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readergirlz is a literacy and social media project for teens, awarded the National Book Foundation's Innovations in Reading Prize. The rgz blog serves as a depot for news and YA reviews from industry professionals and teens. As volunteers return full force to their own YA writing, the organization continues to hold one initiative a year to impact teen literacy. All are welcome to "like" us on Facebook!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Defending Bella, What a Girl Wants

Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray has posted her latest discussion in the "What a Girl Wants" series. This time she asked us about vampires. I stuck with my position, rgz! Here you go:












Lorie Ann Grover
: "I don’t typically read horror, so I can’t comment on the general trend in the vamp books, but I have read the Twilight series. Awhile back, Martha Brockenbrough, author and MSN Cinemama, wrote an article with my opposing point of view: Does Twilight Suck the Brains Out of Teens? She fell on the yes side, and I fell on the no. Going back and reading my entry, I still agree with my position. Edward’s the hot, superhero in teen lit who raises the bar for today’s boyfriends. His looks aside, here's a quote:

“Note how completely enamored Edward is of Bella. He sees her weaknesses and finds her humanity endearing. He listens to every word. He never pressures her for sex. She pursues him. Into that perfect mix, pour danger, that alluring trademark of any great hero, just enough for tension to vibrate. We cheer as he denies himself because of his passion for her.”

Is Bella a passive role model for teen girls? I still say she can be seen as a positive role model. She isn’t consumed about her appearance. She’s strong in school and anticipates college. She thinks of others, acting with generosity to family and friends. She solves crises through her actions. So she’s attracted to a dangerous boy. She weighs her possibilities and acts.

In 2007, we hosted Stephenie Meyer at readergirlz. Next month we are featuring Graceling by Kristin Cashore.



Katsa is a very different heroine, but the sparks fly when she crosses Po. Who doesn’t like a little romance? I obviously do."

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20 comments:

Morgan said...

I'm a teenage girl and i think she's a great role model. I love how she knows what she wants and isn't afraid to do anything to get to that point. She's super brave and overall a great person to look up to.

Color Online said...

I think Kekla Magoon and Royce provide valid criticism of the work.

I think Bella is clumsy, whiny and passive. Everything revolves around being with Edward and I don't find that positive or attractive. Honestly, the girl was always needing to be rescued.

I think the story reinforces the idea that to be truly happy is to have an Edward in your life and I don't agree that.

I like a little fantasy. I like romance and it can even be cheesy, but no thanks.

Diana Dang said...

I strongly disagree about Bella being a role model in any shape or form. It would take forever if I rant but she is just the kind of girl I wouldn't want to be friends with at all.

Color Online said...

Diana,

Let me bow at your feet.

lanna-lovely said...

I don't think Bella is--or should ever be--a role model for young girls.

Stephenie tells us that she is smart and things like that, but she doesn't exactly show us that in the books, in fact, it's quite the opposite... aside from mentioning that Bella like's to read a few classic books and the fact that she isn't a complete idiot in bio (to be fair, the stuff that they did in the biology scene was really easy), she doesn't really portray her as a good student.

In New Moon, she doesn't really give a damn about anything, especially school and as soon as she meets Edward, she stopped caring about things like going to university (they actually argue about that in Eclipse, he wants her to go to uni, she doesn't even care about applying - he ends up filling out her applications for her and she only got accepted because of the Cullen's money.)

She is kind of a doormat when it comes to Edward as well... in the books, it's sweet and somewhat understandable, but translate their relationship into real life and that is really not an ideal or good relationship to be in -- young girls shouldn't want that or be using that as the example of the perfect relationship.

I can see where feminists are coming from when they say that Twilight and Bella are anti-feminist... on one hand, it is what Bella wants, so in the book her character isn't anti-feminist but as a role model? Yeah, she kind of is -- her only role seems to be to cook and clean for Charlie, to be a doormat when it comes to Edward and she gets married and knocked up right out of high school.

I'm tired, so I think my points may be a bit all over the place but what I'm trying to say that in the Twilight universe, Bella isn't so bad but translated into real life she is really not a good role model at all.

She is also a major Mary Sue, meaning that although she gets her rainbows and butterflies ending and everyone either loves her in the book or they're jealous of her, a person like her IRL wouldn't have things work out so well for them.

