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Postmodern Village
est. 1999
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"Mina the Vampire Slayer": Female Sexuality and Power in Two Vampire Stories
by Carrie-Anne DeDeo

At first glance, Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the hour-long TV series which premiered in 1997 and is, as of this writing in March of 1999, in its third season, bears little resemblance to the book which started the vampire craze - Bram Stoker's Dracula, published a century earlier. And yet, looks can be deceiving. Although the trendy - and often skimpy - clothing and bandied about pop-culture references of Buffy clearly mark the series as a product of a far different culture than that of the Victorian England of Dracula, the underlying tensions of the two texts are far similar than one might think. Beneath the surface differences in the treatment of their heroines, the two texts converge in similarly problematic anxieties about gender and sexuality.

Unlike other latter-day adaptations of the vampire legend - such as films like The Hunger and Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire novels - which actively shatter accepted tenets of vampirism, such as the danger of sunlight or crosses to vampires, Buffy relies heavily on the guidelines for vampirism established by Stoker in his novel. In Buffy, as in Dracula, vampires can be killed by direct sunlight and harmed by holy water and crucifixes (Golden 125). When, for instance, Buffy's crucifix necklace touches her vampire boyfriend Angel's chest, it leaves a burn-mark similar to that left on vampire-defiled Mina Harker's forehead by application of a Holy Wafer in Dracula ("Angel;" Stoker 302). And unlike the sympathetic portrayals of vampires advanced in Rice's novels and in the 1960s soap opera Dark Shadows, the vampires shown are not good or even human. They are, in the words of Buffy's Watcher Giles "demon at the core. There's no halfway" ("Angel"). Van Helsing's pledge that "Devils or no devils, or all the devils at once, it matters not; we fight him all the same" holds true both in Dracula and on Buffy, where representatives of good band to combat forces of evil (143).

Just how the forces of good organize themselves in each text reveals much about the assumptions about gender roles present in their cultures of origin. Buffy Summers, a teenage girl, is the Vampire Slayer - "One girl, in all the world, a Chosen One. One born with the. . . strength and skill to hunt the vampires, to stop the spread of evil" (Giles/Buffy, "Welcome to the Hellmouth"). Her friends, the so-called Slayerettes, and her Watcher Giles only provide assistance and support, whereas Dracula's Mina is merely a minor - and weaker - member of a large group of men, including her husband, who fights in order to protect her. Without doubt, the image of the petite Buffy fighting and killing vampires week after week forces the viewer to recognize this young woman as strong and powerful. Despite her physical passivity in the novel, "sweet-faced, dainty-looking" Mina reveals she too is strong and necessary to the fight against evil, even if in less obvious and physical ways than Buffy (226). Seward credits Mina's skill in typing and work in compiling hers, Harker's, and his diaries as providing the key without which they "could never have found the dates otherwise" (232). The information Mina provides while under hypnosis - visions echoed in Buffy's prophetic dreams ("Welcome to the Hellmouth," "Prophecy Girl," "Surprise," "Innocence") - makes it possible for the group to ascertain Dracula's location in Transylvania. In the book's end Note, Harker describes Mina as "a brave and gallant woman," responsible, in large part for the destruction of Dracula. Though within the constraints of Victorian society, Mina cannot express her bravery physically, as Buffy does, she provides an indispensable role in the slaying of a vampire (382).

While the degree to which each individual young woman, as a representative of good, can directly fight evil results from the differences in their societies gendered norms of behavior, the texts' commentaries on Buffy and Mina's sexuality seem eerily similar. The ease with which Buffy incorporates skimpy tanktops and frank discussions of teenage relationships belies the program's underlying anxieties about sex. In Buffy, as in Dracula, fears about sex and its consequences, as they relate to the text's overarching concern with the relationship between good and evil, are reflected in lesser characters, as well as in their heroines. Lucy Westenra, the beautiful but shallow girl who wonders, "Why can't they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her," proceeds, in the coded sexuality of Stoker's Victorian England, to become the most sexualized creature in the novel (68). She obtains her wish - mixing her blood through blood transfusions, in what her fiance Godalming sees as being "as if they two had been really married and that she was his wife in the sight of God" - with four different men (181). Lucy's out-of-control sexuality, which develops through her encounters with Dracula, ultimately becomes destructive to those around her. "[H]ad [Arthur] met that kiss. . . before poor Lucy die," he would have become one of the Un-Dead (220). In order to prevent her from "working wickedness by night and growing more debased by day," the sexualized Lucy must be destroyed (221). Sexuality and evil, in Dracula, cannot be separated.

