Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Cover of The Purity Myth and The Cover of Twilight - Why Are They So Similar?

I don’t have a lot of time for a long entry today, but I wanted to discuss something.

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading lately, and one of the books I’ve skimmed through is called The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti.

This book states – and I totally agree – that obsession with virginity and pressure of abstinence is actually hurting girls and women, and that the beliefs taught and encouraged about sex, virginity, and abstinence are sexist, dangerous, unrealistic, and unnatural.

While skimming through the book, I noticed something about the cover, particularly its similarity to some other books on my shelf ... books that I regretted buying after reading:

If you are to compare the covers of the first two books in The Twilight Saga, published in 2005 and 2006 to the cover of The Purity Myth, published in 2009, you will see a striking resemblance. And what a coincidence: it just so happens that The Twilight Saga is practically abstinence propaganda, ultimately preaches sexism, and promotes and condones abusive, controlling behaviour of men towards their partners! This is exactly the kind of thing that Valenti discusses in The Purity Myth.

I have not yet read the complete book, but do you think it’s possible that Valenti (or the publishers or cover artist) is implying that The Twilight Saga is part of this culture of dangerous teachings about sex, sexuality, and men’s control of women’s sexuality?

Let’s look at some similarities between the book covers:

- All three books have a black background, perhaps representing the night sky, alluding to the traditional time when vampires walk about and sex takes place, as well as when vampires and sexual predators is thought to be a threat.

- All three books have a similar, almost identical font in which the titles are printed in all lower case letters and the names of the authors are written in all upper case letters.

- All three books have a white font against the black background, though the actual titles of the Twilight books appear to be more in metallic silver when they reflect the light.

- The cover of Twilight features pale arms holding out a red apple with a visible stem, while the cover of The Purity Myth features two daisies with long stems, one complete with petals and one empty of petals.
The apple on the cover of Twilight alludes to the Judeo/Christian story of creation in Genesis, in which the first woman was tempted to eat an apple that was forbidden as it would lead to her death. While the apple in that story seemed to represent knowledge, it is often associated with sex and thought to be a metaphor implying that human sexuality is harmful and a sin. This makes sense as in Genesis, when Adam and Eve ate the apple, they noticed immediately after for the first time that they were naked and felt ashamed of their nakedness, whereas before they were completely innocent and had no guilt about their nudity. The cover of Twilight alludes to Adam supposedly being tempted to eat the apple by Eve, as the hands on the cover are holding out the apple to the potential reader in a similarly tempting way, and perhaps there is meant to be an implied threat of the loss of innocence if the apple is accepted.
Similarly, the daisies on the cover of The Purity Myth can be used to symbolise sex like the forbidden fruit, as flowers too are plucked like fruit. Furthermore, one daisy is shown with not just a plucked stem, but plucked petals. It is probably no coincidence that daisies are symbolic of innocence, much like the un-plucked, un-bitten apple, and thus we can assume that the complete daisy represents innocence while the plucked daisy with plucked petals represents a loss of innocence like a plucked, bitten apple.

- The Purity Myth features a flower, as does New Moon, most likely a reference to the expression “deflower” used to refer to the penis breaking the hymen during a woman’s first time with intercourse. The term implies that something beautiful is being taken away from the woman by the man, and you will notice that the flower on the cover of New Moon appears to be in tact save for a tiny petal that has fallen. This may in fact allude to a piece of abstinence propaganda that takes place in some schools, in which a teacher displays a flower explaining that the flower represents the student, and proceeds to pluck petals one by one explaining that each time the student engages in premarital intercourse, the student is giving away or losing a petal to their partner. The analogy then goes that by the time the student is ready for marriage, she (probably not he) does not have a complete flower to give to her spouse, and the flower the teacher holds is most likely empty of petals. This doctrine implies that each time a girl (usually not a boy) has premarital sex part of herself is being taken away from her and that when she has sex during marriage her aim is to give herself to her husband, symbolically presenting him with a complete flower. Students are meant to consider whether they would rather give a complete, beautiful flower with many petals or a bare stem, and thus to conclude that it is a greater gift to wait till marriage to have sex and give themselves completely to their spouses. Thus the flower with a single red petal falling on the New Moon cover implies a threat of loss of virginity before marriage and the threat of many more petals lost, and thus the two flowers used in the classroom analogy are present on the cover of The Purity Myth – one that has not yet lost any petals and one that has gone through the complete plucking process.

