I’ll just warn you now that this is going to be a bit of a rant, which I reserve the right to do on my own blog. Here’s the thing… I see a lot of these memes on Facebook about Bella vs. Katniss, how the former is a terrible role model for young women, and the latter is what we should all strive to be.
Well, I disagree. I have nothing against Katniss, or kickass females in literature, quite the opposite. I love them! One of my favorite characters in my own Forbidden Trilogy is Lucy—also a fan favorite—because she’s strong and kickass and doesn’t take crap from anyone. Love it!
But here’s the thing. There are many kinds of strength in the world, and killing food (or people) with a bow and arrow isn’t the only kind. It concerns me that in this post-feminist wave to empower girls to be strong, independent women, we are devaluing other qualities that also carry their own kind of strength.
But first, let’s talk about the fact that this is fiction. That means it’s not real. These people aren’t real, their stories aren’t real. I hate to break it to the weeping fans who have gone viral with Youtube videos, but Bella and Edward didn’t break up. The actors who played them broke up. They are not their parts.
Now that we’re clear on that, let’s talk about this image. Yes, if you took out the love triangle in Twilight, you would have been left with a book about a girl who moves to a rainy town. Know why? Because the series was A ROMANCE. So, yeah, if you take the romance out of the romance, then you’re not left with much. Duh.
The Hunger Games was never billed as a romance, and as far as romances went, it kinda sucked. I never liked Peeta, and her choice at the end of the series was less than epic—especially given the pragmatic way in which she made the choice. Not a romance, people. So the story is inherently going to be about other things, with romance on the side, thank you very much.
Twilight was a romance, with a teeny tiny bit of adventure on the side. Sure, you may think that romance sucked too, and you’re totally entitled to your opinion, but to say that it sucked because the story was about the romance, is kind of like saying you really hate the chicken dinner because it had chicken. Um, okay, next time order something different. You know, something without chicken. Or maybe something with chicken on the side.
So, because of this inherent difference in a romance and a dystopian adventure, you’re not going to have the same kind of female lead. Sure, Katniss is badass. She kills dinner and can probably cook it. She takes on an empire of baddies and survives a hero. Awesome. Love it. We need more girls like her in our literature.
But why does Bella have to be villianized to make Katniss a great hero for girls? People say she’s weak, she’s boy obsessed, she’s boring, she’s dating a pedophile. Whatever.
**On a totally side rant to the main rant… Edward is not a pedophile, and not just because he looks 18 (which he doesn’t, let’s be honest.). No, he’s not a pedophile because A: He’s a FREAKING VAMPIRE! I find it so ironic and bizarre when people try to hold NOT REAL, MYTHOLOGICAL beings to human standards. And not just human standards, but distinctly western morals. Hell, in some places, the age of consent is 17 and even 15, so no pedophilia there. So, mostly US morals.
But B: He’s not a pedophile because a pedophile is someone who is sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children. Get it? We can arbitrarily assign a random age that says “poof, you’re an adult and can consent to stuff,” but notice it’s arbitrary? Different countries and even different states have different ages. It means nothing. Biology rules, and throughout history puberty has been the deciding factor for that stuff. I’d say Bella satisfies any criteria for this being a mutually consenting relationship. Plus, they didn’t even have sex until marriage, so come on people… **
Okay, mini side rant over, let’s get back to the main issues. I’m not going to debate the writing quality or story or plot quality of the books. I’m just looking at these two girls, which I’ve already shown is still not a fair comparison since by the nature of them being fiction, they are bound by the tropes of their genre.
But let’s look at Bella. Why is she getting a bad rap? Here’s how I see her.
1. She’s courageous. Bella risks her life time and again for the people she loves, not just her boyfriend, but her father, her mother, Jacob, Edward and his whole family. She’s not physically strong, but let’s face it, who among us would stand a chance against super strong super fast vampires? None of us are Buffy (as much as I would totally love to be!). Bella was ordinary, like most of us, and she had no chance against those characters. But she did have courage, and she was willing to die for those she loved, without hesitancy.
