Blog

The Lady is a Vamp (the female “vampire” archetype in mainstream and the counterculture)

“A vampire is a good woman with a bad reputation, or rather a good woman who has had possibilities and wasted them” — Florenz Ziegfeld

The silent movie credited with the “vamp” connection. Really, it was much older.

My vamp(ire) novel, “Revenant: Blood Justice,” is prowling the earth! Check the horror page on this site or my Facebook author page for purchase info and for regular updates on all my different types of work. I’m pretty eclectic, so keep checking and you might find something you like.

To celebrate Revenant, I thought I would post about the vamp in history.

The female vampire as an unnatural, predatory monster was a trope developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. She represented the fears of a patriarchal culture (inhabited by both men and women) who believed the “new woman” was a very real threat to the very fiber of virtuous and well-functioning society. This vamp clawed her way into the mass consciousness in the years before all women in the US and UK got the vote. At this key point of culture change, it is no wonder that the women behind it were figuratively (and sometimes literally) equated with monsters.

The first reference to this type of vamp is in the 1897 poem, “The Vampire,” by Rudyard Kipling. Suffice to say, old Rudy had some issues. He never used the word vampire except in the title. But his portrayal of what moderns might think of as a “gold-digger” used the imagery of a soul-sucking, insatiable monster to great effect. One example as he commiserates with similarly victimized men is:

The fool was stripped to his foolish hide
(Even as you and I !)
Which she might have seen when she threw him aside
(But it isn’t on record the lady tried)
So some of him lived but the most of him died
(Even as you and I !)

Here she is—the uncaring beast (not like a man in intellect or morality) who will suck you dry if you give her an invitation. His readers carried on developing the vampire metaphor. When silent screen siren Theda Bara starred in the film, “A Fool there Was,” based on Rudy’s poem, the full-on vamp was born. Well, perhaps re-born. My current page image is a still photo from publicity for that film. The rapacious vamp will use her man until there is nothing left but brittle bone.

Theda Bara publicity shot.

Kipling’s tale of woe about a woman daring to have a relationship on her own terms became a type of anthem for the insecure patriarchs who were so distressed to see their privilege being gnawed away at by these rapacious jazz-age feminists and their sharp little teeth. By the era of the “flapper” women were going to college, working, gaining access to birth control, making nontraditional sexual choices, and about to get the vote. No wonder the vamp sprang out of the culture’s closet, right then. But, we’ll get to the “out of the closet” part, later. Right now, we’re still on hetero-normative.

There are lots of colorful terms for the young women of the generation in question. Molls, flappers, and vamps are some of the most colorful. While rebellious girls embraced all of these labels to a certain extent, they also had real social consequences – sometimes being used to give them a bad reputation that held these women back from attaining goals in education, work, or even domesticity (being accepted into a “good family”). The vamp was a particularly dangerous archetype to have hung around your neck, in those days.

Jetta Goudal vamping it up

Vamps were meant to be predatory, insatiable women who could not be trusted with men’s virtue, or even their physical health. Certainly, they weren’t wife and mother material. The predatory nature of vamps was two-pronged.

The vamp was a gold-digger and home-wrecker who ruined good men. Conversely, she was an unnatural, deviant type of female, who might prey upon and destroy otherwise innocent and virtuous young girls. In this way, the vamp as a tool of patriarchy was deployed to attack the many feminist leaders who, whether due to actual sexual identity or simple practicality, eschewed traditional marriage and created various sorts of partnerships with one another (other women).

We’ll start with the first one, since she’s the most commonly referenced. This is the hetero-normative vamp, who in modern times is actually admired. In a way, she has been harnessed by our current generational brand of patriarchy. She is sassy, sensuous, and doesn’t mind making herself a sexual object while she’s at it. If you’ve got it, flaunt it, right? This neutralizes her threat. Marilyn Monroe is a slightly retro but still valid version. Also Anna Nicole Smith. Their common, tragic ending suggests that this patriarchy-endorsed version of vamp may not be as enviable as she first appears.

1929: Louise Brooks in The Canary Murder Case.

One prominent example of the vintage vamp that remains to us comes from a 1919 article in a New York magazine called, “The Evening World.” In their March 27 edition, they praise the moral endeavors of a judge in Newark, NJ to combat the monstrous vamp. They report that this magistrate

“…has appealed to the Director of Public Safety for the creation of a ‘Vampire’s Gallery.’ By stern public posting of naughty eyes that will not behave, of hair that is too golden, of cheeks that are too pink, the Magistrate hopes to rid his town of the flirtie girlies and make that part of the world safe for domesticity.”

