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Monday, August 18, 2008

Are the feminists losing their teenaged audience?

In an op-ed in the Washington Post today, Leonard Sax claims convincingly that the ultra-bestselling Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer "sinks its teeth into feminism."

The series is based on a love triangle between Bella, a pretty teenager, Edward, the gallant young vampire who adores her, and Jacob, the werewolf who is her best friend. While it has apparently taken off like Harry Potter, appearances are deceiving, because the series reaches a much narrower audience -- of teenaged girls and young women. And the message is a very old one, claimed long ago by Harlequin and Mills & Boon.

Unlike "Dora the Explorer," who can do anything a boy can do, Bella constantly needs to be rescued by her brave and muscular male friends. With her girlfriends, she bakes cookies, cooks dinners for the men, and holds all-girl slumber parties.

Naturally, feminist academics are concerned that girls should be such fans of books that communicate such oldfashioned gender stereotypes. As Sax argues, however, the premise of the series appeals to something deeper. "In my research on youth and gender issues," he says, "I have found that despite all the indoctrination they've received to the contrary, most of the hundreds of teenage girls I have interviewed in the United States, Australia and New Zealand nevertheless believe that human nature is gendered to the core. They are hungry for books that reflect that sensibility."

Boys, likewise, haven't resorted to baking cookies and holding all-male slumber parties. Instead, they are playing increasingly violent video games. A generation of grown-ups pretending that gender doesn't matter has simply created a growing gender divide.

I predict that now Stephanie Meyer has done so well by catering for the renewed passion for easily distinguished boys and girls, undoubtedly we can expect a rush of look-alikes, replete with knights in shining armor and gentle maidens.

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