A GIRL Saves a BOY! Sexism Is Over!: Life and Death Chapters 3 and 4

Yup, this is a thing that’s happening!

I'm in denial too! It's cool!
I’m in denial too! It’s cool!

Just in case you missed it, Ariel and I wrote a whole post just about the foreword, which you should definitely read first. Especially my last paragraph:

There’s a foreword where Stephanie Meyer all but goes, “Here is Twilight, but with the genders swapped, to prove that this is the same story regardless of gender constructs”. BUT THEN she goes on to explain that she made changes to the story because she swapped the genders. So. Uh. The… The entire thesis – the entire point – is negated. From page one.

Because it covers a lot important groundwork for why I’m saying that when I’m writing about Life and Death, there are really two things that we’re talking about:

  1. Twilight, the story. Especially for those who don’t know it. (We read bad books so you don’t have to!)
  2. The gender swap, which invariably means we’re talking about gender.

And with those two points, I’m 99% sure that the last thing the internet needs is another dude criticizing Twilight, especially a straight, cis dude talking about gender in Twilight. So I’m going to do my best to make sure I’m pulling in thinkers who aren’t me as I write about this to make sure I stay on track. Which is a good time for me to realize that even though I’ve recommended Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist to like a kajillion people over the past year, I’ve had Emer O’Toole’s Girls Will Be Girls and Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things sitting on my bookshelf for a little while now, and should really get on those.

ANYWAY. I’m gonna read Life and Death! After what has apparently been a whole decade of the universe shitting on Twilight, how bad could this possibly be?

Life and Death Chapter 3: Phenomenon

When I opened my eyes in the morning, something was different.
It was the light.

Oh, motherf-

lord of the rings so it begins

Soooooo this brings up another good point about our Life and Death reading: everybody already knows about Twilight. So we’re not going to be all thorough and chapter-by-chapter, which means I’m free to skim along and skip all the especially pointless bits of filler. Like how Beau has spent roughly 80% of our page count thinking about how hot and mysterious Edythe is.

I was well aware that my league and her league were spheres that did not touch. I was already worried that just looking at her face was giving me unrealistic expectations that would haunt me for the rest of my life.

So this is my first actual experience reading/watching/anythinging Twilight, which is interesting after seeing it spread from person to person back in high school with a feverishness typically reserved for mono. And I can kinda see it. I’m vaguely intrigued by Edythe so far, although that’s possibly just because I’ve been told she’s unbelievably attractive, which has some draw to it.

Beau drives his truck to school with no trouble despite the roads being coated with snow and ice. When he gets to school, he realizes that his father, Charlie, had woken up early and put chains on his tires.

That wasn’t the way it was supposed to work. I probably should have been the one to think about putting chains on his tires, if I could figure out how to do that. Or at least I should have helped him with the chore. It wasn’t his job…
Except that, actually, it kind of was. He was the parent. He was taking care of me, his son.

It occurs to me that this – a father-son relationship vs a father-daughter relationship – could actually be a fairly interesting point of focus for the gender swap, especially right here where we have a fairly coded thing (boys like cars!) playing out the same way in both stories. Unless… wait, suddenly I have no faith in that. Let’s check if this is totally different in Twilight because cars are coded as a “boy thing” and therefore it wouldn’t even occur to Bella to actually do…

My throat suddenly felt tight. I wasn’t used to being taken care of, and Charlie’s unspoken concern caught me by surprise.

Yup. That’s exactly what happens. This might seem like a silly point to focus on, but do consider how now that there’s a penis involved, fucking snow tires have to be handled differently. Hell, boy-Beau even has a “That wasn’t the way it’s supposed to work”, like an ill-fitting, self-aware nod that girl-Bella’s story is a super weird thing to happen to him because boys being saved and cared for? Whaaaaaa? Bella the girl is now Beau the boy, so therefore he gets to assume more agency in his safety, insofar as VROOM VROOM CARS.

To be fair, it's not like there isn't value in pointing out that these social constructs exist and make us think about the different ways we're forced to live in the world. But on the other hand, VROOM VROOM.
To be fair, it’s not like there isn’t value in pointing out that these social constructs exist and so it’s worth considering if it’s okay if something simply makes us think about the different ways society tells us to live in it. But on the other hand, VROOM VROOM.

So despite Meyer’s “she’s a human in distress” insistence in the foreword, we’re already at an uneven damsel in distress count, and we haven’t even had any actual distress yet. That’s not promising. Anyway, distress:

It was a high-pitched screech, and it was fast becoming painfully loud. I looked up, startled.
I saw several things simultaneously.

PRO WRITING TIP: You are allowed to simply write “a car was coming towards me”.

Beau spots Edythe from the other end of the parking lot, one of many faces looking on in horror as a van skids across the icy parking lot towards him. All seems hopeless, until suddenly (did I mention mysteriously?), Edythe is at his side, pulling him out of the way! They get pinned by the truck, which Edythe even has to hold up her hands and stop.