I find this to be a very disturbing aspect of abstinence dogma. Though breaking the hymen can occur during the first time a woman engages in sex, no sexual act actually takes away the human body or necessarily takes away the sense of self, and this dogma teaches girls that it does. Not only does it teach girls that they will lose themselves slowly with each partner, but it teaches that they are giving their partners ownership of their bodies and thus losing more ownership and autonomy with each act of sex and each new partner. What’s worse is that it teaches that marriage is actually the complete loss of a woman’s ownership of her self and autonomy in a single instance – not even gradually over time! At least with premarital sex, the girl got to keep her stem; with marriage she loses the entire flower! If you ask me this makes marriage much less appealing than premarital sex with more than one partner!

The cover of The Purity Myth alludes to this abstinence propaganda analogy, and perhaps helps us to see that the cover of New Moon may be meant to allude to this analogy but to validate rather than debunk it. After all, the falling red petal resembles a falling drop of blood, so the loss of this petal implies some sort of threat to the safety of the flower, and isn’t that just a perfect symbol of The Twilight Saga? For in most vampire stories, the act of vampirism is a metaphor for sex and, in this series, the vampire Edward’s compulsion to and refraining from attacking Bella reflects and occurs alongside his compulsion to and refraining from engaging in premarital sex with her.
When it is finally debated and agreed upon that Edward will engage in vampirism with Bella in order to make her a vampire – which is not fully her decision or even his, but rather the subject of a vote by Edward’s vampire family – he says that he will only do it on the condition that she marry him first, further connecting the act of vampirism to sex. So, not only is this sex-like act purposely going to take place only after marriage along with their first time with intercourse, but this sex-like act will actually be taking away something from the woman – her human body and life!

No wonder the cover of The Purity Myth alludes to the covers of books in The Twilight Saga. The cover of The Purity Myth alone reveals a doctrine in The Twilight Saga that is ultimately harmful to girls and women.

Message from Twilight: Ladies, expect a man who really loves you to make any important decisions for you and be incredibly controlling while lacking appropriate boundaries. Let him get away with things that normal people like friends and family should not get away with, and expect that he cannot control his impulses to sleep with you (and thus give you some terrible disease that will kill you) because he is naturally more sexual, strong, and impulsive than you and should not necessarily be expected to control himself. Expect that when you marry him it will be okay for him to do any of these things to you because that is just what husbands and wives do, and don’t feel bad about any feeling of losing yourself once you are married because you are now an extension of him.

Message from The Purity Myth: Basically, the above message from Twilight is complete bullshit. Men and women are just as sexual, just as sexually active, though everybody has a different libido and sexuality is as diverse as people are diverse. Every individual has the right to control their own sexuality and decide for themselves when to have sex and who to have sex with. Proper education of sexually transmitted diseases and contraception is vital and more effective than misinformation and damaging propaganda that promotes controlling and abusive behaviour in men and submission and acceptance of such behaviour from women. Men who are dating women should be expected to maintain just as many boundaries as anyone else in the woman’s life, and should maintain the boundaries they would like others to maintain in their lives. Even after marriage these boundaries are important. After marriage, nobody owns anyone or anyone’s sexuality.

1 comment:

  1. Lilly,
    I enjoyed your blog immensely but it has left me wondering your take on "Eclipse" or "Breaking Dawn". Do they reinforce your views? Does Bella's budding independence and growing sexuality amend your thoughts about the hidden message in the trilogy? Are we ignoring Bella's sexuality? I will read The Purity Myth now and look forward to your thoughts.