I prefer Edward Cullen's dad. He's a vegan, a family man, and a doctor.
When the Twilight movies came out, many people, myself included, were dumbfounded by its sudden popularity. And many people found it hard to understand why a wave of female fans seemed moonstruck by the lead character, Edward Cullen. We're used to vampires being scary and tough. Edward Cullen is... not that. He looks like a 90s boy band member. He's pretty. It's an image that is completely at odds with most people's dark, Gothic concept of a vampire.
The "pretty boy vampire" thing put lots of people off. They made jokes. They accused him of bringing shame upon the name 'vampire.'
But his popularity persists. Which got me wondering, what do all the women with crushes on Edward Cullen see in him? Were there things I missed about him when I first saw the movies? Do the books do the character justice better than the movies? Why is a sparkly vampire at the top of so many people's lists of fictional crushes?
Many critics, especially from a feminist perspective, took issue with Edward's behaviors surrounding Bella. They say behaviors like like watching her sleep and following her are just romanticized stalking. They have a point. This is one of the weirder things about the attraction to Edward Cullen. You could say that Twilight fans who see this as romantic behavior have a warped idea of what romance is.
But, in another sense, it is romantic. Women want to be desired, acted upon. They want to be chased, not to have to be the ones doing the chasing. Women also commonly fantasize about a strong man who will protect them from any danger. And so, when Edward watches and follows Bella, he is being protective. He's looking out for any possible threat to her.
Of course, not all women want this. Certainly, persistent romantic behavior that is unwanted, but that persists anyway, is rude and creepy. Persisting even more makes it harassment and stalking.
The real difference between romance and stalking is:
- Does the pursued woman enjoy and like it?
- If the pursued woman told the pursuing man to stop, would he respect her wishes?
We never see any indication that Bella doesn't like what Edward does. We never see her think of it as creepy. If she finds it romantic, and if some women watching that would find it romantic if a guy did that, who are we to judge? A good rule to live by is "judge not the kinks of others, simply because they're not your kinks". Some people find the idea of being followed romantic, because it would feel loving and supportive to them, not creepy. Some people find it sexy if a man helps them feel safe.
Nothing in the story indicates that Edward doesn't respect Bella's consent. If she asked him to stop watching her sleep, he'd do it. Throughout the series, Edward demonstrates concern for Bella's feelings. He often respects her wishes even when doing so prevents him with some difficulty. But she doesn't ask him to stop. She probably likes feeling safe and protected by him. It's also somewhat hot to think that you are an all-absorbing obsession for someone else. Bella seems to like being Edward's all-consuming, single-minded passion.
But I'm here now, I'm not going to leave her side until she orders me away.
— Edward Cullen
Though the meeting of a human and a vampire in that world is not without its complications, Edward always puts what's best for Bella first. He respects her and her consent. When she decides to become a vampire, this becomes the crucial difference between Edward and Jacob. Jacob thinks he's protecting Bella, but doesn't respect her right to choose. Not if it means she will chose to become a vampire, and choose Edward over him.
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Initially, Edward's kindness meant he was secretive. He wanted to protect her from entanglement with vampires. Perhaps he was also jealous of her mortality, her ability to live a normal life away from such entanglement. But as she fell more deeply in love with Edward, they both realize that it's impossible for her to live a normal, uncomplicated life.
Edward's kindness comes from his adoptive father, Carlisle Cullen. Carlisle was mocked by other vampires for his 'vegetarian' ways—not eating humans. But compassion motivated him instead of fear. This value of compassion, even when it's hard, is a family tradition that continues in how Edward cares for Bella.
An air of mystery makes a man attractive. The less he says about himself, the more is left up to the imagination, inviting women's curiosity. Some women love a guy with a mysterious past—it's a cliché because it works. Usually, the past experience is a traumatic event that the male lead is unwilling to talk about. It's emotionally painful for him. This lets a writer create a moment of vulnerability and sensitivity in an otherwise "tough guy" type.
With Edward specifically, what he's sensitive about is being a vampire itself. He doesn't like that he has this urge for human blood. He doesn't like having to hide who he is. He is afraid of hurting Bella or her being hurt by other vampires. Being mysterious about this stuff that's eating at him gives us a greater payoff when his emotional turmoil is revealed later.