But, wait, people can’t stop moving cars with their hands, you might ask. And right you are to do so! Because Beau also spends the next 7 kajillion pages trying to ask Edythe about this as well. This definitely happened in Twilight too, but if there are any moments of unintentional comedy to be gained from the gender swap, having this interaction turn into a high school boy constantly badgering a girl about the same nonsensical question over and over again is probably one of those moments.

Beau, Edythe, and Taylor (who was in the out-of-control car) are taken to the hospital, but quickly turn out to be pretty much okay after examination by Edythe’s own mother, Dr. Dullen. After being discharged and trying again in vain to get Edythe to explain the apparent supernatural phenomena, Beau comes to the conclusion that if Edythe doesn’t want to talk about it, then she should have let him just get killed by the car. Somehow.

If Meyer's entire Foreword was just "Hey, teenagers are idiots", I'd be like 90% less critical right now.
If Meyer’s entire Foreword was just “Hey, teenagers are idiots”, I’d be like 90% less critical right now.

Beau also has to call his mom to reassure her that he’s ok.

My mom was in hysterics, of course.

I like how in her experiment to prove that her story doesn’t perpetuate regressive gender norms, Meyer left the genders of the parent characters the same so hysterical mom is still hysterical mom. A+ social commentary right there.

Life and Death Chapter 4: Invitations

For the next month, Beau has a recurring dream where he chases after Edythe and also heavy-handed symbolism.

In my dream it was very dark, and what dim light there was seemed to be radiating from Edythe’s skin. […] No matter how fast I ran, I couldn’t catch up to her […] she was in my dreams nearly every night, but always on the edges, never within reach.

Not much to report about how this is different from Bella’s perspective in Twilight. She says “periphery” instead of “edges”. Because boys don’t use flowery language, you know. Write this down.

As the month goes on, Edythe continues to ignore Beau, and the spring dance (the turnabout/Sadie Hawkins/girl-asks-guy dance) approaches. Despite Beau’s total outcast 4ever status, just about all of the women that he knows ask him to the dance over the course of the chapter:

  1. McKayla asks Beau (nervously! taking a deep breath!) before their biology class
  2. Erica asks Beau (uncomfortably! face down, hiding behind her black hair!) later in the day
  3. After school, stuck behind Edythe’s (ugh, Edythe!) car in the parking lot, Taylor asks Beau (grinning!), who gets turned down, but then goes (unfazed!) “That’s cool. We still have prom.” Taylor, you scoundrel!

Beau tells all of them no, trying to let them down easy by saying he’ll be going to Seattle that day. But what’s weird about all of this is that Edythe is somehow mysteriously at each one of these incidents. But what’s actually weirder is how this plays out in comparison in the original Twilight, where it is still the girl-asks-guy dance, and yet…

  1. Mike asks Bella (looking at the floor!), explaining that Jessica asked him to the dance, but he said he had to think about it (wtf, Mike?) and then asks Bella if she’s planning on asking him (WTF? MIKE?)
  2. Eric asks Bella (uncomfortably! SHAMEFACED! [no word about whether or not he has hair]) if he would go to the spring dance with him. Bella points out that it’s girls’ choice. Eric says “Well, yeah”. Wow, Eric. You somehow benefited a lot from the gender swap.
  3. After school, stuck behind Edward’s (ugh, Edward!) car in the parking lot, Tyler asks Bella (grinning!), who gets turned down, but then goes (ambiguously-fazed!) “That’s cool. We still have prom.” (How come this is the only one of the three that’s straight up copy-pasted, but reads the most differently between the two genders? Anyone else notice that?)

So… I gotta say boy-Beau gets off way easier than girl-Bella, y’all. It’s the girls-ask-guys dance and she still has three guys ask her to the dance somehow. Look how desirable girl-Bella is! All these men are prepared to break the rules to pursue her! Whereas in the gender swap, look how desirable boy-Beau is! All these women are… lining up to be turned down by him? Um. Okay, wait, suddenly it seems like gender-swap Twilight ISN’T saying that romantic pursuit behaves the same way even when the main character is a boy instead of a girl. Look, it feels weird to criticize the attempts at gender-equality of Life and Death by pulling up gender stereotypes, but it’s not like Twilight exists in a vacuum. Let’s talk toxic masculinity. Why is it that in either Twilight or in Life and Death, the characters that happen to be male are the ones that get to decide when the pursuit is through? (Not one guy who asks Bella out accepts her “no” the first time around. Only Taylor challenges Beau, but it’s hard to read the scene the same as when Tyler challenges Bella.)

Beau gets home and starts cooking dinner for himself and his dad. I’m super glad that Meyer had the sense to not change this one because of the gender swap, because can you imagine? “I got home from school and started BUILDING FURNITURE for myself and my dad.” Actually, wait, that would have been hilarious. I’m conflicted.

The next day before school, he runs into Edythe, who confesses that she purposefully caused the school parking lot traffic jam because Taylor “was figuratively dying for her chance at you”. Oh, Edythe, you cad.

dowager downton abbey gif

Edythe and Beau talk again about whether or not they’re friends, and then Edythe offers to drive Beau up to Seattle. As much as I’m already irritated with their hot-and-cold routine, I got a genuine laugh out of parts of it:

“My truck is great, thanks.”
“Can your truck make it to Seattle on one tank of gas?” […]
“I don’t see how that’s your problem.”
“The wasting of finite resources is everyone’s problem,” she said primly.

