Friday, December 5, 2008

Sarah Haskins on why women love vampires

by Chloe Angyal

For her hilarious Target Women episode this week, Sarah Haskins hit the road, heading to a Twilight poster signing, where she asked young women (and their moms) what it is that makes vampires like Edward, the 107-year-old vampire in the hit novel series, so damn sexy. Her words, not mine.
She also asks those same women about the whole getting bitten/losing your virginity connection that the book explores. My thoughts: it's only a matter of time before the huge numbers of Twilight fans make neck-condoms the biggest growth industry in America.
As usual, Haskins sees the potential for feminism, and for funny, in the most everyday things (though a swarm of screaming, Robert Pattinson-obsessed girls isn't something that should be inflicted on anyone on a daily basis).
Happy Friday, everybody.


At December 5, 2008 at 10:30 PM , Anonymous Whiskey said...

Certain themes pop up in the vampire novels, over and over again, as detailed in a recent Wall Street Journal article. The vampires are of course of perfect physique, washboard abs, and beautiful countenances. The vampires are all "rich" and have wealth, and often power, in their own secret societies. Interestingly, most of the novels feature byzantine politics and "treaties" with humans and fellow vampires, other supernatural creatures, that the female protagonists must navigate. The parallels to the tortuous "Mean Girl" politics of High School Girl Popularity are of course, obvious. The female protagonists of course do nothing, really, except land the most powerful, and politically influential (in the "secret society") vampire, and become the "Head Mean Girl" of the supernatural version of High School. Indeed, many of them are set in Vampire Prep Schools.

For all of feminism's chorus of changing society, it is instructive that none of these novels show the protagonist gaining a career, a skill, a family with a supportive husband, or entering into a traditionally male field where the protagonist is accepted as an equal on her own terms. No, instead what these novels provide is the vicarious thrills of being the most popular and powerful girl in school, with the Big Man on Campus as the eternal boyfriend, forever. With no adult responsibility, or anything else to intrude in the "forever now," where time and the idea of time, simply does not exist. No planning for college, no career focus, no concern about family. None of that.

It's striking, how young women want so little of what feminism offered, and indeed chose the exact opposite — updated versions of the Bronte novels, only with supernatural overtones. Contrary to Freud, we can read these novels and discover what their readers want (they certainly reward the authors well, with sales in the millions). Which is, with respect to men, perfect physiques, physical power far in excess of other men, wealth that does not require work, or a daily job, and very hierarchical, feudal style politics echoing that of female cliques in High School.

Which points to the big difference in preferred social structures between men and at least as indicated by the vampire novels, young women. Men like "flat" social hierarchies, where hard work, leadership, and talent combined can give them opportunities to be part of a "winning team" that expands their own social network. Just as Grant and Sherman both protected each other politically, when each was at a low ebb, so too do the preferred social hierarchies of men protect against losing (since to move ahead takes risk). Achievement is measured in concrete goals accomplished — enemy cities taken, armies destroyed, supplies destroyed or rendered useless. In peacetime, games won, or items sold, or buildings constructed. All of which require cooperation, trust, and delegation of duties, indeed specialization, to accomplish anything big and worthwhile.

None of which, of course, are evident in the profoundly feminine world of the Vampire romances. There might be males in them, but they don't bear any resemblance to what most men consider "manly" anymore than Lord Byron would be any man's idea (at least any straight man's) idea of a role model. Indeed, while the relationship is paramount for the female protagonists of the Vampire romance books, for men in fantasy novels dealing with the supernatural, it is usually just an afterthought. Build an army, an alliance of trust, defeat the monster, and get the girl. All of which happen in sequence, as a result of being a supernatural Bill Walsh or William Tecumseh Sherman. Known to his troops as "Uncle Billy" and in the years after, in the habit of quietly assisting his former troops with food and money if they called at his house. For the girls in the Vampire books, it is of course the reverse. Get the brooding, Byronic hunky vampire guy, and then get the rewards, such as social power, eternal beauty, and popularity.

It is not wrong for men and women to want different things, in different order. Profound gender differences drive each culture, regardless if they are acknowledged openly or not. Yes young women seem to have decisively rejected feminism. But the problem lies in the current situation where men and women's fundamental interests are not aligned. In Jane Austen's day, as lamentable as the restrictions on women's lives were, the fundamental interests of both men and women, to make a good, life-long match for marriage, were aligned (at least for the middling Gentry that Austen wrote about). The economic growth of the 19th Century, and that of the Twentieth, brought that alignment about to the Western masses, down to the most ordinary of persons. While men and women may have thought about society differently, had different perspectives, and wanted different intermediate things, their end goal of making a happy marriage, and having successful, happy children, was shared by both, and society as a whole.

Now, there is a huge mis-match in the relationship market, and nothing speaks more to it than the Vampire novels. Young women want the hunkiest of hunks, natural of course, but also a very hierarchical society where losers and winners have already been picked, and no one changes out of their status, ever. It is a society frozen in Amber, fixed with as the Wall Street Journal describes, "atavism" of a backward, feudal nature. Not just in the original, Bram Stoker version of Dracula, but all the updated versions, from the Sookie Stackhouse series to the Laurel K. Hamilton novels, feature very feudalistic societies made up of "Kings" and "Queens" who "run things" like a combination of the Borgias mixed with the Sopranos mixed with South American Drug lords, with a supernatural twist. Societies made for pretty young women, but not for ambitious young men.

As these young women grow up, they are more likely to demand these hierarchical societies, which advantage pretty young women and place at severe disadvantage ambitious young men. They are likely to prefer older men, who will be in competition with their male peers for their favors. After all, a great deal of the Vampire fantasy is that of the older man, who looks younger. All the vampires are very much older and more experienced than the female protagonists. Politically, this equates to a high degree of support for socialism, among young women. Because socialism provides a frozen-in-amber society, with influential and powerful families running things by design. It is no accident that every socialist economy is plagued by scores of young men, outside the margins of economic success, looking to trump aristocratic control by extreme violence. This is as true in the banlieus of France as it is in the favelas of Brazil.

Among other things, this explains the infamous Gender Gap. Why single women in particular prefer more Leftist, socialist politics than men. It is really a preference for a stable aristocracy, which makes sense given how the different sexes view romantic success.

As these young women grow older, the habits and views of men they have created in adolescence, of course, are unlikely to prove a happy template for solid, stable relationships. In real life, as opposed to fiction, relationships with Byronic bad boys rarely end happily. Theodore Dalrymple notes in his "Life at the Bottom" how both his female patients and his nurses, preferred violent, abusive bad-boys, over stable, decent men. That they only grew out of their attachment to the bad boys when menopause hit. Given the weakening influence of parents, Churches, and other purveyors of traditional social values, and the strengthening influence of peers and the media environment, this is not a happy development.


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