From Bella to Sookie: A Look at Female Sexuality in Vampire Series
by Willo Radgens, PEP Young Women's Leadership Council
We know by now that the media can influence how young people think and feel on a topic. So in this issue where we examine pop culture, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how a couple of the women in literature influencing young people today are portrayed in regards to their sexuality. Bella Swan (of the Twilight series) and Sookie Stackhouse (of the Southern Vampire Series) may not be real, but the images of sexuality they portray and the messages young people take from them can certainly make an impact in their minds and behavior.
Let's start with Bella because she is everywhere with the debut of New Moon this month. In the Twilight series, Bella (and almost everyone else in the novel) shows us one of the more chaste portrayals of young people out there these days. Bella and her partner Edward decide not to engage in sex, or much sexual activity, until they are married (though they marry very young). In fact, all of the sexual activity spoken of in the Twilight novels happens in long-term, heterosexual, monogamous partnerships.
Much of this probably has to do with the background of the author, Stephenie Meyer, who is a devout Mormon. There are a couple ways to view the sexuality, or lack thereof, in the series. Some people see Bella's sole reliance on Edward as weak, dependent, and anti-feminist. And the lack of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered presence is upsetting. But I have also come to respect Bella's character and her sexuality, if for no other reason then she is one of the few role models in popular literature displaying a sense of self-esteem and self-respect that allow her to stand up for what she believes in, even if it is true love and abstinence. Those can be respected parts of sexuality as well.
In the Southern Vampire Series, Sookie Stackhouse and her fictional counterparts represent a much more well-rounded approach to sexuality. As the series opens, Sookie herself is a 26 year-old virgin. She has remained such because her telepathy causes interaction with most men (human men) to be unpleasant. In the course of the first novel, Dead Until Dark, Sookie loses her virginity to the vampire Bill. She does it outside of wedlock, without apology or regret, but she doesn't see herself as a loose woman by any means.
Throughout the series thus far (spoiler alert) Sookie goes onto have sex with 3 "men" (2 vampires and a weretiger) and though the sex scenes are detailed, the thought and consideration behind them is as well. The author, Charlaine Harris, does a great job at relaying Sookie's thoughts and feelings about her sexual encounters, including her regret for sleeping with the weretiger, Quinn, before establishing a more certain commitment. These details allow readers to experience not only the thrills of a sexual encounter with the character, but also the thought behind it, something sadly missing from a lot of sexual portrayals in the media.
While Sookie may be engaging in only heterosexual sex, the other characters in her novels certainly aren't. The Southern Vampire Series goes much further than Twilight into exploring and describing sexual diversity. Sookie's world is a much more complex and layered one. Sookie herself is a refreshing character who tries not to judge anyone for things they cannot control, be it sexual preference or superhuman ability. She provides readers with what is perhaps a slightly more realistic role model when it comes to sex and a more accepting one when it comes to how others are viewed.
Neither Bella nor Sookie is a perfect example of female sexuality, because the truth is, there isn't one. But at least they give young readers something (mostly positive?) to think about. Because whether it's in Forks, Washington, Bon Temps, Lousiana, or the real world, young people everywhere are sexual beings, all coming to terms with it.