You may have heard that the new 10th Anniversary edition of Twilight came with Life and Death, a version in which Stephanie Meyer swapped everyone’s gender in an effort to show how super not sexist the original is. Bella is now Beau, and Edward now Edythe. Meyer bemoans that everyone dismisses Bella as a damsel in distress, and this is how she will show that it has nothing to do with Bella being a girl. Analyzing gender in media is actually a favourite hobby of mine, so challenge accepted, Meyer.
I haven’t read Twilight before, exactly, nor have I watched the movies. I did in fact read the first manga volume and also the Reasoning With Vampires blog, but that was years ago now. I am going to try to focus purely on the gender dynamics at play here, so I will try not to harp too much on anything else. This first post will examine the first half of the books, and I will follow up with a second. If I feel inclined, I may do a third follow up post to conclude how I felt about the books as a whole. Honestly, I went into this with a pretty open mind. Surely, Twilight can’t be as bad as everyone has told me it was. Just because something is popular with teenager girls, doesn’t make it awful.
Right? Let’s find out.
So in Life and Death, every character has had their gender flipped. Well, except the parents, Charlie and Renee. Meyer explains in the introduction that she didn’t want to change the gender of Bella’s parents, because she didn’t believe in 1987 a male Renee could get custody of Bella. I’d argue the point with cases where fathers got custody in the eighties, and point out that most of the time when fathers fight for custody they get it, and a female Charlie is still a workaholic Charlie who could be painted as a bad mother, but she makes those points moot in the very first chapter where she notes that Charlie never fought for custody. So why get on her soap box about custody in the intro? Could she not imagine a mother, even one still madly in love with their ex, even a dedicated cop who is barely home anyway, deciding that the child is better off with his father? Why would a female Charlie fight for custody when a male Charlie decided that Renee needed Bella more? It’s okay that she didn’t swap their genders. It’s her book, she just could have said “because I didn’t want to” and I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. So why rant about how courts don’t respect fathers? Christ, it’s just the intro and I’m already annoyed.
So what’s the difference between Beau and Bella, besides gender? Well, Beau gives more description. You can see the difference on the very first page. Bella says she’s wearing her favourite top. Beau is wearing a Monty Python t-shirt he got two Christmases ago and it’s too small now. Meyer says in the intro that he is more “OCD” than Bella, but there is actually nothing to suggest that. In the original book, there’s larges segments of banter, line after line of dialogue with no description beyond using the word “chagrin” more than anyone should. In Life and Death, Beau gives more description between lines of dialogue. It honestly doesn’t convey that he’s more “OCD” or pays more attention to detail than Bella, just that this time around Meyer knew it looked sparse and wanted to fix it up. For example, the scene where Edward explains that he is dangerous, and Bella says she doesn’t believe that he is bad. In Twilight, the scene is mostly just line after line of the two chatting. In Life and Death, Beau thinks a lot more between the lines. How Edythe speaks and how Beau feels about what she is saying breaks up the banter. It’s a pretty serious conversation and it isn’t that Bella doesn’t have a thought in her head-she is supposed to be a very intelligent girl- it’s just very poor writing on the part of Meyer. We get more insight from Beau and, because of that, more drama. And no use of the word “chagrin”, if you were wondering.
Another major difference is their personalities and demeanor. Some may say that Bella has no personality to speak of, but I couldn’t disagree more. Bella is catty and judgmental of her friends. She comes off as arrogant and snobbish. She’s not like the other girls because she had to grow up fast to take care of her own mother. She has no time for your nonsense dances or snow ball fights. She flirts with Jacob just to get the top secret Native American folk tale he’s hiding.
Beau does not. Beau is kinder, and only antagonizes his friends when they provoke him. He is open and honest with Julie, Jacob’s counterpart. He does have “man codes”, however, unspoken rules between him and his male friends that mystify the female characters and readers alike. Jeremy, for example, finds Beau in violation of man codes for not sleeping with Edythe and choosing to sit with Edythe at lunch. The man code is, apparently, sleeping and then dumping women. That is very cynical for a high school nerd, and it’s almost as if it was written just to insert more drama into this dull, dull story. Jessica, like a good girlfriend, is very happy for Bella and calls her asking for details. Beau does not talk to his friends on the phone. Cell phones aren’t a thing yet at his school, but calling and talking to friends is clearly only for girls. Bella also has more insights than just her romances, unlike Beau. He does not write his essay on misogyny in Macbeth like Bella does, for example. Personally, I kind of like Bella better. She comes off as more confident and sure of herself. She does think she’s out of Edward’s league and that she likes him more than he likes her, and she is equally quick to fall head over heads for a person she’s only had a few conversations with, but she does sometimes think about other things than Edward. Beau is Bella with all her flaws removed and replaced with nothing but thoughts of how much he loves Edythe. If Bella’s personality has all the flavour of cold buttered toast, Beau is a boiled white potato.
