Sookie as Feminist? Hear Her Roar.

Ever since I started watching True Blood, I’ve had a hard time believing Sookie Stackhouse as a feminist icon. Sure, she kicks a lot of butt, sometimes seeking danger out herself (taking down the Rattrays when they milk blood from Bill in the car park of Merlottes), is in charge of her sexuality, if that means staying a virgin until the right man comes along, and doesn’t take shit from anybody. But… she’s just so damn annoying!

So is Glee’s Rachel Berry and most of the Gossip Girl cast, and they could be seen as icons of feminism for the texting set. However, instead of whining to her teacher, withholding sex from her boyfriend or plotting revenge against her nemeses, Sookie is just the opposite. She may be blonde, virginal and innocent in every sense, but she is also very much like Buffy Summers, who was created with bucking the horror movie victim stereotype in mind.

As one commenter on True Blood’s Nest points out, “Sookie is brave to the point of being stupid at times…”. While this can be an admirable quality sometimes, it does contribute to her annoyingness.

Speaking of characters who act before they speak, Tara Thornton comes to mind.

True Blood is all about juxtaposing discrimination against the blacks and the gays against the discrimination of vampires. The book True Blood & Philosophy, which I reviewed last week, mentions that Sookie and Tara were both raised—for the most part—by Sookie’s grandmother, yet Sookie is “admired, protected and coeveted by every heterosexual male main character and loved by a sweet, nurturing grandmother” while “Tara is blunt, sarcastic, morose, love-starved and goes home each night to an alcoholic mother” and gets caught up in Maryann’s spiral of lies and magic. Racist stereotypes or social criticism?

And while we’re on Maryann, she seems to embody “certain stereotypes of late-1970s feminism”, both in the clothes she wears (floaty, feminine and ethereal maxi dresses) and the hedonistic, maenadic lifestyle she espouses. Given her obsession with taking down Sam, using Eggs as her partner in crime and erecting the meat-statue in Sookie’s yard (not to mention her “hunter’s soufflé”!), she really embodies the “feminist as man-eater” ideal.

While these are good examples of other, non-blonde/innocent/virginal heroines in True Blood (and while we’re at it, let’s not forget Pam, Lorena and Sophie-Ann), I would also like to examine Sookie in relation to the men of Bon Tempts. Let’s look at True Blood’s Nest again:

“… Bill and various other hot men are always rescuing Sookie from certain death, or so it seems. But remember y’all, it was her that tried to find the town serial killer, not the useless cops. It was her that killed Rene the Killer with a shovel to the neck while the menfolk bumbled around the graveyard uselessly. It was her that decided to go to Dallas in order to get Lafayette out of Eric’s icky dungeon, AND she wanted money and a driveway as part of the deal. Once again the menfolk spluttered and marvelled at her bravery and sauciness, and lusted after her even more for it. She is the mistress of her own kick ass destiny while Bill, Sam and even Eric can only follow in her wake, hoping to be of some use.”

The original title for this post was “What is it With Sookie”, and seriously, what is it with Sookie?! By the end of season three, we have found out that Sookie’s appeal to the “menfolk” may be because of her fairy heritage, not because of her physical attributes or personality traits.

This is unfortunate for Bill, because it is plain to see that he does love Sookie for who she is, not what she can do for him. But I will say that the fairy blood storyline is an intriguing one; did Sookie’s blood allow Bill to crawl, albeit with his flesh charring with each movement he made, to her rescue in the graveyard at the end of season one? Is that also why Eric wants her?

But when you take away their supernatural abilities, Bill and Sookie’s relationship is one with issues that I’m sure a lot of modern day couples face: Bill has old-fashioned sensibilities in wanting to protect his lover, while Sookie struggles with the concept of maintaining “independence in sexual relationships”, which second- and third-wave feminism have told us we must do. Nothing illustrates this conflict (and metaphorical backlash?) than the second episode of season two, when Sookie storms out of Bill’s car after a fight about said independence and protection only to be attacked by a mythical creature for her efforts!

Elsewhere: [True Blood’s Nest] Fangirls Speak Out: Sookie—Feminist Icon?

[Racialicious] True Blood. Tired Stereotypes.

[Feminist Frequency] Beyond True Blood’s Sensationalism.

Related: True Blood & Philosophy by George A. Dunn & Rebecca Housel Review.

Has Feminism Failed?

Top 10 TV Moments of the Year.

Gossip Girl Proves There’s No Such Thing as Wonder Woman.

Surfing the Third Wave: Second Wave VS. Third Wave Feminism on Gossip Girl.

Book Review: True Blood & Philosophy by George A. Dunn & Rebecca Housel.

