“I am powerful. I can do anything. I am Bella.”
When my roommate used this phrase to describe her feeling of empowerment after watching the last installment of Twilight, I immediately channeled my inner Gilmore Girl and thought “oy with the poodles already.” This was quickly followed by a knee-jerk, face palm reaction.
For those of you out of the pop culture loop, Bella Swan is a normal (read blank-slate) girl that moves to Forks, Wash. and falls into a relationship with a sparkling vampire. There’s also a best friend/potential love interest werewolf to complete this nightmarish love triangle.
And that’s it. Nothing more. She gets married and has a shimmery baby, end of story.
Oh, but I forgot the part where Bella leaps off a cliff just to hear her twinkling vampire love that has forsaken her. Seriously, she flings herself into the icy water for a delusion. That same behavior would get her a nice long visit to a padded room in the real world.
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t find this type of behavior particularly empowering or even understandable. She’s a stage-five clinger with dependency issues that somehow found her way into the role of leading lady.
However, my real problem with this type of character is not that she exists, but that the glorified version of a helpless female is one of the few recent literary heroines to gain a mainstream base.
Yeah, sure we now have post-apocalyptic archer Katniss Everdeen, who fights her way out of the Hunger Games and becomes the symbol of a rebellion. But even the tough cookie of Katniss gets a love triangle of her own.
What is it about females that are so hard to write characters for without making us trophies for the hero? Even when a lucky lass manages to pull off a main focus, she ends up with some kind of love story. Just ask Disney.
Are we telling young girls that she can be a heroine so long as she has an interesting love story to back it up? Or maybe that little girl is learning that the only interesting role for a female in mainstream culture is the femme fatale?
Either way, that’s not healthy or accurate.
How do we expect girls to be brimming with self-confidence when their role models are lacking this characteristic themselves? I can’t be the only one that finds this concerning.
But maybe the real question lies not with the types of characters portrayed but why these characters are so frequently seen.
My guess is characters like Ms. Swan provide an easy window of escape. I mean, how can they not when she has basically no personality? The way Bella and many other female characters are written makes it beyond easy to insert yourself into the story. There is little complexity to compete with the love story unfolding in your head.
Books like Twilight play off of popular culture’s tendencies to simplify plots and people but take it to a whole new level. Not because this over-simplified tale centered in the gothic needed less complexities, but because it is simply easier to avoid them.
But maybe it’s just me. What can I say, I like my stories filled with complexities.