>> Friday, October 2, 2009
I have got to give full points to Stephenie Meyers. Although I liked the Twilight books, I didn’t find them particularly well written and, each time I’ve read them, I’ve found more irksome details. But, as I’ve mentioned before, I very much liked the characters; sorry, I very much liked a character, Edward. Still, I’ve got to give credit where credit’s due. Few books have sparked as many interesting philosophical discussions for me, especially given its minimal philosophical depth.
My pal, Phyl, from Bookishgal, found a video contrasting Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Edward, the diamond vampire. (The huge irony in this is that I've always found vampires a silly concept and I've yet to read any book or see any movie that changed that. It is, in fact, Edward's human characteristics - and those of his family - that make him appealing to me.) She also made the statement, "It’s about time we stopped people trying to turn our young women back into 1950s helpless little man-dominated wifies."
There are plenty of problems with the Twilight books, don't get me wrong. But, in my opinion, turning women in to domesticated animals isn't one of them. Edward is overprotective, admittedly, and even tries to be domineering, but fails. He tries to be the one to call all the shots "for her own good," but she ends up calling most of them (with regards to herself and their relationship) and he learns why his earlier attitude was wrong. Now, someone tell me another book or series of books that has that as a central theme that has been accepted and embraced by one of the groups most in need of that lesson - teenage girls. The weakness, in this case, has to do with being human (and Bella's father is the recipient of his fair share of protection) more than being female - though that's largely the side effect of making vampires foolishly indestructible. Female vampires are demonstrably just as capable and a point is made of the use of intelligence, diplomacy, agility, and speed instead of brute force. In the end, though, (spoiler) all the vampire's are dependent on Bella's capabilities for survival. And, wait, there's more.
Edward and his family can be seen as a metaphor for all the arguments people use to excuse violent and predatory behavior and, the absolute core of their family (and especially Edward) is self-control, responsibility, self-restraint. Courtesy, consideration, patience, tolerance, all are highlighted throughout the series without the books becoming preachy, without making the books unpalatable for young minds. *Smacks head* Yeah, we wouldn't want any of our children to soak up any of that kind of thinking.
In fact, the worst thing Edward probably does in the whole series is sneak into her room to watch her sleep. Admittedly, that's hardly the kind of behavior we should encourage but, and this is important, he never does anything to her, which is what I suspect the real worry we'd have if someone did this to our own children. His unsanctioned forays into her room last all of a chapter or two after which he is there at her invitation only (and he tells her exactly what he's been doing). Could he kill or hurt her? Yeah, but, as a vampire, he could do so anywhere.
A big part of the problem, I think is the perception that chilvalry=chauvinism and I think that's a real pity. Chivalrous, according to Merriam Webster, is "marked by honor, generosity, and courtesy and/or marked by gracious courtesy and high-minded consideration especially to women." Personally, I think that's a fine thing to encourage (for both boys and girls, I might add) and I'll explain why in a bit. But first, I'll expound on why I think chivalry's considered sexist.
See, an apparent chivalry once served as a mask for subjugation of women. In the interest of being protected against ourselves, others had to control everything about us, or so they said. Except none of that really had to do with our (women's) benefit and, truthfully, it had nothing to do with true chivalry. Unfortunately, as a side effect of women refusing to wander about as doormats any more, they've eschewed chivalry entirely and I, personally, think that's not a good thing.
Why? A few reasons, not the least of which is that, physically (and in general) women aren't stronger than men. Women, as a whole, are dependent on men behaving themselves to walk around safely. Being stronger doesn't mean men are better. Women have their own strengths and own capabilities, but no amount of women's lib outweighs reality - most men have more upper body strength and, therefore, an edge in hand to hand. So, if women don't want to be raped and killed either they need to move out to a secluded island with just their fellow Amazons, travel in armed bands, or discourage men from becoming monsters. I opt for the latter.
Truth is, if the pendulum swings too far the other way (as I fear it has) and we tell everyone everywhere their fate is entirely in their own hands, then, again, we absolve the violent, the rapists, the manipulative, the users, of their responsibilities. We change the questions from "How did you go out without an escort?" to "Why didn't you fight harder?" when the one who should be scrutinized are thosewho victimized them, those so self-absorbed that they do nothing but serve their own interests with no concern for others. The ones committing the crimes should be in the hot seat, first, foremost, always, NOT the victims.
Note that I say all this as a woman whose spent her career in what is often considered a male-dominated field, who writes characters who frequently kick serious butt, largely using intelligence as opposed to brute force (fighting smarter), characters who are as apt to do the rescuing as be rescued. Because chivalry, treating people with courtesy, honor, respect, and consideration, is a good thing for people to do (of any gender). And, if we can get to the part where we all accept it, where it becomes the defacto norm, much of today's ugliness will be all that easier to spot if only because of the contrast.
Because we can do much more together than we can individually and that's the real reason chivalry should not die. There's nothing wrong with having my husband lay the flooring and open pickle jars any more than there's anything wrong with me doing paperwork or do the bulk of the writing we do together. Cooperation is using each others strengths to fill in the blanks, to make the whole more than a sum of the parts. Because a team isn't successful if everyone's just looking out for number one.