American women are in a swoon, and tonight at midnight they get another shot at indulging their dearest vampire fantasies when New Moon opens. I imagine quite a few of them will end the evening with a busy right hand or battery-operated device. My husband mentioned over coffee this morning that the reviews have been mixed. Pssssshhhhhh. Reviews? Who needs a reviewer to help us decide whether to take in the second installment? (Honestly, I think he’s a little bit threatened by the whole vampire allure thing, and who could blame him? How does a warm-blooded man without immortality even begin to compete with that fantasy?)
In the early days of HUS, I wrote a post called Why Vampires Make the Best Boyfriends. It spoke to the chivalry of both Edward Cullen and Bill (of HBO’s True Blood). These aren’t really bad boys. They’re good guys, respectfully seeking consent before they bite. They are devoutly loyal and protective. They are physically dominating males who are indescribably sweet. In short, they’ve got a lot of what women want.
I don’t think that really explains the success of Twilight, though. No question about it, tonight at midnight, women across the country will be squirming in their seats, tummies will flip upside down, and vaginas will twinge. So what is it that will have women kinda literally glued to their seats? One very intelligent man I know has suggested that it is the female fascination with men of the dark arts. This suggestion does have some merit, in that throughout the history of vampire lore, women have swooned for their attackers. However, I would suggest that the vampire in literature and film has been deliberately crafted as a highly sexual creature. He is almost always male (new egalitarian vampire stories like Twilight, True Blood and the Vampire LeStat notwithstanding). He is completely dominant physically; any form of struggle is useless. He desires his victim so strongly that his eyes glitter and his chest heaves. He bites her most vulnerable spot, sucking her life force right out of her neck, leaving her weak in the knees, to put it mildly.
Does this turn women on? Yes, oh yes.
Women have always thrilled to the sight of a man taking a woman by force. The subject of whether women have rape fantasies is a very controversial one, as you can imagine. Some feminists worry that the notion plays into the frequent perp’s defense that “she was asking for it.” Some sex-positive feminists, on the other hand, have gone on record of admitting to fantasizing about rape.
Meredith Chivers is a researcher and member of the editorial board of the Archives of Sexual Research, the world’s leading scholarly journal on sex. From an article in the New York Times earlier this year called What Do Women Want? comes this statement:
[Chivers] has confronted clinical research reporting not only genital arousal but also the occasional occurrence of orgasm during sexual assault. And she has recalled her own experience as a therapist with victims who recounted these physical responses. She is familiar, as well, with the preliminary results of a laboratory study showing surges of vaginal blood flow as subjects listen to descriptions of rape scenes.
I don’t believe that any woman wants to be raped. But I do believe a great many women fantasize about being ravaged against their will by a man they find desirable. Christina Hoff Sommers found herself unceremoniously kicked out of the academic feminists’ inner circle in 1989:
I ran afoul of the feminist establishment when I published an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education that said something politically incorrect about the famous staircase scene in “Gone With the Wind.”
“Many women,” I wrote, “continue to enjoy the sight of Rhett Butler carrying Scarlett O’Hara up the stairs in a fate undreamt of in feminist philosophy.”
I can tell you that even as a ten year-old, seeing that movie for the first time, I was totally turned on by that scene.
“It’s not that easy Scarlett. You turned me out while you chased Ashley Wilkes. Dreamed of Ashley Wilkes. This is one night you’re not turning me out.” (Rhett Butler)
Here we see Scarlett the next morning:
What do you think Margaret Mitchell’s intent was?
There are other examples of women enjoying being dominated in film. In Lena Wertmuller’s Swept Away (1974, don’t bother with the Madonna remake), a rich society woman on a sailing vacation treats a member of the boat crew horribly, belittling him at every turn. When the two of them are marooned, she must depend on him for survival, and he turns the tables. It’s incredibly sexy, though rather violent. (Many women find it objectionable, but I personally think it’s sexy as hell.)
This explains the appeal of the vampire. But why is Edward Cullen the most popular vampire of all time? Why Twilight? I believe it’s the unbeatable combination of the highly sexualized vampire, with a devotion so complete that Edward is incapable of harming Bella. As he says in the first film, “And the Lion fell in love with the Lamb.” He sacrifices sexual pleasure to keep her safe, even though she desperately wants physical intimacy with him. He commits himself to love her for all eternity, dismissing her notions that he will find her unattractive when she is old, and he is still 17.
Is this not everything women want? The reformed bad boy?
Go see New Moon and enjoy every minute of it. Just remember which realm it belongs to: Fantasy.
Photo credit for Twilight undies: http://twitarded.blogspot.com/2009/10/pattinson-panties-edward-undies-we-got.html