Gender and The Vampire Gothic, Part One

Hi, guys. I thought I’d start with the Twilight/Vampire Diaries part of my project, so today, I’m going to talk a bit about gender role in the teen vampire Gothic, before progressing onwards to teen gothic fantasy.

When I was writing up my part on gender roles on Twilight, I knew I’d have to find a literary base for my observations. I found this in my study of the Gothic novels of the 1800’s. These Gothic novels were well known for their characterization of women, as the weak, passive victims of men, what author Diane Haeger referred to as an ontology of professional victimization. Furthermore, heroines of Gothic novels normally exhibited a certain type of physical purity, and spent most of the novels fighting off the advances of the novel’s villain. This weak, passivity, and emphasis on physical purity serves as a reflection of the times: a time when women’s behavior was sexually constricted, and a whiff of scandal could lead to social ruination.

Interestingly, with the recent popularity of the teen Gothic, this representation of gender roles has becoming increasingly popular within among young women. Both Twilight and the Vampire Diaries have heroines who embody a certain type of physical purity, and sweet nature. Bella, despite being physically pursued by almost every man in her high school, is sexually innocent, having never had a boyfriend. Edward is always in pursuit of Bella, never the other way around. Furthermore, the qualities that attract Edward to Bella are her goodness, her thoughtless concern for others, as he confirms in their biology class one day.

In direct contrast to Bella, the other female characters are branded either “good” or “bad’ based not just on their sexuality, but their assumption of feminine qualities. The girls at school Bella befriends, such as Angela, are noted for their goodness, their quietness. Angela, in particular, is known for her difficulties with boys, her struggles with self confidence and putting herself out there. Meanwhile, the “bad girls,” such as Jessica, are shallow, overconfident, and overly interested in the male gender. They are branded the exotic “other” in comparison to Bella’s wholesome girl next door. In Gothic terms, they are the evil other woman, promiscuous, aggressive, and confident, who opposes our sweet heroine.

This madonna/whore concept also appears in regards to the female supernatural in Twilight: in particular the werewolves and vampires. Rosalie Hale, serves as the female exotic other in Twilight. Blonde, beautiful, and snobby, she lords her beauty over everyone she meets. Her exotic beauty, haughtiness, and aggressiveness (she murdered the three men who raped her in life) stand in direct contrast to Alice and Esme, both possessed of a more subtle, appropriate beauty, and both serving as more passive characters. Esme is mostly a nurturing, maternal figure who lingers in the background, while her husband Carlisle, takes care of the family problems. And Alice, while she is a more active character (perhaps one of the most unconventional in terms of gender roles in Twilight), she also embodies a certain victim mentality. In life, she was a mental institution victim, who was only released from the confines of insanity by her escape into vampirism.

Rosalie only reaches a type of redemption by revealing her warmer, more maternal side. She and Bella bond over her desire to have children, the sadness she feels over not being able to bear a child of her own. She becomes one of Bella’s staunchest defenders when she decides to keep the baby. Meanwhile, Leah, one of the other “exotic,’ other woman characters of the Twilight saga, is made unpalatable to the reader by her anger at Sam, her jilted other woman aspects. She is the only female werewolf, and becomes afraid that her transformation into a werewolf means she is not “feminine” enough, and may not be able to bear a child. She reaches a type o redemption status when she finally gets away from Sam and joins Jacob. Only by letting go of her anger, her more masculine qualities, can she finally find happiness.