 

I bought this book last year around the time season three of True Blood was coming to an end, and the inspiration struck me to write a post on Sookie Stackhouse and feminism. Needless to say, that post has yet to come to fruition (watch this space next week), but I finally got around to reading the book in the past fortnight or so.

The great thing about the Pop Culture and Philosophy series is that you don’t need to be an avid fan of the topic each book deals with; most of the philosophical musings can be applied to everyday life. (I’m making a gross generalisation here, as True Blood & Philosophy is the first Pop Culture volume I’ve read!)

Anyone who’s familiar with the show and Charlaine Harris’ books will know that the way vampires are treated in the somewhat alternate universe of Bon Temps, Louisiana, is a metaphor for how gays and blacks have been treated for centuries.

True Blood and Philosophy delves into this throughout the book, but particularly in the “Eros, Sexuality & Gender” section, where the issue of “orientation” is raised: “Vampires seem to be unlike gays in that we can’t say that vampires are born that way… But there is still a parallel to being born either gay or straight, for once you become a vampire, there’s no returning to a human existence” (p. 98).

One way vampires and gays are different, though, is that “a homosexual predator” cannot “attack or coerce an unwilling person into homosexual acts”, whereas a vampire can take someone against their will (p. 99). You can’t “catch” homosexuality, but you can catch vampirism.

To take it a step further, there was a time when propaganda that the gays will give you AIDS was rife (some might argue that it still is), and were prohibited from participating in sports and other activities where blood could be spilled. This raises the question of the marginalisation of vampires in sports, as well as the use of their blood as medicine. (See “Coming Out of the Coffin & Coming Out of the Closet”, p. 93–108.)

My favourite chapter deals with the attitudes of humans towards vampires and vice versa, and how the way they treat each other amounts to the way non-fiction humans treat animals.

For example, Eddie Gauthier, the vampire whom Jason Stackhouse and Amy Burley take hostage and use as their own personal V vat, is a parallel for “the way millions of animals are treated every day on factory farms… Eddie, like the animals on factory farms, is exploited as a commodity with no regard for his suffering” (p. 36–37).

Furthermore, “… many… vampires actually regard human beings as lower forms of life ripe for exploitation, not much different from the way Aristotle and others regarded non-human species,” in “a classic example of speciesism” (p. 38–39).

Last year, I blogged about an article I read in Time, about how animals that we once thought to not be able to understand language, reasoning, fairness and pain, actually do experience these things. Vampires seem to have a similar attitude towards humans, whom they see only as a food source, and “incapable of feeling pain as we do”, according to the magister when ordering Bill to turn Jessica as punishment for killing one of their own to protect his “human pet”, Sookie (p. 44).

In a similarly intriguing chapter, William C. Curtis asks “can vampires be good citizens”?:

“Should there be a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to require vamps to come clean about their past murders in return for a grant of amnesty? How should vampires be taxed, especially since they don’t need many of the services that government provides, like Social Security, health care, and education? Can they join, or be drafted into, the armed forces?… Will their vulnerability to sunlight be treated as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act? Can vampire convicts be sentenced to life in prison, or would eternal incarceration violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment?” (p. 65–66).

All these questions have been brought about by the advent of synthetic blood, allowing vampires to “come out of the coffin”, so to speak.

On this, an interesting footnote from the chapter “Un-True Blood: The Politics of Artificiality” by Bruce A. McClelland, refers to a 1927 study by Takeji Furukawa on the correlation between blood types and personality. Being a Japanese study, and the fact that synthetic TruBlood was developed by the Japanese; is there some connection? Or just a coincidence? The clot plot thickens…

A memorable event thus far on True Blood has been the introduction of Maryann the Maenad and her Dionysian debacle. “Let the Bon Temps Roll: Sacrifice, Scapegoats and Good Times” deals with the self-preservation of the Bon Temps residents in “not wanting to know what’s in the sausage”, as Lafayette Reynolds would say (p. 141–142). Or rather, not wanting to know what’s in Maryann’s “hunter’s soufflé”!

This ignorance is further symbolised by the black eyes of Maryann’s followers; they’re literally blind to her wicked ways (p. 142).

Of course this book is more suited to the True Blood fan, however it’s not a prerequisite. (I’m trying to force-feed my friend Laura this book in the hopes that she will cotton on to the sexy-smarts of the show. She’s doing the same to me with Mad Men.) Many of the thoughts discussed go much deeper than just Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries and vampirism, and it’s quite a thought-provoking—yet still light—book.

Related: Time’s “What Animals Think” Issue: August 16, 2010.