The American Prospect takes a look at the Twilight backlash and questions its gender politics. From writer Sady Doyle's article:
Twilight is more than a teen dream. It's a massive cultural force. Yet the very girliness that has made it such a success has resulted in its being marginalized and mocked. Of course, you won't find many critics lining up to defend Dan Brown or Tom Clancy, either; mass-market success rarely coincides with literary acclaim. But male escapist fantasies -- which, as anyone who has seen Die Hard or read those Tom Clancy novels can confirm, are not unilaterally sophisticated, complex, or forward-thinking -- tend to be greeted with shrugs, not sneers. The Twilight backlash is vehement, and it is just as much about the fans as it is about the books. Specifically, it's about the fact that those fans are young women.
Twilight fans (sometimes known as "Twi-Hards") are derided and dismissed, sometimes even by outlets that capitalize on their support. MTV News crowned "Twilighters" its Woman of the Year in 2008, but referred to them as "shrieking and borderline-stalker female fans." You can count on that word -- shrieking -- to appear in most articles about Twilight readers, from New York magazine's Vulture blog ("Teenage girls shrieking ... before the opening credits even begin") to Time magazine ("Shrieking fangirls [outdoing] hooting fanboys ... in number, ardor, and decibel level") to The Onion's A.V. Club ("Squealing hordes of (mostly) teenage, female fans") to The New York Times ("Squeals! The 'Twilight Saga: New Moon' Teaser Trailer Is Here!"). Yes, Twi-Hards can be loud. But is it really necessary to describe them all by the pitch of their voices? It propagates the stereotype of teen girls as hysterical, empty-headed, and ridiculous.
Self-described geeks and horror fans are especially upset at how the series introduces the conventions of the romance novel -- that most stereotypically feminine, most scorned of literary forms -- into their far more highbrow and culturally relevant monster stories. At the 2009 Comic-Con, Twilight fans were protested and said to be "ruining" the event. Fans of Star Wars, Star Trek, X-Men, and Harry Potter are seen as dorks at worst, participants in era-defining cultural phenomena at best. Not so for Twilight fans. What sets Twilight apart from Marvel comics? The answer is fairly obvious, and it's not -- as geeks and feminists might hope -- the quality of the books or movies. It's the number of boys in the fan base.
Doyle ends her piece with a look at why feminists should care about the Twilight backlash even if they think the books are a crock. In a neat judo move, she argues that the Twilight phenomenon, considered through a lens other than the heteronormative knee-jerk male panic of most genre critics, might be a watershed moment in considering the role of young women in the marketplace driven public sphere.
Teen girls have the power to shape the market because they don't have financial responsibilities, tend to be passionate about their interests, and share those interests socially. If a girl likes something, she's liable to recommend it to her friends; a shared enthusiasm for Edward, or the Jonas Brothers, or anything else, becomes part of their bond. Marketers prize teenage girls, even as the media scoff at them.
If you want to matter, though, apparently you need boys. The third film adaptation of the Twilight series, Eclipse, will be helmed by horror director David Slade, who has made such movies as Hard Candy and Thirty Days of Night. Even though it will not hit theaters until June 2010, it is already being touted as "darker," more action-packed, and more "guy friendly." Because the popularity of the Twilight formula guarantees Eclipse will be a box-office smash, the decision to consciously appeal to boys seems more like a grab at credibility than at profit. Romance-loving Twi-Hards be damned! Who cares about disappointing a huge, passionate, lucrative fan base if they're all a bunch of girls?
As Twilight demonstrates, not everything girls like is good art -- or, for that matter, good feminism. Still, the Twilight backlash should matter to feminists, even if the series makes them shudder. If we admit that girls are powerful consumers, then we admit that they have the ability to shape the culture. Once we do that, we might actually start listening to them. And I suspect a lot of contemporary girls have more to talk about than Edward Cullen.