sex

I’ve finished Jack Chalker’s five volume “Soul Rider” series and since, I’ve been obsessing more and more about issues of sex, gender and sexuality raised by the work.

So here we are on this amazing place called World. There are areas that are more or less like our planet where the “conventional” physical laws work: the Anchors. And there are areas surrounding these made of “pure Flux” in which machines and certain people by willpower alone can create anything from the Flux energy. That’s pretty neat if you can control the Flux, though most folks can’t and therefore they’re afraid of the stuff.

graffiti and Jack Chalker transform life: or is this what a New Human looks like?

The series starts out innocently enough in a charming communal farm in a pre-industrial village. Three childhood friends, Cassie, Dar and Suzl are about to come of age. Through various mishaps, they’re thrown into Flux with a number of other unfortunates. Then things really start to get wild.

Chalker makes a big point about people’s conscious and unconscious desires, emotions and wishes leading to physical and emotional changes in Flux. In “Birth,” Toby Haller makes love to his future wife, Mickey, in that medium. Their passionate desire is somehow converted into this life-long emotional bond that gets hardwired into the pair. They’re both content with the arrangement. Usually things don’t go quite so well.

In “Spirits,” Dar is captured by a sadistic wizard who has his genitals mutilated. Dar survives and eventually the wound is “magically” transformed into fully functioning female genitals. Later in the series, when Dar and Suzl try to have the “curse” lifted, the spell backfires and leads Suzl to develop a fully functioning, oversized set of male genitals. In “Masters,” we learn that Coydt van Haas has a similar “curse” in which he feels like a “man” but was involuntarily given magically created female genitals that he is unable to have changed back. The reactions of the three are telling. Both Dar and Coydt are overwhelmed with distress, shame and anger; yet Suzl accepts the change and just goes with it.

These partial transformations in Flux are strange. But that’s not all. There are numerous examples of folks being completely changed from one sex to the other. Toby and Mickey Haller’s super-great grandson, Mervyn, who identifies as male, will magically transform into a woman when it’s convenient for travel in Anchor. As a punishment for failing to act in a “manly way,” New Eden courts will have men transformed into “Fluxgirls:” super sexy, over-sexed women who are mentally just a little “slower” then the men folk. That’s what happens to Suzl’s husband, Weiz. (It’s so wrong that chief Justice Adam Tilghman orders the punishment then turns around and takes Suzl as his second wife!) It kind of backfires on the old boys in “Children” when Weiz-come-Ayesha starts the ball rolling for New Eden’s eventual destruction and containment. I guess forcing guys that you don’t like into literally becoming women is a male fantasy for the sexually and emotionally insecure. But it doesn’t look like a good idea, at least in hindsight.

I’ve been wondering, too, about the whole Fluxgirl/Fluxwife concept. Men impose this on women, most of the time against their will, which seems very troubling. Yet we see powerful female wizards and intelligent, liberated female scientists choose to become or remain Fluxgirls even when they don’t have to. Maybe some people are happy with the lifestyle? But why is it so one-sided? “Fluxdudes” would be pretty cool, too. And to be honest, sometimes I think that I wouldn’t mind that kind of thing myself. Weird.

Part of the problem with the Fluxgirl idea is the suggestion that these women are somehow inferior to their unchanged female and male counterparts. That’s why folks are appalled when Cassie voluntarily commits to becoming a Fluxwife and Connie in “Birth” transforms herself into “Kitten.” What does this really mean? What is Chalker intending us to think? Is someone “less-than” or perhaps “greater-than” living this simplified life of beauty, erotic satisfaction and contentment? I wonder. It seemed ideal in the Well World series when Nathan Brazil and Terry get trapped on the tropical island with their memories blocked. Later Brazil recalls the experience as one of the happiest in his very long life. Is that the message from Kitten and Cassie and even Morgaine? It’s better?

Major Verdugo in “Children” is eventually transformed from chauvinistic man into lovely passive woman, in what the female characters seem to imply is his just desserts. We’re led to believe that the Stringer, Matson, voluntarily submits to being changed into the likeness of his daughter, Sondra, so that he can train the women fighters of Suzl’s great army in “Children.” Though it turns out that it’s a trick and it was Sondra pretending to be Matson pretending to be Sondra. So Matson himself never becomes a woman. I can just hear him thinking, “Whew!” But what’s up with that?

