A SYTYCB Entry
(image courtesy of AccessHollywood.com)
Several summers ago I was working at an overnight camp as an arts and crafts director/counselor help, and as usual, I had a cabin full of middle school aged girls. If you’ve ever worked with kids before, you probably know that there’s always a few who are resistant to talking, or getting excited, about anything.
There was one Latina girl, Adrianna, who was pretty introverted. She came from a complicated home life, lived with her grandmother because of custodial issues with her parents- she was one of our scholarship kids- and she didn’t always (okay, almost never) get along with the other girls in her cabin, or with her counselors. She was bigger than other girls her age and although I wish I could say kids in the seventh grade haven’t picked up on fat-shaming yet, of course they had, and it only gave her more reason to act like a bully before anyone else could bully her first.
This camp was isolated, in the middle of western New York’s mountains; library books were not easy to come by, so I was constantly borrowing. The archery instructor had one of the Twilight books on hand, so I started reading it during my time off. One night, as I sat on my bottom bunk, half-watching the girls as they crawled onto each others’ beds to chat or ate care-package gummy worms while sitting on the dusty wooden floor of our cabin, Adrianna came over to me and asked, ”Is that Twilight you’re reading?”
As it turned out, she was a die-hard Twilight fan and quickly opened up to discussing all aspects of the novels. I discussed the pros and cons of Robert Pattinson playing the role of Edward several times, and she had a lot of opinions about it-”He isn’t quite what I imagined Edward looking like, but Bella seems pretty accurate, what do you think?” and she would come to me with her pre-teen magazine pictures of the future romance stars. I continued to read the books more because it made her happy to know I was interested in them too. I got excited with her over what was going to happen in the movie and what adaptations they might decide to make- (“Will they show him hunting animals?” she wondered).
These books made her happy, and they also gave her a way to connect with the other girls in the cabin, because in reality, she was just shy a lot of the time and didn’t seem to know how to connect without being confrontational. I had already gotten to know her the previous summer and had made some strides then with getting to know her and getting her to open up a little and participate with others, but that session she was really able to connect with the kids around her with a topic that allowed her to be knowleadable and approachable. Luckily, most of these girls (and occasionally boys!) at camp seemed unaware that the general world looked down on them for their interests.
My friend Stacy suggested that I stress the point that,
“These books are also really helpful for marginalized students trying to “make it” with white, middle class kids because it gives them some common ground. It’s hard to come from a different sociological background because the information you come to the table with is informed by your parents and it can be really daunting when the kids around you are clearly working with a different set of knowledge and norms. But these stories give lower class kids some common ground. In my day it was Harry Potter.”
Since she already stated it so eloquently, though, I will keep this in her words. It is a good point about how relatively inexpensive/easily aquired popular literature can serve purposes larger than simply telling a story.
Even if the world hates Twilight, I couldn’t, because I know that for some girls, it has helped them. It has given them a story to think about, a world beyond the space they’re stuck in right now, and something to talk about knowledgeably with their peers. It’s not going to ruin them forever It’s fine if people hate it, and there are certainly valid critiques to be given; but I don’t need to be told that it’s the evil destroyer of girlhood, because it’s not that way for everyone. Our culture feels very comfortable with making fun of and ridiculing teen and pre-teen girls, which makes Twilight an especially alluring target for continual bullying behavior and dialogue, hidden under the thin guise of Woe Over The Demise Of American Literature. 90% (an approximate figure born of my head) of romantic movies/books are probably as questionable and problematic as Twilight is, yet the public outcry is nowhere near as great. The majority of things that are hurting our girls’ sense of self remain largely unaddressed/underappreciated as concerns by society and media: if Twilight seems to someone like the worst thing going for girls, it really says something about the narrow limits of the critic’s perspective.
Instead of making fun of the girls that like to read these books or watch these movies (or whatever teen book or movie next comes up under the cultural microscope), consider talking to them and finding out what they like about it, what they think about it, what they think about the world. Girls should get our support and guidance, and issues concerning their welfare should get our attention, but our hearts also need to be open to really hearing their voices and not just speaking for them. They need a chance to realize that the world is interested in more than just defining their identity for them- we should be interested in getting their perspective.
(this blog has been drafted from earlier entries on my personal tumblr blog)