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Deadly Love: Images of Dating Violence in the “Twilight Saga”


Abstract and Figures

It has been well established that adolescents face a high risk of dating violence in the United States. One explanation links these behaviors to attitudes and behaviors that are reflected in the media, such as books, movies, and video games that target a teenage audience. In the study presented here, a content analysis of the popular four-book Twilight series provided evidence of behaviors and attitudes that are conducive to dating violence. Cases of physical and sexual abuse, stalking, threats, and intimidation were identified in the text. Given that this book series has been praised for its “wholesome” presentation of teenage romance, these are troubling findings. Implications include the use of the Twilight series in social work, education, and violence prevention efforts.
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Deadly Love: Images of Dating
Violence in the ‘Twilight Saga’
Victoria E. Collins
and Dianne C. Carmody
It has been well established that adolescents face a high risk of dating violence in the United States.
One explanation links these behaviors to attitudes and behaviors that are reflected in the media,
such as books, movies, and video games that target a teenage audience. In the study presented here,
a content analysis of the popular four-book Twilight series provided evidence of behaviors and atti-
tudes that are conducive to dating violence. Cases of physical and sexual abuse, stalking, threats, and
intimidation were identified in the text. Given that this book series has been praised for its ‘whole-
some’ presentation of teenage romance, these are troubling findings. Implications include the use of
the Twilight series in social work, education, and violence prevention efforts.
dating violence, domestic violence, teenagers, Twilight series
Violence in intimate and dating relationships continues to be a significant problem in the United
States, resulting in more serious injuries for women than men (Rennison, 2003). It has been estab-
lished that, as a group, adolescents are at an elevated risk of experiencing and perpetrating violence
in intimate or dating relationships (Kim-Godwin, Clements, McCuiston, & Fox, 2009). Various
explanations have been advanced in an attempt to understand this increased prevalence, with some
researchers focusing on the role of the media. The content of a variety of types of media, including
film, music, and television, has been linked to such teenage issues as sexual activity, smoking, drug
use, body image, obesity, and violence (Brown et al., 2006; Brown & Witherspoon, 2002). The study
presented here examined the presentation of dating violence in a teenage book series, The Twilight
Saga, by Stephenie Meyer, Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn. The target audience
for this popular four-book series is teenage girls (McCulloch, 2009), although it has arguably
reached a much wider audience. Since the first book was released in 2005, the Twilight books have
sold more than 40 million copies worldwide and topped the USA Today best-sellers list in both 2008
and 2009 (Memmott & Cadden, 2009). To date, the first two books in the series have been success-
fully transformed into movies (Stone, 2009), with the second movie reportedly breaking box office
records by grossing $72.2 million on its opening day (Gray, 2009). The study presented here used
Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Victoria E. Collins, Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, Old Dominion University, 5115 Hampton Boulevard,
Norfolk, VA 23529, USA
Affilia: Journal of Women and Social
26(4) 382-394
ª 2011 SAGE Publications
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/0886109911428425
at OLD DOMINION UNIV LIBRARY on March 12, 2015aff.sagepub.comDownloaded from
content analysis to examine the presentation of relationship violence in the four Twilight books.
Given the popularity of these books, especially among teenage girls, it is important to identify both
the obvious and the subtle messages that these books present concerning dating violence.
Literature Review
In the past several decades, researchers have documented the prevalence and nature of violence that
is perpetrated in the course of heterosexual relationships (Smith-Stover, 2005). Most of this research
has focused on intimate partner violence by married or cohabitating partners, with a smaller collec-
tion of studies limited to violence among those in dating relationships, especially young people in
high school and college (Eckhardt, Jamieson, & Watts, 2002; Gover, Kaukinen, & Fox, 2008). A
greater understanding of the behaviors that are common to both intimate partner and dating violence
may be gleaned from the following brief review of the literature.
Dating violence is gendered, with females suffering higher rates of victimization and injury than
males (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2000). At particular risk are adolescent males
and females (Kim-Godwin et al., 2009). This vulnerability has been attributed to adolescents’ ten-
dency to exaggerate gender roles, as well as their subscription to fantastical ideals of romance
(Prothrow-Stith, 1993). Estimates indicate that 2–9% of male adolescents and 4–20% of female ado-
lescents in the United States have been victims of physical or sexual abuse at the hands their dating
partners (Howard, Wang, & Yan, 2007). In addition, adolescents who have already experienced mild
forms of dating violence are 2.4 times more likely to be more severely victimized and 1.3 times
more likely to be victims of sexual violence than are those who have not experienced dating
violence (Foshee , Benefie ld, Enn ett , Bauman, & Suchi ndra n, 2004 ). Repor ted ca ses of dating vio-
lence among adolescents are on the increase, with the proportion of adolescents reporting that
physical v iole nce occurred in the previo us 12 months increasing from 9.2% in 2005 to 13.2%
in 2007 (Acka rd, Eisenberg, & Neumar k-Sztaine r, 2007; Centers for Disease Control and Preven-
tion, 2007). Female adolescents have also reported greater levels of fear as a direct result of their
victimization (O’Keefe, 2005).
Dating has traditionally been defined within the context of heterosexual relationships and is influ-
enced by socially accepted forms of masculinity and femininity. Adelman and Kil (2007) described
‘conservative dating conflicts,’ characterized by dominant heterosexual comprehensions of mascu-
linity and femininity, emphasizing the supremacy of intimate, romantic relationships over all other
relationships. They noted that these conflicts occur when individuals become isolated from other
societal relationships, including those with friends and family members, and can lead to the objec-
tification of dating partners, jealously, and possessiveness. Bernard, Bernard, and Bernard (1985)
also noted that strong patriarchal attitudes are linked to an increased risk of violence by men in dat-
ing relationships. Dating violence is strongly associated with dominant forms of masculinity and
femininity (Black & Weisz, 2003; Feldman & Gowen, 1998).