Personally, I’m trying to picture the wall of shame that local girls were presumably posted to if they looked too attractive to this dink and his friends. Were the pics at the post office next to mug shots of bank robbers and pedophiles? Or were those types of ne’er-do-wells not yet deemed a public safety issue? I’m also wondering if the photos were entirely punitive, or if they actually had a pre-Craigslist vibe. It’s super-creepy, in either case.

This Jersey magistrate (apparently quite a player, given his tons of insight) describes vampires as women who bleach their hair, wear lots of make-up, and go out on dates while using false names.

Not to be outdone, the author of the article doubles down when she (yes, she—remember the patriarchy always exploits the voices of its female adherents) suggests that the judge has only touched upon “the crudest exponent of the ancient art of [female] preying.” Using the queens in a deck of playing cards as a structure, she describes the really dangerous vamps and their vile motivations. Apparently:

The heart vamp works for love

The diamond vamp works for riches

The spade vamp works for success

The club vamp works for revenge

You can see in the illustration to the article that the vamp is a flapper, holding a tiny man the way King Kong held his lady, strewing playing cards in the wake of her serpentine tail.

What say you? These women dared to try and attain their own goals in relation to financial security, professional success, emotional fulfillment and basic self-defense? Witchcraft! Necromancy! Someone get the holy water and stake their uppity asses back into the dirt where they belong!

By referencing the magistrate and making the vamp a “public safety issue,” this article is very clear about the reasons folks comfortable in the patriarchal, base-line culture saw certain women as literally dangerous.

But what about the girl-on-girl vamp? Interestingly, she seems to have reawakened in the hallowed halls of the Academy—no doubt due to extreme patriarchal angst over women achieving educational goals and the advancements that came with them. These women were seen as literally monstrous in large part because they were seeking achievements that were not dependent on domestic deference to a man (father, brother, husband, or son).

Since virtually all female secondary education was held in sex-segregated (all girl) environments, the whole situation left an open invitation to equate their lifestyles directly with what we now call lesbianism. But in that time, they were referencing the most twisted and inauthentic stereotypes of women loving women—framing it as deviance, mental illness, and outright metaphysical evil. But, they weren’t entirely working from fiction. They were also lashing out against a very real phenomenon at work in the feminism of the times. I mean the phenomenon of female partnerships.

Women building lives with other women during the era of suffrage (roughly 1848 to 1928 in the US and UK) is a phenomenon dealt with extensively by author Lillian Faderman. She takes great care to note that there was a broad spectrum of relationship types. Some were totally “safety in numbers,” utilitarian types of partnerships. Some were the emotionally fulfilling “romantic friendships,” or “sisterhoods,” which were not sexual. And some were exactly what we would think of when we reference lesbian relationships today—up to and including a full partnership sharing resources, maybe raising kids, and generally having an emotional and sexual union. But, as with any marginalized group, they “all looked the same” to the mainstream culture and its masters.

Here are a few examples of the literary, lesbian-feminist vamp. One of the most classic examples is the 1915 book, “Regiment of Women,” written by Englishwoman Winifred Ashton under the pen-name of Clemence Dane. Note the militarized language which parallels the militant suffrage movement in Britain during this time.

In “Regiment of Women,” the predatory female teacher at the girls’ school is named Clare Hartill (heart-ill). She chews up and spits out the innocent girls in her charge, in every possible way. The writing is very sexually charged, and the vampirism is on an emotional (if not sexual) level more than a sanguinary one.

Another English novel in a similar vein (pardon, I couldn’t resist) is “White Ladies,” written in 1935 by Francis Brett Young. By this time the Brits had full suffrage, but the social unease is still apparent. Perhaps what women were doing with their newly legislated independence was freaking Francis out.

In this novel, the girls at the school are fed upon on a sanguinary level (their blood is actually consumed) by their evil teacher, Miss Cash. Note the connotation that a “career girl” like Miss Cash (who earns her own money) is necessarily suspect.

Not all the lesbian vampires were teachers. In Dorothy Sayers’ 1927 story, “Unnatural Death,” the villain is a predatory nurse. And not all these ladies are subtle. In Dorothy Baker’s “Trio” (1943), the vampire teacher drugs and imprisons her hapless female students.

You see how this goes. Women stepping out of the domestic, maternal zone are selfish, unnatural, over-sexed, greedy, and literally monsters. Parents have to guard their naive female children, lest they fall under the dreaded feminist thrall.

