Haemopolitics

Whilst modern portrayals of vampires are as varied as modern society, the most common trope in Western media is still the male vampire biting female prey (whether willing or not). But why does this image endure so strongly when other classic monsters are portrayed without such a clear biological divide? Unsurprisingly perhaps, a combination of assumed social hierarchies and sex roles in Western society.

Many supernatural horrors are predators. However, unlike (for example) breath-stealing spectres, vampires are most often portrayed as sexual predators or presented as metaphors for sex/rape. However, this was not always the case: the original Eastern European vampire myths involve creatures closer to what we would consider zombies or werewolves. The seductive or cultured vampire appeared in Europe later.

A redheaded woman embracing a vampire drawn in pastels
“Vampyren” by Edvard Munch

This portrayal of them as aristocratic required that they didn’t feed like ravening beasts: thus, they fed either by suckling on sleeping humans or by seducing humans. But making them aristocratic predators also made them a metaphor for the nobility “feeding” off the commoners (for example, Renfield—a working man—becomes a shattered shell of a person after Dracula uses him, whereas Lucy Westenra—a woman of the upper classes—expires languidly then rises as a beautiful lady). These two factors play off each other, predation by seduction boosting “nobility” and the image of nobility boosting seduction over ravening.

As a metaphor for power dynamics, vampires naturally aligned with the prevailing social dynamic: men as active takers, women as passive providers; thus most portrayals that do not have another specific metaphor driving them show male vampires preying on female victims.

A parallel to this can be seen in theories that rape is not about sex: that rape is an imposition of power through violation of something considered special rather than a seeking to ease sexual longing itself.

Another factor, especially relevant to films, is audience “gaze”: the “ideal” aesthetic for men and women in a Hollywood film is different; men in sexualised situations are more usually shown in long shot, as people, whereas women are often shown in extreme close-ups, as features; the image of a line of blood slowly trickling down someone’s neck and across their body, tracked in close up, therefore fits the default portrayal of women’s bodies in film but not that of men.

Therefore, many books and films show vampires preying on women not only because society sees men “taking” women as the normal framework for both consensual and non-consensual interaction but also because the powerful controlling the weak is a strong metaphor both for conservative and revolutionary media.

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