Okay. So. In fairness, Kristen Stewart said this stuff while sitting next to Twilight series author Stephenie Meyer in a promotional event for Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part Two. That’s not the ideal time or place for a substantive critique of the material. But as Stewart defended Bella and Edward’s relationship as "entirely equal," I had to wonder whether we had read the same books and watched the same movies.
As quoted on Jezebel, Stewart responded thusly to a question about whether the intensity of Bella and Edward’s love affair was sending a bad message to young women:
Flop the roles. If Bella was a vampire and Edward was the human and you changed nothing but the genders, none of that criticism would exist. It would be ‘Wow, he just laid everything on the line for her. It’s so amazing, and it must take such strength to subject yourself to that.’ Also, the relationship is entirely equal.
I’m embarrassed to say I’ve seen all the Twilight films thus far and read most of the books. Thus, I do think that an argument can be made in defense of Stewart’s comments if you look at the themes in the books conceptually, rather than in specifics. Conceptually, the books are about two young lovers who sacrifice everything for each other. In that way, they are equal. Bella is a resolute and passionate character and I do think she is at times unfairly criticized as "weak."
But there are numerous specific incidents in the stories in which Edward’s behavior towards Bella is problematic — not just because it is controlling, but because it is controlling in ways men have historically controlled women. The gender dynamic between them does matter. Numerous times in the movies Edward physically prevents her from doing things, he is possessive and jealous around Jacob the werewolf, and he withholds sex from her (despite her insistence she is not physically harmed by it) because he knows what’s best. All of those are items you most definitely could find on a "cycle of abuse" chart in any domestic violence counselor’s office. And if we’re going to loop Jacob into the critique, I found it extremely disconcerting how involved he got in Bella and Edward’s sex life in the latest film, as well. Men being possessive in their protectiveness of women is most certainly an overarching theme.
It’s not so simple to just "flop the roles," as Stewart insisted. To "flop the roles" suggests men and women have always been completely equal. It ignores the centuries of male domination which are the reason people find aspects the characters’ behavior problematic in the first place.
I personally don’t look to Hollywood actresses for critiques of gender. But in this incidence, I’m disappointed in how off Kristen Stewart got it.
Contact the author of this post at Jessica.Wakeman@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter.