Monday, 14 June 2010
I wasn't going to post this. I'd worked up half the post a while back, when I first finished reading Twilight on a dare. I ended up chickening out, saying that I didn't want to offend or bother my friends who are fans. But a few recent conversations brought it back to mind. And the thing is, I have too many friends (not many, but even one or two is too many) who are currently in or have previously been in relationships that contained domestic abuse. And I'm feeling like I at least need to put this out there, explore this.
So. Let's explore this.
Does Edward Cullen (of Twilight) fit the profile of a domestic abuser?
What is Domestic Abuse?
It's an odd term. If verbal abuse is when someone tears you apart with their words, and if physical abuse is when someone hurts you physically, what's domestic abuse? Like, hurting you with a house?
No, not quite. Domestic Abuse is a broad term: it's loosely defined as a pattern of abusive behaviors by... partners in an intimate relationship. It's an umbrella term, which can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, controlling behavior, stalking, and neglect.
You'd think that abuse is something that's easy to see, but it's not always so. Not all abuse is physical. There's also emotional abuse (defined as any behavior that threatens, intimidates, undermines the victim’s self-worth or self-esteem, or controls the victim’s freedom). Abuse is not always clear-cut. There are people who are being abused right now, but who don't think they're being abused, because they justify what their partner does to them. (I know. I'm friends with a person who doesn't realize she's in an abusive relationship.)
The Mayo Clinic offers the following as a guide to recognizing patterns of abuse:
It may not be easy to identify domestic violence at first. While some relationships are clearly abusive from the outset, abuse often starts subtly and gets worse over time. You may be experiencing domestic violence if you're in a relationship with someone who:
- Calls you names, insults you or puts you down
- Prevents you from going to work or school
- Stops you from seeing family members or friends
- Tries to control how you spend money, where you go or what you wear
- Acts jealous or possessive or constantly accuses you of being unfaithful
- Gets angry when drinking alcohol or using drugs
- Threatens you with violence or a weapon
- Hits, kicks, shoves, slaps, chokes or otherwise hurts you, your children or your pets
- Forces you to have sex or engage in sexual acts against your will
- Blames you for his or her violent behavior or tells you that you deserve it
Understand, people will put up with crap like this from their partner because they explain it away as "he/she didn't really mean it," or because their partner apologizes and promises to change, or because they believe their partner loves them, or because (worst of all) they've internalized the abuse and think they really deserve to be treated this way.
It's not right.
Okay, we've gotten a basic idea of what patterns of domestic abuse might look like. What does any of this have to do with Twilight?
Several people have brought up the issue of whether Edward Cullen fits the profile of a domestic abuser. There's a couple different webpages that try to make the case that the relationship between Edward and Bella, as portrayed in the books, is an abusive relationship.
Does this argument hold water? Does he fit the signs? Let's look through the books, and compare what we find there to the symptoms of a domestic abuser.
• Name-calling, insults, put-downs He makes statements like,
“How could you think something so stupid?”
Or “You don’t really know how to love another
person, do you?” or more overt insults and
This is one the books are especially guilty of. Edward is constantly making disparaging remarks about Bella's clumsiness/weakness. If Bella played back, calling him names or making fun of him back, I'd be more comfortable passing this off as humor, but instead Bella seems to accept it all as gospel truth.
"Bella, it's not my fault if you are exceptionally unobservant."
"Don't be offended, but you seem to be one of those people who just attract accidents like a magnet. So try not to fall into the ocean or get run over or anything, all right?"
"Only you could get into trouble in a town this small."
"I've never tried to keep a specific person alive before, and it's much more troublesome than I would have believed. But that's probably just because it's you. Ordinary people seem to make it through the day without so many catastrophes."
"Are you referring to the fact that you can't walk across a flat, stable surface without finding something to trip over?"
"You are a terrible actress—I'd say that career path is out for you."
"If we could bottle your luck, we'd have a weapon of mass destruction on our hands."
"I wasn't about to send you off alone. With your luck, not even the black box would survive."
"You aren't exactly the best judge of what is or isn't dangerous."
"Must I always be the responsible one?"
This is an arena where Bella encourages it as much as Edward. She says the following near the end of Eclipse: "I want you to call me every bad name you can think of, in every language you know. I want you to tell me that you're disgusted with me and that you're going to so that I can beg and grovel on my knees for you to stay."
She believes everything Edward says about her, every put-down and snarky remark, she internalizes it into her own self-image.
