I did this piece in University when we were asked to cover Femininity from any mass media element of our choice and give a presentation on the same thereafter. When covering a serious topic like Feminism it is important that you stay interested in your topic. It was the time I had just started watching TVD so I was totally into it. I chose it without realising how much of the topic it actually covered.
I am also not the kind who likes giving presentations in class. I don’t enjoy public speaking. It does not give me a high. Don’t get me wrong. I can do it if I have to. But I don’t like it. For this assignment however I crossed the time limit speaking for over 45 minutes and I actually had to beg my professor for more time. My love for the series has therefore been covered. Enjoy reading.
A Feminist Perspective of The Vampire Dairies (TVD)
Giving patriarchy the definition where a film or TV series is made keeping the male audiences in mind, we can say that TVD has been more matriarchal than patriarchal, without being too obvious about it. Unlike other vampire movies like Interview with a Vampire or Dracula, where women are used more as props than anything else, the main protagonist of the series Elena Gilbert controls the story with a lot of focus given to her and her ancestral look-alike Katherine Pierce, (central female vampire focus) which breaks away from traditional vampire stereotypes of the leading vampires being male. Although the leading male vampires Stefan and Damon Salvatore have powerful roles, majority of the screen space seems to be reserved for the ladies. However both the men and women of the series fall under the male and female gaze.
From the first season itself, the series breaks away from stereotypes by allowing women to take up position mostly reserved for men, as is seen by Carol Lockwood playing mayor of the Mystic Falls after the death of Tyler’s father and the Sheriff of the town being Liz Forbes, Caroline’s mother. The younger female generation is also put on equal ground as the men in the series when involved in decision making and fight scenes. The caretakers and providers of the families are predominantly women and not men. Elena and her brother Jeremy are cared for by their Aunt Jenna, Caroline by her mother Liz, Tyler by his mother and Bonnie by her grandmother occupying more of an influence over her life. Even in Matt’s case, an appearance of his trampy mother makes the round suggesting that even though she wasn’t around much, she represents the actual caretaker of the house.
Gender roles: Masculinity and Femininity redefined (Gender stereotyping removed)
The leading ladies in TVD are given more assertive roles and have been masculinised, which is seen in the characters of Katherine who uses men (and women) as her playthings, Elena who is always vocal about what she wants when dating both Damon and Stefan (as opposed to being docile and submissive when in a relationship). This is reflected in the supporting ladies too in the characters of Elena’s best friends Bonnie with her ability to bring vampires (mostly aggressive male ones) to their knees, and Caroline after her transition to a vampire where she assumes a protective role over her loved ones, fighting off evil forces with male-like strength and aggression. The leading male characters have also been feminised. Stefan is emotional, broody and his face is like an open book for most of the series, which is opposed to men never showing their emotions. Damon while controlling his facial expressions gives way to outbursts when he is angry or threatened but his feminine side comes into play at those instances where he constantly gives fashion advice, when his feelings for Elena are reflected at split seconds and by his constant need to look good all the time which is more connected to the female mindset than male (though this trend is changing now). The supporting male characters in the series Jeremy, Tyler and Matt have softer sides to them, hinting at slight touches of femininity. Matt is the understanding one who falls in the category of “any girl’s best friend”, Jeremy is the sensitive and emotional one and even Tyler admits to Caroline that he needs help to overcome his wolf side (as opposed to men never asking anybody especially women for their help).
Power relations between leading TVD female characters to others in the series
The leading ladies in TVD are positive cases for femininity and female empowerment in the series.