I cannot really think of examples of women becoming men in the series beyond Sondra’s short-lived masquerade as her father. Yeah, sure, women take on elements of male anatomy, but it sort of stops there. Even Suzl’s “New Human,” a kind of hybrid man/woman that’s fully functional as both but is truly neither, looks more like a “regular woman,” apparently because the biology of pregnancy requires it, whatever that means. Honestly, Dar was menstruating in “Spirits” but looked like a guy. Why in the world can’t the New Human look whatever way in “Children?”

Coydt van Haas becomes the mastermind in the creation of the rigidly gender-stereotyped New Eden by collecting a group of powerful men that have been used as sex slaves by more powerful female wizards in Flux. They’re all seeking revenge against women, I suppose for their sense of humiliation. That revenge turns out simply to be imposing the opposite, equally troubling, though perhaps, more familiar system of women subservient to men, on the entire population of Anchor.

New Eden’s the whole reason that Suzl rounds up her army of volunteer and Flux-conscripted women in the first place. She wants to prevent the sexist culture from spreading to other Anchors and possibly to all of World. Yet are her methods any different? She insists that everyone be female or New Human, her single-sex “solution” to the problem of gender difference. Male sex is no obstacle as she simply has men magically changed into women, whether they want to or not.

With all of this sexual stuff, obviously these characters engage in the “real thing” too. Surprisingly, or maybe not, it’s usually heterosexual or same-sex lesbian style only. There are the occasional situations with the male character with the female genitals having sex with women (e.g. van Haas) or when a male-identified character with female genitals has sex with a female-identified character with male genitals (e.g. Dar and Suzl). To me these are just creative variations of heterosexuality.

The lesbian stuff is simply everywhere! In “Birth” with the computer-manipulated formation of the matriarchal Mother Church, woman-on-woman sex is even given a religious and spiritual basis and sanction. Yet where’s the guy-on-guy action?

Suzl briefly hooks up with a gay male Stringer. It’s when she looks like a woman but is blessed with ample male equipment. It’s convenient at the time for both of them, though not perfect. She prefers women; he likes men. Plus the whole deal’s on the down low, which is awkward. We hear her earnestly confide the arrangement and problems to a woman friend. She rationalizes it at the time with the thought that she needs protection in Flux, which her bf provides, and she offers sex more to his liking while allowing him to save face in the Stringer corps. It seems that there’s just no place for a gay Stringer. How Eighties!

What possible difference can it make who you sleep with in a place where anyone can look like anyone or anything? The only time romantic same-sex male relationships are noted is in “Masters” when Matson is sent as an envoy to New Eden. He stays overnight in a small town outside the capital and observes two New Eden men kissing passionately. He’s ‘tolerant’ but makes a big point of noting that other men expressing any interest in him would be unacceptable.

Most of the story is from the perspective of the female characters: Cassie, Suzl, Spirit and Morgaine. These women are written in a compassionate, real way that makes them seem like ‘whole’ people, rather than science fiction-style, two dimensional plastic dolls. I get the sense that Chalker genuinely likes these women. The series places women in powerful roles as heads of the Church, Saint-like religious crusaders, Army commanders, heads of internal security and powerful psychologists. During the Samish crisis with the opening of the Hellgates, we learn that more women than men have been selected by the Soul Riders and Guardians to control the Flux machinery to fight off the invading aliens. I have the idea that’s supposed to suggest that women are either more powerful than men in terms of Flux control or perhaps that they have more self-restraint and therefore are more fit for the power. Of course, Matson waltzes in to provide a battle plan for the ladies…

It’s also suggested several times throughout that men are more expendable than women, as you only need a few guys to carry on the tribe. My response to that is “puh-leese!” The only reason humans exist is to procreate? Give me a break!

So what’s it all mean? Is the Soul Rider series sexist, or heterosexist? Is it an attempt to rise above gender itself or is the point to demonstrate why that’s so impossible for us? Is it somehow related to contemporary Eighties stuff? Maybe Chalker didn’t want to push the envelope too far? I don’t know. I really like the guy and his crazy novels. And these gendered questions are one of the big reasons. Probably it doesn’t even matter, as the novels are all out of print and most likely I’m the only one reading this stuff anymore anyway.

If you are into the series, please contact me! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Has anyone out there in the greater blog-i-verse ever heard of Jack Chalker? He saved my sanity in the 1980’s.

