Size Matters

There’s so much that’s wrong with this post that it’s hard to know where to start or, for that matter, whether it’s worth the effort to offer an alternative. The commenters actually do a really good job getting at the basic stupidity of the post. But I decided that I want to get at the conflation of “grown-ups” and critics and society, because that conflation lets Berlatsky pass off the exact opposite of the truth as the truth.

You can see it in the title of the post–“‘Twilight’ vs. ‘Hunger Games’: Why Do So Many Grown-Ups Hate Bella?” So many grown-ups hate Bella? Who are these grown-ups? Berlatsky clarifies: “Critics have expressed the Katniss-would-beat-the-tar-out-of-Bella dynamic in various ways.” Oh, the grown-ups are critics. Okay. Critics do tend to like the Hunger Games trilogy better than the Twilight books.

But then, look at how he moves out from that: “The relative discomfort with Bella, then, can be seen as reflecting a larger discomfort with femininity. That discomfort is prevalent not just among men, but (as Melinda Beasi says) among women as well.” So, it’s not just critics, it’s society at large and feminists.

No. This is exactly wrong. Even if most critics have problems with Bella, even if I buy everything else in Berlantsky’s argument (which I don’t), you cannot reason from that a reflection of a larger societal discomfort with femininity. Why not? Because in our larger society, Bella is ridiculously popular.

Accurate publishing numbers are hard to come by, but back in 2009, USA Today reported that Meyer had sold 40 million copies of the Twilight books. Yes, forty million. It’s probably sold more than that, but let’s keep our thumb on the scale here.

I couldn’t find good numbers for the Hunger Games trilogy, but just based on the probably kind of bullshit numbers at Wikipedia, I think we can safely say that each of these books has sold less than two million, so, in total, if we’re being way generous, 6 million copies. Nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s not remotely close to 40 million.

But Berlatsky says, “Comparing Twilight and The Hunger Games, it’s easy to see why second-wave feminists, and adults in general, find a girly teen so much less attractive than a tomboyish one.” This just isn’t so. Forty is greater than six. By a lot. If only a quarter of Twilight’s readers are adults, that’s still ten million, which is more than all of the Hunger Games readers. If only an eighth of all of Twilight’s readers are adults, that’s pretty much the same as the whole readership for the Hunger Games. There is simply no evidence that adults in general find a girly teen so much less attractive than a tomboyish one if we are using the receptions of Twilight and the Hunger Games as our barometer. In fact, the evidence suggests exactly the opposite.

11 thoughts on “Size Matters

  1. Oh, hell. Thank you. I read that and thought, my god, ninety things wrong. Then I read the comments, and the guy’s right in there, mansplaining to everybody over and over that he wasn’t really saying what the article said about femininity being all weak and passive and lame, it was the rest of the world that thought that and he was just reporting it. Or something. You cut the BS down to size. Thanks.

  2. two things:

    1. you can’t judge the liking or disliking of bella by the copies sold of “twilight” because it has to be allowed that some of the buyers did not yet know enough about bella until after they bought the book.

    B. i hated bella because she kept putting herself in a position of danger, and it grew tired and annoying. nobody with half a brain would be either that unable to recognize a dangerous situation or that much of a glutton for punishment.

  3. I was rather put off by the whole notion that the better character is the one who can kick the other’s ass. I just don’t get that; I am supposed to only root for characters in fiction that are the baddest of asses? Aragorn could have mopped the floor with Sam, but you don’t see me naming my firstborn Aragorn.
    And what kind of “feminist ideal” is being able to physically beat someone else into submission? He is saying, “It’s ok, Bella finally gets really tough in the end.” Geez, I can’t believe this was in The Atlantic.
    (And Superman is DC and the Hulk is Marvel. Apples and oranges, buddy.)

  4. I read an argument awhile back that the popularity of Twilight was a backlash against feminism. The theory being that the popularity shows that teen age girl’s secret dream is to be rescued and fought over by guys just like Bella. The guy thought this was the forerunner to a lot of more passive women as the teens grow up. Of course, the entire book was about how people try to go back toward gender stereotypes no matter how much our culture pushes them away.

  5. Cracker, the amount of weird assumptions he has about what anyone values is astronomical. Plus, there’s something weird about thinking that characters people like necessarily line up with what they value in actual people. I LOVE the Sandman Slim books. They are, right now, my favorite smartly trashy books. It doesn’t mean I think the best men are those who could rule Hell (well… maybe I do think that…. no, I’m kidding).

    W., that’s actually one of my favorite things about learning about these early Nashville women. You know these were women (and men) who believed in some powerful gender roles–men do these things, women do those. But in the midst of that, you’ve got Timothy Demonbreun’s mistress openly having his babies, opening her own tavern/stagecoach stop, etc., Charlotte Robertson saving the town through the judicious use of dogs, Sarah Buchanan running around at the last moments of her pregnancy handing out bullets and nagging men into saving Buchanan Station. And on and on.

    I don’t think these women thought that what they were doing was unwomanly or not feminine. But our ideas of what is feminine and what is masculine change. So, really, when someone is like “Oh, people always revert to gender stereotypes in the end,” I’m curious about what stereotypes these are. The things we think are traditionally feminine and masculine or the things that actually were traditionally feminine and masculine?

  6. I haven’t read either book yet, but one of my favorite authors, Tanya Huff, reviewed “Twilight” for a Canadian publication, and she opined that Bella was a poor role model for girls, because her whole life and self-image was wrapped up in male expectations. Also, she found it just a bit creepy that an old vampire like Edward was pining for a teenage girl.

  7. I have never EVER heard anyone say “Katniss, put that down!” or “Katniss, come back over here until I’m finished” or even “HEEEERE, Katniss!”

    But nearly every time I am in a store or a restaurant I hear a parent addressing their daughter–named Bella. My neighbours’ dog is named Bella. The Kindergartens at my sister’s school routinely have 4-5 little Bellas every year.

    How is this character so unpopular as to get people to name their loved ones for her?!?

    As for me, I find Bella deplorable. But Katniss isn’t all that fantastic, either. Then again, I’m silly enough to evaluate each of them as characters, not archetypes for my latest bullshit gender whacktheory.

  8. So many grown-ups hate Bella? Who are these grown-ups?

    Me. I hate Bella. I hated the Twilight book and I despised the movie. I had to read that book for a book club and made it halfway through before giving up because, life is short, people. I did not like Bella nor did I find her sympathetic or interesting in any way. Getting herself into one predicament after another and then being all “ooooh someone rescue me I’m helllllpless!” God I hate characters like that. Typical cheesy phony princess bullshit.

    And what was her problem, always tripping and falling or being afraid she was going to trip and fall, what’s wrong with her? Is she disabled or something? Is this supposed to make her endearing?

    Blech. You want a good vampire book? Read “The Passage” by Justin Cronin. That one had me by the nads from the first paragraph.

    (That said, I have not read Hunger Games.)

  9. From a brief bit of research, it seems like one reason ‘adults’ might prefer Katniss to Bella is that the former inhabits a more interesting world and, as such, herself is more interesting.

    Where the ‘Twilight’ novels offer mostly a mix of the lesser ‘Buffy’ episodes and teen romance novels, ‘The Hunger Game’ builds on some idiosyncratic but classic novel/films like ‘The Running Man,’ ‘Logan’s Run’ and ‘Rollerball’ {not to mention ‘Gladiator’} but featuring an appealing heroine as the ‘runner.’

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