The problem of Leah

Trigger Warning: Twilight, infertility

Twilight has many problems; if I were to delve into each and every one, I’d be here all year. But one issue in particular tickles my fancy today.

For those not familiar with the series: The native tribe in Twilight that Jacob belongs to has a tradition of werewolfism. Werewolves appear perfectly normal and, in many cases, don’t ever change into wolves, living their whole lives as normal human beings. However, when exposed to the presence of an ancient enemy they evolved to battle, the young men of the tribe with the werewolf gene “activate”, becoming werewolves proper. In this state, they can change into a very large wolf, communicate telepathically, and do not age: all the better to fight ageless, supernaturally fast vampires. One vampire verses a pack of werewolves is basically a goner, and one vampire is all it takes to awaken the whole tribe.

Werewolves have another evolutionary advantage beyond size, strength, and speed: they “imprint”, likely on an individual who will help pass on the werewolf gene to ensure it doesn’t die out. This creates an unbreakable bond of lifelong devotion, driving the wolves to protect their tribe (which is full of Imprints) and procreate (producing more wolves). Putting aside the issues of imprinting on toddlers (ew, ew, ew, ew, ew), this seems to make biological sense: it reinforces the duty of the wolves so they don’t go rogue and run off, and helps keep the genes fairly evenly distributed.

Only men are traditionally werewolves; apparently, the agelessness in werewolves is similar to the agelessness in vampires in that it comes with the inability to bear a child without removing the ability to conceive one. Which brings us to our topic today: Leah, the female werewolf.

When we first meet Leah, she’s struggling through an emotional tragedy: her fiancee, a newly awakened werewolf, has Imprinted on her childhood friend. There’s nothing she can do; fate has demanded that she surrender the love of her life, who is now incapable of achieving any sort of peace or happiness with her due to a supernatural roll of the dice, and watch him find that happiness with her cousin and former best friend while she suffers alone. She becomes bitter, and everyone begins to hold that against her. For the rest of the series we’re continually told how much of a drag Leah’s become, how nasty she is, how nobody wants to talk to her anymore, how she’s the least liked youth in the entire tribe. Not one ounce of sympathy is given to her by our Quileute characters.

Oh yeah, and she’s a werewolf. When she first shifts, it shocks her father so badly that he dies of a heart attack. So on top of her relationship grief, she’s also suffering from the loss of a parent and the guilt of knowing it was, in some way, her fault. In a larger sense, it wasn’t her fault at all; like the imprinting, she suffered from a supernatural roll of the dice, dealing her a blow almost impossible to handle alone. And yet she does have to handle it alone, to swallow her feelings; her psychic negativity disrupts the pack function, making the men uncomfortable.

There are two roles for people in an Active time in the Quileute society: the men, who are the protectors of the tribe from the outside supernatural threat, and the women, who serve as Imprints for them to come home to. It resembles strongly the ideal of a man going off to war to fight for his girl back home, but supernaturally enforced. What place is there for a woman who is a protector, who feels loyalty to her brothers in arms (witness Leah standing up for Jacob, volunteering to be by his side rather than let him go it alone), who is strong (supernaturally so) and physical? Leah’s shifting is prompted by her anger – what place is there for a woman who feels the sort of hot-blooded burning rage we idolize in men?

What place is there for a woman like me?

I’ve never fit in with other girls; my whole life, I’ve had more in common with males my age than females. I’m not transgendered; I enjoy my body the way it is, enjoy occasional bouts of femininity. I just don’t feel comfortable playing the role of a girl all day every day. I dress in men’s clothing because it’s more comfortable. I can’t wear high heels due to my medical problems; I don’t have the faintest idea how I should go about doing makeup. I swear, I hit, I joke openly about sexual topics, I feel drawn to compete with those around me; I’m loud*, impossible to ignore, crude, and unusually loyal. If I were to be a supernatural creature in the Twilight universe, I’d be a werewolf, hands down. I can’t do cold, distant, and emotionally abusive; nor would I make a very good Imprint, thanks both to my urge to do something when a situation is going wrong rather than wait at home for the boys to take care of it and to my physical defects. In short, I’d be Leah.

Leah is described as a shrew, a harpy, a bitter, angry woman, whom nobody can stand to be around. She worries about her lack of periods and imprinting, and wonders if that makes her less feminine than she ought to be. Her pain is irrelevant; Bella’s pain is all-consuming when Edward leaves her, and even total strangers sympathize with her, but as Meyer said, Leah “didn’t lose an Edward”, so obviously her father and boyfriend mean nothing to her and she ought to be over it by now. There’s no room in Meyer’s world for women like me. In her eyes, I should strive to be more like Bella: weak, clumsy, completely controlled by a man who becomes the center of my universe, striving for death to end the possibility for growth and change, standing up for my desires only when they mean bringing babies into the world — my true place as a woman.

Twilight was the best selling series in America in 2008 and 2009. Meyer was the second bestselling author of the decade, behind only Rowling. If most of my peers share one fantasy above all others, and there’s no place for me in that fantasy, how can I hope to find a place among them?

* This applies to my default state, not the way I act when my anxiety dominates my actions. Ironically, when anxious, I behave in a more traditionally “feminine” manner: I shut up and let the men have their opinions and strive to make them happy so they’ll like me.

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One Response to The problem of Leah

  1. Zemphira says:

    Very thought-provoking post here. I’ve written and erased 3 rambling paragraphs here about gender identity and the bizarre, harmful current cultural constraints, mostly because it’s crap I should put in a journal, not as a comment. Just wanted to let you know, this post rocks.

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