...give it to me baby like boom, boom, boom...After such a long wait the new season of True Blood is finally under way! But before we launch into our review of its premiere episode, "She's Not There", I'd like to first take a look at a particular piece of Season 4 promo material.
what I wa-wa-want is what you wa-wa-want na nah...
~ Rude Boy by Rihanna
In this poster we see Sookie seated in the center of the frame surrounded by three suitors, each with a hand on her, staking a claim, wanting a piece. Which one will she choose? Which supernatural contender for Sookie's affections will prevail, who will win? Because it's a competition after all, and she's the prize - the object of strong male sexual desire being fought over. She's the spoils, the booty - her booty going to whichever alpha male can assert himself over the others.
That's one way of looking at it.
But this image isn't really about Team Bill, Team Eric, or Team Alcide, is it? It's about Team Sookie.
For me, it's no accident that she's the central figure in this poster. Look at her posture; her body, and indeed, her countenance as she gazes directly into the camera exudes relaxed confidence. An at-easiness with herself and who she has become.
Gone is the virginal innocent we met in Season 1. Swathed in deep red, this Sookie - like our tavern's heraldic pomegranate with its abundant scarlet seeds so evocative of the redness of the fertile womb - is the picture of blooming female sexuality.
Her hair is loose, unconstrained - quite unlike the tight ponytail stretching her facial features that she wore in "Strange Love", when she was so utterly thrown for a loop by the sexual banter of her co-workers at Merlotte's.
In the Show Your True Colors poster above Sookie is shown as being possessed of a healthy, active female-centered sexuality. Kind of like in Rihanna's Rude Boy - is it so shocking to think that women could want what men want...a gratifying sex life...and that our sex drive can be just as strong, just as audacious, and just as pleasure-for-pleasure's-sake seeking as theirs? And that it's normal, natural, and healthy - and doesn't make us deviants, whores, or hypersexualized vixens performing for men's benefit alone?
In the video above, a self-assured Rihanna sits astride a lion. Could it be that women aren't (or aren't just, only, or always) lithe prey animals made for men's hunting pleasure; or as 1970's pioneer of erotica and Imaginative Sex author John Gorman writes, "the smaller, more sleek female who is natural quarry and game" (p. 33)?
Writing as Pat Califia in 1997, the transgender activist now known as Patrick Califia-Rice described Gorman's work as "unrelievedly heterosexual" and as positing "a world in which biology is supposedly allowed to dictate the social and sexual roles which men and women will play - dominant and warlike, submissive and servile, respectively" (p.vi)..."the hero or the dazzling object of his desire" (p. xiii). But even Gorman (whose writing, Califia wholeheartedly admits, is focused on the arousal, excitement, and gratification of the female "slave" much more so than that of her male "Master") allows that women are not passive, that "She, too, has needs. She often provokes the male to her hunt" (p. 33).
OK, maybe sometimes we want to feel that we are being chased, caught, and "ravished in a thoroughly satisfying manner" (Califia, 1997, p. xii) by a determined, energetic, and worthy partner - on our terms. As agents of our own fate, not commodities for male consumption. And for mutual pleasure, not just his. But maybe, just maybe, sometimes we'd like to be the hunter.
Califia writes, "The process of creating a sex life or love life for oneself is at least as much about learning and teaching as it is about discovering one's secret, innate self" (p. xi, italics are mine). What if, as Sookie's secret, innate self - the seat of her sexual self - is bubbling up to the surface, she'd like to be something other than "game, sleek, beautiful and desirable, frightened of him, who could be caught and owned, and tamed, and who, in his snare, would writhe and cry out" (Gorman, 1974, p. 21)?
Hypothetically, why does she even have to choose between Bill, Eric, and Alcide?
Of course, that's a somewhat rhetorical question since we know that in this culture, the industrial family ethic - which was preceded by the colonial family ethic, insists that the proper place for a woman is in a monogamous relationship with one man. I'm not saying that coupling up is wrong, or that women (or men) of any sexual orientation who want to do so are somehow less liberated.
