Thursday, May 28, 2009

This is what a feminist thinks like.

The other day in English class we were talking about the movie (and the book) Twilight. The students know that I don't like the books, and we've talked about that kind of thing before. (I used it as an example for critical thinking about literature: it's okay to say you hate Twilight. It's not okay to say "because it's stupid" and think you're done. You have to give thoughtful reasons to back up your opinion.)

This time it was a little different: "Who would you pick," a girl asked me, "a werewolf or a vampire?"

"Neither!" said I. She looked a little shocked.

"Come on," she said, "Choose! Edward or Jacob!"

Now one reason why I don't like Twilight is because of the attitudes of the main character, Bella. She is a girl who cannot live without a boy (in this case Edward, the vampire). She doesn't think she's all that special, so she's very flattered by his attention. Before long he is watching her at night without her knowledge. She ends her relationships with her friends to be closer to him. In the second book she gives up her college fund because if there is no Edward in her life she doesn't see the point of continuing on with school. That's when she falls in with Jacob (he would be the werewolf), because she cannot live without the attentions of a man in her life, and Jacob is that man.

She has to choose. Werewolf or vampire.

To me this is not choice.

I have known women who have lived like this. They give up everything for their boyfriends; some of them drop out of university the minute they get their Mrs. degree. Some of them never get to university; some of them take dead-end jobs so that they can support the guy while he goes to school. They are so focused on making sure that they are in a relationship at all times, that they forget about their relationship with themselves, and with their future.

Then what happens is the relationship ends. He walks out, or she does, or something bad ends things for them, and she winds up working the night shift in the 7-Eleven while her kids sleep so that she can earn enough money to pay for the crappy basement apartment they're living in until she can find a new man.

Which she inevitably does. Werewolf or vampire. Same difference.

Sometimes that second choice works out: she now has a new man and can devote her entire being to him. She feels complete. Sometimes it doesn't work out, and she does the whole thing again.

"Which would you choose?" ask my students, their brilliant young minds, their untold potential, their glittering futures. "Werewolf or vampire?"

And I say: I choose neither. I choose to get a lot of education, because no one can take that away from you. I choose a career that is fulfilling and pays enough for me to support my own children. I choose to be whole in and of myself. I choose to not feel like I'm incomplete without a man in my life, I choose to live like a fully realized human being, regardless of what society thinks people of my gender should do.

I choose myself, and I choose (for lack of a more elegant phrase) to have a choice: I will decide how my life unfolds. I will not allow anyone to tell me who my friends are or what my future holds, or to destroy my life because he leaves.

And it scared the shit out of me to see my students look in disbelief and say "But you have to choose! Werewolf or vampire!"

What will become of us, if these are our choices?

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