For all the talk of how Beau is more “OCD”, all that equals to is one scene where he cleans the kitchen while Bella reads Wuthering Heights. Speaking of, they like different books. When Bella reads a Jane Austen anthology, Beau flips through 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea because presumably reading Jane Austen would violate man codes and cause his dick to fall off. This and the Monty Python t-shirt are the only discrepancies in their taste. They both enjoy classical music (”Clair de Lune” is their favourite and omg the vampire’s fave too!), and aside from two film references and the shirt, they do not name anything from modern media. It actually weirds me out. They both listen to a CD that their stepfather Phil gave to them, and find they enjoy it a lot and they talk about it with their vampire partners. But they never name this band. I’m confused why she didn’t just pick one, like say Smashing Pumpkins or Pearl Jam or any other band that Phil may have grown up with, and many teens still seem to enjoy that era of rock music. I can see Edythe really liking We Only Come Out At Night. But no, it’s just the band Phil recommended.
So, back to the original premise. Bella is a damsel in distress, but Meyer would argue that the situation would be the same if she were a male character. Does that hold up?
Well, it might have if she did not change the circumstances. Let’s take a look at a scene that many find indicative of romanticizing an abusive relationship:
We were near the parking lot now. I veered left, toward my truck. Something caught my jacket, yanking me back.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he asked, outraged. He was gripping a fistful of my jacket in one hand.
I was confused. “I’m going home.”
“Didn’t you hear me promise to take you safely home? Do you think I’m going to let you drive in your condition?” His voice was still indignant.
“What condition? And what about my truck?” I complained.
“I’ll have Alice drop it off after school.” He was towing me toward his car now, pulling me by my jacket. It was all I could do to keep from falling backward. He’d probably just drag me along anyway if I did.
“Let go!” I insisted. He ignored me. I staggered along sideways across the wet sidewalk until we reached the Volvo. Then he finally freed me—I stumbled against the passenger door.
“You are so pushy!” I grumbled.
“It’s open,” was all he responded. He got in the driver’s side.
“I am perfectly capable of driving myself home!” I stood by the car, fuming. It was raining harder now, and I’d never put my hood up, so my hair was dripping down my back.
He lowered the automatic window and leaned toward me across the seat. “Get in, Bella.”
I didn’t answer. I was mentally calculating my chances of reaching the truck before he could catch me. I had to admit, they weren’t good.
“I’ll just drag you back,” he threatened, guessing my plan.
I tried to maintain what dignity I could as I got into his car. I wasn’t very successful—I looked like a half-drowned cat and my boots squeaked.
“This is completely unnecessary,” I said stiffly.
Bella faints at school. Edward decides to take her home. She starts to walk to her truck. He grabs her. She protests. He does not let her go. She screams at him to let her go. He drags her to the car. She complies, knowing she can’t get away. When he drops her off, she finds her car keys are missing from her pocket. The truck appears in her driveway sometime that night.
Well, that certainly shows that Edward is disrespectful of boundaries. Really not cool, dude. But of course, I’d have a problem with this scene even if the genders were reversed. But that’s not what happens with Beau and Edythe.
We were at the parking lot now, so I angled toward my truck. Something caught my jacket and yanked me back half a step.
“Where are you going?” she asked, surprised. Her little hand had a fistful of my jacket. She didn’t look like she’d even planted her feet. For a second I couldn’t answer. She denied being a superhero, but my mind couldn’t seem to frame it another way. It was like Supergirl had left her cape at home.
I wondered if it was supposed to bother me that she was so much stronger than I was, but I hadn’t been insecure about things like that for a long time. Ever since I’d outgrown my bullies, I’d been fairly well satisfied. Sure, I’d like to be coordinated, but it didn’t bother me that I wasn’t good at sports. I didn’t have time for them anyway, and they’d always seemed a little childish. Why get so worked up about a bunch of people chasing a ball around? I was strong enough that I could make people leave me alone, and that was all I wanted.
