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Do girls still secretly want to be rescued?

Originally posted on Great stories, 6 March 2009

Does the success of Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight series mean women have reverted to enjoying the notion of having a powerful man to protect them?

And if so, why?

Kirsten Tranter, in the latest Weekend Australian Review, suggests it may be the case, in a column that also explores how the romance between fragile Bella and vampire Edward rekindles the narrative of female masochism (where sexual gratification depends on suffering).

(I know I keep referencing the Twilight series, but honestly, when it keeps getting ink in literary publications like the Weekend Australian Review, you know it’s truly become a cultural phenomenon. If you’re still oblivious to what it’s all about, you can read my past posts here and here.)

Tranter, a fellow Joss Whedon/Buffy fan like myself, points out that while Whedon’s vampiric tales turned the tables on the stereotypical “girl fleeing from monster” (the girl turns out to have the strength and will to kill the monster instead), Meyer’s Twilight books mark a return to patriarchal values where the girl still needs saving.

Tranter says the success of the four novels proves authors are “still happy to create stories that end with cowering girls being saved by powerful guys, and girls are more than happy to embrace them”.

Does the overwhelming popularity of the Meyer series indicate attitudes may be changing among women (young and old) in the face of a threatening and uncertain world?

Is there a shift in the female psyche, possibly strongest among younger women, for a yearning of a time when they didn’t have to save the world but could rely on men to do it for them?

True, by the end of the fourth book, Bella has gained her own power and sense of purpose, but let’s not forget, the series was a hit long before that plot development was revealed. For most of the other books, she relies on strong males to protect her, whether it’s Edward or smitten werewolf Jacob.

I’ve always been a huge fan of quality fantasy, and, thanks to my obsession with Whedon and my general enjoyment of Meyer’s series, I’ve started seeking out quality paranormal fiction (and TV shows: I’ve become a fan of Supernatural and the new kid on the block True Blood, which is darker and more unsettling than your standard paranormal TV fare).

Part of this is the timeless search for great stories. But part of it is about escapism – and there is no greater escapism than a world where the normal rules of reality don’t apply.

But that doesn’t mean I want a fictional world where only the guys get to finish off the Big Bad (as Whedon would call them).

So why then, have female readers become so hooked on the story between Bella and Edward? Why then are teenage fans so totally in love with the overprotective Edward? Is Meyer undermining the feminist movement, or tapping into a latent female need for protection?

Personally, I like the idea of being able to take on the world myself – but reserve the right to ask for help from a big strong man occasionally…

See original post at Great stories for past comments – and there were some good ones!)