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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

On a Serious Note

I had two options for my evening. Write a new blog post or watch the elimination on American Idol. Though since my beloved Kai got eliminated oh so long ago, I admit I just don't care for this season as much. Sure, there are good singers, but eh. I liked Kai. And he is gone. (Despite his awesome nickname abilities: American Kai-dol. Teehee.)

Unlike most of my posts, this is a little more serious. A lot more serious. And it's a subject I'm personally familiar with, so the insane glorification of it lately has left me fearing an epidemic. Hopefully you all have recognized it too; it's one of those silent-but-deadly things that far too many girls (because, lets face it, guys aren't as widely affected by this) are unaware of. What am I talking about? Here I go:

Abusive relationships.

Everyone knows they're "bad." Everyone knows they don't want to be in one. But what I'm seeing lately is a slow and completely unintentional brainwashing of young, impressionable girls into thinking abusive relationships are okay. Magical, even. Quite frankly, I am sick of this. Sick. Of. It. This is both a PSA and a plea, a desperate beg, to authors everywhere to STOP writing characters like this.

Characters like Edward Cullen. Yes, I'm going there. Sorry Edward fans -- agree or disagree, but this is what I'm seeing happen (seeing firsthand -- my sister is adamantly in the belief that he is a sexy dreamboat of a boyfriend). But remove the actual story and look at the facts of what Edward does: he keeps Bella from her family; he won't be with her unless she fulfills certain "requirements," changes very materialistic things about herself (the car she drives, her stance on wearing engagement rings/getting married); he breaks into her house and hides in her room while she sleeps; he does all this under the banner of "I know what's best for you. You have to do this." While Meyer wrote all these things to be innocent and charming in a young-love way, they ARE NOT charming. These things, however portrayed, are never okay. Hearing them for what they are (alienation, ultimatums of the petty and controlling sort, stalking, manipulation) automatically evoke the response of "No. These things are wrong." But in the context Meyer put them in, in a "true love" relationship, they're disguised as all right.

Maybe I'm blowing it out of proportion. Maybe I'm making too big a deal out of this. But hearing my sister say that these things are CUTE is disgusting and terrifying, and I'm very angry with Stephenie Meyer for telling her legion of tween-age fans that these things are all right. Thousands of girls get into abusive relationships without seeing it, and don't realize until afterward how they could've avoided it. But now, with Edward Cullen as the prime love example, girls will be LOOKING for men like him? I can't stomach that.

The most disturbing part of all this is the response girls have to being told Edward Cullen is a horrible example of a boyfriend. I went to the Breaking Dawn release party last August, wearing a Team Jacob shirt. Edward fans, whom I didn't know, would come up to me and make snide remarks about "that stupid dog." When I asked them what Jacob did wrong and pointed out what Edward did wrong, they would get red-faced angry and stomp away. People at this release party throughout the night continued to get angry because of my Team Jacob shirt. At first it was funny (and kind of still is...). Now, though, it's a little worrisome.

Again looking at the facts, Jacob was what should have been the "perfect" boyfriend. He accepted Bella for what/who she was; he helped her become a stronger person; he supported her and comforted her, never pushing her into any decisions about herself; her friends and family approved of him. And yet, despite his good qualities, the Edward fans HATE Jacob. HATE him. And none of them has ever given me a straight answer as to why. They can only say that Edward is better, Edward is better, Edward is better. Which, if you ask someone who is in an abusive relationship why they stay in it, they are so blinded by it that all they know is that he is the one. He is the one. He is the one.

I take advice from a lot of what I read and know that if I had read these books before my own relationship, it would've been a lot harder to let go and get out. Books like these give girls a battle cry:

"Edward did it, so it's all right."

"Maybe my boyfriend really does know what's best. Maybe there's some secret, magical reason he's doing this to me too."

THERE IS NOT a good reason. There never will be. And girls need to STOP being told this is all right behavior.

I know if any hardcore Edward fans read this, I'd probably get cyber-stoned. And maybe it's just my rather cynical view of the male species that makes me pick out every bad detail about Edward, but I honestly do like Jacob. He was the one thing Meyer did right. And he, not Edward, should be who all the tween-fans swoon over and hope for.

To end on a lighter note:

5 posts until Sara's 100th Post Extravanganza! And I have a pretty sweet contest in store. I'm very excited.