It seems, however, that all these monster tropes have a sociological arc. What begins as a cautionary tale becomes kind of exciting, and then down-right cool. Then, under the right cultural circumstances, it may swing back toward the cautionary again.

Note how the vampire resurrected as a desirable icon of powerful and charismatic personality. These creatures are often even portrayed as heroes. The LGBTQ vampire, for example, became admirable as a sexual and cultural outsider.

cavorting girl-on-girl vamps from The Vampire Lovers (1970)

In every case, the vamp shows us the ways in which classic horror creatures reflect human struggles and human nature. Like any good horror protagonist, we can only hope to survive by being adaptive learners. Good luck out there!

 

 

 

(PS: learn more about the REAL vampire thing from Enid in Revenant: Blood Justice at Black Rose Writing, Barnes & Noble, or Kindle).

 

 

“And your little dog, too!” the Herstory of Women’s Cycling

May is National Bike Month, and I myself have been taking to the road more often this year on my little red Specialized brand hybrid. To get myself back in the saddle, I started checking out print and online resources for women who cycle. In the process, I stumbled over a ton of very cool information about the role of the bicycle in what many call (whether with admiration or sarcasm), “women’s liberation.” Allow me to turn you on to some of this info, as well as resources for further study.

The bicycle took a while to assume its modern form, so there are all sorts of claims upon the earliest bike invented and manufactured. The really old models tended to be called the velocipede. These claims of originality and invention take up a good portion of the nineteenth century, and come from countries including Germany, Scotland, France, and more. The first commercial bicycle that we might recognize as similar to the ones in our garages was put out by a French company in about 1863. Designed by a blacksmith, the model was first called the Michaux or “boneshaker.” Having recently rattled down a few country roads on one of these contraptions, I can totally relate. The michaux hit America around 1865.

You may notice that this period in history coincides with when a lot of uppity women were starting to agitate for more civil liberties. And, believe me, people were agitated. Especially men, but also other women who were afraid their raucous sisters would upset the whole apple cart.

“First you let them bike, then they want to vote!”

The uppity women were also called “new women” by themselves and others. It had both positive and negative meaning, depending on who was using it. Throughout the period approximately between the 1850s and the 1930s, when a lot of women (specifically in the US and UK) were fighting for and getting not only the vote but also access to higher education and more types of professional work, the bicycle became an easy and accessible form of transportation. Susan B. Anthony, one of the most uppity women on record, is said to have written:

“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

In “Wheels of Change” (cited below), Sue Macy quotes a magazine from the 1890s about the importance of bikes to increasingly independent women:

“To men, the bicycle in the beginning was merely a new toy, another machine added to the long list of devices they knew in their work and play. To women, it was a steed which they rode into a new world.” (Munsey’s Magazine, May 1896).

I have worked for over fifteen years at a domestic violence program. I can tell you that three key points of control that are exerted upon women (and other victims of abuse or oppression) are food/shelter (basic need), communication, and transportation. One of the prime red flags that someone is being controlled is that they are prevented in all sorts of creative ways from getting around without their controller’s oversight and permission. For example, many battered women were never “allowed” to get a driver’s license. If they have one, they are denied access to a vehicle. Even getting rides from friends and family (or taking a bus) are limited through the use of curfew and jealousy-justified tantrums or even beatings. So, I really resonated with this information about how much old fashioned guys hated it when women got hold of bicycles.

The unwomanly shrew of suffrage–complete with bike

Patriarchy isn’t just a domestic issue. It’s a cultural and a geo-political one. This was true in the past as much as it is, now. All sorts of cultural rationalizations came out to discourage women from cycling, or to give their men a justification to forbid it. The easiest and most humiliating was to hit women where they depended upon success for their survival and sense of self. They (and the men in their lives) were told that cycling would make women ugly, and also that cycling was a sign of an oversexed and immoral woman. Riding a bike could therefore jeopardize women’s chances of marriage and of broader social success.

The oversexed thing is a typical move of the patriarchy, and was also applied when women started riding horses astride rather than side-saddle, like some demented rodeo mermaid. The rather obvious idea is, as I even heard said by men of my grandfather’s generation, women who ride “just like to have something between their legs.” This tactic of humiliation was (and sometimes still is) used to keep women afoot and close to home. You can look at very patriarchal countries today to see this still in full use. But if we’re honest, you can still find it closer to home.

 

The most laughable tactic the Victorian men tried was to coin the term (pandered about as a genuine medical condition) “bicycle face.”