Researchers have long noted the similarities between dating violence and intimate partner
violence, both of which are linked to issues of power and control (Gover et al., 2008). The feminist
perspective purports that intimate partner violence results from a social structure that is inherently
male dominated and the socialization of males and females into specific gender roles (Pagelow,
1984; Prospero, 2007). These socialization processes reinforce socially appropriate behaviors for
both sexes in a patriarchal society that promotes male privilege (Prospero, 2007). Social norms sup-
port the use of relationship violence as a means for the male to remain in control of the female
(Marin & Russo, 1999).
Tactics that are designed to exert power and control have been identified as strong predictors of
dating violence (Kaura & Allen, 2004; Riggs & O’Leary, 1996). In relationships in which power
differentials exist and decision making is not shared, dating violence is more likely to occur (Felson
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& Messner, 2000). Instances of violence result from struggles over who is going to make important
decisions in the relationship and dissatisfaction over the perceived level of power that each partner
possesses (Hendy et al., 2003; Pulerwitz, Gortmaker, & DeJong, 2000; Ronfeldt, Kimerling, &
Arias, 1998). Behaviors, such as stalking and threats of homicide and suicide, have been found to
be strongly correlated with future violence and homicide (McFarlane et al., 1999; Roehl, O’Sullivan,
Webster, & Campbell, 2005). Research has also indicated that 75–90% of femicide victims were
stalked prior to their murder (McFarlane et al., 1999), and in a high proportion of femicide cases,
the perpetrator committed suicide following the act of homicide (Roehl et al., 2005).
It has been estimated that between 20% and 96% of dating relationships contain psychologically
abusive behavior (James, West, Deters, & Armijo, 2000; Jezl, Molidor, & Wright, 1996). The pres-
ence of psychological abuse in dating relationships is positively related to the risk of physical vio-
lence (Kasian & Painter, 1992). Foshee (1996) identified four types of psychological abuse in
adolescent dating relationships: Threatening behavior, which includes threats of physical violence;
behavior monitoring, in which the perpetrator forces the victim to communicate where they are phy-
sically located personal insults; and emotional manipulation. In addition, interpersonal violence has
been found to be strongly associated with suicide and suicidal ideations for both the perpetrator and
the victim of the dating violence (Swahn, Lubell, & Simon, 2004).
Research has also demonstrated that violence and love often become intertwined in adolescent
relationships (Black & Weisz, 2003; James et al., 2000; Vezina, Lavoie, & Piche, 1995). In a
1990 study, Carlson found that the majority of adolescents supported the use of violence against
a dating partner in some situations. In addition, Bergman’s (1992) study of high school students
showed that more than 79% of the girls who had experienced dating violence continued to date the
perpetrators of that violence.Dating Violence and the Media
The media have been found to have an impact on a wide range of adolescent issues, such as sexual
activity, smoking, substance abuse, body image, obesity, and violence (Brown et al., 2006; Brown &
Witherspoon, 2002; Collins et al., 2004). Although causality has not been established, the media
have been found to influence teenagers’ attitudes and indirectly to affect behaviors (Brown et al.,
2006; Collins et al., 2004). Teenagers are well aware of the way the media shape their attitudes and
behaviors (Lavoie, Robitaille, & He´bert, 2000), and they turn to media sources for information on
dating and romantic relationships. Borzekowski and Rickert (2001) found that 23% of teenagers
used the Internet-accessed information about dating violence.
Violence is not exclusive to telev ision or the Internet and can be found i n other forms of media
that have a teena ge audience. Certa inly, movies that are popular among teenag ers include consid-
erable viol ence (Sargent e t al., 2002), as do music lyrics and videos (Ha ynes, 2009; Str asburger,
1995). A large proportion of the media, including music, movi es, t ele vision, and books, specif i-
cally target a teenage audience .
Because violence has been recognized as being an acceptable expression of love in adolescent
relationships (Vezina et al., 1995), it is necessary to examine the social messages that teenagers are
receiving through the media. Of particular interest is Steph anie Me yer’ s Twiligh t Saga. This fou r-
book series has a core target audience of teenage girls (Stone, 2009; Young, 2009) and has sold an
estimated 40 million copies worldwide since i ts debut in 2005 (Memmott & Cadden, 2009). The
first two books have been made into movies and havebeenwidelysuccessful, with the first movie,
Twilight, grossing $190 million in North America alone (Stone, 2009). The series is centered on
the relationship between a 17-year-old girl (Bella) and a 17-year-old vampire (Edward) and has
sparked much c ontroversy over the modeling of a healthy relationship for teenagers (McCulloch,
2009; Stone, 2009; Young, 2009). The series also includes a teenager named Jacob, who competes
with Edward for Bella’s affections.
The series has been said to be attractive to teenage girls because it portrays a ‘traditional, roman-
tic relationship’ and positively frames the issue of abstinence (Stone, 2009). Christian publications
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have heralded the book series, noting that the characters restrain from engaging in sexual intercourse
until they are married (Smith, 2008) and portray themes of immense self-control in the face of temp-
tation. Others, however, have criticized the series for modeling unhealthy, inequitable romantic rela-
tionships. In a 2009 article published by MSNBC, the relationship between the two main characters,
Bella and Edward, was labeled ‘controlling’ (Young, 2009). Others have argued that the books con-
tain ‘a dark undercurrent of sexual assault and abuse’ (Editorial, 2009), identifying unhealthy rela-
tionship behaviors that are synonymous with stalking, self-harm, and suicide (McCulloch, 2009).
