Vampires and feminism

A slight deviation from current politics…

So, my dissertation paper has been accepted to an academic conference at the University of London’s Institute of Germanic and Romance studies. If you’re interested in literary analysis, vampires, Twilight or feminism, you should try and come! Abstract is as follows:

‘Love to her becomes a religion’: The Twilight saga, feminism and regression 

Traditionally, vampiric stories challenge patriarchal proscription. This paper explores Stephanie Meyer’s deft use of patriarchal gender roles to buck vampiric philosophy’s tendency to challenge the status quo, resulting in putting the modern women firmly back in her subordinate place. Vampires are equipped with the power of penetration, and the dissertation explores this notion to female vampires in the series, and the significant factor of Bella Swan’s eventual vampiric superpower being self- restraint.

As vampire philosophy often renders human beings weak and female, whilst vampires are strong and male, the paper will also be examining power and control between humans and vampirism in particular, Meyer’s fetishation of female victimhood, and romantic notions of female self-sacrifice using Simone de Beauvoir’s 1949 feminist theory The Second Sex to analyse Meyer’s regressive writings.

Edward Cullen is presented as the monster with a heart, and the epitome of perfection.  Working with the theory of a vampire bite as a metaphor for the loss of female virginity, this paper applies Carol J. Adams’ feminist vegan critical theory The Sexual Politics of Meat directly to the texts in order to expose the close and dangerous relationship between the notions of love, lust, bloodlust, abuse, control, sex and violence- all used repeatedly in the Twilight saga to promote a false idea of romantic love.

The conference is on the 2nd to the 4th November 2011. Provisional information can be found here– I’ll post up more details (prices, programme ) as and when I get it.

Write us your thoughts about this post. Be kind & Play nice.
  1. Renee says:

    I am in agreement with you on everything but this: Working with the theory of a vampire bite as a metaphor for the loss of female virginity, There is no distinction by gender on how a vampire is created and therefore I fail to see how it is representative of female virginity.

  2. I’m using it as a metaphor because when vampires are seen as male ad humans female, the vampire tooth is a phallic symbol. It’s used to penetrate pure/untouched (read = white) skin, and there’s the exchanging of bodily fluids- the human bleeds, the vampire releases venom (graphic I know) and it essentially colonises/contaminates the human. There’s many metaphorical similarities between semen and venom in this context
    I think it works quite well as in many vampire stories/myths, female vampires are seen as lusty and uncontrollable (Dracula for example) when equipped with the power of penetration. That’s why I think it’s no coincidence that Bella Swan’s vampiric super power is self restraint- it’s the classic virgin/whore dichotomy. I’m working with archaic notions of female sexuality and virginity here, but these are the structures that Stephanie Meter works within!

  3. Renee says:

    Well how do answer the fact that Bella’s power is constructed as the most powerful of them all? I don;t know that I would refer to Bella’s power as self restraint because what it actually is, is a shield. She has the power to shield people and this you can see typical construction of motherhood. The idea that the mother must not only nurture but defend her young under all circumstances.

    I am absolutely fascinated by what you are doing btw. I am currently writing a book about the manner in which specific isms are repeated throughout the genre. For instance the idea that female protagonists are necessarily feminist because there is a constant assertion of agency without any recognition that this supposed agency also means that the decisions that they make places them in peril, thus forcing others to save them.

  4. Hayley says:

    Hello Reni,

    I’ve just finished reading your essay from January 2013 about Twilight and it’s regressive approach to feminism. Thank you for writing it; my father was very misogynistic and your essay was one of the sanest texts I could find about it. I’m working on finding my way as a woman and doing everything I can to unlearn what dad taught me, and every little bit of education helps.

    The other reason I wanted to contact you was to ask whether you’ve ever heard of (and read) Luminosity? It’s fanfiction of Twilight, albeit one in which the premise (girl who falls in love with a vampire and becomes one herself) is based on a rational Bella Swan. I admit to not having read Twilight itself or seen the films, but I know Luminosity is far more feminist than Twilight. I’m no literature/politics/feminism graduate but I thought I’d recommend it to you because if you want to read a very refreshing Twilight facsimile then that story is ideal.

    I’ll explain a handful of key differences. The power balance between Bella and Edward is still skewed (inevitably, as what would be the point in vampires if they weren’t powerful?), and he makes her aware that technically she is a prey item. However, unlike Twilight both he and she take responsibility for the fact that he has decided not to eat her, and work together on keeping her safe. And she increases her influence in Edward’s and his coven’s eyes by contributing a few valuable new ideas. One of these is for the vampires to drink water while they’re in the company of humans, as water is a component of blood and can wash away venom and make the vampires look more normal during school lunch breaks. Bella decides she wants to become a vampire so she herself can be less vulnerable and so that she can have other benefits like “real 24-hour days”. While she has self-restraint as a vampire, her powers are more complex than that. They are not in the spirit of not using the male penetrative power as you described in your essay, but I can’t say more without spoiling it.

    I’ve included a link to the story in the website field, but I should clarify that I didn’t write it.

    Happy reading (if you so choose)!

    • Hi Hayley,
      That’s great to hear! I’m glad you enjoyed reading it. We all have to do what we can and chip away at our spheres of influence, I guess.

      Luminosity sounds fascinating. It’s been a while since I studied Twilight, but I’m saving this to read later… hopefully it’ll have a happy ending.