to be one.
2. I've never heard a similar complaint about boys in media.
3. I have, however, heard similar complaints about women in media. Just not to the same extent as girls.
From its humble beginnings as Twilight fan fiction, Fifty Shades of Gray slept its way up the New York Times Bestsellers' list and will hit theaters on Valentine's Day.
For a while, Icing, an accessory shop frequented by mall crawling tweens, carried Fifty Shades of Gray merchandise. Hardware stores noted an increase in rope sales to women. It's also been noted to spark female pornography addiction. I've heard the occasional whimper from conservative religious bloggers, as well as some feminists, about Ana's gleeful submission to Christian. But it can't hold a candle to the wave of concern over Edward's habit of-gasp! Watching Bella sleep! Chastely! For three books and over two thousand pages!

In 2007, seventeen girls at the same Massachusetts high school became pregnant. TIME magazine dubbed it "the Juno affect" after the Academy Award winning movie. Waitress, a movie about an adult facing an unplanned pregnancy, was released the same year. I've heard no complaints there.
Every time a new Disney princess movie comes out, I see articles praising and criticizing the latest heroine for her damselness. This never happens to boys. Does Frozen have a sisters-before-misters girl power vibe, or does it promote lesbianism and unhealthy body image? Is Merida a strong independent woman who don't need no man, or is she a whiny teenager who disrespects her mother, the only other named female in the movie? Sure, Mulan saves her country, but she had to abandon her gender to do it. Plus, she only went to war to help out a man in the first place. And she did it all in front of a preschool audience.

Don't look! If you do, you'll have to look like her!
Teenagers, and specifically teenage girls, are bombarded with this. To say teen girls need strong role models in fiction is to say we don't have enough strong women in real life. They must be created, either by screenwriters or by watchful parents. True equality doesn't mean equals numbers of girls and women in media. It's doesn't mean giving them gumption and goals beyond finding a love interest. It means girls are no longer criticized and overanalyzed for weakness that would be acceptable in a man.

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