- Katherine Pierce-the crux of TVD is the masculine representation of a woman. Like a man in women’s clothing. She is dominating, aggressive, manipulative and forceful in getting what she wants. She is smart and selfish and manages to instill a sense of fear and weariness in everyone around her. All parties view her as a force to be reckoned with
- Elena Gilbert is the other side of the coin to Katherine. She is partly submissive in the sense because she protects and allows people in her life to protect her, though she seeks to be self-sufficient. She is the symbol of selflessness and sacrifice and has often done the manly thing in coming to the rescue of the Salvatore brothers. She is the object of everyone’s affection except Katherine (they are constantly repelled and intrigued by each other)
- Bonnie Bennett, besides being the voice of black women everywhere is the strong and loyal one. Her transition while understanding her powers is an enigmatic representation of women having the power to discover their true self. While being normally trusting, she is the cautious one and symbolic of the woman no-one wants to mess with
- Caroline Forbes starts off by being the weakest female link, insecure in relations, shallow in thinking and her transition from being the victim to being the protector stands a symbol for change and new beginnings and every woman having the ability to start fresh
- Caroline Forbes plays the dumb blonde before her transition to a vampire
- Most of the witches in the series are black females who meet their death by white skinned characters. However Bonnie’s presence as the black leading lady is symbolic of the race’s endurance
- All of the vampires in the movie are white skinned. Any black vampire or black witch most often dies including Bonnie although she comes back as the Anchor
- Female victims are the most sought after choices by both male and female vampires, symbolic of women always being the ones to give way to force
- Katherine’s servant was a black witch Emily Bennett (Bonnie’s ancestor), while Elena’s best friend is Bonnie. Emily being a servant to Katherine could signify Bonnie adopting the same role to Elena in a not-too-obvious manner, symbolic of black people sporting protectionist and serventile roles to white people
Although the series does much to celebrate the empowerment of women, women have been brought under the male gaze with as equal measure as they have been put on a pedestal. The leading ladies are always attired in clothes that make them sexually appealing to men.
Katherine sports corseted dresses when shown in the past highlighting her delicate chest, bosom and shoulders, while managing to look slutty in even her present day attire. Her dress sense is rebellious and invites people to ogle. She wants to stand out not blend in. She makes you want to possess her which is ironic because she dresses to possess others. She represents the voyeuristic look of the male gaze.
Elena on the other hand while being fully clothed makes you want to possess her because she oozes sexuality in a very innocent manner. Her desire to not look sexy makes her all the more appealing. She is also shown in shorts and skinny tops highlighting her chest and long legs, the same highlighted areas as Katherine in a diluted sexual way. She represents the fetishistic look of the male gaze.
Caroline is portrayed as a bombshell with clothes supporting the less-is-more attitude. Emphasis is thrown on her shoulders, petite frame and long legs and she appears sensual and sexy although not slutty like Katherine.
A special reference has to given to Vicky (Matt’s sister) in the beginning of the series who was a symbol of women being subjugated by men, a trait shared with her by Caroline until she becomes a vampire. Both she and Caroline were Damon’s victims representing the true idea of male gaze in the series, more so the castration effect. That Damon in having his way with them removes his fear of castration and implies his dominance over them.
Bonnie is the least sexual character in the series. Like Elena she is fully clothed most of the time. In the instances where she dons revealing attire, emphasis is given to her chestal area, her eyes, her facial features, her smile and her voice.
TVD is one show that allows even its leading men to be brought under the female gaze in full measure. Here Damon Salvatore tops the list altogether. He is very much aware of his masculinity and unlike his brother he sports the open shirt/ shirtless look for most of the time, leaving much to the imagination of the female audience. Focus is thrown on his torso, sarcasm, lips and eyes.
Stefan on the other hand while also being seen with his shirt off is mostly shown in tanks with more emphasis given to his muscular arms, voice, facial structure, leaving one to imagine what muscles lie beneath the tank.
Matt and Jeremy keep their shirts on for most of the show with emphasis being given to their faces rather than their bodies. Matt is known for representing the true-blooded American boy with his blonde hair, chiseled face and baby blue eyes. Jeremy is the emotional one, the one who’s the best friend you very much want as a boyfriend and he sports the puppy dog/ lost boy/ cute look which have women swooning. He looks particularly cute when he is embarrassed.
Tyler is by far more masculine when compared to Matt and Jeremy. The only instance you get a peep at his torso is when he is in transition.
In talking about the female gaze, we must note the gaze is not just restricted to men. There is also the oscillation between the assertive female who possesses the female gaze and the damsel in distress presented by Katherine and Elena. The female spectator feels she must be one type of woman or the other throwing the spectator into confusion as to whether she must choose the role of the fair maiden or the femme fatale. Katherine and Elena represent the Madonna/ Whore dichotomy.
This duality seems to assert that a woman must be one or the other but cannot be both. If the woman is both, she is a divided self who must kill one half or the other. To solidify that Katherine is truly a second self; both Katherine and Elena are played by the same actress Nina Dobrev. The heterosexual female experiences the internal war between the dichotomies and the duality becomes less about the male perspective and more about the female desire to finally reconcile good girl and bad girl into one being instead of killing off the other self.
Sending out a special blessing to all TVD female fans-May Damon bite you and a real guy delight you!
And in case you’re a female vampire researching articles on female empowerment for your class essays which is your day (cough) cover, then may you be the type of vampire which have other vampires saying “The bite is strong with this one!”
Elena Gilbert/Katherine Pierce