Friday, May 11, 2012

Female Vampires: Children, Villains or Servants

'Vampire Pam (True Blood) Fan Art' photo (c) 2009, Angie22Arts - license:

Looking at Urban Fantasy we see a lot of vampires. A lot of vampires.  Sparkly vampires, sexy vampires, daylight walking vampires, sexy vampires, magic vampires, sexy vampires, viking vampires, sex vampires - did we mention sexy vampires? Yes, lots and lots of sexy vampires.

Who are men. Nearly always men - especially when we look at Urban Fantasy on television. Men men and more sexy men wall to wall - and very very few women. Of course, part of this is because most of the human protagonists are women and Urban Fantasy is extremely heteronormative and will only pair them off with a male love interest. But looking at the few female vampires we can dig up and it’s not a great sign - we seem to have 3 models: children, servants and enemies.

Much of the models that we see in vampire stories involve an ancient male vampire and a young, often innocently virginal human female.  You would think that when a relationship forms between a female vampire and a young human male that the pattern would simply repeat, but such is not the case. Female vampires are quite often infantalised, though they are at times well over a thousand years old.  The best example of this is Rebekah from The Vampire Diaries. She is 1000 years old and in comparison to every other vampire on the show, she is absolutely childlike.  Rebekah has thus far concerned herself with proms, dances and even becoming a cheerleader.  Why oh why would a person who has seen so much history be interested in these things, especially after spending so many years trapped in a coffin?

When Bill was forced to turn Jessica into a vampire on True Blood, she was just a young teenage girl who had not seen much of the world.  True to form, she was also a virgin. When she discovered that she had been changed, Jessica delighted in cursing, as this was something that she was not allowed to in her parents home.  It was the act of a child rebelling against that which she had been taught.  Much of Bill and Jessica’s relationship takes the form of father/daughter, based in the fact that Bill is her creator.  He only reluctantly takes responsibility for Jessica, after Eric makes it clear that he will not.  Jessica has matured over the years and has really begun to figure out exactly who she is; however, thanks to being turned into a vampire when she was still a virgin, her hymen reforms after each act of sexual intercourse, thereby constructing her as a perpetual virgin.

In Interview with a Vampire, Lestat turns Claudia into a vampire after finding Louis feeding from her, in the hope of forcing Louis to stay with them.  In the novel, Claudia was only about 6 years old at the time she was turned, though she was portrayed to be between 10-12 in the movie.  Even when Claudia has long past the age where she would find dolls interesting, Lestat continues to gift her with a doll on the anniversary of the day he turned her.  Claudia is desperate to grow up and put away childish things but she cannot because she is trapped in the body of a child, though she has the mind of a grown woman.  Her age means that she is forever dependent upon an adult vampire.  Claudia never does achieve her freedom and dies at the hand of the theater vampires, her very existence seen as a threat. 

In the Sookie Stackhouse novels, Sophie Anne was a strong powerful vampire, who was incredibly intelligent.  In HBO’s True Blood, we are treated to a very different Sophie Anne.  When she tried to command Eric, she quickly learns that he is stronger than her, and this results in him not only restraining her, but threatening her.  Sophie Anne is unable to defend herself.  She whimpers, whines and pouts for much of the time that she is on screen.  Her only power comes from her title and that makes her little more than a figurehead whereas Eric who is simply a Sheriff has loyal followers, great strength and is constructed continually as a powerful vampire.  

If a female vampire manages to escape the infantilisation, her second choice is that of servant. Most Urban Fantasy female protagonists are surrounded by men - they often have surprisingly few female friends and other women around them are either enemies or servants - women who exist for the greater glory of the protagonist rather than having fully developed roles of their own.

Twilight has the greatest collection of these servants - with Esme who exists to be the eternal mother, Alice the walking magic 8 ball and Rosaliee, who gets upgraded from enemy to servant when the blessed Bella falls pregnant (a ridiculous phrase that never ceases to amuse me - it’s like she tripped and staggered to her feet with a full womb).

Even True Blood’s most awesome Pam exists as Eric’s sidekick. And while she may snark about it mightily, that means being dragged into other people’s schemes for which she often suffers - both being tortured by the Magister for Eric and later being cursed to rot during Bill’s battle against the Necromancer Marnee. She has little of her own independent motives - in fact, while all the men are busy having sex every which way with any woman they can, Pam manages to only score once - an oral sex scene in which she manages to stay fully clothed and her make up completely unmussed (now there’s a rare vampire talent for you!)

Of course, we have to round off with the villains. For some reason (and this is definitely a trope that we will visit another time) an Urban Fantasy protagonist and bona fide strong woman (with lots of Spunky Agency) cannot abide the presence of other strong women. They’re like magnets, it seems, like repels. And so, with any strong female protagonist, there has to be a strong woman who hates her - and so eters the last role of the female vampire.

From Lorena  - who manages to be both and evil sadistic murder and, far greater a sin, competition for Sookie’s man to evil, aggressive Nan Flannagan who presumes to dictate to the men, True Blood definitely has its quota. In Vampire Diaries we have the clearly antagonistic Katherine (who is set so far to be Elena’s direct enemy that she’s literally Elena’s double) and yet another antagonist who had the bad taste to dare to compete for the heroine’s menfolk. We have the ambiguous Rose who dabbles with been an enemy and an ally before being killed off to remove all doubt. Even Twilight had its collection - Victoria was a major antagonist for two of the films (fixated, of course, on the female protagonist) and Rosalie set herself up as Bella’s enemy almost at first sight (though, to be fair, I was pretty much Bella’s enemy on first read as well).

And what happens to bad guys? Yes they die. Well not Rosalie - she’s lucky enough to come to her senses and start worshipping at Bella’s feet fertile womb, saving herself from death by upgrading herself to a servant.

Of course there are some exceptions (but usually they can fit in one of these categories) but those exceptions usually die quickly before they can attempt to overturn the trope - certainly before they become long running characters. At best they get a token walk on before we return to the men and their child-like female counterparts.

And this is disturbing - in a genre that is saturated by vampires, there are so few women and those women we do have are so limited to such narrow roles - the child, the enemy or the servant.