Clearly, critics disagree about the presentation of adolescent relationships in the Twilight series. The
study presented here examined the book series with special attention to behaviors that are commonly
associated with dating and intimate partner violence.The Study
Theoretical Framework
The analysis was guided by feminist theories, which ‘analyze women’s experiences, articulate the
nature of social relations between women and men, and provide explanations that support efforts to
transform these social relations’ (Swigonski & Raheim, 2011, pp. 10–11). Specifically, gender-
reform feminism provides the framework (Lorber, 2005). This approach focuses on gender inequal-
ity in the social order and its cultural and structural components. To be female in the United States
brings a variety of disadvantages, such as lower pay than males for the same work and dispropor-
tionate exposure to sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other forms of gender-based violence
(Tong, 2009). These disadvantages do not apply equally to all women; wealthy, white, attractive,
heterosexual, and able-bodied women tend to have fewer disadvantages. In fact, more recent fem-
inist theorists have argued that we must note the ‘complexities of multiple, competing, fluid, and
intersecting identities’ (Gringeri, Wahab, & Anderson-Nathe, 2010, p. 394).
Philaretou and Allen (2001) noted that under societally enforced, strict gender-role guidelines,
men are pressured to use aggression and competition in romantic relationships. In this way, mascu-
linity emphasizes sexualized violence and dominance. In an examination of adolescent masculinities,
Messerschmidt (2000) also noted that under hegemonic masculinity, which is both youthful and het-
erosexual, force may be acceptable in romantic relationships. Such gender stereotypes, reinforced by
mediated messages, may certainly encourage dating violence and perceptions of romance that reflect
traditional gender roles.Method
An ethnographic content analysis (Altheide, 1996) of the four books in The Twilight series pro-
vided the basis for the study. Table 1 presents brief overviews of the plots of the four books in the
series. Prior to the coding, conceptual coding categories were identified, on the basis of previous
research on predictors of dating violence (Felson & Messner, 2000; Hendy et al., 2003; Kaura &
Allen, 2004). The results are reported in both quantitative and qualitative formats. The initial
categories were drawn from the Duluth model of power and control (Pence & Paymar, 1993). These
predictors included physical violence, which was defined as actual or threats of unwanted physical
touching, pushing, and hitting; sexual violence, which was defined as unwanted or forced sexual
behaviors, including physical harm and violence perpetrated during sexual acts; and controlling
behaviors. Controlling behaviors were divided into three subcategories for the purpose of coding.
These categories included (a) physical control, which included physically detaining, restraining,
or preventing a character from moving in order to obtain compliance; (b) verbal orders, such as
demanding that someone do something; and (c) emotional control, which involved one character
controlling the dissemination of information to another character, reacting with anger to threaten
another character into compliance, or making threats to harm a loved one or himself if the character
did not comply with his wishes. In addition, stalking behaviors, such as following and constantly
monitoring a partner’s location, were coded. Since jealousy is often used to justify such behaviors,
it was also included in the analysis. Another category was male aggressiveness, which included the
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Table 1 Plot Overview of the Four Books in the Twilight Series
Book Title
of Pages
Date of
Publication Plot Overview
Twilight 1 498 October 2005 Bella, a 17-year-old, moves to Forks, Washington, to live
with her father. She meets and falls in love with
Edward, a vampire. Edward is initially attracted to
Bella because her blood smells especially good to him,
and he desires to kill her and drink her blood. How-
ever, with significant restraint, he resists this impulse
and pursues a romantic relationship with Bella. Bella
finds out that Edward is a vampire, and instead of
fearing him, she embraces him as he is. Because of her
association with Edward and his family, Bella is
exposed to other vampires, one of which tracks and
attacks Bella to upset Edward. Edward saves Bella and
kills the attacking vampire, James, but not before Bella
is bitten by the other vampire. Edward is forced either
to let Bella become a vampire herself or suck the
venom from the bite, which involves sucking her
blood. Edward chooses the latter course of action,
preventing Bella from becoming a vampire
New moon 2 563 September 2006 On her 18th birthday, Bella receives a paper cut when
opening her birthday presents. Edward’s brother,
Jasper, attacks Bella, but Edward intervenes, saving
her. As a result, Edward and his family leave the area.
Bella sinks into a depression that lasts months. Bella’s
depression is made bearable by her relationship with
Jacob. Bella also finds that when she acts recklessly,
subjecting herself to significant risk of harm, she
suffers delusions that allow her to see Edward.
Consequently her behavior becomes more reckless.
When Jacob distances himself from Bella, she
discovers he is a werewolf. Jacob reveals that another
vampire is in the vicinity and that he has been
protecting the area. It is revealed that the vampire is
Victoria, James’s disgruntled mate who is there to kill
Bella. Following an extremely reckless stunt, in which
Bella jumps off a cliff, Edward believes that Bella is
dead and plans to kill himself by inciting anger from
the vampires’ governing body, the Volturi. Alice,
Edward’s sister, takes Bella to Italy to prevent him
from taking such action. They are successful in
preventing Edward from ending his life, but the Volturi
agree to let them go only if Edward promises to turn
Bella into a vampire
Eclipse 3 629 September 2007 Edward returns to Forks with Bella and promises never
to leave again. He does not want Bella to spend time
with her friend Jacob because he believes it is too
dangerous for her. Victoria is still attempting to kill
Bella and begins to create an army of new vampires
for the purpose of killing her. Jacob and the wolf pack
join forces with Edward and his vampire family to save
Bella from Victoria and her newborn vampires. Jacob
learns that Bella has agreed to marry Edward. The
book ends with a fight in which Edward kills Victoria,
and her newborns are defeated. Jacob suffers
substantial injuries that require medical attention and
significant respite
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three subcategories of male territorial behavior that emerged during the analysis on the basis of the
actor’s intent. The first theme involved the display of male aggressiveness to exert territorial dom-
inance over a female. The second theme was the use of aggressiveness or anger to obtain compliance
from another character.
