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Vampire novels are not quite “Little House On The Prairie”, but nice try

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, August 19, 2008 3:15 EDT
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Jesse’s always blogging about the weird tendency of conservatives to read the tea leaves of popular culture to prove that creeping conservative sentiment is breaking through. And it’s invariably funny. Add to the pile this bit of wishful thinking from anti-feminist Leonard Sax, (hat tip) where he romanticizes—as creepy middle-aged misogynists are wont to do—teenage girls of supple limbs and tender minds. Teenage girls are real women, you know, well, at least the teenage girls of the 12-15 range, when they’re so easy to lure into your car with wine coolers in touch with true womanhood, as expressed, I’m not kidding, by vampire novels. Specifically, the popular “Twilight” series of books, about a love triangle between human girl, vampire, and werewolf.

Despite all the modern accouterments in the “Twilight” saga, the girls are still girls, and the boys are traditional men. More specifically: The lead male characters, Edward Cullen and Jacob Black, are muscular and unwaveringly brave, while Bella and the other girls bake cookies, make supper for the men and hold all-female slumber parties. It gets worse for feminists: Bella is regularly threatened with violence in the first three books, and in every instance she is rescued by Edward or Jacob. In the third book she describes herself as “helpless and delicious.” (Warning: Fans who haven’t read the fourth book should skip to the next paragraph.) Bella spends the first half of the final installment in the most helpless condition of all — pregnant and confined to bed rest. She is unable to leave the house and becomes capable of defending herself only after she becomes a vampire….

Yet on some level, it seems that children may know human nature better than grown-ups do. Consider: The fascination that romance holds for many girls is not a mere social construct; it derives from something deeper. In my research on youth and gender issues, I have found that despite all the indoctrination they’ve received to the contrary, most of the hundreds of teenage girls I have interviewed in the United States, Australia and New Zealand nevertheless believe that human nature is gendered to the core. They are hungry for books that reflect that sensibility. Three decades of adults pretending that gender doesn’t matter haven’t created a generation of feminists who don’t need men; they have instead created a horde of girls who adore the traditional male and female roles and relationships in the “Twilight” saga.

Like Dylan says, the shorter version is: Teenage girls, deep down inside, want you to impregnate them and tie them to a bed. But don’t forget, Sax fans, that the official story you tell the cops is that she seduced you. You know how those little minxes can be.

Sarah Seltzer who was, unlike Leonard Sax, a teenage girl and who, unlike Leonard Sax, sees them as human beings instead of cum receptacles objects to project fantasies on, has a more likely explanation: The vampire fantasy, which has intrigued teenage girls over and over in various forms, is displaced sexual longing. Because assholes like Sax insist that proper girls are about romance and not sex, girls have trouble reconciling desire with expectations. In steps the vampire story, a sexual fantasy that reflects both the danger that girls are told is part of sex, but doesn’t have the actual physical sex part that makes them feel dirty. But it has loads of penetration. I read trashy vampire books as a teenage girl, and let’s just say that it’s like reading romance novels. You can be distinctly dissatisfied with certain plot lines, as I was any time the heroines would be passive like this Bella character appears to be, but they’re still fun. And sometimes you’d rather read them where people can’t see you, because there’s something deliriously dirty about them. It’s why I loved “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, which made the subtext of these stories textual, by having Buffy literally sleep with her vampire love. By getting it out in the open like that, the character’s sexuality didn’t consume her, but was just part of her well-rounded personality.

Really, just read Sarah’s take, which is one million times more intelligent than Sax’s. It’s about how vampires address virginity myths and fears, and how the “I want your blood but can’t” is just another form of the long dance of the romance novel, but concealed to make it more palatable. With all the pressure on teenage girls to deny their sexual feelings, lest they be treated like sluts, it’s no wonder vampire stories have such appeal. Meanwhile, I’ve told Sarah that I’m intrigued by the idea of reading these books, though god knows I’m swamped with the more serious reading list.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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