06 October 2009

Sexuality and the female vampire

The fool was stripped to his foolish hide, ...
Which she might have seen when she threw him aside--...
So some of him lived but the most of him died--
"The Vampire" by Rudyard Kipling

Vamp, "a term coined in the 1910s to refer to a woman who uses her sex appeal to seduce and exploit men", "is derived directly from vampire. The image of a wily woman "sucking the blood...out of her unknowing, naive victim is an enduring misogynist trope of twentieth-century popular culture" (Winokur 345). But, we know that the idea far predates the development of this term.

A majority of the traditional vampires were female. Lilith, Lamia, the Langsuyar, and others make up the legions of female vampires in traditional tales. The Aztec ciuateteo and Greek empusa stand as other examples of how the female vampire victimizes males. These creatures would wait by the roadside to prey on the male travelers who might pass. They may also seduce young men into their beds by promising sex and delivering death. The "female vampire illustrates...cultural anxieties about women and hunger, in which hunger is symbolically related to women's predatory sexuality and aggression" (Silver 117).

"Some post-Freudian theorists have suggested that the vampire signals an end to gender distinctions" (Willimason 157). "The gender of the vampire is ambiguous, he is male and female at once" (Lorey 264). However, the issue of gender and the vampire is more complex than the simple abandonment of gender roles. The vampire "represents what lies beyond the norms and strictures imposed by conventional society and culture" (West-Settle 19). The female vampire contradicts motherhood and the passive female role in sex and relationships. "In addition to their anti-maternal proclivity for feeding upon children, female vampires are overtly and aggressively sexual, using their beauty and seductiveness to prey on both men and other women; in each case, the female vampire's hunger is inseparable from her sexual desire" (Silver 117). In folklore, the female vampire is a tool that can be used to reinforce traditional roles through the fear of disgrace and rejection.

Just as the vampire can be used as a scapegoat for social ills, it also provides an image of the taboo or socially rejected. "Strong, independent vampire women do not suffer dominant males gladly" (Hamilton 9). When applied to society, the "vampire is a subversive borderline figure", who "problematises representation and destabilises the boundaries of gender" (Williamson 157). To encourage socially appropriate behavior, the strong female is aligned with evil, thereby encouraging women to repress their own desires to break free from their gender. Even in the Victorian era literature, vampires "can be male or female, but, except for the figure of Dracula himself, the female vampire, not the male, dominated the late nineteenth-century literary imagination, thereby placing female hunger at the center of literature of horror" (Silver 117).

In the age after the sexual-revolution (socio-political movement in the 1960s and 70s), the Western world has embraced the vampire. Humans are allured by the sexually aggressive vamp; they idolize the vampire for the ability to reject social norms and to live outside the constraints of tradition. What was once feared for being different is now admired and romanticized.


Alternate Film Guide. http://www.altfg.com/blog/film-reviews/a-fool-there-was-theda-bara-frank-powell/ [PHOTO]

Hamilton, Richard Paul; Margaret Sönser Bree. This thing of darkness...

Lorey, Christoph; John L. Plews. Queering the canon: defying sights in German literature and culture.

Silver, Anna Krugovoy. Victorian literature and the anorexic body.

Williamson, Milly. The lure of the vampire: gender, fiction and fandom from Bram Stoker to Buffy

Winokur, Mark, & Bruce Holsinger. The complete idiot's guide to movies, flicks...

1 comment:

  1. Cool post. I'll link over to here from my site at http://www.horrorscribe.com if that's ok? This post will back link of course too - hope that's ok too :[