I was a dorky, shy, hypersensitive high school kid then; confused about a lot of things: adulthood, sexuality, my relationship to the world beyond the cookie cutter NoVA suburb that I grew up in, you name it. Talk about stressful! I relied heavily on escaping into science fiction and fantasy writing to help me cope with it all.

take me to the Well World!

Like everything else, sci-fi was a struggle for me. My friends were super into it, which is what got me started reading. But I had problems with a lot of the “typical” sci-fi characters, particularly the over-sexed, ultra macho, straight guys and their pursuit of over-sexed, super-hot women. Ho-hum, if you ask me. Like you needed to read a book to learn more about that. Plus the guy characters often seemed so emotionally flat. Fantasy novels appealed to me more than “hard sci-fi.” I liked the predictable plots. There was less to worry about that way. And the characters seemed more alive somehow, which worked better for me. Plus the fantasy people were a lot more polite to one another. Hard sci-fi seemed so rude.

What is “hard science fiction” supposed to mean, anyway? Clearly it was a concept kids in my ‘hood used to differentiate that style of writing from all the “soft” stuff that I was reading. My friends seemed to believe that it had something to do with advanced technology and epic adventure, and, of course, the hero coming out on top in the end. I secretly believed that “hard” meant ‘hard to read’ because the writing was so emotionally empty.

And then there was Jack Chalker.

Lately I’ve been re-discovering him. I adored his novels while a teen. And it turns out that I still like him a lot.

I don’t know how one might classify his writing. Most of the stuff that I’ve read by him deals with highly advanced technologies and epic adventures: sort of “hard” sounding. Yet his characters can often be emotional, make mistakes, get hurt, etc.; just like “real people.” These guys aren’t macho freaks of nature. And what’s really cool about Chalker’s characters is that they are all so changeable.

The dude must have loved Ovid’s Metamorphoses as all of the characters in the novels that I’ve read go through numerous transformations from human to non-human, man to woman and back again, part-human part-animal, completely animal, and so on. These changes aren’t always seamless or easy for these characters. Often they cause dreadful problems. Yet what a liberating idea: appearance matters but is secondary to the ‘real you’ inside. That was not a message that I heard anywhere else; especially in my Regan-era, culturally uptight suburb, immersed as I was in all of that high school peer pressure.

The writer died a couple of years ago. He was only sixty. So young! It’s funny how the Internet lets you learn so much about stuff so easily now-a-days. I’d not known that Chalker lived in Maryland, for example. That’s really close to my hometown. We were almost neighbors! Wow! I didn’t know that Chalker was a history and geography teacher before becoming a sci-fi writer, either, though that makes sense if you’re at all familiar with his writing. I’d never seen his picture, or knew about his wife and children, or his fascination with ferryboats… Was there even life before the Internet? How quaint, how barbaric!

Various web sites that I’ve read suggest that Chalker’s book, Midnight at the Well of Souls, was his most successful. Turns out this is the first in a series of ten somewhat connected novels. I knew of the first five in the ‘80’s but what a surprise to discover the second. Recently I read them all, much to my delight.

The first book starts out in the distant future. The Earth has been abandoned for many other planets. These have developed various cultures of humans. Since technology is so advanced, travel through “hyperspace” is possible to allow commerce. There’s also a mysterious set of old abandoned planets that seem to have been colonized by an ancient civilization, now thought extinct. Initially, we’re with a team of archeologists on one of these empty worlds. Various weird things happen that lead one of the team to kill all but one of the others. The two then fight and somehow step onto an unusual artifact and disappear from known space.

Next we’re on an interplanetary ship when suddenly a distress call is received. The jaded captain, Nathan Brazil, answers. The ship is led to that same empty Markovian world where the captain and passengers start to investigate the murders but then, oops, they fall into the same “trap.” Oooh!

I know: it sounds super hokey, but wait!

Next these un/lucky, depending on how you look at things, people travel through some strange passageway through space and find themselves in a huge chamber where they’re greeted by a monster who claims to be an ambassador to South Zone, the place that they’ve all just arrived in. They are on southernmost part of the Well World, an artificial planet designed by the ancient Markovians, apparently set up as laboratory to create thousands of sentient life forms to populate the known universe. The whole world and even the universe are maintained by an enormous computer that makes up the bulk of the planet. There’s no way back home. And they now all must pass through another gate where their bodies will be transformed into one of the hundreds of creatures populating the Southern Hemisphere, each having their own territory, generally shaped like a hexagram. The change is permanent. And they’re very unlikely to remain human.

