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…

What if you rape someone while sleepwalking?

Well, no problem! How could we blame you? You were asleep, after all.

Come on, how many of you have sex while sleeping? Raise your hands!

Ok, now how many of you have accidentally and unknowingly raped someone while sleeping? Not too many of you?

Well, that doesn’t mean that the poor guy in the UK who was cleared of rape in a recent trial on the grounds he was sleepwalking doesn’t deserve to be pardoned.

I mean, it can be very easy to accidentally find a sleeping woman when you are yourself sleeping, to become accidentally and unknowingly aroused,  to accidentally rape her, and then to wake up with no knowledge of your criminal behavior whatsoever.

Come on hetero ladies out there, how many men in your lives sleep-walk around the community with hard-ons and (ooops) rape people while sleeping? It’s an easy mistake to make!

So, why all the fuss about this guy being cleared of rape charges? We can’t BLAME him for something he didn’t knowingly do.

We might, however, blame the woman who was raped – what was she thinking being there in her own home, in her daughter’s bedroom, fast asleep, all ready and willing to be raped? Boy, the ways in which women ask for it never seek to amaze me!  As if having a vagina is not asking for it enough, she had to actually be asleep too? How could we blame the poor sleepwalking guy given these facts?

Are these the kind of thoughts that went through the judge’s head in this recent UK case? Through the jurors? How in the F*** can someone be given the “get out of rape free” card on a sleepwalking defense?

Now, I admit a penis is not one of my bodily accoutrements, but from my experiences with those of penis privilege, sex takes a bit of focus – it does not seem something easily carried out while sleeping. Now, erotic dreams, (wet or dry) are one thing, but actual sex while asleep? Sounds pretty unlikely.

If sex while sleeping is unlikely, rape while sleeping seems damn near impossible. It also belies the imagination that people can violently assault, stab, and even murder in their sleep. Yet, the sleepwalking defense has been used in many such cases.  For example, in May 2008 a 28 year old Florida man was cleared of sexually molesting a 12 year old girl after using a sleepwalking defense.  Further, in 1999, the sleepwalking defense was used by a man who stabbed his wife 44 times then drowned her in the family swimming pool.

While I am no sleepwalking expert, I find this defense extremely problematic – and most definitely so in this recent UK rape case. For one, the man who has been acquitted, Jason Jeal, has NO MEDICAL HISTORY OF SLEEPWALKING. His lawyer suggested to the jury he should be cleared of charges as he was sleepwalking, noting that people do crazy things such as “going to the toilet in the wardrobe” while asleep. Hmmm, so dreaming of walking to the bathroom and accidentally peeing in your closet is equivalent to passing out in your friend’s home and then RAPING her as she sleeps next to her nine year old daughter? Unbelievable.

Worryingly, two other recent UK cases allowed “sexsomnia” to be used as justification for acquittal.  Kenneth Ecott, 26, was not charged with raping a 15 year-old-girl as he was supposedly asleep. James Bilton, 22, was cleared of three counts of rape on a sleepwalking defense in 2005.

Jane McKenna, the woman raped by Jason Jeal, has waived her right to anonymity as she is concerned about more attackers using the sleepwalking defense.  She notes, “These people should not just walk free – they should either be given a prison sentence or medical treatment, otherwise we could find more and more people finding this defence on the Internet and using it.”

Indeed, it seems just about anything can get you acquitted of rape these days. What’s next? The “hard-on defense”?  “I had a hard on, judge, it wasn’t intentional. My boner made me do it.”

According to UK law, a defendant is guilty of rape only if the attack is intentional. Forgive me for my naiveté, but I think being able to claim sleep as a defense is whack. How is it that much different from “I was drunk. I don’t remember. I didn’t do it on purpose.”  How is “not remembering” (Jeal’s defense) because one is supposedly asleep different from “not remembering” because one was intoxicated?

How would these cases be different, I wonder, if it was women doing the rape, murder, and sexual assault? I somehow doubt they would be handed the “get off scot free” card quite as easily…

Rape and sexual assault is a product of patriarchy (as this post at Womanist Musings clarifies). Yet, colluders such as Helen Mirin still use the “she was asking for it” card. When Mirin claims that women are “animalistic” and “sexually jealous,” she entirely forgets the ways in which patriarchy CONDONES and PROMOTES and even ENCOURAGES rape – does so, to such an extent in fact, that now men can pull the “I was asleep” card and get off rape charges with NO PUNISHMENT, NO COUNSELING, NO MEDICAL TREATMENT, NADA!  Absolutely disgusting.