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 weddings were not framed as “The Event That Will Change Everything”? (Thoughts on the Breaking Dawn trailer and continuing wedding fervor ala Twilight)

Rivaled recently by Royal Wedding fervor, the Bella Swan/Edward Cullen union will soon have the world agog in all things weddings.

The recently released Breaking Dawn trailer centered attention on the upcoming nuptials with an almost fetishistic focus on the wedding invitation – an aspect of weddings that is of utmost importance (as anyone familiar with the wedding industrial complex or with planning a wedding surely knows).

 

The trailer’s framing of the wedding as “the event that will change everything”  is hardly surprising given the way the wedding/honeymoon/headboard-busting has been framed as THE climax (pun intended) of the Twilight saga. More generally, popular culture continues to frame weddings as THE EVENT of a female’s life as in all the shows dedicated to getting married (The Bachelor), to planning a wedding (My Fair Wedding), to brides (Bridezillas) – followed in short order, of course, by the NEXT EVENT – the babies (as in shows such as A Baby Story, Bringing Home Baby, and Baby’s First Day).

As documented in books such as White Weddings or as in posts about the wedding industrial complex (as here, here, and here), society is in the grip of severe wedding fever, a fever which is on the one hand very expensive and promotes our consumer-driven society, and, on the other, which keeps humans (and females especially) all wrapped up in a romance narrative framed by ideas about (white) purity, true love, happily ever after, and normative (read monogamous and heterosexual) gender/sexuality roles.

This is one of the many reasons we, as a society, are so seduced by Twilight, it taps into our cultural love affair with weddings and romance BIG TIME.  And, in a few short months, this human-vampire union will be writ large on cinematic screens, allowing fans to wed themselves even more deeply to the immortal love-story between Bella and Edward.

The trailer pays lip service to the very narrative that I see driving a huge part of Twilight’s popularity – that love can last forever and that the best kind of love is that between a female and a male joined in marriage and resulting in the creation of children. New? Hardly. New for vampire tales? Why, yes. And that is a bit allure of the saga – taking things that are subversive and sinister – vampires, werewolves, immortality – and wrapping them in a true love conquers all package. Such a perfect, depoliticized message for our conformist times…

The fever surrounding the cinematic depiction of this wedding will no doubt rival another union that recently captured the public imagination, Kate and William’s royal nuptials. Like the sexy feminist, I was annoyed with this wedding and its hijacking of our mental desktops. As she asked, “when was the last time you saw the media go ga ga over a minority union, inter-racial marriage or gay marriage for that matter?” Hmmm, I can’t recall that EVER happening.

It’s not that weddings themselves are bad, rather, as the sexy feminist puts it so well, it’s that “The global focus on this wedding reinforces the most anti-feminist message around: Get married, ladies, and all your dreams will come true.”

Yet, am I excited about the film’s release and the cinematic depiction of Bella’s marriage to her virginity warrior? Of course. Would I like to get an invite? Sure! Even though I doubt there would be an open bar or that great of food! Like Kiva Reardon’s arguments at Ms. Magazine Blog as to why she was going to watch the Royal Wedding, I contend that we ignore popular culture (and its weddings!) at our peril. Whether one has wedding fever or not, understanding why so many do is key to a feminist analysis of our current societal norms and institutions.
So, come November 18, I will be there. I hope there will be cake.

 

 

What if you don’t want a bundle of joy let alone a man to call your own?

We live in a culture addicted to the idea of weddings, marriage, and babies. TLC is just one of the smorgasbords where we are encouraged to stuff ourselves silly on a veritable buffet of shows touting white poufy dresses and perfectly planned pregnancies.

The other evening, a quick exchange left me reeling. “All my daughter wants is to get married and have babies. It’s all she talks about,” a mother told me as we chatted during a concert intermission. Said daughter is eleven. ELEVEN! It is bad enough that each semester so many of my female women’s studies students share in their introductory speeches something of the variety “Yeah, I’m in college, but my real goals are to get married and have kids. I dream of being able to be a stay at home mom.” But – ELEVEN? Makes me want to move to another planet.

Now, far those of your raising your pitchforks in the air and shouting “Shut up you feminist baby hater!,” step back. I do not hate babies. I had two of them. Still love them both even though they are far beyond the gaga baby phase our culture fixates on. I don’t hate stay at home mom’s or see them as feminist sell-outs. This fabricated “mommy war” (so fabulously explored in Susan Douglas’ work) is yet another tool of the patriarchy that hammers away at women, keeping them firmly divided and conquered.

If you wanna have you some babies, fine. If hetero monogamy is your slice of pie, eat up. These choices are not the problem. The problem is that our culture does not present them as choices, but as imperatives. We live under what I have elsewhere called “the woman as womb paradigm.” If you don’t got or don’t want a baby and hubby, you ain’t squat.

Perhaps nothing more vividly captures our accelerating descent into this regressive paradigm than the final book of the Twilight saga, Breaking Dawn. Bella, our intelligent, klutzy heroine drawn to danger and adventure, mutates into a pregnant cyborg, her body bruised, battered, and broken from the parasite within. Gone are her college plans, her motorbike-riding-self – in their place, a fetus-incubator fixated on how much she loves, loves, loves the growing BOY inside her. Of course, said boy turns out to be a girl, but how typical that she transfers her fixation on Edward to what she envisions as mini-Edward! Like a good patriarchal daughter, she envisions the perfect child as male. When the baby is female, she then names it after her mother and mother-in-law, combining Renee and Esmee into Renesmee. Ah, what a potent symbol of this human/vampire hybrid’s future – she too can be a mommy, her name a metaphor for her future role! And, as she ages so far beyond her years, maybe she can aim for mommyhood at 11 rather than Bella’s 18. She already has a wolf-boy to call her own to help her produce the pups. Yuckety yuck yuck yuck.