What if those bruises are just “decorations”? Thoughts on Breaking Dawn’s Morning-After Scene featuring a bruised (and feathered!) Bella Swan

With the wide release of Breaking Dawn: Part 1 looming, what scene are you most anxious to see?

If the stars and attendees at Comic-Con are any indication, most people name the wedding or the birth scene. Not me. I am most anxious to see the morning after scene. And, I do mean ANXIOUS, not EXCITED, as I have trepidation regarding how this scene will be handled. Though Bella admittedly WANTS sex with Edward, does she also want the bruises that result?

There has been much debate regarding if the morning after scene represents sexual violence, violent consensual sex, hidden messages about women being “punished” for sexual desire and so on. As a recap, here are some details from the book:

Before Edward and Bella do the deed, when they are standing in the moonlit ocean, he says “if I hurt you, you must tell me at once.” This quote lends credence to those who argue we cannot place blame on Edward, as do other quotes where Bella notes she does not remember ever feeling pain.

As in the above parody, Edward is let of the hook for causing so many “decorations” on her body.  While Bella seems to relish her newly “decorated” body, he feels remorse, saying to the waking Bella the next morning: “How badly are you hurt, Bella? The truth—don’t downplay it.”

Bella assesses her body, noting “stiffness, and a lot of soreness” and “the odd sensation my bones all had become unhinged at the joints,” but also notes her happiness on “this most perfect of mornings.” Here, we could read this as understandable post-sex session soreness and equally understandable post-multiple-orgasm euphoria.

The problem is though, Bella is not just sore, she is covered in black and purple bruises – bruises which cause Edward to say “Stop acting like I’m not a monster for having agreed to this” and “Look at yourself, Bella. Then tell me I’m not a monster.”

To this, Bella “followed his instructions unthinkingly” (as she does all too damn often in the books!) and at first only focuses on “the fluffy white snow” that clings to her skin and hair. It is only at Edward’s insistence she looks at her arm that she has “large purplish bruises” that “blossom across the pale skin.”

Here, Edward is again presented as the kind, caring guy, and she as the oblivious, feather-covered sap. Sure, she is blissed out in post-coital mode, but must she speak of her bruises in flowery terms (“blossom”)?!? This description problematically suggests, as does the later use of the term “decorated,” that Bella’s body is beautifully and lovingly MARKED by Edward, harkening to the age-old notion of woman as man’s property to mark on as he pleases – the one that the institution of marriage they just entered into is historically based on.

As Bella looks at the bruises that “trail” up to her shoulder and across her ribs, Edward places “his hand against the bruises on my arm…matching his long fingers to the patterns.” So, indeed, he has quite literally marked her with his handprints, turning her body into a decorated object of “violet blotches.” However, Edward is not held up as the baddie here and Bella is presented as the happiest she has ever been.

Edward does not share her euphoria though, insisting “I’m… so sorry, Bella…I knew better than this. I should not have–…I am more sorry than I can tell you.” So, flipping the traditionally gendered script, he has morning after regrets, she does not.

But might we read her euphoria as more indication that she does not take sex seriously enough – that she is a “bad girl” who wants it too much and is punished for her desires? Or, are we supposed to read her as a sexually liberated, kinky vixen who likes her sex rough? While both readings are tenable, given the strong pro-abstinence messages of the saga, the religious underpinnings of the text, and the “sex is dangerous” message that permeates the books, the first reading is more apt.

Further, Bella is not really presented as sexually confident or in the know – she has to ASK if Edward enjoyed it, and says incredulously to his insistence that he most certainly did,  “Really? The best ever?” That she asks this “in a small voice” only furthers the notion that she is sexually naïve, small, and silent – or, in other words, a “good girl” gone bad – a bruised apple, so to speak.

Perhaps no other scene in the saga so crosses the lines between sex as bad, sex as enjoyable, Bella as good girl or Bella as slut. Yet, the representation of Edward and his acts are not complicated – while Bella’s sexual desires are left open to reader interpretation (we can read her as punished for her desires or read her night of headboard busting as a sexual triumph), Edward is framed as full of remorse and dutifully goes off to cook her enough eggs for two (hint hint).

After his departure, she stares in the mirror (as depicted in the above parody), thinking about how she will hide the bruises: “There was a faint shadow across one of my cheekbones, and my lips were a little swollen, but other than that, my face was fine. The rest of me was decorated with patches of blue and purple. I concentrated on the bruises that would be the hardest to hide—my arms and my shoulders. They weren’t so bad. My skin marked up easily….Of course, these were just developing. I’d look even worse tomorrow. That would not make things any easier.”

Recall that Bella is concerned with hiding the bruises not for others (they are on a deserted island!) but for Edward’s sake. So, she puts on a white cotton dress “that concealed the worst of the violet blotches” and trots off to the kitchen for her scalding hot eggs.

The chapter closes with her asking “You aren’t going to touch me again while we’re here, are you?” to which Edward answers “I will not make love to you until you’ve been changed. I will never hurt you again.”

Once again, Bella’s wants are refuted and Edward calls the shots. But, Bella’s insistence there is nothing to worry about regarding her bruised body, the bitten pillows, or the busted headboard can be read as a failure to recognize the dangers of sex with an uber-strong vampire – or, to put  it another way, for her, the danger sex poses for females like Bella but NOT males like Edward.

