Sunday, July 04, 2010

Patriarchal Twaddle

I'm visiting my sibling's family, and one of the kids is a fan of that recent book series, the one you know of. No, the other one. So I just read it.

And can I say, what a load of patriarchal twaddle.

Look, a girl-child who's clumsy and horny and constantly needs a boy-man to guide her to her new life, take care of her.

She's clumsy, feels unappealing, etc etc. He's a physical speciman, strong, fast, older, experienced, dangerous but not to her. And rich, of course.

He'll introduce her to her sexuality so she's not really responsible and sure as heck won't get pregnant. Immortal love and all that.


It's easy to see why the set up is so appealing to young women and girls in our patriarchy, but it's disheartening, too. It's so effing conservative, but when times are scary, conservative seems comforting, I guess.


I can't believe this, but I have a couple specific problems with the book.

1. If you could pass as an adult, would there be any way in hell you'd go back to high school? ANY WAY IN HELL? But there are what, four, five of these "family members" sitting through the hell of high school again, not because they have to, but because? Well, it's not clear why.

2. Why are they rich? There's one earning an income, supporting five (or have I lost count), as a rural doctor, while they drive around in endless sports cars. Yeah. And even the main female character doesn't seem to have money worries. She gets in a cab and pulls out four $20s. Really? Most high school kids carry that sort of money?

3. Predators. In the real world, most predators are actually at a disadvantage getting animal/insect prey. If you look at something like wolves, they give chase a LOT more than they actually catch their prey. That's because they've co-evolved, and if they were able to get their prey every single time, they'd have killed off all the prey, and then they'd either have to find another prey or starve themselves.

It's NOT because predators are smart enough to avoid killing off their prey, but because if things weren't sort of in balance through co-evolution, they'd have died off.

Now think of this predator group: they're FAR superior to their prey. In fact, they're so far superior that just about no prey would survive a predation attempt. (And if it did, it would become a predator, too?)

You don't think a predator that effective would kill off its prey pretty darned quickly? (Think of the flightless birds and how quickly they died off when effective predators got into their previously safish environment.)

Here's the thing: you can imagine a given individual predator choosing not to kill off his/her prey. But the predator next door is at a huge advantage at a given moment if it does take the prey, so long as taking the prey helps its reproductive success. How does that work with a group that doesn't reproduce like mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, fish, or whatever?

4. And finally, how does this sort of group evolve? Yeah, there's that.

But, I talk to my niece and other kids, and it's clear to me that the patriarchal narrative is really attractive, and critical thinking doesn't let you embrace the fantasy nearly as comfortingly.

And I despair.

We need a narrative that's not patriarchal twaddle, or we need to get rid of narrative.


  1. Anonymous10:00 AM

    Agree, agree, agreeeeeee.

    But romance (love, not the genre or the medieval language) itself is structured as patriarchal twaddle, isn't it? At least when it's not instantiated as full-on military conquest.

  2. Oh it's bad, bad writing - both because of its patriarchy and conservatism, not to mention the poor plotting. And Bella is as two-dimensional as any cartoon character.

    But young love with high stakes, regardless of the window dressing, is very appealing. Just like Romeo and Juliet is still convincing and alluring, despite the fact that I think the family rivalry is spurious. Twilight wants to be like that -- even using R&J in the second book as a set up. But it's not that good, mainly because Stephenie Meyer is not Shakespeare -- not because of her subject matter.

    And, I'm afraid, if we're going to get rid of patriarchal narrative, wouldn't we have to get rid of 90% of the canon? Including my beloved Shakespeare?

  3. Anonymous10:42 AM

    I found the whole thing disturbing because of the "he's dangerous but not to me" bit, what with his gallant struggle to control his temper, his following her around, and watching her sleep, not to mention physically carrying her from here to there. Finding this stuff romantic is just...a recipe for finding yourself in a controlling and abusive relationship.

  4. Well, not to spoil the last book for you, but apparently one CAN get pregnant in such a situation. And have a super-special baby and become the most powerful one of all in the end.

    I can appreciate the appeal, particularly to women who've felt erased and unempowered all their lives. Not that I necessarily approve or admire the love story, mind you, but I can understand where it comes from.