“Bicycle face” was allegedly something that happened to women who rode too much. It included red complexion (when the lily white was idealized since it could only be attained by upper class white women). Bicycle face also involved bulging eyes with dark circles under them and a chronically grim expression. Well, that won’t do. We all know good girls smile every minute of the goddamned day, so they will look more pleasing. Right? Right?!? Better stay off those bikes, ladies. Because, as Victorian doctors claimed, “Your face will freeze that way.”

Of course, some of these guys still thought that women acting pissed off about their general lot in life (AKA “hysteria”) was attributable to the mischievous meanderings of a floating uterus. Go figure. I’m sure Victorian and Edwardian era women were thrilled when they finally bit and clawed their way into higher education and found a medical program of that caliber. Seriously—I’m sorry for the venom. My uterus clearly just drifted up and smacked me right in the amygdala. Rolling on…. 

“And your little dog, too!”

During the period in the US and the UK when women were agitating for the vote (and other concessions, as mentioned), the bicycle became one of their symbols. Sometimes the women were taking this on, themselves. Amelia Bloomer invented her shocking skirt-pants largely so that women could cycle. With a bike, they could go farther and faster. They could fit more into their day. They could take jobs or go to classes farther from home and still attend to their domestic obligations. Yes, they did those, too. But, from the perspective of the patriarchy, the bicycle became a negative symbol of a bossy, lazy, over-entitled woman. It was pretty much the equivalent to a witch’s broomstick. Is it a coincidence that the Wicked Witch of the West (West Kansas) rode a bike? I think not.

During the New Woman/Suffrage era, women on bikes terrorized the dreams of establishment men. In some cases, it was justified. Cyclists began appearing in suffrage parades. Women could get to more demos and cause much more trouble when they had a set of wheels. One period paper recorded an incident where militant suffragettes used their bikes to block Winston Churchill’s car. History does not record for us the ultimate impact of this domestic terrorism. It’s possible his cuppa got cold.

Though modern gadgets often trend with the wealthy classes first and longest, the bike seems to have become a tool of the working classes and of minorities fairly early. Yes, there were African American suffragettes. A prominent national franchise of clubs in the US was the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). And, yes, some of them rode bikes. The cycle inevitably became a tool for activism, recreation, and daily life for a broad swatch of humanity. You don’t have to nourish a bike with hundreds of pounds of feed and gallons of water, as you would a horse or ox. Transportation (besides walking) suddenly became more accessible.

Some of the greatest innovators within cycling were both women and “minorities.” One of the most impressive early female cyclists was a Jewish Immigrant and working mom from Boston named Annie Londonderry-Kopchovsky. On a $5000 bet, she left Boston in 1894 and began a bike tour of the globe. The idea was to prove that the “New Woman” could take care of herself and attain vast accomplishments, right along with the guys. Yes, she completed her trip. She also collected some of the first athletic endorsement money by riding with a Londonderry Spring Water Company sign on her bike. And (gasp!), she rode in bloomers!!!

The benefits of bike ownership are still much the same, today. In more wealthy economies, we value them as a way to stay fit and to lower our “carbon footprint.” Around the world, cycles are still a barrier-shattering tool for women and men who might otherwise never have the time to get back and forth to work and school, thereby meeting life-goals. And, they are still sometimes persecuted for it.

Let’s get real. As they pointed out in Munsey’s Magazine, bicycles are not toys. There are people in the modern world, just as there were in the past, who are willing to face real danger to assert their right to bike. A lot of them are women and girls. Here are just two of many examples.

A New York Times Article from 2016 talks about how the right of women to ride bikes in public in Gaza has been under attack in recent years, even though it had managed to attain normalcy for a few decades in the past. Political regime change and patriarchal agendas seem to have their hands on those cultural handlebars. And in Iran, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has placed a ban on women riding bikes. This 2016 article from the UK Telegraph details some grassroots activism Iranian lady cyclists have engaged in. Same story as the suffrage era. The cultural assertion is that good girls don’t go out and about on their own. They don’t even want to. But in the modern era of technology, women and girls are able to challenge this narrative. One woman quoted in the Telegraph article says,

“[after discussing how she has been heckled and threatened by men while riding]…I do not worry nor have any fears, as I am sure the prohibition of biking for women will be lifted in coming years. On that day, I will be proud that I did resist the oppression, as I believe those who oppress us are wrong.”

My blog usually includes something about women writers. I am including a list of books by women and men about the importance of cycling in women’s history (herstory). One of these books was written by the American suffrage and temperance activist, Frances Willard. She writes autobiographically about the heartbreak she felt as a young girl when she was no longer allowed to go out and play, rough and tumble, with the boys. Instead,

“the hampering long skirts were brought, with their accompanying corset and high heels; my hair was clubbed up with pins, and I remember writing in my journal, in the first heartbreak of a young human colt taken from its pleasant pasture, ‘Altogether, I recognize that my occupation is gone.’”

