Beautiful Creatures came out in theaters recently, and I decided I should read the book. It was a fun read – definitely not a bad use of a Sunday. However, it fell into a really unpleasant trap of punishing sexuality.
The appeal of paranormal romance is supposed to be the forbidden – sex with a vampire, a werewolf, an angel, demon, etc. Sex with something that is other and often somehow bestial, a return to animal instincts. Books like Beautiful Creatures and Twilight (yeah, I’m gonna use that example) put that temptation out there but punish their characters for succumbing.
In Beautiful Creatures, only the mean girls dress provocatively. The girls at the dance who wear “slutty” dresses are the ones with babies at graduation. The only female with an active sexuality is evil and manipulative. Lena, largely virginal and modest throughout, is told that if she has sex with her boyfriend, he’ll die.
Edward and Bella (other than having a highly abusive relationship) don’t sex it up until after they get married, and after the first time Bella ends up pregnant with a vampire baby that kills her in birth. Yeah, she’s happy in the end, but first she’s literally killed by her decision to have sex and then she becomes an eternal teenage mother.
Do you see the problem here?
Punishing women for their sexuality as a warning to the other lady folk is practically tradition. Think of urban legends. Girl making out with her boyfriend? Here comes a crazed drifter with a hook hand. Woman driving alone? Oops killer with an axe in her backseat. Girl living with her roommate in that liberal college atmosphere? Bloody roommate death.
I’m in college and I still hear my female peers rise into a chorus of “eww, gross! Weird!” combined with nervous laughter whenever masturbation or porn is brought up. I still hear girls calling other girls sluts and whores and judging them for wearing low-cut tops or short skirts. There’s still that oh-so-fun double standard that guys who sleep with a lot of girls are studs and girls who sleep with a lot of guys are sluts who are decreasing their worth as a human being. And, oh yeah, if any of those “slutty” girls get raped, they probably deserved it. They were teases, they were asking for it, they wanted it.
I’m not saying that Twilight and Beautiful Creatures are to blame for this attitude. It’s been around way longer than the authors have even been alive. This is a continuing problem in our society. But it doesn’t help to put forth this message that sexuality is wrong and punishable, especially in books read by teenage girls who get told all the time that they should be ashamed of their bodies and sexuality.
Maybe it’s subtle, maybe people don’t even fully realize it when they read it, but it’s there. The good girls don’t have sex and they get the really awesome, hot, loyal guy. The bad girls that have sex? Well, they’re evil, bitchy, and shallow. Right?
I’m also not saying you shouldn’t read these books. Beautiful Creatures really was pretty fun to read. Twilight has a lot of issues, but if you leave your thinking cap behind, it’s also a really fun read. What I am saying is that you can read books like this, enjoy them, and still confront the problems in them. You can and should talk about the messages in books that bother you.
Do you think I’m full of shit? Have other examples? Hit up the comments. Whether you agree with me or not, this is a conversation that should be happening.