She has a lot of really bad personality flaws too, like she comes across as very shallow... and although we're told that she's not, again, Stephenie doesn't really show that seeing as nearly every other word is about Edward's looks and she "loves" him and obsesses over him before she even knows him and she obsesses over how she wants to be beautiful like he is by becoming a vampire and she goes on about the Cullen's attractiveness a lot too.

The whole story comes across as very... "you can't be truly happy until you're married with children" (in that order) which a few people have told me is a Mormon belief so it's understandable that it's in the story (like the no sex before marriage thing) and there's nothing wrong with that but still, it's not an ideal thing to have young girls believe.

I'll stop rambling now, I'm way too opinionated on this subject. =/

Lorie Ann Grover said...

I appreciate all your comments from so many points of view. Just like Colleen's roundup. There's room for all readers!

Color Online said...

Ah, so I'm not the old woman who doesn't get it. lol Thanks, lanna.

L.J. Boldyrev said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Valerie said...

The one thing that I've always found interesting about Bella and Edward is the fact that technically, the way Stephanie has set up her vampire lore, we don't know if Bella is REALLY in love with Edward. He says it himself, he is made to entice her. Bella is not the only girl to swoon whenever Edward is around she's just the only girl that Edward is actually interested in. In one sense, her obsession with how attractive she finds him makes sense because how can she not be? It's pat of his makeup, and on top of that, he's actually flirting with her too. I've always thought that part of Edward's hesitance to be with her is not just that he's a monster and she's too good for him, but also his concern that she is simply attracted to him because he's so attractive. To a certain extent, her "I love you"s don't really mean anything until she's also a vampire and no longer in his thrall.

I guess none of this really answers the role model question. I am not really much of a person for turning people or characters into role models. I'd rather thing of them as just being whatever complex package they are. That said, I would say there are things Bella does that are worth respecting on some level. I admire anyone who will fight for their dreams, and not let some silly boy tell them they can't handle them. Even if what she wanted was sort of selfish (totally blowing off her fairly two-dimensional, but still, loving parents) and not necessarily the conventionally wisest (blowing off her education and any other goals she may have once had to be a productive member of society) she fought for it, and that takes courage, and that's something I think girls need to see. And it's kind of what I took away as the overall point of the overly long series.

You know, don't let anyone tell you you can't have the life you want, fight for it! Even if you only think you want it because you're being seduced by flowery breath or whatever it is a seriously emo vampire gives off to make him so desireable.

Watery Tart said...

I definitely fall into the 'no' role model camp. I feel like Bella was written to be SO BLAND that every teenage girl in American could just stick themselves in there instead (if the hot Vampire could love HER, he could definitely love ME). She has no personality whatsoever.

And the points about a role model being a person who goes for what she wants is all well and good, but a role model also needs to be smart enough to want (and work toward) healthy things... a self reliant future, for instance, instead of a mutually obsessive love.

the pink flamingo said...

She really doesn't seem to anticipate college. It's just something that Edward wants her to do before becoming a vampire.

I don't think she's a good role model. She's more of a 1950's girl put into modern day clothes.

I agree with Diana and lanna-lovely.

Silence is Golden, But Ducktape is Silver said...

To me, I'll always see Bella as a weak character, because she got everything she wanted and more but never had to sacrifice anything for it... that always bothered me.

laianna said...

Well I don't think this person even has their facts right.

1) Bella is obsessed with how plain she is, which completely contradicts the "not consumed about her appearance" part. She often compares herself to how cute Alice is or how beautiful Rosalie is compared to her. When one of the Alaska girls (Tina? Tanya? Argh, I can't remember the name, the strawberry blonde...) almost poses a threat to her, she obsesses for a bit on how pretty she must be compared to herself. When she finally gets vamped, one of her first actions is to look at herself in the mirror and think -- and I quote -- "I guess my brain will never work right; at least I'm pretty!" Great message to send impressionable young girls.

2) As for Bella being strong in school and anticipating college, umm... She's only strong in school during New Moon because Edward left her and that's all she's concentrating on to show how much she misses him. She doesn't care much about her education and her dearest ambition is to become a vampire with Edward. HE is the one who keeps bringing up college. Bella herself wants to wait a few decades before she decides to get an education.

