Those of you who know me in real life know how much I love terrible movies. My top three are The Room, Wickerman (2006), and Sherlock Holmes (not the RDJ one, but the 2011 one in which Holmes and Watson literally fight a dinosaur). In my second year of grad school, I was doing a ton of depressing research on Minamata, so I listened to the audio books of all the Twilight books, both to blow off steam but also so I could criticize them. Which brings me to my point: an actual gender swap of the book would be fascinating, but that’s not what happened.
Since I haven’t had the dubious pleasure of reading the new edition yet (but oh, I will, dear readers), I’ll leave you with some criticism of the book. I also prefer genderswap when everyone is women or nonbinary or trans. Just a whole bunch of queer vampires is what I’m saying. (If you’re just joining us, do check out Carmilla [novel, web series] for some actual queer vampires.)
Katie Barnes. “The gender-swapped Twilight proves how sexist the original is.” Feministing.
But while Meyer may want to paint Bella as a human in distress, the defining moment of the beginning of Bella and Edward’s relationship came in a specifically gendered situation: Edward saving her from being attacked and presumably sexually assaulted in Port Angeles. During that scene, she does not talk, there isn’t much interaction, but it is clear what is going to happen, something reinforced by Edward discussing the thoughts of the men later. For Edythe and Beau, that scene still happens but it is a robbery gone bad/mistaken identity/general dislike for people assumed to be police by criminals. It’s actually unclear what that scene is, other than the fact that it has to happen because it is crucial to the relationship. Edythe saves Beau, but the tenor of their interaction is completely different due to the absence of the inherently gendered scenario experienced by Bella and Edward.
….Structurally, the novels may be basically the same, but so much of what characterizes Bella is her plainness and insecurity, something missing from Beau. He has real agency in his interactions with Edythe and others around him. Edythe does not take care of Beau, making decisions for him, the way that Edward did for Bella. In that way their relationship is healthier than that of Bella and Edward, which has been rightfully attacked. [emphasis mine]
Megan Lewis. “Life and Death fails in its reimagining of Twilight gender roles.” EW.
Some of the changes, she says in her foreword, were made because Beau is a boy, and some were made because “he’s not nearly so flowery with his words and thoughts” — which isn’t a great way to describe an attempt at defying gender roles. When you see the two versions of the same story compared to each other, the changes suggest that Meyer should’ve ignored complaints about Bella being a stereotype and maintained the value of what was undeniably a successful franchise. Instead, she ended up adding slight variations that feed into traditional gender stereotypes:
At the end of chapter one, when Bella/Beau is heading home thinking that Edward/Edythe hates her/him:
Beau in Life and Death: “I headed back to Charlie’s house, trying to think of nothing at all.”
Bella in Twilight: “I headed back to Charlie’s house, fighting tears the whole way there.”
Emma Oulton. “6 Things The Gender-Swapped Twilight Book Teaches Us About Sexism.” Bustle.
Beauty Standards For Women Are Literally Debilitating
Yeah, men and women are both subjected to unrealistic beauty and standards, and this can be super-damaging for both. But men’s standards have always been more flexible (hello, dad bod) and, notably, healthier. Women, on the other hand, are expected to achieve body shapes that, for many, require them to severely restrict their food intake far beyond what is healthy for them. Life and Death makes this clear: Edward’s attractiveness comes from his “musculature,” which he has achieved by being a fit and healthy vampire getting a lot of exercise in. Edythe, therefore, should be equally fit and muscly, right? But instead, she is described as “vulnerable” and “fragile,” with visible ribs and bones like “twigs” — and this is what Beau thinks is “perfect.” Her beauty is literally described in her lack of strength.
But hey, there’s always the Twilight Musical. “I’ll show you anaphase when I rip you in two!”