Conversation I had with mi prima today:
Nikki: *singing along to a Jonas Brothers CD* ...and I'll fly--
Me: The Jobros can fly?
Nikki: Yep, they have wings.
Me: *eyeroll* They're "angels," right?
Nikki: Nope. They have Red Bull.


lisa and laura said...

This is SUCH a great post, Sara. It's terrifying to think that teen girls see Edward Cullen as an ideal boyfriend. I mean, it's one thing when you're reading this stuff in your late 20's and 30's, but the thought of young (and potentially) impressionable girls reading this stuff and accepting it as reality is horrifying.

Don't we want our friends and daughters to read about strong women having functional relationships? Wait, I guess that might get a little boring, but I guess when you're writing for a YA audience you have to be careful or at least more aware of how you portray idealized relationships.

Kiersten White said...

I am SO with you on this one! I've had this discussion with many a fan, and most of them end up agreeing with me, admitting they had never noticed the abuse red flags because they were so caught up in the fantasy of it all.

See, I knew I liked you.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Sara. I think you should send this to a magazine or something, try to get it published.

Obviously, I've thought that Edward-Bella was a relationship strongly founded on the patriarchal 50s-housewife co-dependent model, and I chalk that up to Stephenie's own narrow perspective. But when you really look at it, you're right, it's totally abusive.

Really really well-said, well-written.

Natalie Whipple said...

You articulated yourself so well here. And you're completely right! It IS terrifying to think that girls think this behavior is romantic. I hope we can change this soon.

I made it through an abusive relationship, and I am personally determined to portray healthy relationships in my books.

Sara Raasch said...

Thanks, all! For some reason I was nervous about how this post would be received. You guys rock :)

L&L -- I think a lot of authors forget how impressionable young readers are. But, unfortunately, relationships like this one sell. I think it's because this is the only relationship girls are familiar with (the elusive boy whom they're in love with but treats them like crap/avoids them), so they read this book and think "See! It CAN happen!" Which begins the whole dangerous spiral.

Kiersten -- I wouldn't have noticed the red flags if I hadn't experienced them on my own (granted, I didn't experience ALL of the red flags. No one ever hid in my bedroom.) and probably would've gotten caught up in it all too. That's why it's so disgusting, that it's all hidden so well.

Aerin -- I think a lot of it is Stephenie's narrow perspective. And I don't mean to be condescending when I say that, but I honestly just believe she's much more sheltered in the relationship area. Obviously she's never been through any harsh relationships, thank God, but someone along the way to publication should've spoken up.

Natalie -- I'm determined to portray healthy relationships too. With my next book, my plan is to portray an Edward-like abusive character, but give him the ending he deserves. I know stories like that won't be as popular, but I'll feel better knowing I'm counteracting the insanity in some way.

Natalie Whipple said...

Hey now, I think it could be popular. I mean, how awesome is Void? lol. And you hated Charles, my very controlling villain/would-be lover. Because Luke rocks and stuff:)

Tara Maya said...

The other side of Edward's domineering is Bella's determination to throw herself into danger to prove herself to him. He tells her she should be afraid of him and avoid him and she takes this as a challenge to *prove* she doesn't care at all about her own safety because she's totally blinded by love.

Her self-martyrdom is her biggest strength but when you step back, you realize women have been taught over and over to be martyrs.

When I was fourteen I thought that way too. So I get the appeal. But you're right, it's actually sad.

I have a dark villain in my story, and I'm trying to balance making him "alpha male" enough to fit some of the traditional romance tropes, without making him into a domineering a-wipe. It's a fine line to walk.

Sara Raasch said...

Natalie -- True, true, Void rocked. I guess there is always the chance that books with positive messages will explode like Harry Potter or Twilight. *fingers crossed*

Tara Maya -- Bella is a wwhhhooolleee other story, isn't she? I haven't really looked that closely at her actions, but you're right. She's equally terrifying. Which, in a very sick way, makes her perfect for Edward. They're like the role model of a disasterous relationship.

Renee Collins said...

I am going to have to politely disagree, in some degree. Mainly in that I think that abusive is too strong a word to use. I've heard many people refer to the Edward/Bella relationship this way and it always mildly troubles me.

Controlling? Yeah. Edward definietely wears the pants, if you will, but abusive? Hmm. I don't think he quite gets there.

I mean, as Tara said, it's a fine line to walk. Many people may not find Edward appealing because of his overprotective, fairly controlling personality, however that really doesn't make it a full blown abusive relationship. We need to be careful throwing around words like that, IMHO.

