Thursday, February 11, 2010

Monstrous Musings:This is what a feminist vampire looks like (Musings on The Gilda Stories, by Jewelle Gomez)

This is a guest post from Natalie Wilson

I am a literature and women’s studies scholar and author of the blogs Professor, what if…? and Seduced by Twilight. I am currently writing a book examining the Twilight cultural phenomenon from a feminist perspective. My interest in vampires and werewolves dates back to my childhood fascination with all types of monsters.

imageIn the comment thread from my first Monstrous Musings post, one person noted the dearth of black female vampires. Most well-known vampires are indeed white and male, and thus the vampire canon is not always the most feminist friendly (as noted here). But black female vampires do exist – none, I would argue, in more feminist fashion than Gilda of The Gilda Stories, by Jewelle Gomez.

While it might seem more apt to refer to Gilda as womanist, Gomez self-identifies as a lesbian feminist, so I am sticking with her terminology. In her afterword to The Gilda Stories, Gomez notes her fondness for Dracula as a “compelling mythology…which I, as a lesbian feminist, need to excavate and reshape.”

While I am aware that the “lesbian vampire” has had some time in the spotlight – as she does here – she is not front and center near as often as white hetero male vamps. Even more sidelined are vampires of color (VOCs?).

As I am hoping everyone who reads this post will also read The Gilda Stories, I won’t give away too much of Gomez’s “reshaping.” I do want to share that her book proves in spades the political viability of the vampire canon. As Gomez makes abundantly clear, vamps can indeed be very politicized creatures.

The novel takes readers on a journey from 1850 Louisiana to a post-apocalyptic “Land of Enchantment” circa 2050, stopping in various time zones and at geographical locations along the way. Offering depictions of slavery, prostitution, interpersonal violence, capitalism, racism, and sexism in its narrative arc, it is a must read for anyone interested in how vampires reveal a great deal about culture, politics, and the privilege/oppression matrix.

Intriguingly, it is one of the few novels to emphasize that vampires need not kill. Even Twilight, with it’s “vegetarian vampires” fails to suggest that Edward et al might be able to drink without murdering. I hope readers will correct me if my memory serves me wrong, but I can’t recall many vampire tales wherein the vamps don’t either kill or ultimately turn those they sup from. There have been those who choose to kill animals rather than humans (as in Stephenie Meyer and Anne Rice) but what about those that feed without killing?  The only other example that comes to mind is another feminist vampire text, The Vampire Tapestry, where Weyland, like Gilda, drinks but does not kill.

Noting she was not “comfortable with the dead bodies that littered Dracula’s path to fulfillment,” Gomez pens what accounts to a feminist vampire manifesto (even though this post here suggests that a feminist vampire novel is somewhat of an impossibility). Explaining that her story is grounded in “the personal is political” motto, Gomez emphasizes the importance of remembering that the “little” aspects of sexism are just as important as the big ones – sexism, she argues, is sometimes “like a pebble that needs to be removed from a shoe; a tiny thing that throws off a woman’s gait, causing her to limp, sometimes unconsciously, to avoid pain every day.”

In addition to revealing the daily realities of sexism and racism, the novel also functions as an incisive critique of capitalism – a system that is ultimately depicted in the novel as destroying the earth and humanity with it. Vampires are a perfect conduit for such a critique because they have the power to be (and often are) voracious consumers. These bad vampires, as Gomez puts it, “are kind of like the multi-national corporations that we read about everyday.”

In contrast to the normal killing/taking mode, Gilda and her extended vampire family (which is a chosen family) live by the motto “We take blood, not life. Leave something in exchange.”

While vampires from Stoker to Meyer are only takers, Gilda and company approach their feeding necessity as an exchange. These words, as the author explains, “postulate that we are interconnected, that our survival is dependent on our exchanges with each other, and that our balance is kept only when we give and take as needed.” Oh, if only these wise words guided our world leaders! If only more humans lived by Gomez’s belief that “the more power we have, the more responsibility we have in our communities.”

Please, dear readers, get thee to a library or bookstore and READ THE GILDA STORIES!!!