Once bitten, Twilight shy

Apparently I didn’t get the memo, but as a feminist I’ve realized I’m not supposed to like the Twilight book series, much less applaud it.

Stephenie Meyer’s insanely successful vampire-book franchise isn’t sophisticated literature, of course. The storyline is simple: Bella, a beautiful loner, meets the teenaged Edward, who is, in actuality, a centuries-old vampire. The two fall in love and consequently face the perils of forbidden love. The plot is basic, the characterizations uncomplicated, and Meyer’s prose simple, undemanding, occasionally clunky even.

Still, she’s doing something right, at least by pop-culture standards. Meyer’s books and the resulting film franchise have resonated strongly with millions. To date, the series’ four books have sold more than 29 million copies while Twilight’s film adaptation, released in 2008, has grossed nearly $400 million at the box office.

Now, New Moon, based on the series’ second book, arrives in theaters Friday. But while my inner 16-year-old girl is excited, I’m embarrassed to admit this to most of my smart, book-reading friends because, based on the reactions I’ve received so far, all things Twilight are (take your pick) dumb, unoriginal and, worst of all, anti-feminist.

Their comments vary from the superficial (“Edward’s not very sexy”) to the serious (“Why does Bella always have to be rescued?”). One friend just rolled her eyes when I mentioned I’d started the series, so I quickly changed the subject.

But the reactions mystify me.

I like strong heroines! I own every Margaret Atwood book! I’m a card-carrying feminist!

And yet even Ms. Magazine railed against the series; Carmen Siering, an assistant professor of women’s studies at Indiana’s Ball State University, decried Meyer’s “objectification” of Bella.

“[It’s] an allegorical tale about the dangers of unregulated female sexuality. … [Bella] is fighting to control her awakening sexuality and Edward must restrain her,” Siering writes.

This, she says, is Twilight’s biggest problem.

“Shouldn’t the decision about when a couple is ready to move forward sexually be one they make together? Meyer insists she sees Bella as a feminist character … [but] fails to acknowledge that all of the choices Bella makes are Meyer’s choices—choices based on her own patriarchal Mormon background.”

Um, so Meyer is guilty of what, exactly? Writing While Oppressed? Creating Under the Influence of Parents?

I don’t buy it, nor do I buy that Bella doesn’t have a say; her character—moody, obsessive and emotional—is anything but passive.

Rather, I see Twilight as fraught with a sense of tension that perfectly mirrors adolescence and all its messy, complicated emotions—including the decision to have sex.

As a teen, my options on the young-adult bookshelf were limited. On one end of the short spectrum were gooey, glorified romance novels with picture-perfect heroines typically devoid of sexuality. On the other end was Judy Blume’s Forever, in which the main character not only had sex, but also even went on the pill.

First published in 1975, Forever was still the holy grail of books when I was in high school; my friends and I read it covertly, poring over the sexy bits as we tried to keep its subject matter a secret from our parents.

And that’s why, thinking back to the choices of my own adolescence, I commend poor Bella.

Here is a mainstream fictional heroine who thinks about sex. A lot. Bella might not be getting any (yet), but she obsesses over it. She wants it, and she wants it bad.

I think she’ll eventually get lucky; it’s just that the waiting is the hardest part.