So they agree to go to Seattle together, and to be friends.

fucking finally
fucking finally
1+
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10 comments

  1. E.H.Taylor Reply

    “To be fair, it’s not like there isn’t value in pointing out that these social constructs exist and so it’s worth considering if it’s okay if something simply makes us think about the different ways society tells us to live in it.”

    That’s the thing; this was actually a great chance to show just how much influence social constructs have in our lives (even if we don’t realize it). Instead of trying to prove that Bella was a “human in distress”, Meyer could have looked at Twilight critically and said, “you know what, Bella is a damsel in distress because we as a society are taught to view a female in trouble that way. Whereas if Bella were a boy and the same events took place, we would quite possibly view things differently”. I mean, and I’m sure I’m not the only one here, there are events in Twilight that I think are slightly ridiculous, but which come across as even more so if you swap the genders. Or, take for example, the ballet studio someone mentioned in the comments previously; when Bella mentions she took ballet when she was younger, no one bats an eye. Whereas now, if Beau were to say he took ballet, it would make most people pause for a moment before either accepting it and moving on or scoffing and thinking it’s ridiculous. For me, I’m completely accepting of boys who want to take ballet, but it still takes me a moment to wrap my head around because of gender roles in society (Ballet is for girls, cars are for guys, etc.). I think if Meyer had approached this book as a study on gender norms in Western society, I would actually be very much on board with this book. If she hadn’t included the forward stating her intentions and allowed the reader to take from this what they wanted (i.e. gender equality in characters is hard to achieve in a society still so influenced by gender norms), I might actually really like the book and find it an interesting experiment in social psychology. Instead, Meyer wants to try and prove she’s an amazing writer and that all of the readers who dislike Bella for being a weak female character are wrong because that’s not how she intended to write her. The fact that all of her changes to the text prove just the opposite of that completely undermines the entire novel. I have a feeling that ‘intentional fallacy’ will probably come to mind a lot when reading this.

    Cutting things off here before I write something longer than the actual post, I will add that I am very interested to see what she does with the ballet scene. Will she have Beau saying he took ballet when he was younger because he was interested in it, or will he say something like “I was forced into it by my mother”? Maybe she’ll change it to something more ‘manly’ like hip-hop. I think that one scene will play a big role in how I feel about this novel (and Meyer) in the end.

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    • matthewjulius Reply

      This got me thinking: thus far Life and Death’s biggest downfall is that rather than taking ten years of criticism into consideration, she doubled down. Instead of using this experiment to say, “yeah, gender is viewed like this and it’s hardly my fault – see what happens when this gets flipped around”, it sticks to its “human in distress not damsel in distress” fallacy.
      I know I’m casually throwing around the word “fallacy” but seriously, everything you said is so spot on. This book manages to make Twilight even more disappointing.
      (And my girlfriend and I had a very long talk about authorial intent when she looked over my first draft of this post lol)

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  2. Honey Reply

    Wasting of finite resources, you say?

    Christian Grey would also be concerned about that, you say?

    E.L. James!! shakes fist angrilly

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    • matthewjulius Reply

      Oh man, with all the gender swapping funtimes (new band name??) I totally forgot I could also use this opportunity to riff on how much stuff E L James stole from Twilight…

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      • Utsutsu Reply

        I am absolutely dreading the gender-swapped FSoG spin-off. Although I doubt James could ever picture a woman in a position of power so maybe we’re safe?

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        • wordswithhannah Reply

          She’d probably change it to Christina Grey learning that the TRUE way to happiness is to let the natural order take its course and submit to…Antonio Steele? Who isn’t sexually inexperienced because that’s just crazy talk. I’m speculating.

          (Actually, no lie, I would have doffed my cap if that’s how FSoG ended: Christian realizing that his “true” persona is as a sub, and Ana stepping up, exploring her sexuality, and becoming his loving Dom. Maybe I should write a fanfiction about that, do a copy/replace on the names, and publish it.)

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  4. Candy Reply

    Just popping by to say how Happy I am that someone was able to coherently discuss this book (and Twilight). I must lack that critical gene, because all I was able to come up with was ‘BLAAARRRGGGGGGGHHHHHH!” and throwing the book across the room.

    Looking forward to more discussion!

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  5. Lougoober Reply

    Aw man, now I really want to see a parody of this gender-swap book. “I came home from school and STARTED BUILDING FURNITURE and then dad and I ate the wood chunks LIKE MEN” and “Edythe put out a hand to stop the car but I pushed her out of the way. Sure I might’ve died from getting hit by that car but a WOMAN saving a MAN? I would’ve laughed at the very idea if my collarbone hadn’t broken from the impact.”

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    • matthewjulius Reply

      Main character dies on chapter 3 because of misogyny and story ends right there. World torn on whether this version of Twilight is better than the original.

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