Bedtime Stories- The Twilight/Fifty Shades Impact on How We (and Our Teens) Think About Relationships

I was wishing for a warmer Halloween that year!

I was wishing for a warmer Halloween that year!

As a little girl, I’d pretend to be Snow White and sing “I’m Wishing” over and over again. Clearly, the dream of a prince finding me and kissing me out of an evil spell was a child’s wish, not a grown woman’s. (Uh,hello? The dude can show up any time. I’ll even pretend to be asleep. I have the best, new lip gloss that’s the perfect red…I’m all ready for him…)

Just kidding!

Ha! Had you for a minute, didn’t I?  Truth be told all of us hold that little dream in our hearts, that secret wish that the one perfect person will find us, love us and be our happily ever after. It’s the standard idea behind most romance novels, movies and tv shows and as far as I’m concerned, it’s harmless. You figure it out at some point that yes, there are lots of frogs that get kissed along the way, but you should (if you’re smart) appreciate it when you find something with someone that you can see lasting forever.

There was a backlash against fairy tales a few years back, and feminist moms were quick to point out that the messages that were being sent to girls weren’t healthy. Maybe so, but if you haven’t taught your daughter that there are no such things as fairy godmothers, or evil spell casting witches, is the problem the book of fairy tales, the Disney movies or you?  It’s an important thing to consider before you complain about who is to blame for what when it comes to your kids.  Around the same time, there was an article published (this isn’t the one I’m thinking of, but it’s the same idea – thanks, Google) and I forget who wrote it, that presented what the value in fairy tales actually is by discussing the virtues each one actually represented.  Not long after that, Disney took the hint, too and we started seeing more empowered heroines in their animated features, even so far as to see princesses that make it through the movie without riding off into the sunset with a prince AND manage to save the day themselves. Welcome to the 21st century, everyone!

Cut to modern ‘fairy tales’ like the Twilight trilogy and Fifty Shades of Grey. My friend and her husband (who have one of the best marriages going, in my opinion) have two beautiful daughters,one of whom is fourteen. As it happens, this teenager asked her mother (my friend) what bondage was and then went on to explain that she’d heard about it on the school bus from another girl who’d been bragging about reading the Fifty Shades of Grey books and had been to see the movie. My friend was horrified and grateful that at least her daughter is still comfortable talking to her about these things.  We talked a bit about the damage books and movies like these can cause for young girls and it’s amazingly NOT about body and self image. It’s about something that is actually worse, in my opinion, if such a thing is possible.

So, first, a bit about me. The first guy I had sex with was at one time, a really nice guy.  I hope he is now, since we all grow up and get kicked in the pants by life at the times most appropriate for our progression into maturity.  We knew each other in school, and when I ‘re met’ him later, he blocked the drive through at the McDonald’s I worked in until I gave him my phone number.  Sweet, right? I was nineteen.

Three months later, he raised a hand to hit me for the first time. He was drunk and stoned, and tripped over himself, which made me laugh. With complete cold anger, he looked at me and said, “Don’t you dare f-ing laugh at me again.” Which made me laugh  harder, and then he made a gesture that looked a lot like he was preparing to slap me. HARD. I stepped back and said that he’d have to actually catch me before he could hit me, and that was it.  His brother helped him up and drove me home, leaving me with the advice to maybe get out while I still could.

We were together for another seven months.

There were two other incidents that were similar, and the last one ended with me telling this guy that if he tried it, he’d succeed and he’d hurt me, but it would only happen once. He took me seriously  and kept his hands to himself. I stayed with him for so many reasons that do not make any kind of sense now. I was going to change him. I was going to help him get on track, find a direction, clean up and live happily ever after. My pure love for him was going to be the thing that saved him from himself. I was convinced that this was how it was all meant to be.

You can guess what happened, can’t you?

We broke up, badly. There were harassing phone calls, stalking incidents and so on. All my pure love did was put me in danger and gave him a place to vent the ugliness he was feeling inside at the time.

Twilight, and it’s sequels are pretty destructive for young girls to be exposed to. I don’t understand the mothers that giggle with their teenage daughters and proclaim their preference for “Team Edward” or ‘Team Jacob”.  It’s clear that these women aren’t seeing the forest for the dysfunctional trees, and it boggles my mind. So, let me help.

