Fifty shades of complexity : representations of gender and sexuality in the twilight and fifty shades series
Le, Ariane Ai Lin
Date of Issue2015
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
I seek to explore the redemptive elements of the Twilight and Fifty Shades series. Taking into account the scholarly conversation which has polarized critics into either those who think the novels empower or disempower women from a feminist perspective, I argue for the validity of reading Bella and Anastasia as being feminist subjects to the best of their abilities within narratives that are patriarchal and which seek to contain their feminist subjectivities. Drawing upon the work of feminist critic Stéphanie Genz who argues that paradox is a central defining feature of “contemporary postfeminist femininities that reference both traditional narratives of feminine passivity and more progressive scripts of feminine agency” (Genz and Brabon 59), I locate these female protagonists as occupying the liminal zone that exists between retrograde ideas of femininity and more progressive notions of feminist subjectivity in that their registering of a feminist consciousness and attempts to establish themselves as postfeminist subjects occurs within a narrative context where they are expected to submit to patriarchal figures. Further, I argue that the Twilight series presents another paradox: the ability for Bella to be emancipated from the weakness that is associated with conventional femininity is equated with taking on conventional masculine characteristics. Since ‘feminine’ characteristics are associated with weakness, the adoption of what is socially perceived to be ‘masculine’ characteristics enables her to reach a state of self-actualization. Significantly, it is in her role as a mother and her status as a vampire that we see Bella’s gravitation towards a postgender subjectivity, as reflected in her assimilation of both conventional feminine and masculine characteristics. Ultimately, my essay posits that the paradoxes inherent within the Twilight and Fifty Shades series highlight the anomalous position which women occupy in contemporary American society where modern day women who are gravitating towards a feminist subjectivity still have to grapple with the vestiges of a patriarchal tradition that is deeply entrenched in American society.
Final Year Project (FYP)
Nanyang Technological University