The last category involved the male characters’ use of aggression as a means of defending a
female character, namely, Bella. Finally, on the basis of the findings of Kettrey and Emery
(2010), who found that traditional gender roles are a dominant theme presented in magazines for
teenagers, particularly the central focus on finding a man, having a romantic relationship, and secur-
ing a home, the presentation of traditional gender roles was included in the analysis. During the pro-
cess of coding the last category, secondary violence emerged, that is, violent acts or threats of
violence against Bella that were a direct result of her being involved with Edward or his vampire
family. Table 2 provides frequencies for each coding category. Moving forward with the textual
analysis, each book was coded independently by two coders. To maximize the reliability of the data,
the two coding sets were then compared and combined to reflect only those cases that both coders
had independently identified.
Situations involving physical violence or threats of immediate physical violence were identified 80
times across the series, and 30% of the physical violence was perpetrated by a male in the course of
an intimate relationship. Within this category, 66.7% of the violence was perpetrated by Edward on
Bella and 33.3% was perpetrated by Jacob on Bella. Throughout the series, references are made to
Edward’s desire to drink Bella’s blood, either as a mechanism that allows Edward to control both
Table 1 (continued)
Book Title
of Pages
Date of
Publication Plot Overview
Breaking dawn 4 754 August 2008 Bella and Edward get married, and on their honeymoon
they have sexual intercourse. As a result, Bella
becomes pregnant. The pregnancy is accelerated
because the fetus is not human. Edward wants to
terminate the pregnancy because of the harm the
baby can and does cause to Bella’s body. Bella wants
to carry the baby to term. Bella recruits Rosalie to
ensure that no one attempts to take her baby from
her. The baby causes Bella significant harm, including
broken ribs. Jacob learns of the pregnancy and
protects Bella from the wolf pack because they want
to destroy her child. The pack splits into two, with
those who support the protection of Bella siding with
Jacob. The baby becomes so strong that it almost kills
Bella. Edward has to cut the baby out of her and inject
her with his venom to save her. Bella becomes a
vampire, but the Volturi hear of Edward and Bella’s
child and come to Forks to kill the Cullens. The
Cullens ask other vampires for help and create a small
defensive force. Alice and Jasper disappear. The
Volturi come and seek to find an excuse to
exterminate the Cullen family. Alice and Jasper return
with evidence that Edward and Bella’s child is not a
threat to vampire discovery and save the day. The
Volturi return to Italy
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Bella’s behavior and the course of their relationship or as a reminder of the power differential
between the two characters. Physical violence also occurs when Edward attempts to protect Bella
from harming herself or from being harmed by others. Although Edward’s intention is not to harm
Bella, she suffers physical harm on 16 (20%) occasions. For example, when Bella receives a paper
cut while opening a birthday gift, another vampire lunges to attack her, and Edward jumps to her
rescue, resulting in injury to Bella, ‘He threw himself at me, flinging me back across the table. It
fell, as did I, scattering the cake and the presents, the flowers and the plates. I landed in the mess
of shattered crystal’ (Meyer, 2006, p. 28).
Bella is the victim of 96 instances of secondary violence in the book series. The most frequent
perpetrators of this secondary violence are other vampires. The story involves a romantic relation-
ship in which Bella’s love for Edward repeatedly places her at risk of serious injury or death. In addi-
tion, Edward himself poses a threat because of his desire to drink her blood, ‘They have a name for
someone who smells the way Bella does to me. They call her my singer—because her blood sings for
me’ (Meyer, 2006, p. 490). It is also interesting to note that in Breaking Dawn, the fourth book in the
series, Bella is expecting Edward’s child. Throughout the pregnancy, the nonhuman child causes
significant injury to Bella, threatening both her health and her life.
We identified five cases of sexual violence in the four books. All were perpetrated against Bella
by either Edward or Jacob. The following excerpt describes sexual violence perpetrated by Edward,
‘Under the dusting of feathers, large purplish bruises were beginning to blossom across the pale
skin of my arm. My eyes followed the trail they made up to my shoulder, and then down across
my ribs. I pulled my hand free to poke at a discoloration on my left forearm, watching it fade where
I touched and then reappear’ (Meyer, 2008, p. 89).
Although Edward and Bella do not engage in sexual intercourse until after they are married,
which is in accordance with those who promote the series as advocating abstinence, the sexual rela-
tionship they do have is extremely violent.
Another instance of sexual violence involves Jacob and Bella. Jacob physically overpowers Bella
and kisses her forcibly against her will. This act occurs twice in the series, and after the first time,
Bella retaliates by punching Jacob, inadvertently breaking her hand. Bella’s injury and distress are
then the cause of amusement for both Jacob and Bella’s father, Charlie, which trivializes both
Jacob’s perpetration of sexual violence and Bella’s victimization.
