Life and death

The gender-swapped Twilight proves how sexist the original is

Full confession: I’m a recovering Twihard. I first read the books my sophomore year of high school, and sped through Breaking Dawn, gritting my teeth through all 200 pages of that terrible middle section. Being ten years removed from that stage of my life, I am able to look back on those books with a critical eye and see all of the problematic ish contained within those pages. As a 15-year-old girl, however, I embraced the fantasy of love offered by Bella and Edward. I know better now.

It was with those mixed emotions that I picked up the Tenth Anniversary Edition of Twilight, complete with a new twist: Life and Death, Twilight Reimagined, a newish book that flips the genders of the original. All of the details of the gender flip itself are less important than Stephanie Meyer’s reasoning for offering this as the bonus content.

Meyer explains in the foreword, “Bella has always gotten a lot of censure for getting rescued on multiple occasions, and people have complained about her being a typical damsel in distress. My answer to that has always been that Bella is a human in distress.” She goes on to say, “[Bella has] also been criticized for being too consumed with her love interest, as if that’s somehow just a girl thing…Gender and species aside, Twilight has always been a story about the magic and obsession and frenzy of first love.”

It’s true: The original Twilight book reads in a way that reinforces gender norms, especially in the two ways Meyer points out above: Bella’s status as a damsel in distress, as well as her obsession with Edward. These are an inescapable components to the book, as well as to the franchise.

So to shirk some of the criticism that has hampered her franchise since inception, Meyer flipped the genders of nearly everyone in this special edition of Twilight, while leaving mostly everything else the exact same. By doing so, she hoped to prove her story to be transcendent of gender, that Edythe and Beau are carbon copies of Edward and Bella. But that isn’t true because it cannot be. Even within the pages of a book, gender matters.

That doesn’t mean that Meyer got everything wrong. Beau cooks for Charlie, and Eleanor (Life and Death’s Emmett) is still the picture of strength. 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.

A lot of Life and Death is the same as Twilight, except for the ending, which I will not spoil. But the biggest difference is Beau and Edythe as a couple. 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.

There is also the fact that the editing choices Meyer did make largely reinforced expectations of gender. Beau’s conversations with his friend, Jeremy, are distinctly different from Bella’s conversations with Jessica, especially around the object of their affection. In the original Twilight, Edward read Jessica’s mind and told Bella what she was thinking, so that Bella could prepare for the conversation. He says, “She wants to know if we’re secretly dating. And how you feel about me.” In Life and Death, the same situation happens with Beau and Edythe, only Edythe tells Beau, “He wants to know if we’re secretly dating. And exactly what base you’ve gotten to with me.”

That’s a huge difference.

With one seemingly innocuous change, Meyer confirmed the bias laden throughout this book that she set out to combat. She literally wrote in hegemonic masculine projection to characterize Beau, and consequently, instead of talking about his feelings for Edythe and being vulnerable, he defends her honor. It’s sexist, and there is no way around that. Life and Death is littered with edits like this one. I’ve only highlighted a couple, but easily could have written another Twilight-length book on the intricacies of the ways in which Meyer fucked up this time around. These books are not the same, and to say they are misses the very deep impact that these edits have on the expression of gender.

Meyer completely failed at proving that the criticisms of Twilight were unfounded and unwarranted. After reading Life and Death, I came away having my criticism of Twilight completely verified. It’s sexist and damaging and completely unrealistic. As much as Meyer may argue to the contrary, she gave the haters and the critics our arguments on a silver platter and tried to camouflage that shit. It can be so easy to fall in love Twilight that we miss just how damaging and sexist the book is. Don’t be fooled. A wolf in sheep’s clothes is still a wolf. Reading Life and Death and Twilight together only shows just how dangerous the wolf is. 

Header image credit: Perez Hilton


Katie Barnes (they/them/their) is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer. While at St. Olaf College studying History and (oddly) Russian (among other things), Katie fell in love with politics, and doing the hard work in the hard places. A retired fanfiction writer, Katie now actually enjoys writing with their name attached. Katie actually loves cornfields, and thinks there is nothing better than a summer night's drive through the Indiana countryside. They love basketball and are a huge fan of the UConn women's team. When not fighting the good fight, you can usually find Katie watching sports, writing, or reading a good book.

Katie Barnes is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer.

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