But, Frances got her occupation back, and a set of wheels along with it. Her book, entitled, “Wheel within a Wheel,” talks about the enmeshment of her experiences of cycling and broader aspects of liberation. First published in 1895, it is available in modern reprints.

So, do you have a bike rattling around somewhere, just begging to shake your bones? Maybe it’s even one that you bought for your teen. Or, you may want to go out and find a bike that is just right for you. Modern technology continues to make bikes more comfortable, with designs for unisex, women, and men and other components built to specialize on paved roads, trails, or mountainsides. Recumbent bikes and trikes also give more cycling options to people with limited mobility.

Included below is a book written for new women bikers. As one of your ranks, I suggest a little research before you get started. It could be the difference between a good experience that you want to repeat (been there) or a literal ass-busting torture session (been there, too). So, google some stuff. No need to reinvent the velocipede wheel.

My cheat sheet is as follows:

Assess your life and think about what kind of riding you would like to do, and what kind of riding is easiest for you to do. Where do you live? Can you commute to work or shops (or halfway, and take public transport the rest)? Are you close to recreational trails or bike paths? Are you absolutely nuts, and ready to charge right into your first triathlon? Props! I’ll be right behind you. Actually, I’ll be way, WAY behind you.

Once you know your goals, you can research the type of bike that is designed to help you meet them.

Look for state and local bicycling groups. In Maine, we have a state coalition that gives us organized rides and lots of support. We also have a once yearly bike sale where used bikes of good quality are bought and sold. When I went through this process, I researched the kind of bike I wanted and then found the exact thing at this sale. Therefore, I got a used but well-maintained bike for less than a third of its original market value. Especially when you are just beginning, it’s probably best to start cheap if you can. But if you get a used bike, take some of your savings and invest in a tune-up from your local bike shop (LBS). You may want to upgrade components, as well, like the type of seat. If you want to train in a structured way, your LBS can put on a cheap odometer. Rear-view mirrors and head/tail lights are also safety options for road riding. Do as much or as little as you like (though a helmet must be a non-negotiable, and will be required for organized rides). The important thing is to get out there!

This National Bike Month, I hope this information has inspired you. As the suffragettes used to say, “deeds, not words.” Let’s ride!

Books (with amazon links):

Around the World on Two Wheels: One Woman, One Bicycle, One Unforgettable Journey (Annie Londonderry’s World Ride): Peter Zheutlin, Citadel Press

A Wheel Within A Wheel, by Frances Willard, 1895

Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a few flat tires along the way), by Sue Macy, National Geographic, Reprint 2017

Our Bodies, Our Bikes, by Elly Blue, Microcosm Publishing, 2015

Every Woman’s Guide to Cycling, by Selene Yeager, Penguin

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Writer and Activist (for Women’s History Month)

It’s important to remember that women haven’t always been encouraged to write. Or read. Or leave the house. As evidenced by this patronizing pencil ad. This kind of copy could only be authored by A.B. Dick.

March is Women’s History Month, and it’s a good time to remember this very important point. Use it or lose it, ladies. In this case “it” would be your creative potential, as well as your right to determine how it is used (dare I say, reproductive rights?!)

For Women’s History Month, I wanted to honor at least one literary lady. I therefore chose one of my favorites. As a niece of Harriet Beecher Stowe (the famed author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”), Charlotte was well aware that the written word could be a catalyst for social change. Her own mother didn’t believe in such frivolities. As a hard working single mom, she forbade her kids to write fiction. But Charlotte struck out on her own.

A noted writer and women’s rights activist from the period around the 1900s, Gilman is best known for her women’s studies classic short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, which fictionalizes her experience of post partum depression. But her interest in justice was multi-faceted.

To me, this story is basically a suspenseful horror tale. It is a slow simmer and a very enjoyable read. But as my knowledge of Gilman’s work deepened over time, I started to admire her mostly as an activist. She was an independent publisher as well as a writer. She was a controversial yet respected lecturer on women’s rights.

It is a little known fact that, like many feminists of her time, she was concerned with the rights of non-human females as well. Perhaps this is because women in this country were still much closer to the times when they were legally and socially considered chattel, and more like non-humans in status than human men, in many ways.