They all pass through and become some other creature; that is except for the wily Captain Brazil. He exits the gate unchanged. Then the adventure really starts.

The series is very ambitious. It’s full of adventure; romance; quests and wars; metaphysical speculations; explorations of culture; meditations on class, race, sex and sexuality; and its damn fun, too. It’s true that some of the writing in the earlier books is uneven. I think that Chalker’s style improved as he aged and got more experience. The Well World series was published between 1977 and 2000, so a long time in which to hone your craft. If you’ve never read it, you should. Urge your bookstore to stock these novels again! Perhaps they can be re-issued like the Roger Zelazny The Great Book of Amber was recently: in a single ten-in-one volume.

Thank you, Jack Chalker! You made my tortured adolescence more bearable. It’s wonderful to rediscover you, too, in the new decade of the new millennium. Peace.

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What’s up with the sex lives of these Greek gods?!?

Hera, the goddess of marriage, is totally pissed off about Zeus’ fooling around. Yet she sticks it out with him for thousands of years. There’s some little quip that they went for couples counseling but I’m not that sure it really helped the divine king and queen so much. She’s still fuming and Zeus guiltily recognizes Thalia as another one of his own.

horny, frustrated and ready for more!

horny, frustrated and ready for more!

Hades, the god of the Underworld, is the classic example of a dude with a relationship handicap. As I recall he abducts and rapes his wife, Persephone. Then he goes around banging mortal woman and shoves it right in her face. It’s obvious the way P talks trash about Nico di Angelo that she’s not a happy “step-mother.” Hades himself is pretty awful to Nico as well. What’s up with him not recognizing Nico as his son for ages; verbally abusing him; lying to him when he makes an agreement to help Percy; and locking him away in that tacky Las Vegas casino for decades: all this while at the same time heavily pressuring Nico to be the hero of the Oracle of Delphi’s prophecy instead of Percy? Huh?!? The guy’s a total jerk!

Aries and Aphrodite seem to have a sweet deal. It’s true that he’s a total bully and she’s a huge diva, but hey, they act happy enough. Of course she’s got that ugly husband, but it sort of looks like they enjoy an open relationship. You don’t see any of them all bent out of shape about each other’s mortal kids, for example. Just because the two A’s irritate me doesn’t mean that they’re not living the dream. Hephestus is a little anti-social. That may be because of unresolved mother issues rather than because he’s been cuckolded for millennia. And it certainly hasn’t held him back from fathering a whole slew of heroes. I miss Beckendorf!

The Poseidon story is much the same. He comes across as this glamorous laid-back seafaring playboy type and clearly the ladies go wild for it. The huge army of Cyclopses alone suggests that this god really gets around. It’s also very clear that his divine son, Triton, and his wife, Amphitrite, are not happy campers having Percy swimming in ‘their ocean.’

It’s not all screwing around on Olympus. Aside from Hera’s matrimonial restraint, there’s Athena’s non-sexual sexual reproduction. That’s so weird! And it sort of short circuits one of the more fun parts of having a kid: the sex. Artemis, the dedicated virgin, seems to collect a huge entourage of like-minded virginal orphans and cast-offs. Maybe she’s fooling us. I always wonder if there’s a girl-on-girl thing happening in the silvery moonlight?

That raises another issue about Greek mythology: where has all of the same-sex stuff vanished to in the Percy Jackson series? These gods, godlings and monsters are a rangy bunch. Don’t they go for any cute little thing: man or woman, human or not? I’m sure that I’ve read in my Edith Hamilton about at least one or two peccadillos where the guys were after each other. Let’s face it, Ganymede didn’t become Zeus’ cup bearer only because he’s handy in the kitchen!

I know Mr. D feeds Percy this ridiculous crap that the gods need the demigod heroes to stay afloat. Blah, blah, blah! So the entire system is set up to force the gods to fool around for the sake of Western Civilization?! That’s convenient! “Sorry, honey, I needed to bang that hot mortal. It keeps the economy moving and it helps you, too, you know.” Can you imagine hearing a line like that in divorce court?

