It’s my pleasure to introduce a guest blogger today: Natalie Wilson.
Natalie Wilson is a literature and women’s studies scholar, blogger, and author. She teaches at Cal State San Marcos and specializes the areas of gender studies, feminism, feminist theory, girl studies, militarism, body studies, boy culture and masculinity, contemporary literature, and popular culture. She is founder of the blogs Professor, What If…? and Seduced by Twilight. She is currently working on Seduced by Twilight, a book examining the Twilight cultural phenomenon from a feminist perspective.
The Mommy Myth That Will Not Die: Bella Swan and Global Motherhood
Living inside our media-saturated US bubble, one might view motherhood as a competitive sport (ala Kate and her eight), as a fashion statement (think Katie Holmes and her impeccably dressed little Suri), as a way to prove one’s enduring hotness (such as Heidi Klum’s post-partum walk down the runway), or even as a testament that one cares about the world (in Madonna or Angelina Jolie adoption-style).
If these media representations of motherhood are to be trusted, what Susan Douglas named “the mommy myth,” where women are supposed to be perfect, gorgeous, dedicated super-moms, still dominates the cultural imagination.
Twilight, via the character of Bella Swan, breathes immortal life into this myth. In Breaking Dawn, the fourth book of the series, Bella transforms from reluctant wife into exultant expectant mom all in the blink of one headboard-busting sexual encounter.
The celebration of maternal martyrdom and mothering as the be-all and end-all of female existence that the final book of Stephenie Meyer’s saga enacts is hard to stomach, even for me–a mother of two that loves being a mom.
The problem is that Bella is a modern June Cleaver–too perfect, too submissive, and too ready to defer to her Mr. Cleaver (embodied by uber-dad, Edward Cullen). Once she is a vampire mommy, college plans are set aside, vampire adventures delayed, and instead, she becomes that monster we all love to hate: perfect mom.
Bella could not be more privileged; she is white, heterosexual, has endless wealth, super-powers, and a bevy of around the clock vampire and werewolf babysitters at her beck and call. She will never have to worry about stretching her budget, not being able to afford healthcare for her daughter, not having access to clean water.
While Bella and her similarly perfect vampire mother-in-law Esmee convey that motherhood is nothing but a joy and women who don’t desire babies are cuckoo, the text silences non-white, non-first-world mothers. Why does Native American mother Sue Clearwater have no voice in the story? Why are South-American women represented as fierce, untrustworthy animals? And why is Leah, the one lone female werewolf, called a “genetic dead end” due to her infertility? (This strand of the narrative would have been an opportunity to explore the historical sterilization of indigenous women. No such luck, though. Instead, we only learn she is a complaining bitch, an annoyance to the male alpha wolves who hate having to deal with a female in their testosterone fueled midsts.)
Globally, for many women, getting pregnant is one of the most dangerous things you can do. It makes you more susceptible to procuring diseases, to enduring poverty, to dying. Around the world, one female dies from pregnancy or labor every minute. That’s 1,440 females a day. Most of these women are not located in the first world nor can they choose, like Bella, to become vampires.
Twilight, loved by many mothers around the world, fails to give voice to the realities of global motherhood. To do so may be asking too much of this lightweight vampire tale; but could not the billions in profit the series is generating be used in some way to curtail maternal mortality rates? Seeing as the series suggests all women’s lives are made better by motherhood, perhaps it should put its money where its mouth is, giving more women more access to prenatal care and reproductive justice.
Now, that’s a dream I could sink my teeth into.