So, this small girl was stronger than I was. A lot. But I was willing to bet she was stronger than everyone else I knew, kids and adults alike. She could take Schwarzenegger in his prime. I couldn’t compete with that, and I didn’t need to. She was special.
“Beau?” she asked, and I realized I hadn’t answered her question.
“I asked where you were going.”
“Home. Or am I not?” Her expression confused me.
She smiled. “Didn’t you hear me promise to take you safely home? Do you think I’m going to let you drive in your condition?”
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you have a weak vasovagal system.”
“I think I’ll survive,” I said. I tried to take another step toward my truck, but her hand didn’t free my jacket.
I stopped and looked down at her again. “Okay, why don’t you tell me what you want me to do?”
Her smile got wider. “Very sensible. You’re going to get into my car, and I am going to drive you home.”
“I have two issues with that. One, it’s not necessary, and two, what about my truck?”
“One, necessary is a subjective word, and two, I’ll have Archie drop it off after school.”
I was distracted by the casual reminder that she had siblings—strange, pale, beautiful siblings. Special siblings? Special like her?
“Are you going to put up a fuss?” she asked when I didn’t speak.
“Is there any point in resisting?”
I tried to decipher all the layers to her smile, but I didn’t get very far. “It warms my cold heart to see you learning so quickly. This way.”
She dropped her fistful of jacket and turned. I followed her willingly. The smooth roll of her hips was just as hypnotic as her eyes. And there wasn’t a downside to getting more time with her.
Beau faints at school. Edythe decides to take him home. He starts to walk to his truck. She grips his jacket. He meditates on how a girl is so much stronger than he is. He protests, she reasons with him and promises to have her brother Archie drive his truck home. Besides, he’s in no state to drive. Beau agrees, and gets in her car willingly. When he gets home, he realizes that he forgot to give Edythe his keys, but they are gone from his pocket. Later that night, his truck appears in the driveway.
The difference here might escape notice if you don’t read them side by side. Beau is far more willing and Edythe more respectful. It was perhaps not cool of her to take the keys from his pocket, and she is rather condescending, but they had agreed that she would take them and have the truck returned. Meyer gives Beau agency, something Edward took away from Bella.
A major difference that appears is in the attack scene, one of the few action scenes in the first half of the book. In Chapter 8, Beau/Bella goes to Port Angeles, Beau to see a movie with friends and Bella to help her friends pick out dresses. Beau/Bella while waiting decide to wander off to look for a bookstore, and runs into trouble. Bella is accosted by strange men in an alleyway. Beau however runs into people he’s met before. In Chapter One, he accidentally bump into a man with tattoos (that’s how we know he’s bad) at the airport, and that man and his girlfriend remember him MONTHS later and decide to murder him on a whim. I don’t know if she thought this would make it more interesting, or if she thought men are immune to stranger danger. By being male, did Meyer think that Beau needed a complex reason to get attacked by a stranger? If you were wondering, men are actually more likely to experience violence from strangers in public than women are. When women experience violence, it’s typically at the hands of someone they know. This could of course be an attempt to make the story more interesting, but it just makes it more convoluted and unbelievable. At least the scene with Bella is over quickly, instead of torturing the reader slowly.
In changing these circumstances, it feels like Meyer is sweeping the sexism under the rug. Nothing to see here, see how it still works with a male protagonist? It’s not sexist anymore because what made it sexist was changed.
This post is already long, but I just want to quickly mention a few more amusing changes made. In the restaurant scene, Edward offers a cold Bella his coat. Edythe offers Beau her scarf that she then has to explain is actually a man’s scarf and make a big show about how Beau isn’t actually wearing women’s clothes. Because Edythe wearing a unisex coat and offering it would be a bit too much, apparently. She also tries to write Beau as a little more sexually aware than Bella, and it falls flat on it’s face. The closest Beau gets to looking at Edythe in a sexual way is when he has a nightmare where she’s wearing a low cut dress, but never mentions her cleavage. No, Edward does not wear that dress, nor does he even wear a ridiculous cape in Bella’s dream, sadly. Beau checks out Edythe’s hips as she walks away, then he clutches his pearls when he sees Royal with his arm around Eleanor in public. He takes great care not to stare the one time, ONE time he ever takes note of Edythe’s breasts. It’s like Ned Flanders wrote this thing. I can see her collarbone! So scandalous!
Well brave readers, if you read this far, I hope you join me next time for part two!