Note: There are going to be spoilers from various books of the series. Haven't read them all? I suggest you don't continue. If you want, go ahead but at your own discretion ;)
I'm astounded that this issue has never been brought up here considering that a vast majority of the readers are female.
I've been a feminist practically all my life. That is, I 've subscribed to the basic ideals of feminism. I don't have a problem with authors showing abuse, sexism, classism, and rape in their novels. My problem lies within the fact that these problems aren't ever addressed. The biggest reason these books are sexist is because Bella never notices it. It doesn't occur to her even once - the idea of abuse and sexism. I know a lot of fans will disagree with me when I say the Twilight Series are sexist and at times, misogynist. Whether it is deliberate or unintentional, we may never know but one can be certain it's definitely there in the books.
Why do I say so? Because of four major reasons: Bella, Edward, other female characters, and werewolves.
Let's start with the "protagonist" of the series:
"Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped. - Elbert Hubbart."
Generally, stupidity amuses me. However, Bella - I cannot stand. She is the weakest character to ever grace the pages of literature. We're told Bella is smart because she reads classics such as Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice and so on. That's it. There is not one intelligent action in the books to back it up. I read and constantly, the books I've read pop up in discussion, I often compare and contrast books I've read to TV shows, movies etc but the most Bella says about the books is "English class will be easy since I've already read those books". She is a physically, emotionally, logically and mentally feeble character. Despite writing an essay on Shakespeare's misogynistic tendencies, she fails to notice the abuse and sexism in her own life.
She has no ambitions outside of Edward and even goes to a crappier college just to be near him. Bella has no amount of self-respect or independence as seen when Edward leaves and Bella becomes a zombie. What kind of message does that send? That one should have no life outside of one's girl-/boyfriend? Sorry, but the very notion is ridiculous. Moving to her stupidity, Bella apparently "knows herself" but it takes Jacob to force a kiss on her (a sexual assault, by the way) to know that she loves him as well. Bella is extremely dependent on both Edward and Jacob. She constantly needs someone supporting her. Is this the kind of heroine that we want influencing millions of young impressionable hormonal girls?
She plays the typical Victorian temptress who wants to seduce the morally superior 'gentleman', Edward. She is unable to wrap her mind around the fact that sex with Edward will kill her since he's so - you know - strong, making her an illogical idiot and a too stupid to live heroine. But wait, Bella's stupidity doesn't stop there. She walks into dark allies where she knows she might get raped. She gets lost in the woods within sight of her own house. In New Moon, Bella repeatedly puts herself in danger to hear Edward's voice inside her head. She labels girls like Jessica as 'Barbie dolls' and shallow while her own thoughts consist of praising Edward's 'perfection'. She claims to hate all the "superficial" girls at school whereas her own relationship with Edward is based more on his shiny lustre, his Adonis-like marble figure rather than the fact that he has a great personality. Bottom line: Bella is shallow, stupid and not someone you want influencing young girls around the planet.
2. Edward and Bella+Edward's relationship
"The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. - Karl Marx"
- Edward is abusive. On an emotional and mental level.
- Bella+Edward's relationship is unhealthy.
Ask anyone in a relationship: Jealousy is NOT a trait they seek in their lover/boy-/girlfriend. However, Edward is jealous of Jacob and he tries everything in his power to keep Bella away from Jacob. In Twilight, he pushed Jacob aside when Jacob asked Bella if she'd like to dance and said something along the lines "I'll take it from here." Sure, Bella may have preferred to dance with Edward but that again, is HER decision to make, not Edward's! This only increases with time. In Eclipse, when Bella mentions that she is planning on seeing Jacob alone, he goes to say "I'll stop you." Moreover, he removes the engine from Bella's truck and has Alice kidnap her. Now, he may have done this with good intent in mind and yes, he did replace it. However, the fact that he later replaced it is irrelevant. The fact stands that he did an abusive act in the first place. Good intentions don't matter. That's equivalent of saying "I'm going to kill you because I think it's best for you" and then later feeling remorse for it. The irreversible fact that I committed a murder is going to matter not that I feel remorse over my actions.
Edward promotes isolation of Bella. When he criticizes her friends as being "shallow", Bella stops all and any contact with them. While it is understandable to spend time with your boyfriend, it is unhealthy to have no life outside of them. This is jarringly obvious in the beginning of New Moon where it takes Bella three months to rediscover her other friends. Edward has no right to decide what should be Bella's personal decisions. He keeps Alice - her best friend at the time - from meeting her to ensure a clean break. However, this is not his decision to make and he's merely trying to control Bella's actions. It's Bella's call on how long she wishes to cling on to her relationship with Edward. Likewise, he has no business hiding things associated with him in order to control her healing process. Destroying someone's belonging should NEVER be OK and is always considered an abusive act. Also, Edward watches her sleep, often without her knowledge. Contrary to what giddy fangirls think, it IS NOT romantic and any normal girl with an ounce of intelligence would take a restraining order out on said stalker.
