Hot, isn’t she? Jessica Hamby (played by Deborah Ann Woll) of True Blood, in the promo shot for season 4. Jessica is a vampire recently created by Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer). She was created when she was a virgin, so she has to effectively lose her (physical) virginity every time she has sex. Sounds to me like a painful and mildly humiliating experience. Yet, this fact is celebrated somewhat amongst the other (male) characters. Jessica, once a young girl rebelling against her strict Christian family is now defined primarily by her sexuality. This is familiar territory for vampire fiction, and something I want to question: why are the majority of female vampires defined by promiscuous behaviour, or sexual desirability? I thought we were beginning to mature somewhat as a society, to see beyond attractively packaged flesh? Evidently not.
In shows other than True Blood, take for example….Being Human, which showcases both British and American* attitudes to vampirism, and femininity, the same thing occurs. The female vampires present, Lauren (UK) and Rebecca (US) are used as bait to lure male vampires back to the cult. They were created during sex, and subsequent scenes have them having sex and feeding on blood, so there isn’t much else to establish them as characters in their own right. They just play the generic female temptress role.
The same thing goes for most other vampire shows I can think of (and I’d be thrilled if anyone could point me to one where the same thing doesn’t happen). Even the supposed first vampire, Lilith, was all about blood and sex:
Lilith was, according to myth, created at the same time as Adam, and saw herself as his equal (and god forbid any woman should have done that back then…). She refused to be submissive and was banished by God to the demon realm, and her children were doomed to be demons too. There are various interpretations of the story but others that occur posit Lilith as a succubus, who used the semen of men to create children to go forth and destroy. She also would drink the blood of others, and steal small children and devour them (which is something that again comes up in Dracula with the baby-eating female vampires).
But why now, when we’ve had so many other positive female role models, has the mythical genre come to a grinding halt? Even the supporting female characters in these shows often rely on men, despite their obvious ability to look after themselves (Buffy, I’m looking at you).
Another thing – when vampires are ugly, or brutally violent, they are predominantly male again. There have been critics to argue that vampires themselves are feminine creatures due to their modus operandi and the parallels with vagina dentata and evocation of acts like fellatio. But, vampires can both create and destroy. There has been a tendency to focus on the more destructive qualities of the figure, whether it be through mass slaughter, or by putting humanity into near-extinction by excessive ‘turning’.
For once I’d love to see a female vampire who wasn’t sexually alluring. And it’s not as if there’s an evolutionary reason for gender in the afterlife: most vampires cannot have children, so they are stripped of the potential for what defines their gender. This in itself shows how much the myth is a creation of man – the gender constructs, useful for their application in the real world, are theoretically useless in the world of monsters, yet the response is still human.
The question is, now that vampires are becoming increasingly feminised, and even the male vampires being defined by their sexual prowess, will the vampire do away with the gender divide all together?
*Please note, I’m well aware that the ‘US’ version of Being Human is filmed in Canada, and produced by a Canadian company. Buuut….it’s set in Boston. So there we are.