You Asked for It: How to Talk to Girls About the Messages of New Moon, With a Free Activity Plan for Educators

By | December 2nd, 2009 | 28 comments

New Moon Edward Jacob BellaI think there’s been enough written about the dizzyingly bad messages “New Moon” telegraphs to girls. Among the cringe-worthy morals of this story: When you’re in love, the only thing that matters in life is your man. If you get dumped, your life is over, so feel free to act suicidal to get him back. Even if he tells you he never wants to see you again, manipulation and game-playing are effective ways to get his attention. Your friends are only ornaments; just kick them to the curb when he comes back.

No matter how you slice it, Bella Swan’s one reason for being is Edward Cullen. She’s got no hobbies. She’s got no opinions. She pretty much has no friends. The girl has nothing on her or about her that extends beyond one burning, fangy desire: Get. Edward. Back. Is it any wonder that when Bella extends her hand to the mind-reading Italian vampire, he is stunned to see “nothing?”

Which puts adults in a thoroughly uncomfortable position. Sitting in a sea of girls twittering and swooning at the phenomenal acting skills of Taylor Lautner’s torso, I found myself praying quietly for a scene where Bella paints, or sits on a bus with the debate team, or does something unrelated to obsessive, self-destructive pining. And I began to wonder how we could talk to girls about this film.

My suggestion is that we don’t come down like a ton of bricks on it. That’s a debate we’re sure to lose. Twilight isn’t just a phenomenon of dollars; it’s a social obsession among girls. It’s something they bond over and believe in together. Challenging it would be like taking on rock and roll.

So let’s talk with girls about New Moon on their terms and ours. This is a terrific opportunity for you to communicate your own values as a parent about intimacy, love and relationships. Here are my suggestions for a discussion, followed by an activity plan for educators.

Warm-Up Questions

  • What did you think of the movie? What was your favorite part?
  • Do you think it was better than “Twilight?” Why or why not?
  • Why are girls so obsessed with the Twilight Saga?
  • If you’re not that into Twilight, why?

And then you can transition into the heavier questions:

  • Do you think you’d be friends with a girl like Bella (not Kristen Stewart)? Why or why not?
  • If you were introducing Bella to your friends, how would you describe her? What are her interests and hobbies, for example?
  • Who is Bella besides Edward’s girlfriend in this movie? Does she have another identity?
  • Bella seems willing to die in order to get Edward back. In your opinion, is this an accurate portrayal of a typical girl in love? Is it healthy?
  • What do you think of the way Bella treated Jacob in this movie? (If you need to prompt: It seems like she ditched him as soon as Edward came back. )
  • People are divided on who is the better guy for Bella (the joke is “Team Edward” vs “Team Jacob”). Who do you think is better for Bella? Why? And what about the fact that there’s no “Team Bella?” Are either of these relationships worth having?

If you’re working with a group of girls who have seen this film, try these activities.

Activity 1: Love as Addiction

Start out with some of the questions above to warm the group up. Then explain that you want to explore Bella’s relationship with Edward in more detail.

Distribute a copy of the lyrics to the song “Addicted” by Kelly Clarkson and play the song for your group.

Ask girls to raise their hands if they agree this song could be about Bella Swan in the film “New Moon.” Then ask who believes the song does not apply to Bella Swan. This is a good time to remind your participants that you’re talking about the movie, not the book (which may have a more textured portrayal of Bella Swan; I don’t know because I haven’t read it).

Divide the groups accordingly. Using the lyrics, have each group prepare an argument about why the song applies (or doesn’t) to Bella. Get a spirited debate going.

Activity 2: Team Edward, Team Jacob or Team Bella

Ask the girls if they believe Bella is better off with Edward, Jacob or on her own, and divide the groups accordingly.

Ask the Team Edward and Team Jacob groups to come up with a short presentation about why Bella would be better off with their character. They should provide clear evidence and consider the following questions, among others (feel free to add your own prompts):

1.    How did your character treat Bella?
2.    What impact did your character have on Bella’s emotions and on her life in general?

Team Bella can prepare an argument about why they believe neither guy is worth Bella’s time. Like the other groups, they should be ready to provide evidence.

After each group makes its presentation, allow the opposing group to challenge with questions and debate.

Have fun! Email me if you have any additions to these activities or feedback on how it went.

28 Responses to “You Asked for It: How to Talk to Girls About the Messages of New Moon, With a Free Activity Plan for Educators”

  • [...] new questions with Eclipse and keep those talking points goin…Thanks, Rachel for this great media literacy guide to launch some wise and worthy conversations! How to Talk to Girls About the Messages of New [...]