 

The feminists of the time who were also vegetarian tended to focus on three or four major arguments:

  1. Slaughtering animals and messing with their bits was a violent pursuit, and increased violent tendencies in individuals as well as societies.
  2. Processing animal carcasses and cooking them took women much more time in the kitchen, which they argued could otherwise be spent on their activism.
  3. Plant foods are more affordable and more sustainable, which was actually an economics and environmental based argument for vegetarianism that went back to Plato, and beyond.
  4. Perhaps the least common argument, but one that did exist, was that elevating the condition of all animal life is connected to the elevation of all human life (ethics).

As with many other prominent thinkers from history, Charlotte’s animal rights work has been largely scrubbed from history by our conflicted, defensive culture. But her feminism remains.

Her Suffrage newspaper, the Forerunner, published all sorts of fiction and non-fiction in support of social reforms. She first ran Herland as a serial in that paper. The story gave humorous catharsis to both sexism and speciesism as she told the tale of bumbling white male explorers who found themselves in the realm of a tribe of females who reproduced through parthenogenesis. The women had to evolve in this way after all the men of their community went off to war and disappeared.

A Utopian and satirical work, Gilman’s land of women kept no animals for agriculture because agricultural animals took up land that was needed for plant crops. When asked what they did for milk, one of the women basically said, “we have plenty of milk…our own.”

Gilman was an activist at a time when many feminists recognized the overlapping oppression that also faces animals of other species. In 1903 the American Suffrage women had a conference where animal rights were a special topic of discussion. Yet again, this heritage has been “disappeared” from mainstream feminist consciousness. To read about vegetarianism (also called “food reform”) amongst early feminists, check out the article, “The Awakened Instinct,” by Leah Leneman. This is a British article, but plenty of American women were also food reformers, including Alice Paul.

In the modern era we have the luxury to contemplate our choices in behavior toward other animals, and the impact these have on our own ecosystem as well as personal health. Hopefully we can resurrect some of this history (or should we say, herstory).

Though they were actively denigrated by both men and other women for doing so, we have written records because of brave women writers like Charlotte, from a time when civil rights were very far from a foregone conclusion. Vigilance is always required for these rights to be maintained. That’s what Women’s History Month is all about.

Here is one of many poems that Charlotte wrote about her observations on human treatment of other animals. I also recommend Herland and this brilliant ancestor’s other works.

I should mention that I have an essay going into more depth about Charlotte’s vegetarian writing coming up in the Ashland Creek Press title, “Writing for Animals: a Nonfiction Anthology.” My piece is called, Between the Worlds: Writing Strategies that Bridge the Gap between Self and Other. Keep an eye on this site and my social media for release dates.

Keep on reading and writing, ladies and ghouls!

THE CATTLE TRAIN

Below my window goes the cattle train,
And stands for hours along the river park,
Fear, Cold, Exhaustion, Hunger, Thirst and
Pain;
Dumb brutes we call them – Hark!
The bleat of frightened mother -calling young,
Deep-throated agony, shrill frantic cries,
Hoarse murmur of the thirst-distended tongue
Up to my window rise.
Bleak lies the shore to northern wind and sleet,
In open-slatted cars they stand and freeeze
Beside the broad blue river in the heat
All waterless go these.
Hot, fevered, frightened, trampled, bruised
and torn;
Frozen to death before the ax descends;
We kill these weary creatures; sore and worn,
And eat them– with our friends.

-Charlotte Perkins Gilman-

 

Women know horror (unfortunately)

When International Women in Horror Month comes around each February, the biases against women in the genre get aired out. This is a good thing. As infuriating as it is to confront the fact that bullshit still exists, it has to be exposed in order to heal. I’m thinking of a band-aid getting removed so the putrid wound beneath can get scabbed over. The idea that women cannot contribute to the horror genre definitely needs a nice, thick scab. Remember, try not to pick at it.

Now that I’ve ruined your next meal, allow me to elaborate. A resounding stereotype about women’s inclusion in the genre is that women aren’t violent enough to write horror. I’d kind of like to take this as a compliment. But to say women can’t write scary stuff because fewer of us are actual rapists and murderers (to paraphrase the old argument), is a misrepresentation of the genre and, if I may say so, quite insulting to male writers in the genre (as well as men in general). I mean, does anyone seriously believe that male horror writers are good at what they do because they are actual monsters? If they do, I’m surprised Stephen King and Clive Barker aren’t being hauled around in cages. Although, that may explain some odd-looking live cargo I saw at Bangor International Airport, a while back. Hmmm.