Table 2 Frequencies of High-Risk Behaviors for Dating Violence Found in the Twilight Series
Type of Behavior
Total Incidences Edward on Bella Jacob on Bella Other
N % N % N % N %
Physical violence 80 100 16 20.0 8 10.0 56 70.0
Secondary violence 136 100 26 19.1 0 0 110 80.9
Sexual violence 5 100 3 60.0 2 40.0 0 0
Controlling behaviors 119 100 90 75.6 5 4.2 29 24.4
Physical 30 100 24 80.0 4 13.3 2 6.7
Verbal orders 31 100 31 100.00 0 0 0 0
Emotional 58 100 38 65.5 3 5.2 17 29.3
Stalking 14 100 11 78.6 1 7.1 2 14.3
Jealousy 31 100 17 54.8 12 41.4 2 3.8
Male aggressiveness 183 100 81 44.3 43 23.5 59 32.2
Male territorial 43 100 28 65.1 14 32.6 1 2.3
Anger 23 100 20 87.0 3 13.0 0 0
In defense of Bella 47 100 37 78.7 10 21.3 0 0
Traditional gender roles 132 100 89 67.4 19 14.4 24 18.2
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With regard to cases of controlling behavior, 30 cases of the first type of controlling behavior,
physical control, were detected, all but two of which involved either Edward or Jacob controlling
Bella. The second type of controlling behavior, verbally ordering someone to comply, occurred
exclusively between Edward and Bella, with Edward ordering Bella to do something a total of 31
times. For the last type of controlling behavior, emotional control, 58 cases were identified.
Examples of Edward’s use of violence for the purposes of controlling Bella’s behavior are
illustrated by the following quotation, in which Edward intimates Bella, ‘‘Where do you think
you’re going?’ he asked, outraged. He was gripping a fistful of my jacket in one hand’ (Meyer,
2005, p. 103), or through asking other characters to restrain her physically, ‘‘Emmett,’ Edward said
grimly. And Emmett secured my hands in his steely grasp’ (Meyer, 2005, p. 382), or by threatening
violence to ensure that Bella complies with his wishes, ‘‘No! No! NO! Edward roared charging
back into the room. He was in my face before I had time to blink, bending over me, his expression
twisted in rage’ (Meyer, 2006, p. 535).
Throughout the series, there a re 60 ref erences t o sel f-harm or sui cide. The majorit y of thes e
thoughts and behaviors (60.67%) are Bella’s. Within this category, three themes emerged. The
first the me is Bella’s desire to become a vampire and consequently to go through the process
of bec omi ng undead, a proces s that i nvol ve s enduring intense pa in and d eath. Bella is willing and
eager to endure a painf ul death to be w ith Edward forever. The second theme is related to Bella’s
suicidal ideations when Edward leaves her. Bella’s deep depression manifests itself through
thoughts of suicide and subsequent reckless behaviors. The last suici dal theme is related to
self-harm initiated in a n effort to save another character. For example, during a fight with hostile
vampires, Bella has the following thoughts, ‘If I had to bleed to save them, I would do it. I would
die to do it’ (Mey er, 2007, p . 539). Re peate dl y, images o f suicide or self-h arm are r omantici zed in
this book series.
We identified 14 instances of stalking behavior in the books, 11 (78.6%) of which were perpe-
trated by Edward against Bella. These behaviors included Edward breaking into Bella’s room with-
out her knowledge, listening to her conversations with other people, following her, and monitoring
her interactions with others. For example, in Eclipse (Meyer 2007, pp. 131–132), Bella visits Jacob
against Edward’s orders. When she returns, the following ensues, ‘It came out of nowhere. One
minute there was nothing but bright highway in my rearview mirror. The next minute, the sun was
glinting off a silver Volvo right on my tail.’ Edward uses stalking techniques as a means of manip-
ulating and controlling Bella. These behaviors are both minimized and romanticized throughout the
series through Bella’s response, or lack of response, to them, ‘‘You spied on me?’ But somehow
I couldn’t infuse my voice with the proper outrage. I was flattered’ (Meyer, 2005, p. 292).
The content analysis also revealed 31 episodes involving jealousy in the series. Most of these epi-
sodes involved Edward’s jealousy of Bella’s interactions with another male (54.8%), and 41.4%
were expressed by Jacob over Bella’s interactions with another male. These behaviors manifested
themselves in many ways: admitting jealously outright, acting aggressively toward other males, and
physically fighting over Bella’s attentions.
Edward and Jacob repeatedly express their feelings through anger and aggression. We found 183
instances of male aggressiveness, machismo, or male privilege in the book series. The majority of
these behaviors are perpetrated by Edward (44.3%), followed by Jacob (23.5%). Displaying male
aggressiveness to exert territorial dominance over a female occurred 43 times (23.5%) and was
either presented through expressions of possessiveness by Edward and Jacob toward Bella or estab-
lishing dominance when confronted by another male. For example, in Eclipse, when Jacob attempts
to warm Bella up by getting into her sleeping bag with her, the following occurs:
Edward snarled, but Jacob didn’t even look at him. Instead, he crawled to my side and started unzipping
my sleeping bag. Edward’s hand was suddenly hard on his shoulder restraining, snow white against the
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dark skin. Jacob’s jaw clenched, his nostrils flaring, his body recoiling from the cold touch. The long
muscles in his arms flexed automatically.’ (Meyer, 2007, p. 490)
In addition, claims of ownership are made concerning Bella. On three occasions, Edward refers to
Bella as if she is his property, as in the following example, ‘‘She is mine.’ Edward’s low voice was
suddenly dark, not as composed as before’ (Meyer, 2007, p. 341).
We identified the use of aggressiveness or anger to obtain compliance from another character in
23 instances in the series, with 87% of the acts of aggressiveness perpetrated by Edward toward
Bella and 13% by Jacob toward Bella. These acts vary from aggressive vocalizations, such as growl-
ing, snarling, or shouting, to threatening looks, physical intimidation, and physical restraint. There
were also incidents involving the male characters’ use of aggression to defend a female character,
namely, Bella These incidents occur 47 times (25.68%) in the series, most frequently by Edward
(n ¼ 37) and Jacob (n ¼ 10). It is also interesting to note that the most common descriptive words
used to convey expressions of male aggressiveness throughout include ‘growl, snarl, and hiss.’
