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Scholars Consider Gender Dynamics of Twilight Saga

Fans of the Twilight books and movies will flock to theatres this evening to watch the already released Twilight and New Moon movies before seeing the newest installment in the teen vampire romance series at midnight. While it might sound like it’s just the latest hot franchise for teen movie goers, the books and movies have attracted fans of all ages, most of them are female. Some scholars are taking a closer look at the gender dynamics of the books and movies. KSMU’s Missy Shelton reports.

If you know anything about Twilight, you know it largely appeals to teen girls and some adult women. However, if you’ve seen the commercials for the third film, Eclipse, you know it’s being marketed to men.

“What we think is now really interesting is that Summit Entertainment has really seen its opportunity, its sort of last chance, to get the men on board. Now, why would they do that? That’s what we’re interested in.”

Jennifer Stevens Aubrey is an assistant communication professor at the University of Missouri. She’s also co-editor of a scholarly book that examines gender dynamics of the Twilight franchise. Aubrey acknowledges that the movie execs are marketing to men because they want to sell more tickets. But she says there’s something else going on.

Jennifer Steven Aubrey says, “We believe, and we see this culturally with other texts and media culture targeting women, that really these movies don’t get culturally legitimacy until the men are on board. So, if this movie franchise wants to be of the same caliber as Star Wars or Harry Potter, then it has to be acceptable to men as well as women.”

Shelton asks, “When you say cultural legitimacy, you mean something worthy of time and money?”

Aubrey says, “Yes. Worthy of the attention it gets, and to go down in history as something as culturally important as Star Wars. It’s not going to happen if we only remember the Twilight saga as a bunch of obsessed mothers and young teenage girls, hugging themselves and crying over the celebrities who play the characters from the books.”

Aubrey says the deeply emotional response of some teens and women to the stories reveals something about the media and pop culture.

“We find that the public dismissal of the Twilight fans really overlooks what goes on here with the female fans. There’s a reason why they’re crying and they’re so devoted. Twilight offers them something that’s absent from other texts. It offers a deep romantic story line whereas other media texts offer them salacious sex and hooking up. We see this as a kind of yearning for a more devoted male character who takes women and average girls seriously.”

Critics of the stories have panned the overbearing male characters and the dependency that the female protagonist has on male characters. Jennifer Stevens Aubrey acknowledges that there are some very problematic parts of the story. That topic came up when she surveyed more than 7,000 fans worldwide and conducted individual and group interviews. She found that teens and adults know how to negotiate the text and identify these troubling aspects of the story.

We asked Missouri State University English professor and author Jean Stringam to consider why the Twilight saga has caught on among adult women in particular. She says it could be that the stories fill in something that’s missing in the culture and perhaps something that was missing in their upbringing.

Jean Stringam says, “I think one of these qualities is restraint. It used to be that people would fall into bed just as the final scene in the movie. Not now, they start off together in bed. But this doesn’t have any of that. And if you think about these women in the 25 to 35 age group, they were raised by people who advocated as a basic life position no restraint. You know, follow your heart, do as you wish, you can’t go wrong if you follow your inner movings, live in the moment. It’s still being preached all the time as far as popular culture goes. I think these women were responding to that lack of restraint they were raised with. Here’s a book with restraint.”

Stringam says there’s another reason the series has caught on with adult women. She says the books seem to accommodate the lifestyles of busy moms.

Stringam says, “Probably everybody who reads it knows it’s not world-class literature but it is written so that you’re reminded all the time of what’s coming next and what’s happened. You’re given these cues all the way through. A literature person like me says, “It’s overwritten.” But it means a soccer mom can read a chapter, put it down, do XYZ with her children, a day or two later pick it back up, and the writer cues her in to what’s happened, what’s about to happen. There’s no loss of context that would happen if she were in a really deep turgid novel.”

Regardless of why teens and women have embraced this saga, it’s clear that many have.