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).



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)!


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)”