A sex positive message? A pro-consensual violent sex is sexy message? I don’t buy it. More like punishing silly, oblivious Bella for wanting it too much… And her punishment is only just beginning given that her pregnancy is hardly a “blessed event” but one filled with pain, broken bones, and the promise that “the creatures” like the one in her womb “use their own teeth to escape the womb.”

And how will the film present the birth? Will Bella scream in “a blood-curdling shriek of agony: and then vomit “a fountain of blood”? Will we hear the “crunching and snapping as the newborn monster” tear through her “from the inside out “ and the “shattering crack” as her spine is broken?

No doubt, we will see the gooey scenes of her loving her “little nudger” and her going ga-ga over the newborn Renesmee. But, I do wonder if the more horrific details of Bella’s pregnancy and delivery will be included, and, if so, if there will be any indication that this is her “punishment” for her sexual transgressions. I doubt it – instead, in keeping with the traditional happy ending message the saga ultimately upholds, pregnancy and motherhood will be framed as her reward…

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What if Bella met Bella? Or, Wed, Bed, and Bruised – But Certainly Not Equal (Musings on Women’s Equality Day through a Twilight Lens)

As today is the 40th anniversary of Women’s Equality Day, it is an appropriate moment to consider the continuing inequalities women face. As a scholar of popular culture that tracks the way culture grapples with changing conceptions of gender and sexuality, I am struck by the profound difference between Bella Abzug, staunch supporter of women’s rights, and today’s most popular Bella, Bella Swan.

The November release of Breaking Dawn: Part 1, the first half of the two-part film adaptation of the final book in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga, will include the much anticipated wedding and honeymoon of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen.

Fans, given previous reactions to leaked photos of the vampire-human honeymoon scenes, will likely clamor for these racier scenarios. Parents, depending on their views of appropriate sexuality and relationship ideals, will be variously delighted by the “happy ending” in marriage or dismayed by the film’s sexualized content. Traditional vampire aficionados will scoff at the idea that the lead vampire, Edward, Mr. Sparkly Pants himself, is able to impregnate a human, something that goes against typical vampire lore.  But I, as a women’s studies professor, will be viewing the film with an eye to how it romanticizes sexual violence.

From where I sit, Twilight wrestles with gender norms, abstinence imperatives, and that age-old message foisted upon females: true love conquers all. No Buffy the Vampire Slayer nor her contemporary descendent, Sookie Stackhouse, the saga’s female protagonist is instead a rather weak damsel in distress, traipsing after the two leading men, one a domineering vampire, the other a prone-to-violence werewolf.

Though the bruised body of post-coitus Bella in the opening sections of the Breaking Dawn should concern anyone who cares about violence against women, in all likelihood, what instead will interest viewers is Bella’s “morning after” body, which, after a night of Edward’s headboard busting and pillow biting, will be covered in bruises and feathers – a sort of modern day, sexed-up take on being tarred and feathered. But Bella’s battered body, like the bodies of so many women, will likely be largely forgotten in between frames.

Yet the saga, and this segment in particular, begs the question: “Is sexualized violence acceptable?”

Why don’t images of battered women give us more pause, especially on a day like today –  Women’s Equality Day.

Bella shares her first name with the initiator of today’s 40-year old holiday, Bella Abzug.  But any similarity stops there. The one Bella was famous for her hats and her saying “This woman’s place is in the House—the House of Representatives,” the other for her clumsiness, and for promoting the idea that a woman’s place is in the domestic home (whether she be cooking for her father – as in the first three books – or bedding her beloved vampire husband – as in the last).

Sure, Meyer’s Bella gets a super-power at the end, but it is the power to cocoon others in a protective mind shield – a sort of virtual womb space. Yes, you got it: she is allowed the power to mother.

While the Twilight saga has hints of female power– a Wall-Street savvy female vampire and a smattering of female vampire leaders, the overwhelming undercurrent of romance, sexual violence, and female subordination – as well as the “happy” ending of Bella as wed, bed, and bruised – suggests the best path for us women is not the road to equality but true love, a myth as enduring as vampires.

To be sure, the film is hardly the only one to render females as the second sex and proffer such depictions of violence sex as proof that true love is in the air. But, given the rabid popularity of the saga, and the highly anticipated depiction of the sex scenes, we should take a human moment  and consider what the other Bella – Bella Abzug– would make of Bella Swan’s treatment in the film.  Is the type of equality we seek that in which we can choose to romanticize hot, abusive vampire sex?

I, for one, think we’d be better off wearing a crazy hat and insisting, as did Abzug’s resolution, that women not be treated as second-class-citizens, in life or in film.  From the onslaught against reproductive freedoms to the rape-blaming that frames women as at fault for the violence done to them, evidence that Women’s Equality Day is here in name only abounds, and not only in headlines, but also in representations of domestic violence in the pages of the rabidly popular Twilight saga and its film adaptations.

Though it’s been ninety-one years to the day since Congress ratified women’s right to vote, women’s place in the House of Representatives is still far from equal. And, more pervasively, a woman’s body is still not her own.

What if we could re-VAMP the Mommy Myth? (pun intended)

I have my first guest post up at Girl With Pen. It’s entitled “The Mommy Myth that Will Not Die” and analyzes the Twilight’s saga’s representation of motherhood.

Can you all give it a read and please leave a comment?

Thanks much!!!

http://girlwpen.com/?p=1803