Feminism and the Recent Vampire Craze

A while ago I tweeted a link to an NPR article called For Love of Do Good Vampires, and the article got me thinking. Why are vampires currently so popular? Why have they changed so much from vampires in the past? What does this say about us, our generation, and what our vampires are bringing to the table of vampire lore?

I’ve also recently been reading a book called The Chalice and The Blade that covers the history of feminism back to its roots and beyond into what caused the split from egalitarian societies of women and men working side by side to modern day male dominant society. It also covers the multiple attempts to swing back to an egalitarian model and the divisive (but not always complete) swings back to a gender dominant society that result.

These two works have been going around in my head and so here’s my take on Feminism and Vampires.

For the tl;dr crowd – honestly this will probably be long enough – here is a summary of what For Love of Do Good Vampires has to say about the history of vampirism in fiction. I apologize in advance to the author for the butchering that is about to commence:

Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a response to fear from the people of England concerning their open sea ports. Things were being shipped from foreign soils and who knew what, or rather whom, would come via those crates. In the case of Dracula a foreign monster in foreign soil was shipped in via those sinister crates. A monster to whom modern science and logic did not apply and whose defeat required going back to the horrible superstitious and illogical days of yore to defeat once and for all.

Anne Rice’s vampires and others of the eighties and nineties rose to prominence during the fall of the Iron Curtain and the fear of things lurking in shadows in its aftermath as Soviet Russia went through its death throes and America and Europe lived in fear of one of those death throes resulting in the fatal push of a button.

Today Vampires are a mix bag, but the most popular seem to be vampires that for the first time have a conscience, they feel responsibility for their power at the top of the food chain and want to make sacrifices to make things work with a human dominated society, either for love, a sense of morality, or because science has now made it possible.

So why the current popularity? My opinion is, well, that’s it a lot of things. Mainly though I see it as one more sign that we are swinging back to a more egalitarian society, that women are finally being accepted as equal partners to men and so our worldview of responsibility of power versus might of power, mothering versus ruling, is gaining wider acceptance.

No! I can hear a lot of you screaming that right now. We are not responsible for a bunch of wimpy, glittery vampires! Vampires should mercilessly kill and suck blood! They should not love and care and be responsible with their power, and ewww! Girl cooties!

I don’t really have a rebuttal for that. Honestly though this vibe is what I hear in a lot of reviews that don’t like the new vampire trend, and hey my own review of Twilight didn’t exactly come up smelling like roses either, though for different reasons. I know that not all of the new vampire books go this way, I know some that go this way still manage to be sexist and degrading towards women, I’m going for a more overarching theme here and ignoring the minutiae, for the moment.

But, here are some reasons for why I think a more egalitarian society is being looked for in these vampires stories, hence their popularity. Some of these were also included in the NPR article:

Fear of economic collapse through neglect of power.
Fear of global warming or climate change through neglect of power.

It’s already happening, but now some people see that power, whether financial or environmental, can wreak havoc. People now want those with such power to be responsible for it, to think of long term repercussions and not short term gain, to have in mind all of us when they make decisions not just their bottom dollar. To put it in vampire terms: They want the vampires to think of the lives that are at their mercy before sucking them dry for their own personal gain.

Fear of terrorism and of being ruled through fear by those who would use power only to destroy.

I think one of the scariest part of living in a post 9/11 world is dealing with terrorism and its repercussions. When dealing with the terrorist groups themselves, not the countries that they hail from, there seems to be no middle ground, no reasoning to be given, no dialogue that can be opened and be reached at the other end. They riot and you read the signs: “Death to Infidels!” “Death to America!” “If you do not love Allah, you must DIE!” This one sided view that we see is terrifying to behold. How do you reason with people who have already decided that they don’t care for you or your life, and only want your blood? Well, with vampires, what do you do?

And now the final nail in the coffin: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Our greatest president steps forth. We now don’t need to hope for reason, hope for science, hope for reaching an egalitarian middle ground like all of these Meyer and Harris books say. What girly crap! Our great president is going to go forth and in true might makes right fashion kick some vampire butt! Take that sucky economy! You suck no more! Take that snowpacolypse! We are no longer buried alive in our own homes! Take that terrorists! Where are you going to hide now that Honest Abe is here to hunt you down and stake you out?!