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A friend recently sent me this funny U-tube video of Edward Cullen trying to court Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Naturally she’s completely turned off and ends up “slaying” him by the end. Apparently she didn’t like his stalker tendencies.

I agree with the Multiply writers about that: Edward’s whole stalker business is pretty creepy. Bella doesn’t seem to mind though. In fact, if I were to guess, I think that it sort of turns her on. Weird, but Bells is strange.

what's so wrong with sex and motherhood, anyway?!?

what's so wrong with sex and motherhood, anyway?!?

For one, I’m at a loss about her low self-esteem! She’s obviously a good student; she gets along well with her eccentric parents; she knows how to take care of herself; and of course, she’s a guy magnet. It’s odd how she doesn’t notice these things about herself.

The guy issue is the one that has preoccupied everyone reading, reading about or commenting on the “Twilight” series, so let’s revisit the evidence. In the first few days of school, normally a horrible experience for all shy teenagers, particularly when entering mid-year, Bella manages to get Mike, Tyler, Eric, Edward and lest we forget, Jacob, awfully interested. She complains sweetly that “I had no practice dealing with overly friendly boys.” Well, she’s getting total immersion at Forks High! Really though, what in the world does she mean when she exclaims later to Edward “Well, look at me…I’m absolutely ordinary[?]” I don’t think so. And I’m not just talking about the beauty behind the face to paraphrase Bella herself in another context (though she obviously has that in spades.)

Personally I think that sexuality can be pretty confusing for everyone. And this girl comes from a sort of sheltered background if I’m reading between the lines properly. I remember when I was a teen that this sex and guy stuff could really freak me out. Why not Bells, too? It doesn’t seem very fair, or particularly accurate, to reduce her to a mere “object of desire” as those other commentators do. To me, she seems a bit more complex than all that. And why not look at Edward in the same light? Sure, he’s wickedly strong and dangerous but don’t we all have the potential for that with the “right” motivation and weapons? Bella makes the point herself when she protests that she doesn’t “like double standards.” Failing to see how Edward gets objectified by B and all of the other girls in school while harping on how B is by E seems just as egregious to me. Ooo, Edward is so angelic, like a model, impossibly beautiful; you name it, the list is endless. That’s a lot of pressure to tack onto anyone, including a guy.

But you know what? I don’t care. Being in high school and falling in love are both irrational emotional experiences. It seems so… real the way Bells and Eddie idealize one another. Why make a huge production out of it? It’s completely over the top but that’s just how kids are. Show a little compassion!

I want to believe that Bella and Edward are really in love. Don’t you? Isn’t the story much more satisfying if you do? Yes, yes, you can reduce Bells to just someone that’s completely controlled by Edward. I get it. But why would you? That ruins the fun. The social implications might be appalling, yet maybe not. But whatever!!! This is still entertainment, no? Or is it a self-help book? The mere fact that so many folks bought into the fantasy must say something!

Probably something that disturbs you.

Other ranters on Multiply go on and on about Steph in their column, complaining that Bells is just a personification of Lady M herself. I’m not so sure about that. Maybe Steph over-identifies with Ms. Swan, but isn’t that the whole appeal of this story? Bella is just vaguely described enough and she’s “ordinary” enough that most interested readers can identify with her on some level. Steph is only human, like the rest of us. Perhaps she could have written something that is more morally uplifting that promotes individual liberation or whatever, but why should she? This series is awfully successful as is; the writer seems to have enjoyed the experience and her numerous fans suggest that they did too. We’re not in Venezuela, after all. Good for her for cashing in on the American dream! And of course Steph’s tripped up in Edward’s charm! After all, isn’t that why the series is such a phenomenal success? Almost everyone gets hooked. How can you really know what she thinks anyway? Are you her mother or her psychotherapist? Maybe the book should come with a warning label like on cigarette cartons and wine bottles? It could say something like, “Read with caution: not everything in here is PC.”

These same critics bash down Edward for his ultra-white skin, “mood ring” pupils [by the way, very cool description!] and dark circles under his eyes, claiming that he’s not attractive at all. Why would Bella be drawn to such a freak? Well, I have wondered about the racial implications of her attraction to Edward, but that’s elsewhere. Don’t they say that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and taste is subjective? (Just who are ‘they,’ anyway?) Really, haven’t any of you ever fallen for someone that your friends and relatives didn’t find that appealing? Come on, you know that you have!

