You are NOT what you read

As I mentioned a couple of posts back, writer Leonard Sax believes that the popularity of the Twilight books proves feminism has failed: “Three decades of adults pretending that gender doesn’t matter haven’t created a generation of feminists who don’t need men; they have instead created a horde of girls who adore the traditional male and female roles and relationships in the ‘Twilight’ saga.”
Sax is a firm believer in gender differences (you can find several posts about his views on education at Echidne of the Snakes), so it’s not surprising he finds confirmation of his beliefs. His logic, however, is terminally flawed: “This book is popular and has traditional gender roles” does not mean “this book is popular because it has traditional gender roles.”
It’s possible (even though I’m disinclined to believe it) that women do indeed read the books because they reaffirm traditional gender roles and that’s the way they want to live.
It’s also possible they enjoy reading and fantasizing about them but wouldn’t want to live that way. A number of romance readers have noted how a standard reaction from men is “Well, you’d never tolerate me bossing you around like those alpha males in books,” and I’m sure that’s true. What we enjoy in fiction isn’t always what we want in life: I love John Carter of Mars but I have no desire for a woman who stands around waiting to be rescued as Dejah Thoris invariably does (I can’t see TYG sitting and twiddling her thumbs). And I doubt the millions of fans of Flowers in the Attic really want to be locked up in an attic and get involved in an incestuous relationship.
It’s also quite possible the appeal of Twilight has nothing to do with gender roles. As novelist Kit Whitfield says, there’s a lot of sexual tension involved in Meyers’ books with the whole idea that Edward is so passionate, so turned on by Bella he can’t bring himself to touch her because he’d lose control. That’s not about a nice traditional marriage with a traditional male lead it’s about, well, sex or the promise of sex. As I mentioned in my “emo-porn” post, a lot of romance fiction isn’t an innocent girly fantasy about finding a guy who loves and cares for you, it’s about true love mixed with hot, passionate, earthshaking sex (Whitfield’s post also discusses some strong BDSM themes she sees in Twilight).
Sax’s theme is an old one: One of the standard cliches in discussing rape (particularly marital rape) is “Well, wasn’t it sexy in Gone With the Wind when Rhett drags Scarlet up the stairs?” A, yes, and B, that has nothing to do with rape in the real world (as women know perfectly well). It’s like when I think about being sexually harassed, it’s along the lines of Scarlett Johansen throwing me down on a desk—but I know that’s not what it’s like in the real world.
Sax can see what he wants, but I think he’s staring through a glass darkly.


Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

8 responses to “You are NOT what you read

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