Edward, the hundreds of years old vampire? A pedophile. There is nothing that such a creature could want from the bland yet universally loved teenager Bella Swann. Please don’t tell me how he drinks animal blood, either. (The ways vampires have been destroyed by Stephanie Meyer deserve a post of their own….) She’s lunch, not love, but he draws her into a relationship that puts her life in danger as a plot device until the only way to save her is to turn her into a vampire. How is that any less destructive than an orphan that’s plucked from obscurity by a prince of her own age, to live happily ever after as a princess in a kingdom of people that adore her for her gentleness, fairness, kindness or generosity?  It’s actually a MORE dangerous, if you think about it. The story encourages girls to seek out the dangerous guy, the one that could really do her harm and love him. The message is subtle and really requires guidance by parents, not mom descending into squeeing fangirlness over it too.

Now, without repeating myself, this is what I think of Fifty Shades of Grey and it’s sequels. The one of the prevailing messages is that a woman can change a man who is profoundly not normal (sociopathic victim of consistent sexual abuse that stalks and manipulates his prey so he can in turn subject them to the same abuse)  with her pure love, acceptance, understanding and trust.If this isn’t the most destructive thing women are letting into their minds, even on a subconscious level, I can’t imagine what else would be. In a day and age where we are sending all of these mixed messages out into the world (be your own person, make your own money, be independent, but be supermodel gorgeous, broken men are sexy, especially if they’re rich and good looking, and you can change them into decent, caring, generous partners just by how awesome you are), how can we expect anyone to get which message is the right one?

How is this better than believing that “Someday, My Prince Will Come”?  It’s NOT, actually.  There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as while you’re hoping he (or she) gets there soon, you’re doing what you need to do for yourself to BE a Prince or Princess worth finding. That’s what we should be teaching our teens, instead of letting them see Fifty Shades of Grey. We should be teaching them that Edward Cullen and Mr. Christian Grey are the WRONG men and why they’re the wrong men, not glorifying them. That’s well covered territory in this blog, too, so I won’t get into it here.

I  can’t emphasize these points enough:

Manipulation, Coercion, Bribery and Stalking ARE NOT Communication, Cooperation, Generosity and Sharing.

Physical Aggression is not Love. Controlling someone isn’t Love.

No is NO. If someone you are romantically interested in doesn’t get that, RUN.

You can’t save anyone.

You can’t change anyone.

You should never get involved with someone wishing they were something other than what they are.

What works in a story doesn’t work in real life, almost ever, actually. That’s why it’s fiction, guys.

Walt Disney described the story of Cinderella like this:

“She believed in dreams, all right, but she also believed in doing something about them. When Prince Charming didn’t come along, she went over to the palace and got him.”

Mr. Disney was sort of right. In the original story,  Cinderella wanted to get away from her life, get dressed up, and dance.  Meeting the Prince was the surprise bonus. Falling in love with him was a little miracle, (although Into the Woods handles that in the best, most hilariously honest way) but Cinderella was just doing her thing. Snow White didn’t run into the woods to make her Prince find her – she was hiding out from someone bigger and badder who wanted to kill her. Belle gave herself in exchange for her father’s freedom long before she actually realized that the Beast was better than he appeared (and HE changed himself, because he wanted to be better. This is not that she changed him with her love. Big difference)

The Grimm’s Fairy Tales were cautionary stories with happy endings for the good and virtuous characters and twisted punishments for the villains. The lines were clear.  These modern ‘fairy tales’ are twisted, ambiguous and dangerous.  There are no lines and the villains are dressed as romantic heroes. The woods were never so dangerous, people.

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4 thoughts on “Bedtime Stories- The Twilight/Fifty Shades Impact on How We (and Our Teens) Think About Relationships

  1. This is such a timely, well-written and well-thought out post! Your analysis is spot on. That women can keep believing in these fantastical relationships that are so damaging is beyond me. I haven’t and never will read “50 Shades.” I did watch the Twilight Saga movies and took it all with lot’s of grains of salt–a fictional fantasy that cannot happen in real life. I’m still amazed hearing how moms glorified this series. Fiction should not dictate to women how we should behave in real life, let alone what we should yearn for in relationships. Thanks again for posting this!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with your thoughts on these modern day “fairy tales.” I think the themes of Twilight and Fifty Shades are so damaging and degrading to women. They just perpetuate the idea that men are in control and women are weak and need men to control and “complete” them. It’s an awful message to give women, especially young girls who may have difficult understanding the dangers of these ideas.

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  3. Pingback: It’s Time We Talked About It – Feminism Still Matters Because…. | This Counts As Writing, Doesn't It?

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