Anyhow, I sincerely hope and earnestly believe that most writers of horror, regardless of gender or sexual identity, are not writing about their own proclivity toward violence. Rather, horror writing gives us the space in which to talk about and understand the violence, predation, and injustices that we have observed or experienced in the world. Horror writers are some of the most adept artists around when it comes to peering into the dark mirror of avarice, greed, domination, guile, and emotional cruelty. They (we) most often do so not to revel in these attributes but to expose them. To call them out. To challenge them. Believe me, many women have experienced enough horror in the world around them to enable them to write some kickass material. A woman is raped in the United States about every nine seconds. A woman is beaten by her spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend about every fifteen seconds. Domestic violence affects a quarter of relationships in this country, both in heterosexual and LGBTQ communities. That’s just in the good ole’ US of A. That is some genuinely scary shit.

If you look at those numbers then every single one of us, whether man or woman (cis-gender or trans) knows someone who has experienced violence even if we haven’t ourselves. This is just one example of the horror we all have a need to expose, confront, and do art about. There is also racial injustice, socio-economic injustice, political and religious injustice–I could go on and on. For myself, the human domination of other animals and the ecosystem are also frequent topics for a horror story. I definitely don’t write about this stuff to revel in my love of carnage. Just the opposite, in fact. I often do it to try and purge some of the ugliness I can’t un-see, or to try and make a difference by communicating why I think we should all be disturbed by certain beliefs and actions.

When actors take on a role, they do not become the character. Not forever, at least. I don’t care how “method” they are. If they do go off the rails and lose their grip on their own reality, they won’t be in the arts (or on the streets) for very long. If this were an epidemic, we’d know it. But such things are barely even a blip on the tabloid radar. Same goes for writers. We write about situations and contexts from a distance. I think this is the case even when the work is partially autobiographical. Because I write a story about a woman and her mother, it doesn’t mean I am writing about me and my mother. Get it? When I write a story about a vengeful female spirit who routinely rips the heads off unsuspecting men, it does not mean I actually have a pile of craniums in my basement. They’re in the garage. Just kidding. It’s fiction, people. By the way, that story, “Catharine Hill,” is coming out in the Grinning Skull Press/Maine Horror Writers anthology, “Northern Frights,” in Spring 2017.

To say women are ill-equipped to write about horror is laughable. The real question is, can readers handle what women writers have to say about their take on violence, domination, and predation? Is there something about women’s words on this subject material that is turning readers off? What readers? Hetero-normative, white men? Other women, who are uncomfortable with being confronted by this material when it’s so close to home? I don’t know the answer. Just speculating. But to get to the real answers, we need more women writing in the genre, and being widely published and read. Not fewer.

When I say “women,” I mean a diverse spectrum of women in terms of race, class, religion, socio-economic status, sexual and gender identity, so on. So far, only those of us close to the center of cultural privilege (white, upper-class, heterosexual or cis-gender, etc.) are really making a dent. To keep track of our progress in literature and publishing, a great site is VIDA (women in literary arts), which tracks not only “women,” but intersectionality like race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, disability, etc. in the demographics of published women authors. Interesting stuff.

Back to the horror genre as what I believe is a powerful culturally trans-formative tool. “Creature horror” (monsters preying on humans) is a perfect story vehicle for teaching lessons about violence and oppression. When you think about it, the foundation of horror is nearly always “the golden rule.” How would you like to be treated, if you were in this situation? What does it feel like to be a helpless prey animal, pursued by someone or something stronger and faster than you, that sees you as a mindless and valueless piece of meat? What would it be like to be bred as a farm animal, or experimented on in a mad doctor’s lab? These are the questions horror and sci-fi writers routinely ask. They are important ones.

So, as we celebrate Women in Horror month, let’s scab the nasty old stereotype over, once and for all–until that dumbass bias gets brown and crusty and drops the hell off. Both women and men are fully equipped to write some scary shit. And that doesn’t mean we’re actual psychopaths. Seriously. Just don’t look in my garage.

Peace (and pieces)!

LJL

A scary time for women (but this time, in a good way): Women in Horror Month

So, yeah. The current social and political climate is a bit scary, for us girls. Yes, we rocked the pussy march. But when it comes to safety on the streets and control over our uterus, none of us are quite sure where we stand. Fortunately in February, there is a way cooler reason that things get scary.

(pictured, Maila Nurmi as Vampira, Yvonne De Carlo as Lily Munster,  Elsa Lanchester as the Bride of Frankenstein, and Carolyn Jones as Morticia Addams)

February is international Women in Horror Month (WiHM). This is a time for our community of creators and fans to celebrate the work of women in this set of genres. I plan to roll out a few things over the course of the month. One, this introduction to the WiHM happenings. Two, some more information about women in the literary arts (horror and beyond). Three, a couple of historical profiles about women who have contributed to horror genres.