• Isolation, restricting time with family and friends
Women who are abused often are
surprised to notice that they’ve lost
touch with many of the people once closest
to them. He finds a way physically or
psychologically to distance you from friends
--To be fair, Bella did a lot of this herself. But if you look at Twilight, by the end of the book we haven't even heard from her human "friends" in months, she purposely alienates her father, and really we haven't seen her mother at all. Bella is very much isolated. No, Edward doesn't actively do it, but it does happen.
Charlie. She talks to him less and less as the romance unfolds. At one point, Bella verbally destroyed Charlie, pulling out below-the-belt lines from his past. Yet we never see her really making up for that upon her return. We don't know, because he just fades out of the picture.
Bella's human friends. They were never developed very much anyway, they were almost placeholders until Bella could get past Edward's walls, and once Bella and Edward are official, they cease to be important. Tyler is the only one who really gets spotlighted, because in his arrogant assumption that Bella was prom-ing with him, we learn that he shows up to find Bella already gone with Edward. But Jessica, Mike, Angela, Lauren--they get a single paragraph's mention at the end, their faces visible in the crowd as Edward and Bella dance past. Eric, the poor Golden-Retriever-like nerd, doesn't even get that.
Jacob especially: as the series progresses, he increasingly demands she stop even talking to Jacob.
He controls what you wear, whom you
speak to, how much money you spend, or where you go.
In the beginning of Eclipse, Edward takes apart Bella's car so she can't go visit Jacob.
“'Bella, please just do this my way, just this once.'”
--"'I think you should eat something.' Edward's voice was low, but full of authority."
--"'What are you doing?' I asked.
'I'm taking you to dinner.' He smiled slightly, but his eyes were hard."
--"'Drink,' he ordered.
I sipped my soda obediently..."
--"In what strange parallel dimension would I ever have gone to prom of my own free will? If you weren't a thousand times stronger than me, I would never have let you get away with this."
• Jealousy and Possessiveness
Some women interpret a man’s jealousy
as a sign of love, but possessiveness,
always needing to know where you are and who
you are with, signals his desire to control.
This happens left right and all over the place. Edward practically growls whenever anyone else with a Y chromosome is within a square mile of Bella. He's actively rude to Jacob long before Jacob was even on Bella's radar, and boys at school are "vile" if they're interested in Bella.
--"'She is mine.' Edward's low voice was suddenly dark, not as composed as before."
--"'I'm not mad at Billy,' he corrected in a clipped voice. 'But his son is irritating me.'"
--"'But jealousy... it's a strange thing. So much more powerful than I would have thought. And irrational! Just now, when Charlie asked you about that vile Mike Newton...' He shook his head angrily."
--Bella seems to willingly encourage this sense of possession. For example: "It was childish, but I liked the idea that his lips would be the last good thing I would feel. Even more embarrassingly, something I would never say aloud, I wanted his venom to poison my system. It would make me belong to him in a tangible, quantifiable way."
• Quick, intense involvement
It is not uncommon
for abusers to come on strong, romancing their
partners with passionate talk of love everlasting.
--Really, once Edward decides to stop ignoring Bella, their relationship goes from 0 to 60 in 0.057 seconds.
--The watching-her-while-she-slept while they were still only acquaintances, not dating yet; without her knowledge and without invitation. "'Do you remember the day that Mike asked you to the dance? ...That was the first night I came here... And then,' he whispered, 'as you were sleeping, you said my name.'"
• Gets Angry while Drinking Alcohol or Using Drugs
This is one avenue where Twilight is innocent. Unless we count human blood a form of drug usage.
• Breaking or throwing objects Any man who
expresses rage physically is someone
to watch carefully.
--"He reached up with one hand and, with a deafening crack, effortlessly ripped a two-foot-thick branch from the trunk of the spruce. He balanced it in that hand for a moment, and then threw it with blinding speed, shattering it against another huge tree, which shook and trembled at the blow... I sat without moving, more frightened of him than I ever had been. I'd never seen him so completely freed of that carefully cultivated facade. He'd never been less human... or more beautiful."
• Threats of violence
Sort of. There are lots of warnings of violence--we're getting it drilled into our head that Edward Is Dangerous, Oooh Scary, so there are a lot of intimations that Edward could easily eat Bella's face off by accident. When Edward talks like this, he's trying to underline just how dangerous he is, he's trying to instill a sense of fear in Bella. So, while it's not a threat in the sense that he's saying, "I'll hit you if you see Jacob again, Bella," he is in a different sense trying to make Bella afraid that he'll hurt her. "You need a healthy dose of fear. Nothing could be more beneficial for you."
