Twilight Bites: How Dazzling Vampires Distort Masculinity

Published in the North Central Chronicle on April 24, 2009.

Let’s pretend I’m a teenage girl and that you’re my best friend. I’ve just told you about this guy I started dating. He’s perfect in every way, I say. He stares at me while I sleep, he alienates me from my friends and, among other things, he drives a wedge between me and my single dad.


Oh, you mean that those aren’t actually good things? Edward Cullen, the lead vampire from Twilight, does all of those things to Bella, the main character in the film, and yet women swoon over him. Why?


Let’s start with the superficial. The novel describes Edward as “impossibly beautiful,” his body as hard and cold as marble. He’s impossibly smart too: he plays and composes classical music and has two degrees from Harvard. And, like any good bad boy, he drives really, really nice cars really, really fast.

Bella goes on and on about how mysterious and seducing and perfect he is. But once they actually get together, she wholeheartedly submits herself to his every whim. The fact that Edward can read people’s minds (though not Bella’s for some reason-presumably because she doesn’t really have that much going on up there) shows that he is all about control. This becomes evident as the two grow closer;they become inseparable (though not in the cute way), and when a rival vampire clan jeopardizes Bella’s life, Edward tells her to abandon her sweet, thoughtful and lonely dad to skip town. Bella was indeed in danger, but Edward didn’t have to force her to blow off her dad.

What makes me cringe more than the film’s lessons is the viewer response to them. We talk so much about how pornography and advertising and television are giving young girls unrealistic expectations about body image and relationships, but what about crazes for a novel that promotes the suppression of self-confidence and identity and creates a steamy hero out of a cold and brooding vampire?

My sisters are obsessed with the series; one so much so that she read one of the books in church, hiding it in the hymnal she was supposed to be using. And she’s not alone. Fan groups and forums have sprung up all over the place with readers confessing their undying love and unhealthy addiction for Edward and the vampire saga. On one such site called “Twilight Moms,” a poster admitted: “I have no desires to be part of the real world right now. Nothing I was doing before holds any interest to me.”

Granted, it’s not just vampire romance novels that can pull people in so seductively. But the fact that some women may expect, if only secretly, that their boyfriend or husband will start acting like Edward is alarming and wholly unfair. It’s like when a man expects his girlfriend or wife to perform like a porn star in bed. Pornography is not real sex, and Edward is not a real man.

I don’t want to completely destroy what many women see as an ideal man. It’s good for men to look out for what is best for their significant other. But I still struggle with the thought of trying to become someone like Edward Cullen, because he’s really not someone any man should want to be, or any woman should want to love.

A blogger at summed up well the lesson being told to young men through the movie:

“Don’t be fun, thoughtful, quirky or smart if you want to get the girl. Be a d—. But be a d— who can stop cars with your bare hands.  And look depressed. But be good looking while you’re depressed. And express your desire to be with the girl of your dreams but be vague about why you can’t be with her. Confuse her, make her crazy, change your moods by the hour and make sure your hair looks like Johnny Depp in the mid-90s.”

I don’t have two Harvard degrees or chiseled, marble-like features. I don’t drive sports cars or live in a mansion. I don’t have immortal life or superhuman strength. What does that mean for me? If I want to be in a relationship with a girl but I know that when she thinks of the “perfect man” she thinks of Edward Cullen, I lose. Because I am impossibly imperfect.

But who isn’t? That’s why unrealistic expectations, even if they are gleaned from fiction, are so destructive: they don’t allow us to be real, to be human.

But then, Edward Cullen isn’t human. He’s a vampire. So, ladies, dream away, I guess. But when you wake up, don’t tell me what you dreamt about. I have a feeling I will be sorely disappointed.

3 responses to “Twilight Bites: How Dazzling Vampires Distort Masculinity”

  1. I am not obsessed. I REALLY had to know what happened at the time.

    Since, I saw the movie once in the theatre, and once when my friend bought it. I have not bought any of the books, memorabilia, or dvds.

    I have also been forthright about the flaws (literary and metaphorical) of the series. I said, and still say, that it is an engrossing story. I do not fantasize about Edward, I do not fantasize (or am even attracted to) Robert Pattinson. I think he looks like a crackhead.

    The character of Edward was inspired by Mr. Darcy, who was extremely human but was a beautifully flawed man who women adore for his integrity, his character, and for his love of Elizabeth. Totally attainable for today’s men.

    I accept your apology.

  2. Brittany Johnson Avatar
    Brittany Johnson

    I am okay about admitting my obsession with the Twilight series. I read through those books in a week. And then reread them over and over again in the next few weeks. I couldn’t wait for the movie.
    And then I noticed I was starting ridiculous fights with Caleb. At the end of one such argument, Caleb asked me if any of this had to do with the books I was reading. I just sat there, realizing what I was doing, and feeling ridiculous.
    So, I agree with you Chad. I will still love my Twilight. But I have learned to leave Edward on the shelf because he is a dangerous character for real women leading real lives. I have actually seen couples comparing their dating relationship to the characters in Twilight, and I can see how absolutely unhealthy that is. So its a tricky thing. People can still love the series, but they need to learn how to seperate fiction from reality.
    And that laughing instead of brooding should make up the majority of the relationship. 🙂

  3. Brittany Johnson Avatar
    Brittany Johnson

    Elise, I think you are correct about Mr. Darcy. There is a character that a man can aspire to in reality. Sure, he was silent and brooding, but his character, like you said, was honest, humble, and full of integrity. There is no character in the world that I love AND respect more than Mr. Darcy. He is intense with his emotions, but in a responsible, silent way. He loves with his whole heart, he is endlessly kind to those who are kind, and will carry the burden of anger to those who deserve it. But still, throughout the book, he makes mistakes. Elizabeth is there to help point out those mistakes. Just as Elizabeth makes mistakes, and he is there to set her straight. What a glorious example of a relationship and how two people can make the other better, not just to themselves, but to those around them, simply by loving each other.