These words are animalistic, normalizing a primitive imagery of male dominance.
Of the 132 representations of traditional gender roles in the four books that we identified, most
involved Edward’s behavior toward Bella (67.4%) or Jacob’s behavior toward Bella (14.4%). Bella
is physically saved from harm by male characters seven times (5.3%). Although these events occur
relatively infrequently, they are often major events in the story. In one instance, Edward saves Bella
from death by stopping a van that is speeding toward her, ‘Two long, white hands shot out protec-
tively in front of me, and the van shuddered to a stop a foot from my face, the large hands fitting
providentially into a deep dent in the side of the van’s body’ (Meyer, 2005, p. 56). Traditional gen-
der roles are also emphasized in the chivalrous behaviors exhibited by both Edward and Jacob
toward Bella (16.67%). These behaviors include opening doors, lending Bella clothes to ensure her
warmth, carrying Bella when she is tired, and giving Bella comfort. Bella is repeatedly depicted as
weak and dependent, requiring male protection from harm.Discussion
Viewed through the lens of dating violence, the Twilight series offers many troubling examples
of controlling behaviors and violence. Many of these behaviors are minimized, justified, normal-
ized, a nd sometimes romanticized. The majority of controllin g and violent beha viors —ph ysica l
and sexual violence, stalking, controlling, intimidating , and threate ni ng—a re exhi bit ed by male
characters. The central character s manifest behaviors that are consistent with traditional gender
roles,withEdwardandJacobpresentingasaggressive, territorial, a nd demanding, and Bella pre-
sented as subservient and weak. Considering the popularity of the books and the marketing of their
stories to a predominantly teenage audience, these messages are counterintuitive to the promotion
of he al thy, equitable, nonviol en t relationships. Thi s is especially true with regard to sexual vio-
lence since the representation of a sexually violent rel ationship seems to be in dire ct contradic tion
to advocating abstinence.
Twilight, published in 2005, was ranked the best-sellin g book of 2008 by USA Today, closely
followed by the book’s sequels. In 2009, New Moon, published in 2006, was ranked number
one on t he U.S. best-se ller list, again followed by the other three books in the se ries (DeBarros,
Cadden, DeRamus, & Schnaars, 2010a). The books have reportedly sold more than 40 million copies
worldwide (DeBarros, Cadden, DeRamus, & Schnaars, 2010b), with Breaking Dawn,publishedin
2008, selling 1.3 million copies in the United States the day it was released, debuting at the top of the
best-seller lists in Britain, France, Italy, Ireland, and Spain. The books have also been printed in 37
languages, including Vietnamese, Croatian, Chinese, and Latvian (Parsons, 2008).
Given the widespread popularity of the series and the fact that the target audience is predomi-
nantly teenage girls (Young, 2009), it is of particular concern that the dominant romantic relation-
ship is presented with behaviors that are characteristic of relationship violence. The presentation of
these behaviors in popular fiction clearly does not cause dating violence. However, it is troubling
390 Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work 26(4)
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when one of the most popular book series in recent history repeatedly normalizes, minimizes, and
romanticizes these behaviors. It reinforces cultural norms that condone men’s use of force to obtain a
variety of goals.
These findings have several implications for social work. Given the popularity of the Twilight
saga among adolescent girls, social workers who seek to engage young women may find that the
books provide some ‘common ground’ for a discussion of the issues related to romantic relation-
ships and societal pressures to comply with traditional gender roles. Behaviors that were previously
assumed to be evidence of love (such as stalking, jealousy, and isolation) may be redefined as tactics
of power and control. Girls may initially be more willing to discuss Bella’s relationships than their
own. In addition, programs to prevent dating violence and educational programs could certainly use
examples from these books to illustrate behaviors and attitudes that are related to dating violence. To
recognize behaviors that were previously presented as chivalrous and romantic as clear examples of
control, stalking, abuse, and intimidation may offer young people new insights into the insidious and
often-subtle nature of abuse and control. In this way, the Twilight series could continue to influence
young lives, but in a new way.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publica-
tion of this article.
The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
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Victoria E. Collins, MA, is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, Old
Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, USA; e-mail:
Dianne C. Carmody, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, Old
Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, USA; e-mail:
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... Another content analysis explored the way that ideas like paternalism, masculinity, and gender roles feature in the romance narrative Twilight (2005). Collins and Carmody (2011) analyzed all four books in the series, finding repeated instances of violence, controlling behaviors, stalking, jealousy, male aggression, and support of traditional gender roles. The researchers noted that the books emphasize the male love interest Edward's chivalrous behavior and that instances of Edward physically saving the female protagonist Bella from harm have large roles in the plot of the series (Collins & Carmody, 2011). ...
... Collins and Carmody (2011) analyzed all four books in the series, finding repeated instances of violence, controlling behaviors, stalking, jealousy, male aggression, and support of traditional gender roles. The researchers noted that the books emphasize the male love interest Edward's chivalrous behavior and that instances of Edward physically saving the female protagonist Bella from harm have large roles in the plot of the series (Collins & Carmody, 2011). This chivalrous behavior ultimately makes Bella dependent upon male protection and limits her agency, which is reminiscent of benevolent sexism. ...
... The analysis of Fifty Shades of Grey by Bonomi et al. (2013) does not connect Christain's violence with the story's portrayal of gender roles and ambivalent sexism. Additionally, the content analyses by Collins and Carmody (2011) and Godfrey and Hamad (2012) do not explicitly connect fictional media's portrayal of masculinity with ambivalent sexism. There are clearly gendered messages in the media examined by Bonomi et al. (2013), Collins and Carmody (2011), and Godfrey and Hamad (2012), as within these stories violence is perpetrated by the man while the female character responds submissively. ...