    (I can get into a whole hand-waving explanation of the clan's wealth, but that'd simply show that I've given too much thought to these things. *sigh* Which I have, after all, having written on their patriarch, after all.)

  5. Maybe you could turn your niece onto The Hunger Games instead? I've only read the first book, but so far there's a smart, skeptical, competent heroine and a powerful message about resisting authority and received narratives. (Plus, it's a damned exciting read, and I am SO impatient for Amazon to send me the second volume!)

  6. I think you all will appreciate this:

    Hee hee.

  7. I share this link with everyone, because it is the only thing that makes that makes the fact that I read the first two books bearable (I threw the second one across the room at the end because I was so angry; I also couldn't believe that the villain never actually appears--what horrible writing):

    Also delager posted Alex Day reading the first one; he's young and sees how stupid they are, so that helps:

    They read like an introduction to abusive relationships. While I get that pre- and young teen girls would like the appeal of the chaste romance that is all about longing (and what twelve-year-old doesn't feel awkward?), I really don't understand the college students and adult women who enjoy this crap. I have very intelligent and feminist friends who like them (and we usually agree on books) and I just don't get it.

  8. Anonymous1:34 PM

    Problem 2 - They are rich because the Doctor Vamp has been working for centuries as a Doctor and has clearly been smart with money.

    Problems 3 & 4 - These predators are supernatural and immortal, so these problems aren't problems for them.

  9. Meg, yep, you're right. It has to go.

    Fie, I'm willing to give up Shakespeare to end patriarchy. In an instant.

    Anastasia, Indeed, controlling and abusive. And ucky!

    Janice, No worries about spoiling it for ME! :)

    Fretful, Thanks for the suggestion!

    Victoria, Thanks, that's GREAT!
    Tree, thanks :)

    Anonymous, Yeah, and how does he get his license to practice renewed?

  10. Fretful - The Hunger Games is really delightful. I didn't think it was possible, but the second book is even better than the first. I can't wait for the third!! I believe it's due out in August this year. I read somewhere that the first book is being made into a movie and will be released next year. Hope they don't screw it up!!

    Live in a world without romance and Shakespeare? I'll pass.

  11. thhhhfffth. i'm so glad my daughter's too old for this particular series. and that she'd hate the messages.

  12. I hate these books too (couldn't even read to the end of the first one) and agree with most of your criticisms, but I think the getting rich thing is easy. Given the miracle of compound interest, it would be really hard to immortals NOT to amass an insane amount of money. Deposit $1 and never add to it again, and in 600 years you have more than $50 million, even assuming a low interest rate of 3%.

    Not to mention, they could probably just sell off the occasional family heirloom from the 12th century now and then.

  13. Thanks for the Hunger Games tip.

    I've avoided reading these because, really, do I need another reason to be furious? I'm glad someone else did and could report.

  14. Anonymous9:37 AM

    I can't stop laughing about the not going back to high school point. Indeed!

  15. You know that Meyer is Mormon, right? So of course the books are patriarchal twaddle. A friend refers to them as "Mormon abstinence porn."

  16. You will likely appreciate the Buffy v. Edward video if you haven't already seen it. It is among my favorite mashups.

    I proudly wore my "Then Buffy Staked Edward. The End" t-shirt on the day Eclipse opened because patriarchal twaddle indeed.

  17. I read the first book because my students thought it was unfair that I get to tell them what to read all the time, and they don't get to tell me. I very nearly vented my brain with a steak knife to make all the crappy writing and dangerous mnessages to tweens and general yuck fall out.

    Then they told me the movie was better, so I watched that. These kids owe me about 7 hours of my life back.

    However, the money is the easiest to explain. They have only been a "family" for the past century or so, and one of the sisters--the dancy, impy one (not the jealous, bitchy one) is prescient. They invest country doctor earnings as she tells them, and BOOM! Insta-wealth.

  18. Oh, and I did think of you, Bardiac, when Edward, who has had the advantage of attending high school English classes over and over again for nigh on 90 years proves his high intellect and sophistication by informing Bella that Romeo seems kinda fickle. 100years of high school English equals one day in Intro to Shakespeare, apparently.