Edward threatens suicide. Romeo & Juliet aside, suicide is most definitely not romantic and is a control tactic. This is the trait of a mentally unstable person and an abusive boyfriend. When abusive boyfriends claim that they "can't live without you", most women remain with them in hopes of getting a glimpse of a person they were enamored with and to not be held responsible if said boyfriend wants to commit suicide. Bella stays with Edward in fear of his life and she feels his death would be "because of her" and that is a burden no one should bear. Maybe Edward didn't realize Bella was alive at the time when he went to commit suicide which truthfully proves that he is unstable enough to do it.
Forging other's signatures/handwriting is wrong and can be attributed to control said person's actions. Edward forges Bella's handwriting in his note to Charlie the day he and Bella go out into the woods. Why write in her writing? Couldn't he have written something to the effect "Hey Charlie, Bella and I are going to the woods. - Edward"? Plus, when Bella decides she doesn't want to go to Darmouth, Edward ignores her decision and forges her signature on to the paperwork. This is a violation of privacy and not the sign of a healthy relationship. Their marriage in itself is a perfect example of him not letting her make decisions and controlling her actions. In the end of New Moon, he agrees to make Bella a vampire, only if she marries him. Anyone in a relationship will tell you that he is manipulating her emotions to his own wants and needs.
Fear is a form of emotional abuse. It can be used to impose control. Edward is constantly telling Bella how much he wants to kill her and giving unnecessary displays of strength in order to convince her not to stay with him. In retro-respect, why doesn't he take the initiative to stay away from Bella? Why doesn't he change Biology classes? Even if he's unable to stay away from her, he doesn't need to scare her. The fact that his shoulder left a dent in the car is proof enough to Bella that he is stronger than your average human. Why, then, does he feel the need to constantly demonstrate that he is dangerous, to get her to stay away from him?
For supporting my argument, I ran Bella and Edward through the basic unhealthy relationship check list (From GoAskAlice) and so far:
Try to control or manipulate the other - Edward manipulated Bella into marriage.
Make the other feel bad about her-/himself - He tries to make her feel guilty about his suicide.
Ridicule or call names
Dictate how the other dresses
Do not make time for each other
Criticize the other's friends - Edward criticizes Jacob.
Are afraid of the other's temper
Discourage the other from being close with anyone else - Edward isolates Bella from everyone else around her when he tells her that she must keep her newfound knowledge a secret. This causes her to lie to her parents. Also, the whole Jacob episode.
Ignore each other when one is speaking - I'll say tick off a 50% for this because while Edward does hear what she has to say, he does NOT compromise her idea with his.
Are overly possessive or get jealous about ordinary behavior - Edward forbids Bella from seeing Jacob and in the first chapter of Midnight Sun (available on Meyer's website), wants to protect Bella from Jessica's "corrupt thoughts".
Criticize or support others in criticizing people with your gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or other personal attribute
Control the other's money or other resources (e.g., car) - Edward took the engine out of Bella's car thus, making sure she wouldn't see Jacob.
Harm or threaten to harm children, family, pets, or objects of personal value - In New Moon, he hid, took or destroyed things that belonged to Bella that he felt were "associated with him" to give her a "clean break".
Push, grab, hit, punch, or throw objects
That's 8.5 out of 15 in a list which doesn't include dictating other's actions, making the other counterpart feel guilty and threatening suicide. Edward believes he has the RIGHT to tell her what to do (i.e.. "You can't see Jacob because he's dangerous." which is ironic considering his own brother Jasper almost killed her once.). This and the argument before this show that Bella and Edward's relationship is one where Edward has an unequal amount of authority and is emotionally abusive. However, this never occurs to Bella who believes her relation with Edward to be "perfect" thus sending the message that even if your boyfriend is controlling and downright domineering, his intentions are good and it's all great. It sends a very anti-feminist message to thousands of impressionable hormonal teenagers out there.
- Use physical force or threats to prevent the other from leaving - Edward gets Alice to kidnap Bella and removes the engine from Bella's truck to make sure she doesn't see Jacob.
3. Other Female Characters
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent - Eleanor Roosevelt"
So, I'm going to take the long route xD
Esme: She exists because she is the mate of Carlisle - who has a strong intriguing personality, by the way. Period. What? That's all we really know about Esme. She doesn't have any special powers. She isn't strong. She's just the semi-visible mother figure who doesn't have very strong relationship with her "kids". Her relation with Edward is not nearly as strong as Carlisle and Edward's.
Renee: Bella's mother is described as "childish". Along with childishness, her personality traits (for lack of better term :P) include being eccentric, silly, unorganized and flighty. Also, she lacks the ability to take care of her self - paraphrased: She is dependent - first on Charlie, then on Bella and finally on Phil. This is emphasized by Bella's "unselfish" decision to send herself to her father so her mother can go gallivanting off into the wild with her newfound guardian. Sorry, couldn't resist the last line.
