Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Werewolves, Vampires, Sexuality, and Menarche

This post has been inspired by two things I'm currently reading.  Daughters of Darkness: Lesbian Vampire Stories, collected by Pam Keesey, and Alicorn's re-imaging of Twilight, in which Bella is a rationalist thinker.

I feel that I should mention, at this point, that I don't like Twilight.  I do love Alicorn's take on it.  Her take on Bella is fantastic, and someone I feel I can relate to, as a person and a feminist, far more than to Meyer's original.  I highly recommend checking it out, especially if reading Twilight made you feel dirty.

Finally, this post was inspired by a thread on GoodReads, which began with the assumption that Jacob was the 'nice guy' who 'finished last', while Edward was the 'bad boy'.  I disagree, both with that idea and with the entire concept of nice guys, bad boys, and women preferring one over the other.  This is, at least in part, because every person I've ever seen whining about how nice they are, and how women don't appreciate them, has been a whiny selfish jerk, who thinks the world owes them something.  But, I digress.

Daughters of Darkness (which I've yet to finish) has a very interesting introduction.  Keesey talks about how, before Bram Stoker's Dracula became the vampire story, stories of lesbian vampires were very common.  (Incidentally, I also highly recommend Angela Carter's The Lady of the House of Love, which as published in The Flying Sorcerers and The Bloody Chamber).

In our society, as in most, if not all, others, the young female virgin is the ultimate symbol of sexual innocence.  She is rarely allowed control of her sexuality; she is a prize, to be taken.  She is someone who something is done to, not someone who does.  L. Sigel does an excellent job of describing this idea in her essay, which discusses reactions to her study of pornography.

Before quoting a short extract from her essay, I should explain that the 'Bella' she refers to is not Bella Swan; rather, she is Bella of the Victorian erotica story, The Autobiography of a Flea, a character who is seduced by several characters, including her own uncle.

As a woman who studies sexuality, I find myself understood as part of my work. My intellectual work gets positioned where it doesn't belong--on my body. The idea that women are so finely tuned sexual creature that the contagion of sexuality must be kept from them or they will be polluted remains central to our understanding of gender. As a woman I find myself continuously positioned as Bella or against Bella. I can either be deviant or I can be against deviance. I cannot just think about the process or the performance of deviance. The process by which I have been disciplined is voyeurism overlaid with threat, intimidation, and shame. Here are two examples of the process: When I was in London for a number of months doing my research I met an interesting man. I went out for coffee with him and told me he didn't want to get involved (with me) because he had a girlfriend in California. We agreed to that. We talked, went to a movie, and drank coffee. He propositioned me and I said "No." And I said "No". And I said "No." He told me that he only wanted to sleep with me because of my research. He thought I would be adventurous in bed. I had to say "no" a number of times because at some level, perhaps on the surface, perhaps unconsciously, he couldn't believe that I was unaccessible as a sexual partner. As a woman who studied sexuality, I was sexually accessible and sexually voracious. He made that clear when he referred to my research. By referring to my research, he also meant to insult me. The sum of my worth as a sexual partner came from my "adventurousness" predicated upon my intellectual leanings. I had teased him as a woman because of my studies and he could retaliate by denigrating my worth with an "only." As a woman I did not deserve attention, my value "only" came from my deviant sexuality.

Normative discipline works as the flip side of deviant discipline. Women are to be protected from sexuality, or scorning that, women become sexualized and accessible. Consider this: Customs, by pre-arrangement, met me when I came home. Both Customs and I wanted to make sure that I didn't bring home any illegal materials. The Customs agent, who was generally very nice, said "What does your mother think? Isn't she ashamed of what you're doing?"

Customs, in searching for child pornography and/or bestiality which are illegal in this country, has a right to decide boundaries of normative and deviant sexual representation. Behind the practice of search, seizure, and arrest is the theory that children should not be sexual objects for adults. Representations that picture sexualized children 1) encourage adults to sexualize children and 2) provide lasting testimony to the children's shame which adults can continue to take pleasure in. The belief that the state should protect the weak is implicit in its stance towards child pornography. However, bestiality is usually just seen as wrong. When it gets considered at all, it is generally seen as degrading towards the humans involved and not the animals. Instead of protecting animals, restrictions against bestiality protect humans from the contagion of deviant sexuality by discouraging thinking about such acts and from advertising the degradation in such acts.
In the cases of bestiality and child pornography, humans-- children and adults-- need to be protected by the state from the thought of deviancy. Voyeuristic moralism cannot be strong enough to overcome titillation or excitement. The state can only stop them in tandem, by stopping the trade in articles. However, in my experience with Customs, it was neither bestiality nor child pornography which constituted deviance. The agent hadn't seen my research materials at all and couldn't know if were deviant according to the legal definition of restricted materials. The problem was that I had pornography, that I looked at pornography, and that I thought about pornography. I broke a boundary situated in gender through which normative behavior gets defined. I thought about bad things. To demonstrate that he re-positioned me as a child by referring to my mother to place me under the protective umbrella of family and state. I was re-positioned in the materials, as one who needs protection, rather than out of them as one who studies them.

Lesbian vampires stories were common because vampires were, and are, the most sexual of all supernatural creatures (except, possibly, the succubus/incubus, who would appear to have missed out on fame due to a lack of subtlety.  There's no slow burn with succubi or incubi; they are fucking.  That's it.).  The fact that they were lesbian vampires adds a layer of deviance; not so deviant that they cannot be discussed in public (unlike, say paedophilia), but deviant enough to be interesting).  Vampires are, traditionally, creatures who prey on female innocence (incidentally, Daughters of Darkness is not a book of erotica, despite the description; it contains stories of sexuality, few of which are explicit.  It seems that it is classed as erotica purely by virtue of focusing on lesbian sexuality).

Edward Cullen displays none of the normal seduction of a traditional vampire.  He is not dark and interesting; he sparkles.  He does not want to seduce Bella; he wants to marry her.  He does not come alone, in the night - he brings an entire family, with parents who approve.  Meyer has effectively neutered the raw sexuality of a vampire, trapped him in marriage and a cosy homelife.  Not just Edward - the plot point of the mate bond means that all vampires are loyal husbands and wives waiting to happen.

Instead it is Bella who is mysterious; he cannot read her mind.  It is Bella who attempts to seduce him, who would prefer not to wait till marriage.  It is Bella who has the choice to leave him, as, when she is human, she is not tied by the mate bond.

Werewolves have been used to symbolise female sexuality, or, at the very least, contain links to menarche and menstruation, due to their mimicry of the monthly cycle  (though, sadly, not nearly often enough).  The moon, after all, is female.  Tanith Lee's Wolfland, in Red as Blood, makes the symbolism very clear.

Again, Meyer has twisted this.  Female werewolves lose their ability to menstruate entirely, something a character describes as making her feel less of a woman, as if the whole point of being a woman is to be a mother and a wife.  The fact that (only) male werewolves imprint on (female) children also has the effect of robbing them of their sexuality; these children are explicitly groomed, in Meyer's stories, growing up with an enormous pressure for their sexuality to grow in a set, pre-defined way.

Give me womanist female werewolves, growing into their power and sexuality.  Give me vampires who won't be caught, who won't go willingly to domesticity, who are as hard to tame as tigers.

Put the blood back in my myths, menstrual and otherwise.


1 comment:

  1. That was a mouthful! =o
    I actually hadn't made the connection between blood and sexuality, or caught on to how much sexual power Meyer seems to have robbed from these creatures. Very interesting stuff.


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