And that’s my point with Bella and her self-image issues. It seems very clear that if you just “objectively” look at the facts that Bells has a lot going for her. Just because she doesn’t recognize that right away doesn’t necessarily mean anything. It simply takes some of us longer than others to get the hang of it. I believe Jasper when he tells her on their flight from James to Phoenix, “You’re wrong you know… you are worth it.” The rest of the series is the process of her discovering this one marvelous, simple fact.

You quote readers and fans that complain bitterly about the last book, “Breaking Dawn.” They didn’t like the fact that B and E finally had sex you say. What is more striking to me is your dismissal of Bella as “a traditional–and boring–teenaged mom.” Who’s objectifying whom now? Bella didn’t seem that unhappy about the arrangement. I agree that that would have bored me witless, but it can work for some. So what’s the problem? She made a choice; one that you didn’t like. Isn’t that the whole point?

Let’s look at the bigger picture for just a sec now. Bella is an inexperienced girl entering high school in an alien town to help her mother out. Already that’s weird. When’s the last time any of your teen girls wanted to be big helps around the house? Plus she’s shy, doesn’t have experience with boys and has not dated before. Her parents split eons ago and she’s an only child used to taking care of them. Suddenly she’s confronted by a guy that she finds shockingly attractive. Not only that, he takes an interest in her. And she discovers that he has some shameful secret that he’s appalled by, a secret that she eventually learns and doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, it brings them even closer together. And he has this amazing family. (I’d love to have Alice alone as a family member. Can you imagine? No financial worries and always getting the weather and your clothes perfectly right? Heaven on Earth!) They’re very nice to her too, after a few bumps in the road with Rosalie. Maybe that’s only the vamps being self serving because she accepts them as they are, but so what?

Bella comes from this messed up family but remains steadfastly family oriented. Her parents are nice and all but totally don’t get her and they seem checked out in their own little worlds most of the time. When you really look at the Cullen/Hales, what do you see? They are this big, close-knit family; all with good looking, studious, very well meaning relatives. Why wouldn’t she be into it? Alone she finds Edward to be mind-stoppingly sexy. And the others give her something that she’s never had before: loving involved sibs and parents. Wouldn’t anyone go wild over the combination?

Yes, it’s a bit pedestrian. Though isn’t that what everyone is secretly after: unconditional love, all in the context of financial freedom, eternal youth and, of course wild sex with a ridiculous hottie while having the dignity of parenting the next generation.

Bella is beautiful. And she’s smart. What a weird combination!

more “Twilight” rants

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What’s up with Bella and Rosalie?

They are less than friendly in the first novel, “Twilight.” Yet by the close of “Breaking Dawn,” they’ve become the best of buds. For much of the series Bella is preoccupied with Rosalie’s beauty and seems very self-critical in comparison. We finally learn in “Eclipse” that Rosalie is completely envious of Bella’s humanity and ability to have children. By the end of the series, Bella has had a kid and become a beautiful vampire herself. Rose then acts as a kind of nursemaid/proxy mother for Renesme when Bella is recovering from her vampire transformation. The apparent dichotomy is solved.

shhh don't tell! we're a lot more alike than it looks

don't tell! we're a lot more alike than it looks

I just don’t buy this antagonism, or its resolution. Bella, despite all of her protestations to the contrary, is very conflicted about marriage and motherhood, especially early motherhood. As we learn more about Rosalie, it’s also obvious that she has a lot of “beauty issues.”

I’ve recently chatted up some of my female friends about this whole conundrum. As a guy, I’ve never quite understood this woman on woman competition in the looks department. My friends’ consensus seems to be that women do in fact compete with one-another about looks. This is then complicated by the fact that sometimes men’s and women’s views of feminine beauty do not correspond, leading to additional tension. (Personally, I think there’s a similar problem with guys, though most of us would never dare admit it.)

Then there’s that childbearing bugaboo. One of my friends tells me that it’s just sort of assumed that a woman could potentially have a child, whether she chooses to do so or not is beside the point. With this basic assumption, the idea that it is impossible for a woman to bear a child is so disturbing that it almost challenges a fundamental aspect of female identity. In this way, willingly, or unwillingly in the case of Rosalie, to give up this god-given right seems bizarre if not completely insane.