... Beauty and the Beast has been described as offering an optimistic romance despite clear warning signs of physical abuse on the part of the Beast (Olson 2013). An analysis of the written Twilight saga includes 11 instances of Edward stalking Bella, 96 instances of Bella's secondary victimization, and 20 instances of Edward showing physical aggression toward Bella (Collins and Carmody 2011). Throughout the Fifty Shades of Grey series, Christian has been found to perpetrate physical, emotional, and verbal abuse against Anastasia (Bonomi et al. 2013;Leistner and Mark 2016;Parry and Light 2014). ...
... Stalking is often romanticized as a form of extreme wanting or desire for the female character. However, stalking is a form of using one's power to control another person (Collins and Carmody 2011). In Beauty and the Beast, the Beast uses the magical rose to see how she reacts to his threats and watches where Belle goes when she leaves the castle. ...
... Although Bella is initially relieved, she is annoyed when she realizes Edward is stalking her. This kind of controlling behavior is also romanticized in instances of Edward referring to Bella as his to protect, disguising control with benevolent patriarchal protection (Collins and Carmody 2011). In Fifty Shades of Grey, Christian becomes frustrated when Anastasia does not reply to his efforts to contact her. ...
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... Patterns of intimate partner violence represented in contemporary fiction by women are documented by many researchers. Their studies have focused, for example, on popular series such as Twilight and its representation of a controlling and abusive male partner (Collins and Carmody 2011;Borgia 2014;Brody 2014). Likewise, the Fifty Shades series caused much public controversy over its representation of the central romantic relationship. ...
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Newspaper headlines show that awareness of intimate partner violence is a complicated issue that needs further examination. Works of fiction narrated by women trapped in abusive relationships are useful sites for the exploration of what intimate partner violence usually includes, and the identification of subtle behaviours that can be defined as violent and abusive but usually go unnoticed. This article submits two contemporary works of fiction, First Love and the Fifty Shades series, for a study of the covert mechanisms of emotional abuse. To understand such mechanisms, the article engages with feminist as well as postfeminist contemporary thinking on intimate partner violence. The analysis shifts the focus back to the male abuser by carefully depicting how he uses under-recognized, gendered forms of power to abuse his partner. The aim is to elucidate the capacity of first-person narratives to allow access to the abused woman’s mind, while simultaneously provoking questions about the abusers’ behaviours, making them a more powerful tool for understanding intimate partner violence than a newspaper report.
... Literature on films related to DV shows concern about the important role of social messages received by teenagers about love and violence (Kettrey & Emery, 2010;Lenahan, 2009), highlighting that TV series or popular saga, such as Twilights, normalizes, minimizes and romanticizes violent behaviours within romantic relationships (Collins & Carmody, 2011). Considering the potential of media content, many studies have been revealing that non-formal, participatory, multimedia and digital methodologies are effective in promoting PYD. ...
The paper explores the content of 61 video capsules, presenting stories about unhealthy relationships invented, performed and filmed by 534 adolescents, from Spain, Portugal, Romania and Italy. The purpose is to analyse, through a thematic analysis of the video capsules, youth perspectives on what factors, myths and beliefs turn healthy relationships into unhealthy relationships, and what positive assets are managed to solve them. The results show common youth's perspectives on the idealization of romantic love, based on gender stereotypes, identified as a common characteristic of unhealthy relationships. Individuality is misinterpreted as a threat to the stability of dating relationships. Positive assets used by victims to face dating violence (DV) are assertiveness, communication abilities and management of emotions, whereas offenders used assertiveness, empathy and critical thinking. The paper debates the efficacy of intervention programs combining youth positive development and DV prevention approaches based on filmmaking.
... Existing research has identified that sexually violent portrayals are present in the media consumed by adolescents and young adults (Bufkin & Eschholz, 2000;Collins & Carmody, 2011;Gossett & Byrne, 2002;Lee et al., 2010). Almost one-third of songs popular among youths and young adults contain risky sexual behavior (Holody et al., 2016) Hust & Rodgers (2013 conducted a content analysis that showed the overlap between sex and violence in music lyrics popular among teens and young adults. ...
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Music media are often studied for its content, specifically sex and violence. However, few studies have approached music media to investigate the overlap of this content, especially considering the current music streaming landscape. Our study explores the co-occurrence of violence, sexual content, and degrading terms toward women in music lyrics. In this content analysis, five coders coded lyrics of 781 stanzas of songs in the Hot 100 Billboard chart throughout 2017 for these three categories. We found that the most common category was sexual content (n = 222, 28.4%), followed by degrading terms toward women (n = 71, 9%), and violence (n = 55, 7%). Additionally, we conducted chi-square and odds ratio analyses, finding that the co-occurrence of violence and sexual content, violence and degrading terms toward women were all significant, while the co-occurrence of sexual content and degrading terms toward women was common but not significant. These results are concerning considering the heavy consumption of popular music among youth and young adults and the potential influence of such exposure. The findings imply that media literacy education may be beneficial for adolescents to recognize and question the gender stereotypic portrayals in music media.
... Even the perception of emotions is filtered through the description of body parts such as the eyes, the appearance, and the reactions of the characters. In conclusion, the present analysis basically provides support for critics' interpretations ( [32]; [7]), namely that the Saga's success was due to a clever marketing campaign rather than to its intrinsic literary merits. ...
