Twilight is likely one of the most popular romance series among teenagers. Whether they mock or admire it, many teenage girls have experienced the books and films to some capacity. The movies certainly have some appealing aspects — the acting and special effects are strange to say the least — but they only add to the show’s captivity. Unfortunately, one feature that isn’t quite as lovable is the presence of extreme age differences in romantic relationships.
The main character, Bella, is only seventeen when she is approached by Edward, a vampire who is nearly a hundred years older than her. Despite their dubious age gap and his stalkerish behavior, the two end up becoming a couple, and consequently, set a morally twisted standard for relationships for viewers of the films. If Edward actually looked his age, the movies would face a lot more controversy.
Many people accept this age gap because they feel it demonstrates that love is timeless and that Twilight, and movies like it, are just stories of two souls finding each other. However, love may be ageless, but romantic relationships can’t be. There is a clear power imbalance between a minor and an older person — someone older will have more knowledge, a different understanding of the world, and the ability to easily manipulate a younger partner.
So when we apply this to Bella and Edward, it’s clear their relationship is in no way equal. The majority of the films are full of Bella’s exponentially older boyfriend manipulating her, as well as the not-so-subtle promotion of abstinence, as Edward refuses to have sex with Bella until marriage.
So why does Twilight continue to foster a massive fanbase with a large population of teenage girls? The reason the obvious pedophilia and grooming is overlooked could largely be why pedophilia is subtly romanticized in other media. Being a younger girl and dating an older man is marketed as appealing; the girl is made to feel special, mature, and safe. This ties is directly with how heterosexual relationships are structured within the patriarchy anyways — women are supposed to want men who are stronger and more powerful than them, a dynamic that is still constantly romanticized in the media in ways that are sometimes heavily disguised.
So what does this mean for Twilight? Even if many of the movie’s fans will often admit that the age difference is bizarre, it is still regarded as a desirable love story. Unfortunately, even though many fans can see the issue with the relationship dynamic, young and impressionable people are still watching these films and subtly being fed the idea that there is something glamorous about being seventeen and dating a Spanish influenza era man.
What’s interesting is that a large part of the marketing and romanticization of pedophilia is being done by women. The book series for which the movies are inspired by were written by a woman named Stephenie Meyer, and one of the directors of the films is also a woman, Catherine Hardwick. They are clearly not the only women doing this in entertainment — Lana Del Rey has received backlash for similarly glorifying and romanticizing the idea of being groomed and taken advantage of by much older men. While we can still appreciate Twilight for it’s beautiful scenery, moody tone, and overall uniqueness, we can also keep in mind the problems with the relationship age gap. There needs to be a reckoning within the film-loving community: we must reevaluate where we draw the line between love transcending time and blatant pedophilia.