If you look in a book or on a website that lists the warning signs of an abusive relationship, many "red flags" are not present. Edward never calls Bella names, or puts her down. He's certainly not forceful when it comes to sex, and he doesn't display dramatic, unstable mood shifts. Also, he bought her a car, whereas an abusive boyfriend/husband will often try to take that away from his girlfriend/wife.

Again, I'm not denying that there are controlling things that he does, and that definitely does not appeal to many people (self included). And, young girls should be taught to understand that relationships like that can be dangerous.

All I'm saying is that we use the "abusive" word carefully. Sometimes a type B female will date/marry a type A male. Why is that bad? Since when does every MC in a YA novel have to be super strong willed/snarky/stubborn? I mean, I almost cringe to think say that because it sounds so un PC of me. But, really, think about it. Some people are just more submissive. Is that bad? No. It's really not.

One last disclaimer. I was in an emotionally controlling/abusive relationship in High School, and I definitely see that they are a major problem for young girls. They are very common and girls need to be taught to recognize the warning signs and to stay away from guys like that. However, I just think that we shouldn't have a too narrow definition of what kind of relationship/what kind of personalities are "Okay."

Renee Collins said...

whoa, sorry for the novel. :)

Kiersten White said...

Wow. Renee, that is the best articulation justifying Edward that I've ever read.

Seriously. I'm reevaluating my stance right now. And while I still think a lot of the behaviors are destructive/unhealthy, you've got some really good points.

In fact, Sara, I was wondering why West (from Instinct) didn't bother you more. Because he does tend to be a little on the controlling side. I think the difference is that Jordan has a strong personality, too, and stands up to him. That, and he's dead sexy.

Anyway. I'm really enjoying this discussion.

Natalie Whipple said...

Yeah, Renee, good on ya, darling. This is such a fine line to walk. Bella is that "doormat" kind of character. That is made very clear. Is that wrong? Is everyone supposed to be strong/snarky?

It's a lot to think about. Because while I'm strong and all that, my husband is gentle, really. He'd let me walk all over him, though I'd never dream of it. Maybe opposites do attract.

Samantha said...

I just watched Twilight (finally). And having read the book, I have to say the movie was hi-larious.

(I did like the book, but didn't like Bella's weak character, which is probably why girls relate - insecurities and what have you).

First of all, I agree with your stance on Edward – made even clearer in the movie. He's pretty darn creepy, especially when brought to life with that stupid "wolf-man" hair.

Yeah, I like when guys stare at me, stalk me, and take me on piggy back rides into the trees...

Sorry, as far as fictional perfect boys (if it were a book) bring me Jake Ryan from sixteen candles any day.

Also, if we're going for hot Hollywood actors, I'll take me some James Franco over Robert.

And a question??? Does anybody know why Perez Hilton HATES Kristin Stewart? He really goes to town on her on his blog. Weirdness.

Sara Raasch said...

Renee -- I second Kiersten; no one has ever been able to explain/defend Edward's actions that well before, and I'm glad you did. You made a lot of very good points that I've never been able to get from any Edward fans. Finally, another POV!

I didn't mean to use the word abuse lightly; I think there are different levels of abuse, and that a lot of what Edward did could be considered a lighter level of abuse (with more serious levels of abuse being physical or intentional). Obviously he's not what most people think of when they hear "abusive boyfriend," but he does do things that can be very detrimental.

And not all MC's have to be snarky, absolutely not. I just wish, since Bella is such a role model and sooo many girls hold her up to such a standard, that Meyer would've made her a little stronger. As is, yes, she's very relatable and "normal," but by the end, she should've transformed into a stronger, more-in-control-of-her-life girl. Not necessarily snarky, but she needed to develop into something more than an average, shy, awkward girl to show girl-readers what they can become and to give them a role model bigger than someone who accepts a boyfriend's definition of her life.

Kiersten -- West did annoy me at first. But what won me over *slight spoiler for those who haven't read Instinct* was that he eventually let it go and accepted Jordan's decision. Yes, he did try to be controlling, but the mark of a none-crazy boyfriend is being able to say "You know what I would like, but I trust you to decide for you." And yes, being dead sexy did help his case a lot :)

Natalie -- It is a very fine line. And such a delicate subject matter. Which, at least, makes it fun to talk about :)

Sam -- The movie is so hilarious. I almost want to watch it again just to chuckle. And James Franco is DEFINITELY sexier than Robert. Especially after that article in our paper a few Sunday's ago...apparently Robert Pattinson doesn't shower? Ew.

