There I was, minding my own business, stress-eating and studying for an exam, when I suddenly felt a shift in the world.
My Hot Topic graphic tees glowed from the bottom of my dresser drawer, my eyeliner grew thicker and smudged. And then I read the headline: “Twilight surprise: New gender-swapped tale introduces Beau and Edythe.”
My reversion to middle school scene queen was complete.
Seventy-two hours later, I turned to the foreword of Life and Death, Stephenie Meyer’s gender-bent version of her now 10-year-old vampire romance novel, Twilight.
Meyer actually apologizes for the novel before it even begins, remembering the fan demands for Midnight Sun, which is Twilight from Edward’s point of view and the Twihard holy grail.
Life and Death is supposed to disprove the claims of sexism that riddle the criticism of Twilight. As Meyer puts it, Bella is a “human in distress,” not a damsel. The novel flips all the characters’ genders and “Control + F” replaces every pronoun with its binary opposite.
Bella becomes Beau, which is short for … Beaufort.
Edward is now Edythe. Almost every character gets a gender-bent identity except Beau’s parents because according to Meyer, “it was a rare thing for a father to get primary custody of a child” in 1987, and that one stretch of logic just pushes a book about sparkling vampires and werewolves right over the edge.
Meyer did her best to keep the story almost exactly the same to try and prove her point, but she falls short of her mark, and it’s really by her own additions to the original. Any time she describes a character, she almost makes a point to emphasize the gender of the character.
Royal, Rosalie’s male counterpart has his hair tied in a bun, but Beau assures the reader that “there was nothing feminine about it – somehow it made him look even more like a man.”
She didn’t use the word “man-bun, maybe because the term didn’t exist in 2005 when the story takes place, but thank you Stephenie Meyer for perpetuating men’s apparent need to specify that their products and fashion statements are “manly.”
Next on the roll call is Archie, Alice’s double, who Beau labels a “skinhead.”
Does anyone want to tell Meyer that skinhead isn’t just an aesthetic? Does she realize that skinheads are very often related to white supremacists and neo-Nazis? Hello, Little, Brown and Company? Did this even get edited? I guess the original didn’t go through a rigorous editing process either but come on Meyer.
I will say that it was very cool to see Carine Cullen, the female version of Carlisle, retain her position as a respected and highly successful doctor, and see her husband Earnest Cullen, the male version of Esme, hold the more domestic role. Also, Julie Black, formerly Jacob, is still excited about cars and mechanics, but she was absent for the majority of the book.
Those were the only positive changes that I found in the book. Beau is more unlikeable and impersonal than Bella – an authorial feat I did not think Meyer could accomplish.
He has girls pursuing him every corner of the school and he’s just flat out rude to them when they flirt with him or ask him to join in social activities. He claims to have invented the “man-code,” which he uses as an excuse to turn down an invitation to the spring dance. It’s just unnecessary for Meyer to add that in.
Yes, we know Beau is a boy. His name is synonymous with boyfriend. We also know he is a boy because he has a sexy dream about Edythe wearing a dress with a deep V neckline. We know Beau is a boy because he stares at Edythe’s breasts. Beau is as heteronormative and teen-boy-ish as Meyer can write.
“But Hanna, that’s just how boys are, it doesn’t mean Twilight is sexist.” No. For some reason, Meyer has to make all men angry at the women they “love” – need I remind the world that Fifty Shades of Grey is Twilight fan fiction?
When Beau looks at Edythe’s perfect face, he proclaims, “for a second, I was actually angry – angry that she had to be so beautiful. Angry that her beauty has made her cruel. Angry that I was the object of her cruelty, and even though I knew it, I still couldn’t successfully walk away from her.”
Compare to Bella looking at Edward in the same scene …
Oh wait, there is no parallel passage in Twilight. Edward’s infamous anger and frustration wove its way into Beau’s personality as well. It’s almost like Meyer’s idea of male affection is linked with aggression. But no, that’s definitely not been built by centuries of sexism and violence against women.
Bella faints at the sight of blood with no explanation other than it made her faint. Beau, on the other hand, explains his “weak vasovagal system” because men can’t just faint for no apparent reason.
Even when Meyer’s leading ladies are strong, they’re still weak. Beau knows Edythe could squash his head like a grape yet he insists on describing her as “impossibly fragile” whenever he gets the chance. If you played a drinking game with the word “fragile” you’d find yourself getting your stomach pumped by Carine Cullen after three pages.
The most offensive change for me, however, was the alteration of the “of three things I was absolutely certain” quote. Not only because that quote is #iconic, but because it actually got worse. Forgetting the technical aspects, Beau realizes that Edythe is “everything [he] wanted, the only thing [he] would ever want.” I get what Meyer is trying to say.
I really do.
But when you’re making a gender-bent novel for the sole purpose of proving how not sexist your characters are, why would you change a famous line from the novel to be about male possession? You’re just digging a deeper hole for yourself, Steph!
Instead of Beau being threatened with sexual assault in Port Angeles, he is almost shot for being mistaken as an undercover cop. According to Meyer apparently, men can’t be sexually assaulted. She took the rape plot out of Royal’s story too.
But wait! At one point Edythe reminds Beau to “try not to get too caught up in antiquated gender roles,” so sexism is over and Beyoncé is now president.
What is the point of switching pronouns if you’re going to keep the same sexist characteristics and plot devices paired with the same genders as the original novel? If anything, this novel did the opposite of what Meyer intended.
Her men are still possessive and aggressive, her women are still considered weak. It doesn’t matter what species the characters are. It doesn’t even matter what their physical strength is. Through the characters’ thoughts and actions Meyer inadvertently reveals her novel’s inherent sexism.While she kept much of the plot the same, her small, overly gendered additions destroy her cause.
Still, I was the sucker who paid $23 for a novel I read three times at the age of twelve, and I’ll be the sucker that pays to read the elusive Midnight Sun – if it ever gets published.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jack Lyons.
Hanna Greenblott is a sophomore English language and literature major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.