Whatever you can say about the writing of Twilight, a major strength of Stephanie Meyer is that she knows when to tease and when to reveal everything. The teasing hints about Edward's feelings make us emotionally invested, wanting to know more. It's like how a woman wearing a sheer dress is somehow hotter than a woman wearing nothing at all. Leave a little to the imagination!
No One But Bella Interests Him (He's Exclusive and Loyal)
It makes someone more attractive to us when we think they're attracted to us. And Bella is our self-insert character. Edward is instantly fixated on Bella, and shows interest in no other girl. His loyalty and the sincerity of his interest in her cannot be doubted. Sometimes women who were in bad relationships might find this comforting. He's a man who won't cheat, wouldn't even think of cheating, because he acts like he literally only has eyes for Bella. This exclusiveness makes him desirable to many women, especially ones who are prone to jealousy, or who have been hurt before by a man's wandering eye.
He's Dangerous, But Not Too Dangerous
You see something similar at play with Christian in 50 Shades of Grey, a character inspired by Edward Cullen. Women like two contradictory things: the pleasurable thrill of danger, but also the comfort of security. This leads to women liking the "faux bad boy" type. Pretty much every member of a 90s boy band is another example of this.
Bella desires independence and adventure. You can see this with her interest in motorcycles in New Moon. She's attracted to things that are dangerous. Edward Cullen is dangerous because he's a vampire. But he's also kind, protective, and loyal. He's in this Goldilocks zone: trustworthy, but still a little scary. Safe, but not too safe. Or, dangerous, but not too dangerous.
I think there's this "all women want bad boys" trope a lot of people believe in, but it's more nuanced than that. Women usually have a limit with how bad of a "bad boy" they're talking about. When there's too much risk and they're no longer comfortable, it's no longer sexy. A few women do lust after real-life serial killers, but they're not an adequate representation of the general male-attracted female population. They're statistical outliers.
You can think of danger in men as like a cologne. A hint of it can be charming and sexy, but dumping the whole bottle on your head is not. Similarly, women like men with a little hint of risk to them, because that is thrilling, especially in sexual fantasies. The idea that a man is unpredictable, and won't follow society's rules, is alluring. But, it's not like women want someone who has a freezer full of body parts, or who is just an amoral psychopath, either.
Or, you could see it as like a roller coaster. Roller coasters are popular because they're thrilling, and feeling like you're in danger is part of the fun. But, you wouldn't want to ride a roller coaster that was untested, looked genuinely unsafe, or while ignoring the rules about how to ride it safely.
It's obvious that Twilight got more hate than it deserved. When the first movie came out, there was a huge wave of manic popularity, resisted by an equally huge backlash. On social media, it quickly went from being cool to love Twilight to being cool to hate it, and some people took it too far, hating it bitterly and obsessively, often without even reading or watching it.
There's been a lot of hate for Bella, but also for Edward. While Bella is seen as not a strong or independent enough female character, Edward is seen as creepy, obsessive, and controlling.
But on closer examination, I found that Edward was not only not as bad as I had built him up to be, but had many positive qualities. These make it understandable that so many women and girls fell for him. Every woman wants to be intensely desired, to feel attractive. Edward fulfills the natural desire we all have to be desired. He's also loyal, passionate, kind, and considers Bella's feelings and wishes a lot more than he gets credit for. Jacob, on the other hand, often thinks he's protecting Bella, but doesn't respect her wishes when they go against what he wants for her.
Robert Pattinson really sells it, too. Because Robert doesn't look like a teenage boy, but like a middle-aged hunk, the character is accessible to women of different age groups. Teenage girls can see Edward as a teenage boy, and adult women can lust for him by thinking of him as an adult vampire. Everybody wins.
If You're Interested in More About the Twilight Hype Backlash, This Video Essay by Lindsay Ellis Is Great.
© 2019 Naomi Starlight
Holley Morgan from Upstate New York on July 16, 2020:
Nice essay and breakdown of Edward's character. I have been revisiting the movies after many years. The backlash you mention is why I tried to put away my love of the series, but they are great for a comfort watch and some "cheese" that was mentioned in the video essay. Thanks for sharing that!
Ih on April 17, 2020:
I like jacob etter than edward but jacobs looks and edwards personalkty would suit