Samantha said...


I can't remember, but did he call her a spider monkey in the book? 'cause he did in the movies. I've never laughed so hard in my life...

Oh, especially with Jasper's character! WTF? Couldn't they get better casting than that??? Seriously disturbing.

Sara Raasch said...

Sam -- No, he did not call her spidermonkey in the book. That was one the things a lot of the fans made fun off...

I actually liked who they cast as Jasper. Not the greatest character, but that actor is HOT.

Renee Collins said...

Sara, I definitely see what you are saying, and in many ways I agree with you. Edward is hardly the model boyfriend. And I definitely agree with your assessment that YA characters should perhaps rise above what is "normal" and encourage girls to be something more. Good points.

Also, I didn't mean to suggest that you used the abusive term lightly, so much as just a general observation.

Wyman Stewart said...

"Hot dang!", as Jethroe Bodine of the old Beverly Hillbillies might say. There's an honest-to-goodness discussion going on here with varied opinions. "YES!"

Haven't seen any of the movies mentioned or read the books. Isn't "Twilight" supposed to be a series of books and movies, so that characters are likely to evolve over time? Or am I coming in at the end of this series?

On the serious side, let me say, I am a guy speaking. I confess to being a little annoyed at two traits I find in ladies, but I guess it is built-in to a lady's genome to a certain degree: Women seem to harbor in their hearts that there really is a "Knight in shining armor" out there somewhere, with a "if only we could meet" wish, when it does not happen. The other trait is "I know you think he is a jerk, but underneath his is wonderful and misunderstood and only needs someone like me to change him."

I think these two admirable traits in women has led to more abused women in this life, than there will ever be "knights in shining armor" and "misunderstood guys who can change" combined in the whole history of the world from the beginning to the end of time.

Now, that I have proclaimed this annoyance I have with women, let me say this: In my humble opinion in a good relationship two people treat each other as "equals", while complementing the other's weaknesses. Within this framework, there are all kinds of personality types who can live together as happy couples. If you find yourself in a relationship where at the beginning things seem wrong, then get out of that relationship immediately; do not question yourself, attempt to overlook it, or think it is justified in any way. Guys rarely ever change their abusive ways for more than a finite, temporary amount of time.

Books, Music, and Movies teach many things they should not. One abuse I see in society today is, to be critical of some things worthy of criticism, is to be labeled, not PC. Some experts say "mental abuse" is worse than "physical abuse" in the long run.

I love a good debate, but this is a very serious subject. One that should be debated everywhere. I am a huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe, who was fascinated by the human mind. So am I. At different ages we see things in different ways, even then, things come down to the individual person. I think as long as we can be a free society that can debate Stephenie Meyer, "Twilight", and whoever made the movie, including the actors, we have hope the proper message will be delivered to all ages through various forums where that debate is heard.

This is one of the finest posts I have seen in a while on an internet blog. I agree, it should be published in a larger forum. You don't have to be perfect in every or even most details. You only need to spark people to respond. This you have done. Send your message to your local newspaper or a magazine that publishes criticism. Maybe you will start an even larger discussion.

In that way, the book(s), the movie, and thoughtful people will have done what any good work should do; make people think and speak up. Thank you for doing a service to society, through having strong feelings on issues raised by "Twilight". "Now, see what you have done, young lady!!!" ha ha ha You've brought our dull, boring, routine lives to a halt, and made us think. Suddenly, I am feeling very human. WOW!!!

Sara Raasch said...

Wyman -- Yay, a guy's perspective!

You bring up excellent points. I used to be under the "knight in shining armor" mindset, but have since learned that believing in that is a quick way to disappointment. A lot of women tend to forget that men are, in fact, just as human as we are. We expect them to sweep into our lives and fix everything, when in reality they themselves have issues too. It is a very dangerous mindset to be in, and does cause a lot of problems between genders. We set the bar so high, then when men fail to meet it (because they will), we put unnecessary pressure on them to live up to this perfect knight-in-shining-armor dream.

In our defense though, we have been bred to be this way. One word: Disney. There aren't many girls who weren't brought up on movies like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, movies that gave us that "prince" mindset. While I adore those movies still, they set very unreachable desires in our hearts. It takes a lot to come down from them.