I feel like the fairy tale ending of the series glosses over some serious problems related to perceptions of beauty and biological motherhood about which both Bella and Rosalie struggle. Is it enough for Bella to “become” beautiful as a vampire, or was she always lovely, but failed to recognize this until she changed? Did Rosalie really lose something beyond her ability to reproduce when Carlisle transformed her into a vampire? Was Bella’s casual acceptance of forgoing children to marry Edward believable? Is Rosalie’s being a sort of aunt to Renesme enough to compensate her for this extreme loss that she feels? What if Bella and Edward want a second child? Steph raises the questions but seems very short on providing answers.

I am especially troubled by the section in “Breaking Dawn” where Bella discovers that she’s knocked up while honeymooning on the tropical Brazilian isle (book 1 Bella, chapter 7 Unexpected). Somehow she arrives at this explanation for her supernatural pregnant state:

Of course Rosalie could not conceive a child, because she was frozen in the state in which she passed from human to inhuman. Totally unchanging. And human women’s bodies had to change to bear children. The constant change of a monthly cycle for one thing, and then the bigger changes needed to accommodate a growing child. Rosalie’s body couldn’t change….

….And human men—well, they pretty much stayed the same from puberty to death…..Men had no such thing as child-bearing years or cycles of fertility.

Here we have this elegant “solution” which seems to conclude that a woman can either be fertile and plain or stunning and barren; just not both at the same time. Do people really believe it’s either beauty or babies? This is not the case with Edward, clearly: he looks like an angel and his stuff works. By extension, then, all men have the potential to be both beautiful and fertile simultaneously. This double standard is intolerable!

more “Twilight” rants

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Now I don’t know about you, but I think that the Alice/Jasper story is amazing. It is uber romantic–she’s been looking for him for years though they’ve never met. He’s been lost and in emotional anguish for decades because of his unhealthy diet. (He’s got an excellent name, too!) They truly are the perfect couple. Upon their first encounter she is already complaining that he’s late. And instead of murdering her, which is what a normal guy would probably do, he gracefully apologizes in a charming southern drawl. Ah, LOVE!

And it doesn’t hurt that they both have these kick-ass superpowers either.

discrete love on a Chaing Mai temple door

discrete love on a Chaing Mai temple door

Actually, I think it’s the superpowers that make this super couple work. She sees the changing uncertain future and he can experience and control the feelings of others. One of these powers alone would be a total nightmare. Imagine being saddled to some grumpy spouse who was always right because he or she always knew the future; or stuck with someone who could get away with anything and just make you feel peachy about it. Ugh! But together, OMG!

At least it’s harder to lie to one-another.

So what’s up with their sex life though? We don’t hear much about that one in the series, yet I feel sure it is real. I’m particularly struck by that part towards the end of “New Moon” when Alice, Edward and Bella arrive at the airport back in Washington after the stressful trip to Italy. All of the Cullens have turned out to meet them. Bella sees Jasper first and observes this about their reunion: “His eyes were only for Alice. She went quickly to his side; they didn’t embrace like other couples meeting there. They only stared into each other’s faces, yet somehow, the moment was so private that I still felt the need to look away.”

So what do you think? I think this is what happened:

Alice gets off the plane nervous and excited about seeing Jasper. Jasper reads these feelings and projects his nervous excitement back to her. She feels this and begins to fantasize about sex. She then sees sex in their future together. He responds to her feelings of heightened arousal and sends those feelings back to her. She gets more aroused and sees more sex in their future. He responds in kind with more emotional enthusiasm. And so on. Eventually they probably could even climax just standing there looking at one another. No wonder Bella looks away. She’s still too young for triple-X.

Pretty cool though! But that makes me think that Edward may not be as super innocent with his super power after all. I know that supposedly he has never been with a woman before but surely he’s read it in other peoples’ minds? What happens when he hangs out with Alice? He’s always seeing Bella turning into a vampire through her mind. Doesn’t Alice see other stuff about Bella too? Alice did pack tampons for the honeymoon trip to Brazil as well as lots of negligee. Was she just being a good planner or did she really see something? (She did blow it with the tampons, come to think of it.) I believe that Alice has a gift. How else could she always get Bella’s size perfectly? Negligee is tough to shop for! So has Edward seen something about Bella in Alice’s thoughts that he’s not telling? And what’s up with Alice thinking about this, anyway? Super kinky superpower! Neat.

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