What I am saying is that it's limiting and outright damaging - especially to women - to insist that this is the morally ordained, right, and only way to live.
As Mimi Abramovitz writes in the feminist classic, Regulating the Lives of Women: Social Policy from Colonial Times to the Present (1996) our contemporary social structures are still based upon the patriarchal family ethic that emerged during the early 19th century primarily as a means of controlling and regulating women’s productive and reproductive labor, placing them in their husband’s home and subordinate to him as the male head-of-household.
Seems like the basis for the Defense of Marriage Act - under which marriage = 1 man + 1 woman only - the fangs-out fight over which happily ended in marriage equality in my home state of New York just this past weekend.
In Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula we meet a female character reflective of a new social order - Lucy Westenra.
|Sadie Frost as Lucy Westenra in the 1992 film Bram Stoker's Dracula|
Like Sookie, she too had three suitors - and collected marriage proposals from all of them on the same day. As Susan Parlour (2009) writes in her essay, "Vixens and Virgins in the 19th Century Anglo-Irish Novel: Representations of the Feminine in Bram Stoker's Dracula", even though she failed to postulate a new image of feminine roles in the the workplace - as her best friend Mina, who might on the surface appear more of an expression of the New Woman in that regard, did - Lucy nonetheless shook up the strictures of the Victorian patriarchal machine.
According to Parlour, Lucy demonstrated her voracious sexual appetite. She admitted to being a "horrid flirt". These behaviors certainly transgressed the accepted Victorian etiquette demanded of young ladies. But Lucy took it a dangerous step further in her desire to marry Arthur Holmwood, Quincy Morris, AND Dr. John Seward. "Why can't they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all the trouble?" (Stoker, 1986, pp. 73, 78) Lucy wistfully wondered, and in doing so, embraced some of the more radical ideals of the New Woman's challenge to prevailing sexual values. In the minds of the Victorian patriarchs, could a destabilized society and accelerated moral decay be far behind?
Would Sookie ever suggest a similar solution to the Team Bill, Team Eric, or Team Alcide quandary? What if she did?
Do you know what became of that little minx Lucy? She fell prey to Count Dracula, was turned vampire, and as such became a "phallic woman", having fangs with the power to penetrate and draw blood; a sexually empowered aggressor. This, of course, could not stand. Lucy was subjected to a particularly brutal "second death" at the hands of four men - including her three suitors and the famed Dr. Van Helsing - during which she was staked in a manner reminiscent of gang-rape.
|Vampire Lucy is destroyed in Bram Stoker's Dracula|
Is this the fate of the overtly sexually desirous woman? I'd like to think not, but one need only reflect back on René Lenier's Season 1 rampage to be reminded of how our society often treats its fangbangers, sluts, and bad girls (i.e. women whose sexual behavior transgresses the clearly demarcated gender roles mapped out for them).
This is a topic that is deserving of a lot more fleshing out and continued discussion. For now, suffice it to say that although I'm not holding out hope for Sookie to choose not to have to choose between Bill, Eric, Alcide, and whoever else may come her way (I'm not even saying that's the best option for her, anyway) I AM glad to have an image that we can claim as one representative of Team Sookie - where her needs, wants, and desires can be seen as central.
Abramovitz, M. (1996). Regulating the Lives of Women: Social Welfare Policy from Colonial Times to the Present. Boston, MA: South End Press.
Califia, P. (1997). "No Fantasy, Please, We're Americans: A Foreward by a Feminist". In Gorman, J. Imaginitive Sex. (pp. v-xiv). New York, NY: Masquerade Books.
Gorman, J. (1997). Imaginitive Sex. New York, NY: Masquerade Books.
Parlour, S. (2009). "Vixens and Virgins in the 19th Century Anglo-Irish Novel: Representations of the Feminine in Bram Stoker's Dracula". Journal of Dracula Studies, Number II.
Stoker, B. (1986). Dracula. Penguin edition.