That's not really what the abuse-warning-sign list people meant, though.
One thing that Edward does threaten, though is suicide.
• Hits, Shoves, Slaps, etc.
To be fair, Edward doesn't ever hit Bella. Never. But he does pull and push her around.
"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 am perfectly capable of driving myself home!' I stood by the car, fuming...
I was mentally calculating any 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 found this passage particularly bothersome. Any son of mine will be raised to be respectful to women, to let go when a woman says "Let go!" or "Put me down!"
• Animal abuse
Batterers may have a history of
--No, Edward isn't an animal abuser. Though I can't help but think of...
"'Bears?' I repeated with difficulty
'Grizzly is Emmett's favorite...'
'So,' I said after a moment, finally meeting his now-anxious gaze. 'What's your favorite?''...Mountain lion.'"
But that's not abuse, just poaching.
• Sexual abuse
Forcing you to have sex when
you’re not in the mood or to engage in
practices you find uncomfortable is not lovemaking.
--This one does not apply. Though it's worth mentioning, apparently in the fourth book, vampire sex is very rough. Like, broken bones rough.
• Blaming others, Blaming his/her Partner
If he loses his job, it’s “because
the company was incompetent.”
When he misses a turn on the road, it’s the
fault of the driver ahead of him. Most of the
time, he blames his partner: whether it’s that
he got fired because she was a bad wife or
missed the turn because she misread the map.
This is an important one.
---"'Why did this James decide to kill me? There're people all over the place, why me?'
He hesitated, thinking before he answered. 'I got a good look at his mind tonight,' he began in a low voice... 'It is partially your fault.' His voice was wry. 'If you didn't smell so appallingly luscious, he might not have bothered.'"
That's called "victim blaming," and it's wrong. It's the equivalent of saying, "It's partly her fault she got raped; if she hadn't dressed so sexy she wouldn't have been raped; if she didn't have such big boobs he might not have bothered."
The worst part of all this is the way that Bella internalizes her status as a "lesser being" to Edward's topaz-eyed bronze-haired marble awesomeness. That is, Bella is our narrator for most of the series, and Bella portrays herself as stupid, clumsy, useless. This is because we are seeing Bella through a Bella's-eye-view. Every insult and put-down Edward directs at Bella, we are led to believe (by the narrator) is entirely justified. Bella is so weak and useless (we're told) that Bella needs someone to do everything for her, to drive for her, to keep her from walking straight into death at every turn.
Bella's self-image is used as justification for Edward's obsessive boundary-less actions.
But it's not. It shouldn't be. No matter how clumsy a person may be, that does not excuse you from picking them up against their will and carrying them to your car. No matter how accident-prone a person may be, that does not excuse you from belittling them or treating them as inferior. And no matter how much you profess your love for somebody, "No" means "No" and "Let go" means "Let go." Just because you love someone doesn't make unacceptable actions romantic.
So, is Edward Cullen guilty of domestic abuse? I've laid it all out for you, so you tell me. Some patterns he fits, some he doesn't, so you be the judge. But I will say this for certain: Edward Cullen is not a figure to emulate for a healthy relationship. He has his good points--his chivalry, his protectiveness--but the rest of his approach to his relationship with Bella is unhealthy.
Especially because Edward Cullen is held up to be this paragon of masculine virtue. If you tell someone that Edward Cullen is the "most romantic man evar!!!!" and then when they read the books they see the way he treats Bella, they're basically accepting the idea that Edward's behavior = romantic behavior. I wouldn't mind what Edward does half so much if Edward wasn't portrayed as What Every Man Should Be, if he was just portrayed as a flawed character.
A healthy romantic relationship is between equals, equal partners, not between a superior partner and an inferior partner. A healthy romantic relationship shares control. A healthy romantic relationship is encouraging, not belittling, and doesn't thrive on the fear, shame, or embarrassment of one partner. A healthy relationship is one in which the partners trust each other, and don't feel overwhelming possessiveness or jealousy. A healthy relationship is free of threats of violence or threats of suicide. A healthy relationships is free of manipulation or coercion, of aggressive acts designed to intimidate.
Or, to put it another way,
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, it is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs...