On the Prowl: Why grown women are the real audience for Twilight.
After my column, “Driving with Vampires,” was published last week, I received scores of emails insisting that I’d missed the real point of the films. And what would that real point be? That Twilight isn’t aimed at teenage girls like my daughter, Kerry—it’s aimed at their mothers.
These emails reminded me of an incident that I’d somehow blocked out. Even though I can’t bring myself to pay money to see Eclipse, I did see New Moon on the day after Thanksgiving in 2009. I was the only guy in the packed movie theater. While there were plenty of teenagers, most of the audience was middle-aged women who were, as best I could tell, hungry for some raw teenage boy meat.
They watched in delight as Kristen Stewart (playing Bella Swan) panted her way through a love triangle that included an amazingly buff and bare-chested wolf-boy, Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), and the amazingly pale and pouty vampire, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson).
I wasn’t there for the story, but more as a kind of sociological learning experience. What would cause grown women to throw their panties at 18-year-old boys, as Lautner had reported to David Letterman? But being in that movie theater as women (several related to me) screamed with ecstasy when Lautner disrobed sent me into some kind of septic shock-induced blackout, one that that prevented me from recalling the experience when sitting down to write about Eclipse last week.
Here is my favorite of the many emails I received in response to “Driving with Vampires,” clarifying the appeal of the boys in the film to mature women, not just teenaged girls. It’s written by Sarah Fleckner, a happily married mother and former attorney:
Oh, to be 16 again. I am old and jaded… It is so nice of you, Tom, to ask your daughter what she thought of Eclipse, but if you had asked a married woman—say, me for example—you would have gotten completely different answers.
(1) I think a huge draw is that Edward is a romantic and he is chivalrous, which is almost nonexistent these days. I am all for women’s rights and equality, but I think with them, a good deal of chivalry went down the drain. (I am not blaming men for it; I think Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem would probably have been appalled by a man opening the door for them when they were perfectly capable of doing it for themselves, thank you very much, and so it went by the wayside.)
Since the women’s rights movement, how many men (aside from my wonderful husband Jamie) pull out a woman’s chair, stand up when she leaves the table and when she comes back, or gives her his jacket because she is cold—even if he is cold too? Edward would put his body [in front of a speeding] car for Bella. He would throw himself onto a werewolf or vampire for her. He would turn himself in to the Volturi and cease to exist.
And, while it is a bit strange that he watches her sleep—and in a normal situation that would be completely stalking, trespassing, breaking and entering, a whole host of other things, and she would definitely get a restraining order against him—in this story, he does it to protect and watch over her. I think all of those are things that women find so attractive.
(2) I think there is also a huge tension for Edward in that he so clearly has the upper hand in the relationship but doesn’t want it to be that way. He doesn’t want them to be an item because he knows it puts her at risk and it can’t last. He keeps abandoning her because he knows the relationship is wrong, sort of like Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, but on a supernatural level.
I don’t think that Edward enjoys having powers that Bella doesn’t have; I think that is a huge reason why he doesn’t want to be intimate with her. And in response to the question, then why doesn’t he make her into a vampire so they can be equals, I would say it’s because he doesn’t want to take away her humanity, her soul, her ability to grow old and bear children. Which again goes back to my chivalry argument. Edward is one sexy beast, because he is so chivalrous.
So there it is, guys: Men, even those who come in vampire and werewolf varieties, should protect their women. Violence, it seems, is quite acceptable—in fact, a turn-on—if it’s done in the name of chivalry.
This reminds me of a conversation I had recently while on a book tour for an anthology of first-person stories by men. A guy in a ponytail stood up and said that he liked our book because it “allowed men to embrace their female side.”
I sidestepped the question, but one of my partners on the book was much more direct in making the same point Twilight does on this score: Women are not looking for their men to find their vulnerable and emotional side. The women of America are looking for their men to allow the women to have their emotions and for the men to be strong enough to protect those emotions—with force, if need be.
Then there’s the old-fashioned power of fantasy that, it turns out, is a two-way street. “Did you notice Edward’s nipples were different sizes?” my sister-in-law asked me on the way home from the movie.
I had not; I was snoring by that point. But it brought to mind the fact that the boy-gods were not even human. Where men might be accused of supporting a pornography trade built on explicit sexual fantasy, the fact that Edward and Jake are not human seems to heighten their appeal to women.
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In September, 2009, Tom Matlack, together with James Houghton and Larry Bean, published an anthology of stories about defining moments in men’s lives — The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood. It was how the The Good Men Project first began. Want to buy the book? Click here. Want to learn more? Here you go.