OK, I’ll be the first to admit that the whole Twilight phenomenon is interesting. Here at Bitch we’ve written about the movies, the books, the parody videos, and tons of other sparkly vampire stuff over the past year. People are obsessed! It’s compelling! However, lately it seems like every single teenage behavior is being connected to the franchise in some way, from negotiating gender identity to interacting with parents. Could it be that Twilight is the compass with which we can navigate the state of Young People Today? Do we never have to think about the nuances and complications of human existence again because Stephenie Meyer has done that dirty work for us? Well, Jonathan Zimmerman at the Chicago Tribune certainly thinks so.
According to Zimmerman’s article “Hooking up’s gender gap,” the number of young women who saw Twilight Saga: New Moon (which was a lot) tells us that, “Girls want love, not just sex.” And he got this from New Moon how, exactly?
To be fair, Zimmerman is citing a University of Missouri study that polled 4,000 Twilight fans of all ages on why they liked the franchise. I was unable to locate the original study, but reports of the results state that “many teen girls — who make up the core of Twilight’s audience, along with a few moms — are drawn to the story about love beyond the physical.” No statistics were given in anything I could find, but apparently lots of young teens like the love story that’s present in Twilight. No surprise there, since it’s a romance (even if it is a creepy one).
The surprise is that writers like Zimmerman would take an anecdotal bit of research like that and turn it into a story about how teenage girls don’t like sex. Apparently, since the dawn of time, men have wanted sex and women have just put up with it in order to get boyfriends/husbands (this is something we’ve all heard before I’m sure). The Tribune article goes on to say that not only do women hate sex, but that men hate relationships (oh the clichés!) and just want to “hook up” with no strings attached. This is undoubtedly true of some men, but it is undoubtedly true of some women also, just as the reverse is true for men and women (and trans, queer, otherwise gendered individuals, though of course they were not mentioned in the article).
The article goes on to talk about the “good old days” when people had to date or even get married before they could get it on. I guess those days are over, and now teens have to fellate one another before they can even shake hands. Newsflash, Zimmerman: Some people still choose to go the old-fashioned route and get to know one another before sex. Some people don’t. Though I am not denying that many teenagers feel pressured to engage in sex before they’re ready, I am also not willing to deny that many young people just want to get laid, and they have the agency to make their own choices. Male, female, or in between.
Regardless of how you feel about teenage sexual norms, what on earth does this have to with Twilight? Well, lots of women saw the movie, and the movie is about a young woman who can’t have sex with either of her suitors because of their supernatural powers, so that means that young female audiences also want to be in relationships with supernatural beings because they don’t want to have sex. It makes sense, right? Um, not really. Lots of women, including me, saw this movie, and to a lot of them (including me) it looked like one big beefcake sex party. I think the popularity of New Moon, if it signifies anything, tells us that young women WANT sex. What was all the shirtlessness about, if not that?
Zimmerman’s article lost me in a lot of places (don’t worry he even lumps feminism in there with the rest of society’s woes!) but what irked me the most was this notion that teen girls would only see this movie because of the lack of onscreen sex. Maybe they like vampire stories, or female protagonists, or (gasp!) shirtless hunks. Maybe their friends are talking about the movie and they wanted to jump on the bandwagon. Maybe they really do feel too young to have sex and the movie helped them feel better about that, and that’s perfectly fine. There are tons of reasons why they might see the film. But don’t put all of the millions of women who saw this movie into the “women hate sex” box just because it makes a good story, or because it’s convenient since our culture loooves to make women feel bad about their sexuality. After all, the film is problematic enough (you know, with the stalking and the unhealthy relationships) without making it about women and their darned frigidity, or men and their darned horniness.
Think what you will about Twilight, and about teenage sexual behavior, and about the “good old days” when men were men and women held out for a ring. But let’s not use the popularity of a teen movie to further vilify the public perception of female sexuality – that’s scary enough as it is.