Rosalie: She had a lot of potential, this one. She was the only one in the Cullen household who didn't take an immediate liking to Bella but throughout the first two books, she was portrayed in negative light. In Eclipse, we find her victimized back-story which ultimately ruined her character. Cry me a river. While it is sad, Rosalie is portrayed to be a shallow person who wants babies and be pretty. Before becoming a shallow vampire, she was a vain and arrogant pretty human. Cheerful.
Alice: Initially, I liked her character a lot. Charismatic, quirky and interesting. But that's just at first glance. When we really get to know her, she is nothing more than a stereotypical teenage character at the age of 100+. She's obsessed with parties, likes to shop and dress Bella up like a "three dimensional paper doll". Alice is far from independent. She rarely goes anywhere without Jasper and it is safe to say that she is infatuated with him. Alice agrees to kidnap Bella simply because Edward asks her to (Can't Alice think for herself?). In comparison to say Edward or Jasper, her power is limited. She can't see werewolves and her visions don't always come true whereas Jasper can control their [werewolves'] emotions and Edward can read their minds. Why is her gift inconsistent and inferior to her male counterparts? This brings in female = unreliable concept. Also, she can fight which apparently, in Meyer's world, makes her a stronger character. However, when pitted against Buffy Summers (who kicks arse) or Hermione Granger, she doesn't fare well at all.
Human Females: Apart from Angela in Eclipse, all are Barbie dolls and shallow according to Bella. Bella takes all girls to be superficial, unintelligent and vain - which says a lot more about her than it does about the girls she classifies. These girls aren't given half the personality their male counterparts (Eric, Mike etc) are.
"Never let the hand you hold, hold you down. - Anonymous"
Leah Clearwater is the only female in the La Push pack. I believe that Leah turning into a werewolf is great. What I don't like is how it's handled. Instead of Leah becoming an integral part of the pack, she is cynical, "harpy" and a complete nuisance to the entire pack simply because she is heart-broken. This sends the message that let your heartbreak take over your life or that your contentment is dependent upon your love life. Jacob walks away with the sympathy for Bella's rejection of him yet Sam's betrayal of Leah doesn't earn her compassion. Not from her pack, not from Bella. This is another example of blatant sexism in the books.
Imprinting is sick, gross, awkward, pedophilic and SEXIST!
In the books, imprinting is only done by male werewolves for the sole purpose of "passing on the werewolf gene." Think of it as another form of reproduction. If the only purpose of imprinting is reproduction, then it is sexual. Now, to get out of the whole pedophilia mess, Meyer defends it by saying "the imprinter will be whatever the child (Yes, CHILD!) wants him to be. The major contradiction is the fact that an understood sexual relationship is going to occur. Quil take the authoritative role in Claire's life with the intent of a sexual relationship later on and this violates Claire's rights. She should be given the right to CHOSE who she wants as a lover rather than the tribe and Quil expecting her to marry Quil. Everyone in the pack expects her to have a sexual relationship with Quil and if she doesn't, then she becomes a social pariah. Sure, Quil didn't have a choice but he never tries to mold his and Claire's relationship as something other than a pedophilic relationship whereas Claire is never given the choice. However, the males are happy with the chosen imprintee. They have found their soul-mate while the females HAVE to accept their mates, without exception. This violates the females' rights but apparently, they have "a hard time resisting the devotion", says Meyer.
How else is imprinting sexist? Leah, it is hinted, is infertile. This sets her apart from other females, other werewolves and takes away her right to imprint (if she has one). So far, only males have imprinted. Why should she be infertile when her male counterparts are completely fertile? Same for vampires, too! The females are infertile while the males are fertile. Imprinting is a form of reproduction of the werewolf kind so why on earth would a werewolf be infertile? Biologically speaking, if males can keep their reproductive system it makes no sense for the female reproductive system to lose feasibility. Obviously, if Quil has to wait 16 years to get it on with Claire, then it's safe to say he's not losing his reproductive ability anytime soon. Why, then, is Leah infertile? It's suggested that werewolves rarely age as long as the 'phase' regularly. Yet, Leah is aging, going through menopause/losing her ability to be fertile. Why does the woman get the shorter end of the stick while the males are free to promote pedophilic relationships? The only reason I can think of is because she's a women and Meyer wants to show that reproduction is the most important thing to Leah. Sexist, much? I certainly think so.
Fangirls usually say something along the lines that: it's "just a book/fiction", it "has no real message", "you're reading too much into it" and my personal favorite: "Bella doesn't mind" xD. The fact that 'Bella doesn't mind' IS the problem. As for the other arguments about it "not sending a message": Just check out the Edward War Zone thread. I'm not trying to demean, degrade or slander the characters of those who post there but merely giving proof that several young girls today - and I use the term "young" very loosely - want their very own Edward (More so, it pains me to admit that a while ago, I used to be one of them). The thought makes me hurl and fear the future of my generation. Truly, it makes me feel sad. After all what feminist activists did, we're open to abusive - Oops! - perfect relationships? The very thought that this Bella and Edward's relationship what Meyer believes is a "perfect" relationship makes me shudder... and not in a good way.
Sorry about the length but I just had to rant :D