In a classical sense, Feminism is defined as believing that women should have the same rights, freedoms, choices, privileges, and benefits as men in a civilized society. Under that relatively general definition, I would argue that most rational people, men and women, would classify themselves as feminists. In my eye, the feminist ideal is not one where women constantly make the 'correct' moral and/or professional decisions or choices that further their own independence, but merely that they have the freedom to do so if they so desire. So I ask the question, why exactly is the Twilight Saga inherently anti-feminist? I'm speaking merely to the movies and not the books, but as the series has unfolded, it's primarily been about one thing: Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) relentlessly pursuing a singular goal, to be in a long-term relationship with Edward Cullen, no matter what obstacle or constructive criticism is hurled her way. We may not agree with Bella's choice in men, but as I've written before (here), I'm not entirely sure the films agree with her either. Moreover, if feminism is about having the choice to, as a woman, live your life as you see fit, isn't her dogged pursuit of Mr. Cullen inherently feminist by virtue of it being absolutely Bella's choice?
Bella is not the only female in the Twilight Saga, something which critics of the series would do well to notice when discussing why the series has such a strong female following. Even if we disapprove of Bella's 'throw your life away for a guy' mentality, she is not the only example of womanhood on display. At the very least, we have Bella's school-age friends, who operate as an alternative to what a teenage girl can do with her life after high school. Hell, Anna Kendrick's Jessica openly rebuts Bella's seemingly close-minded choice, both indirectly in her graduation speech in Twilight Saga: Eclipse, and directly in the opening reel of Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part I when she wonders out-loud why an 18-year old girl would get married if she weren't already pregnant. And nearly every human and human/wolf spends pretty much the entirety of the first four films basically telling Bella *not* to run off with that brooding guy she met in her high school biology class (even if Taylor Lautner's Jacob has obviously selfish motivations). Even Edward himself seems to be trying to talk Bella out of it right up to the night before the wedding.
But no matter where the films stand on Bella's choices throughout the Twilight Saga (and New Moon doesn't exactly show Bella at her 'best'), they are absolutely presented as 'her choices.' It is her choice to make a life with Edward, it is her choice to allow herself to be turned into a vampire, it is her choice to refuse to terminate her unborn fetus when it directly threatens her life. Slight digression, but much of the talk regarding the most recent film has discussed its apparent value as anti-abortion propaganda But said pundits missed the fact that being pro-choice isn't about women choosing abortions but merely about women having access to a legal and safe abortion if they so choose. Moreover, during that middle hour of the fourth film, Bella is pretty much the only character in the film who doesn't want to terminate the pregnancy, so if we (the moviegoers) disagree with that decision, we're hardly alone or demonized for our opinions. Moreover, the whole scenario can be read as a young woman rebutting the men in her life who want to tell her what to do about her body. Also of note, the big fear is that this human/vampire hybrid baby will kill her during the pregnancy and um, Bella indeed dies, so those who favor terminating the pregnancy end up having a point.
Regardless of Breaking Dawn's take on abortion, feminism is not about forcing women to choose an independent path but merely giving women the choice to make that informed decision. For example it's no more just to shame women who choose to be stay-at-home mothers as 'betraying themselves' than it is to condemn working mothers as doing some kind of harm to their family unit. We debate back and forth about what is the 'correct' decision for today's women without realizing that feminism is not about the choice that one woman or another makes but merely the fact that she has that choice. Bella Swan is a fully-functional and intelligent young woman who makes a fully-formed decision about her life. We may disagree with that choice and may say that said decision makes her a poor role model for young women (that's a debate for a different day), but why exactly is Bella an anti-feminist character? Feminism is about women having the choice to live their lives as they wish to. And that is exactly what Bella does for nearly every moment of the Twilight Saga. Bella Swan may not be a role model in a conventional sense, but she is arguably a shining example of feminism in its purest, if not idealized, form.
Now you can tell me why I'm wrong. Is a female character inherently anti-feminist because she makes decisions that seem to fit in with the stereotypical patriarchy-approved life style, or is Bella a feminist because she fights for her right to both make her choices and have those choices be respected by her friends, family, and peers? Sound off below.
For other Twilight-essays I have written over the years (it does offer more food for thought than, say, Transformers), go here, here, and here.