  • [...] it is not hard to see how the key themes of this love story tap into an adolescent worldview. Rachel Simmons sums up the affinity female teens have with Bella Swan because she is a character who personifies [...]

  • [...] is a Team Bella shitting afoot–noted by added writers such as Kate President in Salon and Rachel Simmons, who provides communicating questions for attractive girls in a grave psychotherapy of the texts. [...]

  • [...] das mensagens de Lua Nova, com um plano de atividades livres para educadores: blog da escritora Rachel Simmons, autora de Garota Fora do Jogo: A cultura da agressão oculta nas [...]

  • [...] To be blunt, Ms Simmons is not a fan of Twilight’s Bella. She writes: [...]

  • Sarah Ebner says:

    Thank you for this. I have mentioned it on my blog today. It’s great fun…

  • Leilanea says:

    No, she is NOT in any way a stronger character in the books!!! In fact even weaker- Kristen Stewart tried to portray her stronger (she admitted how annoyed she was by some parts of Bella and how damaging this could be to girls in an interview).

    Everyone here should read this blog, which presents chapter by chapter, book by book everything that is wrong about the series:

    http://markreadstwilight.buzznet.com/user/

  • Lan says:

    This is a really great work of writing and very informative. I read this to my fiance who is soon to become a high school English teacher; he’s bemoaning the fact that he’s going to have to read Twilight eventually because it’s what the students are reading. I think this a great way to use popular fiction to facilitate class discussion.

    I read all four books and saw the first movie, and personally found myself disgusted. I personally found Bella to be very flat and uninspiring. She has zero personality; she defines herself entirely through Edward. Contrary to what Kristin above said, I don’t think Bella has a deep love for reading books, just simply ONE book: Wuthering Heights. If you think about it, that’s another book which revolves around a couple with an equally, actually more, destructive relationship. They’d make interesting companion pieces.

    I can see how New Moon in some ways, accurately captures the loss and despair teenage girls feel after a break up (the whole world is over; I’ll never find love again). But the level of obsession, to the point of danger, that Bella has is disturbing. I really dislike the way she treats Jacob. I personally think he was better for her; their relationship seemed more playful and intimate than the control, distance, mixed with intense, obssessive passion that characterized her and Edward’s relationship. However, after Edward comes back Jacob turns into a total jerk.

    You could also discuss issues about sexual activity. To me the whole book reads like tract on on abstinence. Bella just throws herself at Edward, not concerned the least bit about the consequences emotional or physical. Also comparing Twilight to other “high school” or “teenage” vampire novels to see how they treat similar issues could make another great lesson.

    • Thanks for writing. Such an interesting point about Wuthering Heights, and great to hear from someone who has read the books. To your point about Jacob’s change after Edward’s return, it seems to me that he becomes stereotypically “masculine” once he gets around Edward — doing that thing guys do when they can be authentically sweet around a girl and then put on their guy persona in front of other males.

      I love the question of how her relationship with Edward differs from her relationship with Jacob! Going to add it. Thanks for writing in!

  • Thank you for a fabulous post, what a terrific resource. Twilight is not going away, it is how we help the readers process the information that will outlast the current mania.

  • [...] You Asked for It: How to Talk to Girls About the Messages of New … – 15 Responses to “You Asked for It: How to Talk to Girls About the Messages of New Moon, With a Free Activity Plan for Educators”. Kazama says: December 3, 2009 at 7:10 pm. Thanks so much for writing this! I’m a mom with two daughters, … [...]

  • carol traynor says:

    Thanks for writing this and doing the movie research for me (haha)since the last blog! I’m a high school art teacher and my art club consists of around 20 girls and one very brave boy. So New Moon was part of the talk as we worked together after school this Wednesday.I forced myself not to interfere, but was pleased to hear the way they talked about the movie. About half love the series, another half could have given a crap about it. There was no fighting over it, just statements of opinion. Anti-Twi’s sited Bella being “boring” and seemed most annoyed by the overall craze from clothes to magazines to “Team” water bottles. I loved my one junior who said “who cares what boy you like?”. That’s my girl!

  • Kazama says:

    Thanks so much for writing this! I’m a mom with two daughters, and I know that giving them an anti-Twilight speech is not going to be effective. I read all four books, and find all your criticisms true. Yet, I enjoyed the books a lot–the world-building, the drama, and the fairy tale story. I do think that New Moon is an accurate, although exaggerated, account of teenage emotions after a break-up. It’s not unusual for girls to feel most of the things Bella felt (short of the death-wish).

    So the question is, how do you handle those feelings? This is where getting busy with hobbies, female or platonic male friends, family, exercise etc. would be positive. I also want my girls to know that most people go through lost love and survive and thrive, and would be happy to help them (parents, aunts, uncles, coaches, whoever they’re close to).

