Twilight IX: Flagging unhealthy relationship behaviors in media

Rebecca Cole
Executive Staff

On Sunday, October 10, the Title IX office along with CAPS and the Project Director for Campus Sexual Assault Prevention hosted a screening of Twilight (2008), followed by a Q&A session. 

Attendants were given red flags to wave whenever they recognized an unhealthy relationship behavior in the movie and a bingo sheet full of unhealthy behaviors that they were to fill out. The screening was a fun and entertaining way to address and educate students about unhealthy relationships. A sea of red flags were visible throughout the crowd during many scenes, proving that the love story we all grew up with and held in our minds as the epitome of romance, was not exactly so. 

Many young adults now, myself included, grew up with the Twilight series. It grasped hold of us in our formative years and gave us butterflies thinking about werewolves and vampires fighting over us just like Bella. However, rewatching the movie in your 20’s is not as romantic. 

Scenes that I remembered to be powerful, exciting, and romantic were just unsettling and even disturbing. Edward proved himself to be a possessive, controlling, force in Bella’s life instead of the dreamy vampire we thought he was. Edward claimed to be “protecting” Bella from danger but was isolating her from friends and family while damaging her mental health. He displayed the heteronormativity that men so often ascribe to in the media to an unhealthy extent. Every time that he spoke it seemed red flags were waving in the air. 

The bingo also made the event very exciting with students competing to recognize unhealthy behaviors and fill out their bingo card first. Groups worked on teams with team names being popular characters in the movie like Alice and Carlisle. This encouraged students to actively search for unhealthy signs and learn more about recognizing these behaviors in their own lives. 

A sample bingo card from the event.

Unhealthy behaviors are prominently displayed in the media and if viewers, readers, or listeners are not paying attention, then it becomes a standard and an expectation. We find ourselves looking up to people or stories that are not real and are truly damaging to us. 

The Purple reached out to Kaylei Goodine, the Deputy Title IX Coordinator, who when prompted about unhealthy behaviors in media responded, “It is important to critically interrogate how media often perpetuates unhealthy and abusive ideals regarding love and relationships. Hopefully, by giving the language and signs to identify unhealthy relationships on-screen, students can leave with an increased confidence and ability to disrupt harmful behavior, attitudes, and norms.” 

The Project Director for Campus Sexual Assault Prevention, Maria Michonski, states that, “I think events like this are great tools at introducing conversation and education about relational violence and abusive relationships to Sewanee’s campus.” 

Michonski also states that, “The National Domestic Violence Hotline‘s most up to date statistics indicate that women between ages 18 and 34 experience the highest levels of intimate partner violence, and that ‘43% of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors, including physical, sexual, digital, verbal, or other controlling abuse.’ We also know that LGBTQIA+ students, students of color, students with fewer economic resources, and international students experience heightened risk for abuse due to lack of resources for getting away and accessing help, ongoing forms of social stigma that make help less available to them, and increased fear of coming forward that creates optimal situations for abuse and manipulation to be enacted against them.” 

This information supports the importance of this education that the Title IX office is providing to students on our campus. The team works very hard to address and help solve issues like relationship abuse and unhealthy behaviors in Sewanee.  

After the screening, CAPS and the Title IX Office held a Q&A where they discussed examples of these behaviors in the movie and resources available to students on campus. 

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the Title IX Office will be hosting events throughout the month to educate students and bring awareness to this issue. Michonski states that the events are an opportunity for students to “learn more about the dynamics of violent and abusive relational behaviors and to practice skills of recognizing these behaviors and coming up with options for intervention” which can then help adjust our own campus culture around these behaviors. 

Deputy Goodine reiterates that the goal of any event hosted by the Title IX Office is intended to “promote sexual integrity and respect, where every person experiences sexuality and relationships in healthy and positive ways that are affirming to their identities while simultaneously eliminating sex discrimination and sexual misconduct.”