3) Bella thinks about others? When? She manipulates Edward and Jacob both into doing her wishes (for example when she persuades Edward to stay with her during the fight in Eclipse) and often disregards her school friends for the prettier and more exclusive Cullens. She barely listens when her friend Jessica talks, doesn't give any of the nice boys in her grade a chance and leads Jacob on for like 3 books without even noticing it. Don't even let me start on how rudely she treats her parents. She calls her parents "Charlie" and "Renee" (admittedly, not to their faces, but still), lies to them alarmingly often and also puts their safety in danger simply by dating Edward. In her suicidal phase in New Moon, she had no consideration at all for the father who loved her. She put him through her actions and though Stephenie Meyer claims she behaved this way to show Charlie she was okay (!!!) I think that must have been extremely painful for him not to know what was going on or how to help. By hurting herself she was hurting everyone else around her, especially him. She was annoyed with his concern and would have happily died if she'd been presented with such an opportunity.

4) She solves crisis? Umm... When was this? Did we read the same books? As far as I can remember it's always been a certain male lover doing the saving and solving. I actually don't remember there EVER being a crisis she's even remotely helped in saving, unless you count her love shield thing in Breaking Dawn, but even that wasn't much, seeing as the "crisis" in question was brought upon by her irresponsible sex/teen pregnancy and wasn't much of a threat when the confrontation actually arrived. Furthurmore, she behaves in exactly the way she doesn't want to-- by getting "hitched" and pregnant immediately after high school. Go figure.

Lincy said...

Role model or not, one reason so many readers relate to Bella is that she feels real. She's wasn't created to be a role model. She was created as a flawed character in a story that was first for the author's own pleasure and is now delivering enjoyment to millions--and getting teens reading. I respond to this story more than almost anything else I've ever read b/c of how closely I personally relate to Bella. In high school, I always felt ugly, less interesting than everyone else, awkward, and happier reading a book than trying to talk to people. It doesn't mean I wasn't smart, or responsible, or caring. It's just something that so many teen girls (and probably guys) go through.

Remember being a teen and having that first painful crush? Hardly being able to think about anyone or anything else? Even if you personally don't, a lot of people do. It isn't ideal. We may wish we hadn't behaved like a fool over some guy (or girl). But we did. And teens--and many adults--do. I did. And I've never read any book (which doesn't mean there aren't many out there) that described the emotional roller coaster as realistically as Twilight, and especially New Moon.

Bella may or may not be for you. But there's no denying the power of the Twilight saga. Just check Bookscan every week.

Lorie Ann Grover said...

Still stand by my words, remembering reading a book is half what you bring to the table. This is how I can see Bella.

Thanks for every contribution!

Color Online said...

Lorie,

I agree, a great deal of what we get from a read is based on what we bring to it. I think some of us don't realize that literature is two-way communication. Just because you don't physically interact with the writer doesn't mean you aren't connecting. Your response to a work is part of the aim. The writer may never know what you take from a read but the aim is that you connect.

Regarding Bella, I for one am glad to finally hear so many teens present a different take on Bella. Frankly, I was tired of adults and teens acting as if our opinions were invalid. And there are plenty of fans who see anything other than praise as unfounded and false.

While I don't share the praise for Bella, I don't feel compelled to persuade others to accept my point of view which is very different from anytime I have participated in a discussion with Bella/Twilight fans.

I want others to hear me out and not insist that their view is the right view.

Glad you posted this.

annie said...

I think Lincy makes a very good point. Even though I don't like Bella as a character very much, it's easy to relate to parts of her personality (like thinking your crush will never like you back because you're so lame and he's so awesome).

Even so, I liked Bella most in the first book, when she had a little more sass. After finally connecting with Edward, she loses any spark I thought she had. Not quite the same as being a role model, but I tend to enjoy characters with a little more personality.

(Great debate, though. Love all the comments!)

GirlGriot said...

Great conversation. I'm on the 'no' side as far as seeing Bella as a role model ... for the reasons many have listed here.

And I'll agree with "Lincy" that the series has power and is enormously popular (with readers of all ages) ... but popularity doesn't equal strong writing, and that's my issue with these books.

The Twilight series is (yes, I'm going to say it) really. badly. written. I'm annoyed by that because the stories (except for the almost cop-out, too-easy ending of Breaking Dawn) are compelling enough to make them fun reads. But the writing is just not good. The poor writing gets in the way of the story sometimes, so I have to wonder if it also gets in the way of my perception of Bella as a character.

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