    Your discussion questions are all so relevant to real life, and thus helpful to our daughters who have to live in the real world. Bella lives in fairy tale land where being acutely in love/lust lasts forever and the princess is an archetype, not a complex human being.

    I think I’ll ask my girls to compare Bella to other girls in literature, too. Thanks again for tackling this.

  • Adam says:

    Bless you for writing this! Let’s not forget another creepy message: “It’s cool for a 105-year-old Grampire to hang out at a high school and get into a relationship with a 16-year old. Age-inappropriate relationships are A-okay, as long as you LOOK YOUNG…” Umm, not okay with me, as a dad of two daughters.

    • I was thinking the EXACT SAME THING in the movie!! It’s one thing to have that be in the background, but Bella gets so obsessed with age that you can’t help but thinking how creepy it is that Edward is actually a really old man!! Thanks for reminding me of that (I thought I might have been overreacting to be so creeped out by it).

  • une belle laide says:

    The discussion questions are absolutely relevant and should be posed. And I believe that most middle school girls would be able to answer them in a manner that the facilitator could support. The students know the logical answers. However, even though one might recognize the logical perspective, this story connects because it taps into a natural perspective.

    I’ve not read the books, but have made a lot of inquiries. I know how it ends…

    Can’t wait to read your take on it all, as I have admired your work since Odd Girl Out was published and have used Odd Girl Speaks Out in the classroom.

  • Kristin says:

    Personally, I have read the books and I love them. If you delve deeper into the books they do have a message of being strong in yourself. I read New Moon when I was going through a break up myself and it actually empowered me to be strong in myself and have a good opinion of myself, and helped me to realize that I needed to look for someone who loves and respects me for me. One of the themes of New Moon is that through Twilight and for most of New Moon Bella does not have a good self image- she does not believe that she is worthy, and at the end she realizes that she is in fact worthy and she sees positive qualities within herself. Bella’s character is much deeper in the books then in the movies, one of her main hobbies is that she loves to read. I suggest reading the books if you want to work with adolescents through this material because chances are, they are taking the books much more seriously then the movies, and the books are much different. I like the idea of the workshop, but I think if you read the books you would have a better idea of how to approach the subject. In order to work with adolescents you have to get down to their level.

    • Kristin, thank you so much for this helpful comment — I totally agree that it’s time for me to read the books if I really want to talk with girls about it.

      I also appreciate hearing about Bella’s more textured personality and journey in the books, and I agree that kids are more likely to take the books seriously. I think it’s fantastic that the books helped you through a positive transformation. I will not forget that. Thanks for sharing – truly appreciate it!

      • Sarahgirl says:

        Thank you, I agree that what I took away from the books was very different from the take-home message in the films. Bella in the books helped me reflect on “taking care of self’ which is something I never managed to figure out how to do in high school… and am still struggling with now. She spends a lot of time on her self and allowing her self to feel things and work through them without being continuously plugged into the social world of school and friends. I don’t think her relationship with Edward is entirely healthy, of course, but she is definitely not an empty character or hollow girl for that matter.

        She doesn’t discard ALL friends… just those who aren’t involved in her personal world (which others wouldn’t understand). I don’t think it is wrong that she seeks her identity outside of the judging world of high school cliques, especially since much of what she deals with is so outside of their experience.

        Another thing of note is that she doesn’t connect well with women who aren’t part of an ‘other’. Only Edward’s sister and the other girl who hangs out with the wolves. I think a lot of girls (especially those of us who tend to have more guy friends than girls, or who have dealt with trauma) can relate to being different in this way. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to relate more to guys or to people who have similar experiences as you.

        • Fascinating…this point reminds me of what I said in the Salon article (the link is somewhere on this page) about how New Moon is a refuge from the usual “mean girl” dynamics that fill up most media girls consume. Thanks for bringing this point home (I emailed part of your comment to the Salon blogger!).

  • Jess says:

    LOVE that you wrote this.
    LOVE the approach.
    SO needed.

  • Kelly says:

    I only read the first book and saw the first movie and have put the whole thing aside. I didn’t think the character of Bella came off any stronger or more individualistic than the movie Bella.

    Rachel, thank you for writing this. I’m tired of hearing people pick on teenage girls and the things they love. Your article here provides us a way to look into those the minds and hearts of those girls – far better than mocking or judging. Thank you!

  • M says:

    Thanks for this. I have never read the books or seen the movies, in part because I heard about the negative images for women. Can anyone who has read them comment on Bella’s portrayal in the book – is she a stronger character than the movies make her out to be?

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