2. She’s caring. Bella is criticized because she cooked and cleaned for her dad. She’s too domestic, not at all in line with the modern feminists idea of strength. But why is this bad? She knows how to care for her family. She wants to be a wife and a mother. I’m not saying women should be forced to be those things, or that they should be deprived of an education or career, but shouldn’t the freedom to choose also allow for the freedom to make the choices Bella made? Is it so bad that she found happiness in caring for her family in that way?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not little miss housewife. My husband and I both care for our kids and house, and he probably does more during times when I’m working more. I can’t make elaborate dinners from scratch, and when I first read Twlight it seemed absurd that she did all that stuff. But I talked to my best friend, who often had to cook and clean for her whole family growing up, and I realized not everyone was raised on boxed mac and cheese. Go figure.
So again, why are these qualities signs of weakness? It seems to me that being in a loving relationship with someone, and having a supportive family, and enjoying that, is a lot healthier than running off with a bow and arrow to fight other teens to the death for sport. Given the choice, I’d take the happy family, wouldn’t you?
3. She understands love and loss. Okay, I know a lot of you think her response to Edward leaving was weak and pathetic and <insert a bunch of insults here.> But, I gotta say, that would be me if Dmytry left. I mean, I have kids, so I’d pull it together, but if I didn’t, and the entire life and entire family I fit in with and loved disappeared… if the man I loved and my best friend and a life so extraordinary it was beyond real… if it all went away, I’d be curled up in a ball for awhile too. It would take some time to pull it back together. If you’ve ever loved like that, felt that deeply, then you know… it’s not something you can snap back from. When Dmytry and I were apart, it tore me to pieces sometime. And this was a romance. It was about the love. But even when she didn’t think she was good enough for him, she still risked everything to save him, because that’s the kind of person she was. Is that really so bad?
4. She’s smart. I don’t think she’s given enough credit for this. She reads British classics for fun (and that was before it was all the rage) and she did well in science. School wasn’t the focus (remember, romance?) but we see enough about her to know that she was smart. She was level headed and grounded. She got her work done and read and studied and still helped with the cooking and cleaning and grocery shopping. She may not have had big plans for her future, for what she wanted to be when she grew up, but then, neither did Katniss. But she had a good head on her shoulders and she did well in school.
5. Her love endured. Even after Edward left, even after she thought it was over because she wasn’t good enough, her love endured. She was honest with Jacob and she was never wishy washy. She made it clear from day one that if ever given the chance, it would be Edward. She showed that you can love deeply, and she did. She deeply loved everyone in her life, her parents and Jacob and Edward and his family. And in the end, her daughter. She gave of herself entirely to her love and never let it go.
That last quality is what does it for me. It’s what makes her so strong. Nothing could break her, even when she was dying. Even when she couldn’t fight the big bad guys. She stayed true to the people she loved. I think that’s a pretty amazing quality. Also, once she was a vampire and actually had a fighting chance to… well… fight, she did. She protected everyone from the Volturi. She was the hero. No one ever talks about that.
Katniss was up against humans. Bella was a human up against immortal super beings. She wasn’t a super hero, at least not until the end, but she embodied a lot of qualities that made her a hero in my eyes.
This doesn’t take anything from Katniss. She had her own strengths and struggles. They live in different worlds, in different genres, and so the kind of role model they become is very different, but I think there are worse role models for young women then Bella Swan. Several pop stars and reality television stars come to mind.
Do I think all girls should act like they live in a paranormal romance and spend their lives searching for a sparkly soul mate? No. But do I think that intelligence, loyalty, courage and steadfast love are admirable traits that anyone would do well to cultivate? Why yes, yes I do.
What about you? Are you #TeamBella or #TeamKatniss? Or, like me, do you see value in both, for different reasons?
Also, while you’re here, take a minute to enter my September giveaway for some fun books and swag. Oh, and you get some kickass heroines in my books, don’t worry! (They’re action/adventures with romance on the side.)