What does it mean to be a feminist heroine in the 21st century? What does it mean to be a feminist? What does it mean to be a woman?
These were the rather big questions that were going around my brain as I sat watching “Breaking Dawn: Part Two”, the last instalment of the Twilight Saga.
According to some, “Twilight” is a story of female empowerment. In this last film, the heroine Bella Swan becomes a vampire, can fight to the death, and is stronger and faster than many of the men that surround her.
Is this what it takes to be a feminist heroine? Who knows.
There are certainly elements of the rest of the films that make me think twice: before becoming a vampire, Bella requires rescuing from a number of terrors, in true damsel-in-distress fashion. The thought of her having a career or going to college is ignored. Her sole purpose is to marry Edward — the vampire and love of her life. The whole story revolves around the consolidation of their relationship and the trials they must face before they can live happily ever after.
To stop the rant in mid-flow, I want to ask the question, where do romance and love and happily-ever-after fit into feminism?
I rail against the myths propagated by Walt Disney as much as the next person. Preaching to young girls that their sole aspiration should be to find a good, wealthy man makes me want to kick things. But is love in some way anti-feminist? If we compromise for a partner, if that partner is a man, are we letting the sisterhood down? If we choose domestic life and marriage are we bad feminists? Is there a place for “traditional female roles” in the feminist discourse?
I imagine the main reason “Twilight” got me in a muddle about all these things is because actually we don’t know what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. I am not advocating that we write down a list of qualities and hold women accountable to them. But I am raising the issue. When critics proclaim films and literature to be “feminist” or “anti-feminist”, debates still rage about the validity of these claims. Why? Because does becoming physically stronger than a man equal empowerment? Does sacrificing everything for love make you un-feminist?
This is a call for a discussion about the role of love in feminism. I don’t know the answer, but I do know I was smiling when Bella and Edward got their happy-ever-after.