Sunday, October 25, 2009
Twilight: Unrealistic Expectations?
I recently finished the Twilight saga series, which is about a teenage girl falling in love with a male vampire. The books make certain people uncomfortable for a variety of reasons, including the fact that, ultimately, a teenage girl ends up screwing a 100+ year-old man. I shrug at that one, but a friend of mine has a concern about the series that I find far more potentially damaging and problematic.
The series is written with the teen audience in mind, and Edward Cullen, the vampire, is basically an adolescent girl's emotional equivalent of a wet dream. He is a SNAV -- Sensitive New Age Vampire. Forget Bram Stoker's Dracula, who treated his victims like the prey and vermin that they should be to a vamp. Edward adores Bella Swan, his love interest. He dotes on her. He doesn't want her to have anything less than the best in life, God forbid, like her beat-up truck that suits her just fine. He wants to buy her fine things, give her diamonds the size of golf-balls, and pay her college tuition to Dartmouth. Additionally, he is forever emotionally available, always letting Bella know how much he adores and loves her, and how beautiful she is. Edward is totally self-effacing and self-sacrificing. In fact, he's the vampire equivalent of the iconic Lloyd Dobbler in "Say Anything." It would not have been at all out of character for author Stefanie Meyer to write dialogue for Edward that would virtually mimic Dobbler's unforgettable, "Sir, I just want to hang out with your daughter. It's what I'm good at."
So, already we can see the problem: most men are not as generous in word or deed as Edward, and I can see that if a teenage girl expects her boyfriend to buy her jewelry or cars, or be effusive with praise and declarations of love, that girl will most likely be disappointed. When I was talking about this Twilight expectations issue with my husband, David, I admitted I had a little hesitation because he is the equivalent of Lloyd Dobbler in terms of looking out for me, his devotion, and his unending comments to me (and to everyone else, sometimes to my chagrin) that I'm beautiful and sexy. I know from talking to my girlfriends that most of their husbands are more reserved than mine, but surely there have to be some other guys like mine out there who leave a glimmer of hope for teenage girls that they'll find their Edward in shining armor, right?
Perhaps, except for this: Edward is content with being sexually abstinent with Bella, happy merely to stay in her bedroom all night and watch her sleep. It is Bella who is dying to do more with Edward, and she is the catalyst advancing their physical intimacy every step of the way. This really is the heart of the matter, and I believe poses the biggest problem of Edward's character setting girls up for disappointment. I don't know any straight men in relationships with women who would be content to be chaste (excluding men who might have other physical or emotional issues that interfere with libido).
There are certainly social factors that contribute to this, but simply put, testosterone makes people horny, and men certainly have a lot more of it than women do. I know of a female therapist who got a prescription for topically-applied testosterone for one week to see how it affected her sex drive, and she said it was revolutionary in terms of truly understanding the libido discrepancies that couples come to her with. She wanted sex all the time for a week. *sigh*
Anyway, Twilight certainly could mislead teen girls into thinking that teen boys are only interested in watching them sleep, but they have many personal experiences and cultural references reminding them otherwise. I don't think the covers of Maxim or Razor magazines leave any ambiguity about men's expectations of women. But girls aren't the only ones being lured into unrealistic expectations in our society; I feel like boys get misled by things such as pornography.
I fear for boys who learn about sex from porn, thinking that it's normal for women to have 24-inch waists and 50GGG circus titties. These same boys will become men who will believe that women will have ridiculous, screaming orgasms from one minute of intercourse, when many women can't come from intercourse at all. I have a dear friend who is a nurse, and a straight-shooter of a mom, and she is raising three sons. I give her a lot of credit because she has told them, repeatedly, why the porn she knows they're seeing somewhere is not realistic. Hopefully her kids will have more realistic expectations. For the many boys (and girls) getting their sex education from porn, I feel bad for all of them.
Whether its Twilight or porn, I feel like media should come with one big disclaimer, especially for teens: "Reader/Viewer beware! Ingest this with a big grain of salt. Real life is unlikely to meet your expectations."