Thanks for your input, Wyman, and thanks for the advice about how to get it published. I might hold off until the release for the next movie gets closer, as lot more hype will be generating around it. But I will definitely consider it!

A.S. King said...

I *heart* this post.
That is all.

Janssen said...

As a major Team Jacob fan and also as someone who becomes increasingly disturbed by Edward, I'll be directing everyone who challenges me to your post.

Sara Raasch said...

Thanks, Janssen! Glad to have another supporter :)

Reader Rabbit said...

Completely agree! I'd elaborate but I have to go to English class but you hit the nail on its head! Edward is not at all the type of boyfriend girls should aspire to have!

Kate said...

I agree with you! This is an amazing post.

Jordyn said...

I love this. I am a complete Jacob fan and agree with everything you said about Edward/abusive relationships.


SomewhatVoluble said...

I have to disagree slightly about Edward being abusive. I was Team Edward, but now I almost can't stand the books, so I'm looking at it from different angles.

Edward doesn't keep Bella FROM her family. He attempts to keep her out of harms way ... because he knows that if she is home by herself, she could be hurt by other vampires. Also, a relationship is about give and take ... as well as compromise. The only reason he tries to change her stance on marriage is because SHE wants to be a vampire (something he doesn't want her to become); therefore, he says "if you want that, you have to give something in return." It's completely fair, and she has a choice.

I do agree that he is way overprotective ... but it's obviously just his way of keeping her safe. Besides, he hasn't been with a girl in over 100 years, so he doesn't really know what to do. It isn't necessarily abusive of him. Abuse would be not giving her a choice, and he gives her the choice to do what she wants ... she just ultimately chooses him.

Besides, if any girl tries to find a boyfriend like Edward Cullen, they need to look at the big picture. Twilight is completely fake. Edward is a vampire, and he is not real. His characteristics? Not real. If a girl wants a boyfriend like Edward, she needs a serious talking to.

Now, if this were a real man, of course it would be considered creepy and abusive. Since he's a vampire and completely fictional, I think calling it abusive is extreme. If I were a vampire, and someone I loved was in danger, I'd probably be there to watch over them, too.

And any girl out there should know: there is no such thing as an Edward Cullen. There is no such thing as the perfect man. Every man has a flaw--or thousands. And honestly? That's what makes them real. If a girl is looking for someone that will watch them while they sleep, um... stop. In the fictional world where vampires exist, that's okay. But in real life? It's definitely not okay!

Just my two cents! :D

Ali Pixie said...

I think a LOT of abusers use the "oh, well, I'm protecting you for your own good" line. "I'm just trying to take care of you. can't you see you're not safe with these people/at your own house/in your own car/ and how much better it would be if you did things MY way?"

And then, once they have TOTAL CONTROL over every aspect of your life, they can do what they want. And that's what this post is about. A lot of what Edward does is the "grooming" period of an abuser, and I think that's really what this post is about.

The other thing that he does that's very classic abuser is telegraph to the girl, in advance, what she's getting herself into. "I'll just hurt you if you're with me." Edward says that over and over again. He threatens to hurt her. the whole series is about his potential to hurt her. And yes, it's fantasy, but that doesn't mean that it's not giving a lot of folks the wrong idea.

That being said, I know a ton of perfectly well-adjusted grown women who swooned over Flowers in the Attic as teens, and yet would be, in real life, utterly disgusted if their brothers attempted to rape them.

Sara Raasch said...

"A lot of what Edward does is the "grooming" period of an abuser, and I think that's really what this post is about."

I couldn't have summed it up better myself!

"And any girl out there should know: there is no such thing as an Edward Cullen. There is no such thing as the perfect man."

Yes, girls should know there are no perfect men in the world. But when a 13 year old reads these books, her thought process is NOT going to be: "Wow, Edward is SO perfect. But I shouldn't want a guy like that. Real men have flaws. Edward is just fictional." I know I sure didn't think like that when I was 13. At that age, you still heartily believe everything you read and haven't yet been jaded by anything. That's why it's so dangerous.

Kate said...

Thanks for the awesome post. I have a friend who is obsessed with Edward Cullen. She didn't get how Edward was abusive, so I had to stick with the insult of "a walking corpse".

But seriously, I don't like what Edward stands for. I'm not all that keen on Jacob either.