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Star in Twilight vampire movies poor role model for girls says Victoria professor

With the second instalment of the Twilight vampire movies about to open, a University of Victoria professor says parents and young fans should realize the series doesn't depict healthy relationships between the sexes.
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Twilight actresses Anna Kendrick and Rachelle Lefevre arrive at "The Men Who Stare At Goats" premiere party held at the glaceau vitaminwater house during the 2009 Toronto Film Festival on September 11, 2009 in Toronto, Canada.

With the second instalment of the Twilight vampire movies about to open, a University of Victoria professor says parents and young fans should realize the series doesn't depict healthy relationships between the sexes.

UVic political science professor Janni Aragon said she understands the difference between fact and escapist fiction, but the distinction might be lost on some of the young audience. "I get that, but does my 11-year-old daughter?"

The Twilight movies -- the second of which opens Nov. 20 -- are based on books by Stephenie Meyer and chronicle the romance between the mortal Bella Swan, played by Kristen Stewart, and vampire Edward Cullen, played by Robert Pattinson.

After reading the first two books and watching the first movie, Aragon -- who uses the series in her gender and politics class at UVic -- believes the main female character isn't a good role model for young girls. The characters played by Stewart and Cullen fall back on old stereotypes, she said -- the girl is clumsy and silly while the love interest is more mature and all-knowing. "He loves her humanity but the way -- especially in the books -- he is portrayed is somewhat problematic," said Aragon.

"At times he can be condescending. He watches her while she is sleeping. He is uninvited and in the real world, that's called stalking. That's not [the same as] being in love with someone so much you're obsessed."

The website for the second Twilight movie, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, said Bella feels numb and alone through her senior year of high school and "she discovered Edward's image comes to her whenever she puts herself in jeopardy."

"Her desire to be with him at any cost leads her to take greater and greater risks," says the website.

Twilight fan Jasmine Marshall, 12, thought at first the stories were "cool and I wished life could be like this.

"But then I was reading that she only does what he does and she's kind of needy. She's a follower and he's like, 'I'm the best and I can tell you what to do and watch you and stalk you.'

"I don't really like that," said Marshall. "I think it should be more realistic."

Marshall said she can "definitely" tell the difference between the Hollywood portrayal and how she wants to live her own life.

A better portrayal of a female character is in the movie Whip It, said Aragon. Drew Barrymore plays an indie-rock loving misfit who deals with her small-town misery by joining a roller derby league.

"The lead character in there definitely had more agency and a stronger sense of self," said Aragon, who added, nonetheless, that the Twilight series provides great entertainment and offers families "teachable moments."

Aragon said she loved reading the stories: "I could not put these books down. I think it will be interesting to see how Hollywood presents the next book.

"Ultimately, Bella's character does become stronger, especially in the last book."

But she said the danger is that the series will normalize the couple's relationship for young, impressionable people. "They need to realize that this is just a movie, just a book, and that it's not the norm."

smcculloch@tc.canwest.com