Just as the descriptions of Lucy's sinfulness and evil as a vampire conjure sexual connotations, the sexual energy of various characters on Buffy almost invariably results in evil. Faith, another slayer, who gets sexually excited after fighting vampires and who has a one-night stand with Buffy's friend Xander, functions as a foil to Buffy in a manner similar to which Lucy parallels Mina ("The Zeppo"). Faith's uncontrollable energy - both sexual and in fighting vampires - leads her to kill an innocent man and ultimately to offer her services to the vampires attempting to take control of Sunnydale, California. As with Lucy, the connection drawn between Faith's promiscuity and her ultimate union with evil forces provides a warning for the heroine of the text.

Both Mina and Buffy, as the heroines, confront sexual temptations similar to those of Lucy and Faith, but unlike them, Mina and Buffy are able to emerge successful from the conflict. Like Lucy, Mina - a character who heretofore had lacked any sexual element, even in her marriage with Jonathan Harker - becomes incredibly sexualized as a result of her encounters with Dracula. Her most explicit encounter, in which Dracula forces her to "either suffocate or swallow some of" his blood, is described twice - once by Dr. Seward and once by Mina, who interjects with orgasmic exclamations of "Oh my God! my God!" throughout her retelling (294). Buffy's introduction to sexuality also comes at the hands of a vampire - Angel, a two hundred year old vampire cursed with a soul - to whom she loses her virginity on her seventeenth birthday ("Surprise"). In both cases, the element of danger present in the young woman's sexual awakening both increases the intensity of the experience, both for the character and the reader, and results in an - at best - ambivalent statement about the woman's sexuality.

As with Lucy, the sexual experiences of Mina and Buffy have negative, even evil, consequences. Mina's encounters with Dracula put her in "worse than mortal peril," threatening to damn her soul as well as kill her body, and indirectly cause the death of Quincey Morris (294). As a resulting of experiencing "complete happiness" with Buffy, Angel loses his soul and becomes evil again ("Surprise," "Innocence"). The texts themselves do more than hint at this connection between the heroines' sexual awakenings and the resulting evil unleashed upon the world. Mina calls herself "Unclean! Unclean!" and describes the scar from the Host on her forehead as a "mark of shame" which she shall bear "until the Judgment Day" (302). Buffy, despite her love for Angel, must impale him in order to save the world and then runs away from Sunnydale ("Becoming: Part Two"). Mina and Buffy survive and remain on the side of good, as Lucy and Faith do not, only because they make the connection, hinted at in the other cases by the text, between their own sexuality and the resulting evil and take action in response to the evil they see themselves as having had a part in creating. In fighting evil, however, they must deny their own sexuality.

What then, are these two vampire stories from wildly different times and cultures saying about female sexuality? At first glance, it seems simple to dismiss both as misogynist portrayals as female sexuality as necessarily uncontainable and dangerous. To make that statement, however, ignores the nuances of the two texts in their very different presentation of their heroines. To be certain, Mina and Buffy are central to the action of the tales - both contributing to the destruction of evil in the guise of the vampire - but their presence also is necessary for the meanings promulgated by the texts. For all the praise of her as a "gallant woman," Mina's true place in Dracula is laid bare in her husband's final words of the novel - "some men loved her, that they did dare much for her sake" (382). Mina in effect is significant only in her relation to men, and her sexuality is thus defined solely as a threat to their power. Buffy, however, is an active participant in her series. She fights evil - even when fighting evil means killing the man she loves - for the sake of the world. Herein lies the difference between Mina and Buffy's sexuality. For Buffy, sex is ultimately viewed as a positive force - with the capacity for producing "complete happiness" - when it occurs out of love rather than excess, and Buffy's slaying of Angel is a sacrifice made more significant by its contrast to the positive depiction of their sexual relationship. For Mina, however, renunciation of Dracula's evil must include the renunciation of her own physical needs and desires. The roles played by social mores and conceptions of gender and sexuality are, in the end, more than incidental. Indeed, the difference between Victorian England and 1990s America causes the subtle - but significant - valuation of the connections between good and evil, between women and sexuality in two very similar, yet significantly different, texts.

Works Cited

Golden, Christopher and Nancy Holder. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer: The Watcher's Guide. New York: Pocket Books, 1998.

Leatherdale, Clive. Dracula: The Novel and the Legend. East Sussex, England: Desert Island Books, 1985.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New York: Signet, 1992.

Whedon, Joss, creator and executive producer. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Twentieth Century Fox Television, 1997.

Originally web-posted at http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~dedeo/ by the author.