For today, let’s just get a handle on this thing called WiHM. Here’s some information from the 501c3 that supports the thing:

Women in Horror Month (WiHM) is an international, grassroots initiative, which encourages supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries. Whether they are on the screen, behind the scenes, or contributing in their other various artistic ways, it is clear that women love, appreciate, and contribute to the horror genre.

WiHM celebrates these contributions to horror throughout the year via the official WiHM blog, Ax Wound, The Ax Wound Film Festival, and with the official WiHM event/project database in February. This database, in conjunction with the WiHM social media fan base, actively promotes do-it-yourself annual film screenings, blogs/articles, podcasts, and any other form of creative media with the ultimate goal of helping works by and featuring women reach a wider audience.

*Fun fact: “ax wound” is a sexist, slang term for the vagina that has been reclaimed by WiHM in this endeavor. I also co-opted the term in my poem, “Ten ways to play the woman card,” which is up at Rat’s Ass Review. 

This inclusive and positive movement is open to everyone, just as we believe the horror genre should be.

(click on the logo to go to the WiHM site)

So, keep an eye out for WiHM posts on your fave writing blogs or websites. For instance, the New England Horror Writers group will be featuring women members on their blog all month, as they do every year. I didn’t jump in line for that, since I’ve been frantically editing a couple of projects. But my sisters in that group are doing some kickass work, and I highly recommend getting to know them through those blogs.

So, hang in there. If it has to be scary, let’s try to make it the good kind. Celebrate those fierce, feisty, not-taking-shit women. We need them now, more than ever.

Remember, Ladies, don’t be afraid to show your teeth.

We’ll always have Lake Geneva (Vegetarian Romantigoth Ravings on the Romantic Poets)

At this point in my life, I am mostly an interior darkling. In my busy life, the idea of spending a lot of time on any type of visual aesthetic is completely foreign to me. Yet, in my heart, I will always be what may most closely be classed as a variety of Romantigoth. If only I had known that there were others like me when this tendency was at its peak (my adolescence)!

Poetry, Music, Art, Darkness, Spirituality, Beauty, Creativity…yeah. When I was in high school I went through a fervent Romantigoth period, wearing vintage Victorian clothes, bustles, hoops, authentic granny boots, and the like. I shopped at antique stores and flea markets the way my classmates did at the mall. I begged my mother to help me make vintage dresses and bustles, from patterns. I had a collection of riding hats. I repeat…riding hats. Of course, this was before the internet, so I didn’t know I was a Romantigoth. I intuitively went that direction on my own. Painfully socially awkward, I spent my time alone, likely reading a Bronte novel and ignoring the other kids.

As a child of domestic violence and sexual abuse, never making the normal types of friendships, I had always been bullied. By high school, I saw most of my peers more as hostile forms of alien life, so my look was probably as much a buffer to keep them at a distance as anything. Again, probably due to my context, I longed desperately to exist in another time and place. I fervently believed that, in that “simpler time,” everything would be okay and I would fit in. I don’t mean to imply that these are the motivations of others with Gothic leanings, but merely mine.

The Romantigoth part of me is now just a deeply inherent, yet not overwhelming, aspect of my identity. Once dressed to the nines in period clothes, I now but rarely even wear a skirt!  But as you can see, my love of the culture is very real.

One of the hallmarks of a Romantigoth is love of poetry. Mind you, I enjoy a deliberately “bad,” playful verse as much as I do the classics. But today I want to highlight the veg leanings of some of the old masters.

Percy Bysshe Shelley was a philosopher, a “radical,” and an environmental activist before he discovered vegetarianism in 1813. One of his most ardent biographers was Henry S Salt, who was also a prolific author on vegetarianism, animal rights, and other types of social reform. A website on Salt that references his work on Shelley is here.

Continue reading “We’ll always have Lake Geneva (Vegetarian Romantigoth Ravings on the Romantic Poets)”

Greetings!

Wow, this is my first foray into working with WordPress. Please be patient with me. I am Leslie J Linder, author. My paranormal horror book, “Revenant: Blood Justice,” is due out in May through Black Rose Writing. I also write an ongoing column about women and animals for SageWoman Magazine, entitled, “Child of Artemis.” My blog that is related to that project, “Ahimsa Grove,” is available at the link provided. For now, please be patient with my learning curve on this site. I look forward to meeting more like-minded wanderers through this hub.

 

Ahimsa Grove: http://witchesandpagans.com/pagan-culture-blogs/ahimsa-grove.html