Contemporary Paranormal Fantasy – Failing Feminism and Morality?

For all of those asking me what my honours project is about – this is it.

The idea for this piece arose from ruminating on the state of contemporary paranormal fiction. The airing of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its subsequent cult following demonstrated that there was a place for women not only in paranormal fiction, but fiction in general, that are strong, independent and decisive. The beauty of Whedon’s work is that while Buffy was endowed with physical powers that could be argued as excessively masculine, she was also a stereotypical teenage girl, blurring the lines between traditional gender roles. Whedon also used Buffy to question morality and whether right and wrong was so simple. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the character of Spike, a vampire who enters the narrative as a main antagonist only for the series to conclude four seasons later with Spike a beloved protagonist who sacrifices himself to save the world and his lover, Buffy. Little paranormal fiction I have encountered since has come as close to being as groundbreaking as Whedon’s work.

Since the airing of Buffy, the paranormal subgenre of science fiction has experienced a sharp rise in popularity that hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.Despite its popularity, paranormal fiction is widely criticised for being anti-feminist and reliant on the overuse of outdated gender cliches. Kristina Deffenbacher (2014) writes that relationships and romance within the paranormal genre are often thinly concealed rape fantasies, denying the woman consent through her inability to resist a supernatural force rather than a physical force and absolving men of any responsibility for their actions due to their primal and hypermasculine supernatural nature.

With novels like Twilight and similar offerings proliferating the market it is easy to see how Deffenbacher has drawn this conclusion. Female characters are reliant on the validation of the alpha male, who in almost every example is domineering, manipulative and emotionally abusive and often commits heinous acts against her that would land him in jail were it the real world. Stalking, physical and emotional abuse and scarily enough rape are then retroactively granted the female’s approval once she “understands” his motivations, thus sanitising the issue. Many of these books use the example that the male is searching for, or protecting his “one true mate/love” to do this, such as Twilight (almost everything Edward does, Jacobs creepy “imprinting” on an infant), A Hunger Like No Other (Laclain’s kidnapping and violation of Emma) and Succubus Blues (Georgina’s submission to Roman despite finding him off).

As a genre that is concerned primarily with speculating on societal norms and morals, presenting alternatives and deconstructing ideologies, science fiction can be argued to be a feminist and postmodern genre. Unfortunately, it is my belief that the paranormal subsection of the genre largely fails to live up to this standard. The paranormal subgenre also has the potential to explore notions of morality at a number of levels, most simply by deconstructing the good/evil paradigm, but my readings have identified these works to instead romanticise evil thoughts and actions as the struggle to control one’s self when faced with an object of desire and subsequently fail to adequately address this binary. The only body of work I have found to come close to exploring these issues was Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

My project is therefore twofold. The first part is two research and prepare an exegesis on the above points. The second is to write a novel that fits into the paranormal genre that actively subverts the issues I’ve identified. And it has to be funny.

Me & James Marsters (Spike from Buffy) in 2011.

Me & James Marsters (Spike from Buffy) in 2011.

Deffenbacher, K 2014, ‘Rape myths’ twilight and woman’s paranormal revenge in romantic and urban fantasy fiction, The Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 47, no. 5, pp. 923-936.

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