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The music video for Eminem and Rihanna's hit single “Love the Way You Lie” (2010) reproduces commonly held myths about intimate partner violence (IPV), primarily that many women instigate their abuse or even enjoy it. Music video culture has been of concern to parents, researchers, and policymakers because youth are considered developmentally susceptible to gendered sexual scripts. However, some scholars suggest that audience members, rather than being passive consumers, are practical actors who filter information according to first- and secondhand experiences. This study examined how young adults' respond to the depiction of IPV in the music video for “Love the Way You Lie.” Findings indicated strong emotional response, a tendency to filter media through personal experiences, and a continuation of gendered blame. However, participants also demonstrated critical analysis. Thus, even when depictions are sensational or reinforce myth-based beliefs and gendered biases, young adults are capable of being critical consumers of popular culture.
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This paper considers the Twilight novels alongside the Vampire Academy books, as young adult readers regularly invoke these series as touchstones of the contemporary adolescent Gothic genre. The abiding appeal of these vampire novels is related to the ways they reflect the experiences of young adults with the rapacity and greed displayed in our time, especially in our recent financial crises. This paper examines the limitations of Stephenie Meyer's resolution to the conflicts attending growing up among vampires through a comparative analysis of her novels and those of Richelle Mead. The theories of psychologist Melanie Klein about infant development are used to show that these two series represent different responses to the greed of our times. Klein's insights distinguish Meyer's Bella Swan and Mead's Rose Hathaway with respect to their psychic integration and in the way each models a process for readers of dealing with a society structured by vampiric rapacity. Bella learns to control herself in the stage Klein calls persecutory anxiety, but without the larger-scale integration that betokens maturity. She displays an acceptance of the fundamental nature of her world, with no attempt to revise or improve it beyond gaining peace for her own household. Rose achieves a better balance on the personal level, and she works to effect change in the fabric of her society. Her actions convey a message of hope to readers with respect to the struggles they must undergo in their own world. The contrasting way of dealing with societal greed that is exemplified by these books is especially important to young adults who are in the process of developing their personal identity, providing them with assistance with the anxiety attending their changing attitudes to financial responsibilities.
Public awareness and understanding of abusive relationships have increased in recent years, yet a persistent cultural trope in Western culture is that ‘real’ love hurts. This chapter explores how dominance, submission and coercive control continue to be eroticised in the lyrics of contemporary pop music. In an analysis of five recent Top 20 UK tracks, I draw on Ryle’s (The Concept of Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Presss, 1949) concept of a ‘category mistake’ to argue that coercive control and abuse are often mis-labelled as ‘willing masochism’ or ‘female empowerment’. However, I argue that castigating the writers and performers of such music neglects how we are all subject to, and potentially co-creators of, the patriarchal practices which eroticise dominance and submission.
The music video for Eminem and Rihanna's hit single “Love the Way You Lie” (2010) reproduces commonly held myths about intimate partner violence (IPV), primarily that many women instigate their abuse or even enjoy it. Music video culture has been of concern to parents, researchers, and policymakers because youth are considered developmentally susceptible to gendered sexual scripts. However, some scholars suggest that audience members, rather than being passive consumers, are practical actors who filter information according to first- and secondhand experiences. This study examined how young adults' respond to the depiction of IPV in the music video for “Love the Way You Lie.” Findings indicated strong emotional response, a tendency to filter media through personal experiences, and a continuation of gendered blame. However, participants also demonstrated critical analysis. Thus, even when depictions are sensational or reinforce myth-based beliefs and gendered biases, young adults are capable of being critical consumers of popular culture.
Full-text available
Violence is often used to control the behavior of others. Some scholars hypothesize that this motive is particularly common when men attack their female partners. To measure the control motive we determine whether the offender in assaults threatened the victim before the attack; threats typically are used to control others' behavior. We predict a statistical interaction involving offender's gender, victim's gender, and offender-victim relationship. Analyses based on data from the revised National Crime Victimization Survey reveal such an interaction, suggesting that assaults by husbands against their wives are more likely than other assaults to be motivated by efforts at control.
The relationship between dating violence and anger experience and expression were investigatedin samples of 17 men who reported at least one incident of physical aggression toward afemale dating partner (DV) and of 16 men who reported a nonviolent interaction history (NV).Participants completed the State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory (STAXI) and performed thearticulated thoughts during simulated situations (ATSS) paradigm while listening to anger-arousingaudiotapes. Participants' thought articulations were coded for anger-related affect,other negative emotions, and aggressive verbalizations. Results indicated that relative to NVmen, DV men scored significantly higher on STAXI Trait Anger, Anger In, and Anger Out scalesand lower on STAXI Anger Control. DV men articulated more aggressive verbalizations duringATSS anger arousal than did NV men. However, the groups did not differ on the number of angryverbalizations. The findings are interpreted in the context of social learning theories of partnerviolence.
A questionnaire probing experiences with abuse between dating partners, and the Bem Sex Role Inventory (1974) were administered to 171 college students. It was hypothesized that more traditionally masculine males (as identified by the Bem Sex Role Inventory) would be more likely to report having abused dating partners than would those males who were less clearly sex-typed. Further, it was hypothesized that those women who were more clearly traditionally feminine would be less likely to report having been abused in a dating relationship than would those women who were less clearly sex-typed. Both hypotheses were supported.
This study examined the contribution of a new relationship power construct—satisfaction with relationship power—to physical violence by men against their dating partners. One hundred and fifty-six dating college males participated in this study. As hypothesized, satisfaction with relationship power, but not the amount of perceived relationship power, was related to dating violence by men. Confirming the conceptualization of psychological and physical abuse as means of gaining control in relationships, dissatisfaction with relationship power predicted psychological and physical abuse. Some men became physically abusive in response to dissatisfaction with relationship power; others progressed from psychologically to physically abusive behaviors. Men at greatest risk of escalating from psychological to physical acts of control over their partners were those who had been exposed as children to their fathers physically abusing their mothers.