Is Bella a bad girl (as defined by Tolman and Higgins), cognizant of and expressing her sexual desire?
From the first moment Bella sees Edward and throughout Twilight, she’s got it bad for him. Her behavior is not overt – her attraction is expressed as if she might erupt: staring, not being able to stare, stammered speech with him and when she talks about him (i.e. on the phone with her mother). Her behavior and her words make it clear that she is sexually attracted to Edward. But I don’t think her sexual attraction goes beyond that to the expression of sexual desire. In the bedroom scene when they begin to fool around on Bella’s bed, Edward quickly realizes he cannot be sexual with her without hurting her. Bella doesn’t ever express a problem with this – cool let’s fly through the trees instead – totally the same!
I think the character of Bella is being portrayed as a good girl because society values good girls over bad. Her character expresses sexual attraction but stops short of sexual desire. The metaphor of the vampire unable to consummate a romantic relationship without inflicting pain is just another metaphor for what sex ‘must mean for a woman’ – pain. Because it is ‘bad’ for a woman to be portrayed as possessing sexual desire and enjoying sexual intercourse as much as a man (especially the first time), Edward becomes a mechanism for what must not be done to Twilight’s heroine: don’t hurt Bella.
I think Bella is a good girl as defined by Tolman and Higgins; she is naïve about the potential harms of sex with her. In the case of Twilight, being a good girl doesn’t get Bella into trouble but only because she is lucky enough to have a boyfriend who is able to control himself. But the representation of Bella as a naïve good girl – not interested in real sexual pleasure with someone she is sexually attracted to – is just another extended stereotype that can be harmful for girls.
I agree with Deirdre and Alexis and Melissa that the arc of the story involves Bella’s loss of her independent self and her helplessness without a man. I think it is less about him sweeping in and taking care of her errors but more about her inability to function in life when he isn’t around. There’s truth to the phenomenon of course – especially teenage love – but – based on my own experience - it’s almost always the boys that can’t function on their own.
This all being said – there are a lot of traits in Bella I admire. It is SO REFRESHING to have a global phenomenon revolve around a character (and an actor) that isn’t interested being the sexual center of attention. She’s tomboy cool without overdoing it.