Why bother working together as a team to create a balanced society we can all live in when you can just wipe out the competition? Oops, did I say competition?

And so we swing back the other way, again. Back into the “pure” horror, of which women aren’t allowed to take part, except to sit and scream (read the spectre of sexism haunting horror fiction).

I realize that I am not covering the history of a lot of vampires and their stories in laying out my thoughts here. I am also, definitely, overgeneralizing some of the do-good vamp novels. Aside from the overarching view of Edward Cullen as an egalitarian society believer in his conservation style eating habits he is otherwise not, by any stretch of the imagination, a feminist. But, my opinion still stands.

The new vampires are just an outgrowth of modern feminism. A new, and at the same time very old, way to solve our problems: working together as a team, making sacrifices, building relationships, checking our power with reason and responsibility, mothering by grace instead of ruling through fear. Will it last? The current backlash tells me no, it probably won’t. It’s all being written off as girly crap – from the worst, Twilight, on up – and now we have a “real man” coming in to get the job done the good old fashioned American way. So much for feminism.

Am I over-overgeneralizing? Do you think this is all just teen driven lust fiction? What do you think the reason is for the new vampire craze? How do you compare past reasons for the resurgence to present, the new style of vampires with the old? I would love to hear your thoughts!

3 Responses to Feminism and the Recent Vampire Craze

  1. Aarti
    2:30 pm on March 4th, 2010

    This post sparked a really great discussion on Twitter! I don’t know that I buy the feminism thing. I suggested that perhaps vampire fiction is more to do with the fear and need for heroes, much like superheroes in comics came about in the mid-20th century. But that idea also is inconsistnt because sometimes, vampires are the “good” guys (i.e., Twilight) and sometimes, they’re not (i.e., Abraham Lincoln hunting them down).

    So really, I have no idea, but I don’t know that Twilight is very egalitarian. I am not sure that fearing terrorists necessarily equates with an egalitarian society. I’m not sure what I believe, though! I need to continue to mull 🙂

  2. Bitsy
    2:40 pm on March 4th, 2010

    Yeah, I totally made the mistake of posting this and then wakling away so I missed the twitter discuss! Argh!

    Definitely vampire fiction is all about fear and different ways of dealing with it, and I think that any vampire that chooses to use their power in such a way that tempers their ruling by death with restraint and mercy is an egalitarian approach to life (i.e. Twilight). My bringing up Abe Lincoln was showing the swing back to gender dominance.

    Also the fear of terrorism I thought could have been an additional spark for the new wave. We hope that terrorists (vampires) have compassion and mercy and will realize that their power can be used for good and not ill. A hope in vain, perhaps, hence the swing back.

    I also noticed you guys talking a lot about these books not being egalitarian because they treated women poorly or in the same roles they always were. I was more looking at the world view of the vampires in terms of their power and how they chose to use it and less at how they treated the women.

    Casting women in the same roles they have always been in has remained the same, I was looking at the one thing that has changed and poking it to see why.

    Interesting points though, I enjoyed going back through them!

  3. ScarletCharlotte
    4:55 pm on September 20th, 2010

    Fantastic! This is the first pseudo-Twilight (Stephenie Meyer) article which mentioned and fiscal elements, although I see this was originally from the NPR article “Fear of economic collapse through neglect of power.” I have been rolling around ideas about the rise of Twilight’s popularity among women of all age groups (especially older women who are closet fans) in a volatile economic climate that undoubtedly affects women greatly whether it be through job loss, worry, unstable financial situations at home. I have interviewed many women who feel dejected and disheartened by the feminist ideal and the promise of their futures. Many of them whom were married/mothers spoke of the ruse of feminism, how they upheld these ideas/values but found that their mates supported those ideas only to the point that it was beneficial for them and were still unable themselves to take on traditionally female oriented roles and modes of thinking. Women today work a first shift and a second shift (the home shift). I wonder if in situations such as the ones I described, if characters like those in Twilight, particularly The Cullen’s (endless supplies of money and goods with the ability to be mobile anytime/anywhere), have become a wildly popular fantasy due in great part to the tiredness of women in the roles noted, a desire for traditional roles born from a backlash against the rapidly changing roles of women while men’s roles are changing at a snails pace, and the worries of economic disaster (at home)…. Cont. I’ll stop her ya’ll. Thanks for the article recc.

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