I’ve never consumed any of the Twilight media except for the first movie, but since I don’t live in a dilapidated shack at the bottom of the ocean, I now know a good deal of the plot and character details because so much of it has bled into the pop culture effluvia. And, if the first movie is any indication, then I doubt that the series becomes anything other than hackneyed, misogynistic virginity-porn that is chiefly driven by a fierce hatred and fear of female sexuality. Here’s the thing though- if you hate Twilight then, to be consistent, you should probably loathe The Little Mermaid as well.
When I was growing up my sister loved this movie, so I had it shoved into my brain multiple times as a kid via VHS. I didn’t really like it that much, but from sheer repetition and exposure it does occupy something of a nostalgic niche in my heart- particularly the number Poor Unfortunate Souls, which is probably the best of the Disney villain songs. The Little Mermaid, though, is cut from the same cloth as Twilight. (Or rather, Twilight is cut from the same cloth as it.) It’s about a teenage girl who, instead of getting hobbies or doing anything interesting with herself, wraps up her identity in finding and marrying some dude.
Ariel is a sixteen year old girl in this movie, who presumably does not have much or anything in the way of sexual experience (just like Bella), encounters a handsome guy from a world not her own (just like Bella), gets obsessed with him and his world (just like Bella), throws away her established life filled with the things and people that are meaningful to her (just like Bella) and gets married at an age where most people aren’t old enough to have graduated college (just like Bella). Again- she’s sixteen. There are moderately priced bottles of whiskey older than her. If anything Ariel’s transformation is even more dramatic. She transforms herself into a human so she can get hitched to this dude she just met. They’ve never even met up for coffee, and Ariel abandons her entire life in the sea so she can get with Eric. That would be like an Earth-person permanently moving to Alpha Centauri so they could possibly get all matrimonial with an extra-terrestrial that they met for five minutes.
Ariel’s beau, a square-jawed piece of nautical beefcake named Eric, is a neutered cipher who functions as an unthreatening object of barely pubescent desire. Eric and Edward are handsome blank Ken dolls of vacant non-masculinity, and the female protagonist’s consummation with them is not any kind of moment of spontaneous sexual passion, but a wedding. (Yes, I know Bella and Edward have sex after they get married, but it’s sex bookended by marriage and pregnancy. It is not sex for pleasure, passion, or any kind of romantic bonding. The intercourse is only there so it can be placed within it’s proper confines of an exchange of rings and a propagation of the species.)
Lots of people justifiably hate Twilight, but Twilight only says explicitly what one of the more beloved Disney movies says implicitly- that for teenage girls to feel fulfilled, it’s primarily important to find a nice boy and then get married. This is utter balderdash, of course. Teenage girls should cultivate hobbies, do activities, study, date lots of boys (or girls, or both), go to school, find a job they’re interested in, have a broad and supportive social circle, do interesting things like rock climbing or calligraphy or kung-fu or clarinet-playing, perhaps get in a long-term relationship with a guy (or girl, or whomever) and then, after years of love and trust and sexual compatibility and mutual support, get married. Or not. Whichever. But you know that already, because you’re not an idiot.
Twilight and The Little Mermaid both hate women and women’s sexuality because they eject that whole middle part (the bit with the rock climbing and sexual compatibility) and just get to the bit with the pretty white princess dress. While it’s great that lots of people call out Twilight for being execrable filth, it’s worth noting that this kind of misogyny suffuses many other parts of popular culture as well. Twilight is not unique in its sex-hating sexism.
Whew! For a moment there I felt like I was back in a college sociology class, getting all angry at the patriarchy. That felt good. The point is, if I were King Triton, or Bella’s parent, or any daughter’s parent I’d tell her this: No daughter of mine is getting married and first finding out who she is, and what she really wants. If I were to catch her watching Twilight, I’d probably say “Sweetie, you know that’s not how relationships work, right? Don’t listen to Ariel of Bella. Here’s a better role model for you- her name is Buffy.”