Life in a Glasshouse: Five YA Pet Peeves Part 5.1

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I'm immortally interested in cultural/literary deconstructions, feminism, anti-racism, South Korea, Supernatural, Sherlock Holmes, Hayao Miyazaki, Diana Wynne Jones, food (including but not limited to maple butter, tomatoes, and toast), fairy tales, parentheses, paper airplanes, films and books.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Five YA Pet Peeves Part 5.1

The Medea Complex Part 1
(Trigger warning for rape and spoilers!)

YA over the recent years has had an outburst in female-oriented stories. Books like Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard and A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray have all been welcomed to shelves. Their focus is on female relationships instead of romance, which has had its share of over-saturation. Unfortunately, there are still few YA novels that are able to balance romance and platonic/sexual female-female interactions. It's also a problem when stories concentrating on male homosexuals are more publicized than those of female. This small problem encompasses a huger issue in YA, which is the general lack of important female relationships in popular books. I'll be dissecting four books over the next few weeks: Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Mortal Instruments and The House of Night.

First, allow me to explain the title of this post. The symptoms of a Medea Complex in a novel are having women/girls hostile to your female MC without reason, devote their lives to their female MC without reason, and/or disappear once they are no longer needed plot-wise. It's also another small problem that's part of a bigger problem: misogyny. Secondly, allow me to say that I'm not attacking any of the authors and saying that they are misogynistic. I'm merely saying that this is micro-problematic and, if we choose to evaluate and work on these problems, it would help in the long run to fix macro-problematic issues*.

1. Twilight

We all know the issues with Twilight and the way its relationships are demonstrated. I'm not here to talk about that. I'm here to talk about the interactions that Bella has with the other women in the duration of this series. I call these interactions because they really are this. Bella doesn't have any real relationships with women.

(Pictures may be from the movies, but this discussion is specifically about the books.)

Exhibit A: Her mother, Renee.

Bella says that her mother is like "her best friend" and also that she is more her parent than the other way around. When we see the two of them interacting, it is the same way one would see a parent/child relationship. However, it's more of the way a distant parent would deal with a hyperactive child. Bella consistently refers to her mother as someone more livelier and childish than her (whether Bella's maturity is enforced is yet again not the issue here). Bella receives emails from her mother but doesn't really put any effort into talking with her. Where Renee's talking holds enthusiasm at the exchanges, Bella is irritated and does what she can to placate her mother. There's no real interaction here. Bella is always giving her mother what she wants to hear. The problem here is that this is shown as something to be admired, when it isn't healthy for Bella at all.

Exhibit B: Angela, Lauren and Jessica are Bella's fellow classmates.

Jessica makes a conscious effort to get to know Bella, before the Mike fiasco even begins, and Bella dismisses her as someone who's talkative, nosy and gossipy. We don't get any proof of this. We're simply expected to believe Bella - Jessica is not interested. She is nosy.

Lauren is treated in text as someone ugly although she is consistently described as beautiful (example being she had "fishy eyes" which feels a bit malicious). She is extremely hostile to Bella and - as Lauren speaks to Bella mostly after Bella has interacted with a man - it indicates that she's jealous of her. Of her shiny newness as other have put. This is all the characterization we have Lauren. She is ugly because she is beautiful and hates Bella for no reason**.

Lastly we have Angela. She is noted for being quiet and keeping to herself. Bella constantly notes this, and even says she enjoys her company because of it.

To sum this exhibit up we have a)the girl who has a big mouth, b)the mean girl who hates Bella because she's Bella and c)the valuable girl who keeps her mouth.

Exhibit C: Here be the vampires.

It would be easy to dissect Rosalie here, but I'd like to talk about something else; the interactions the female vampires have with each other. We don't ever really see this happening. It's always the mates together or the men together. While there is the part when all the women are in the kitchen, they only seem to come to life when Bella comes in. It's disturbing to think that these women, after spending decades together, don't seem to have made any specific bonds with each other.

It gets even more disturbing when we see Alice who does literally whatever Edward says. She brings Bella's car back for him, she holds Bella hostage and brings Bella to save Edward from Certain Death. Their relationship revolves around Edward and pleasing Alice, who uses Bella like a doll. The latter metaphor came right out of our narrator's thoughts.

While we can say that Bella is obviously more focused on Edward than on anyone else, she is consistently given chances to connect with women. When she is presented with the tale of the nameless (!) women who gave up her life for her tribe in Eclipse, Bella doesn't empathize with the woman. She projects her problems onto the woman's tale and appropriates her response. There's no time to consider what the tale was used for - other than the obvious, which is a plot device. The same thing happens when Rosalie finally opens up to Bella about why she is so opposed to her***. Rosalie's tale of explotation and rape and loss is all taken in Bella and then shoved aside. The implications aren't even weighed. Bella, who has been since the beginning of Twilight, forced into gender roles for her father and the Nice Guy act from Mike, didn't even think about her situation. Instead, she was focused on this mysterious Tanya, a possible rival for Edward's affections.

Twilight**** is, more than most, a very accurate representation at how women are forced to lie and "be nice" in patriarchy, especially in the first half. Unfortunately, the opportunity to have female relationships, to otherwise complicate patriarchy, is missed in an effort to Have More Edward.

Feel free to correct any possible mistakes I might have made. I'm following a deconstruction at Ana Mardoll, and while certain parts do stick out, it's been a long time since I read the entire series.

(Continued in the following post.)

*Please follow the links if you feel that you still don't quite understand.

**If there weren't many, many other examples in Twilight towards Bella's gift with women, I would chalk this up to being an example of girl hate. But since we're talking on a larger scale, it fits in the pattern.

***I hold that Rosalie, Leah and Jasper are the most interesting of the bunch.

****Twilight as in, the first book.

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