There is a raging new interest in vampires this weekend, at least for those inclined to go see the new movie, Twilight, Stephenie Meyer's story that in book form sold 1.3 million. These 'paranormal romances' or 'urban fantasies' spin around human females falling in love with supernatural beings (vampires, gods, fairies, werewolves) .
The Perfect Man
I have not seen the movie, but I'd like to point out that a common theme exists in these vampire romances. The heroine is captivated by the perfect man: lovely body, rich, well-dressed and someone better than her, a man both strong and consuming. This is a formula the Bronte sisters introduced in the characters of Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights) and Mr. Rochester (Jane Eyre). Men who were passionate, gifted in lifting their beloved into irrational, but sumptuous heights of erotic love. Men who were powerful, rich, darkly handsome, mysterious, even controlling sometimes cruel, but so dang sexy. They were irrisistible.
And so is the vampire of today's tween and teen fixation. Laura Miller in the Wall Street Journal's article "Real Men Have Fangs" notes that vampires offer "old fashioned romance in the arms of an alpha male." Vampires are permitted some old-fashioned controlling and overprotective vices. Vampires are centuries old (this was news to me) and perhaps haven't adapted to the modern notions of equality between the sexes. And they are, after all, superhuman, so they can offer and demand more than a 'mere' human male should or even could now a days. Vampires let women enjoy a romance from the era of Jane Eyre, while living in the 21st century. As Laura Miller admits "the nagging longing to be plucked from the ashes and exalted by an exceptional, masterful man remains hard for contemporary women to exorcise."
The Daughters of Eve
Miller's words point to something that still plagues the daughters of Eve. "Your desire shall be for your husband and he will rule over you" (Gen 3:16). As modern and updated as we look, we still slide easily into living this reality. As I've said elsewhere, if this is a judgment of God then we do not need to enforce it. We'll find this state of things everywhere we look: women longing for their man and men ruling women, and neither interested in fixing the problem.
I have a theory that popular literature (be it Captivating or Twilight) feeds this zeitgeist by (respectively) dressing it up with Bible verses or entrancing us with eroticism. Both underscore our conviction that this is just the way men and women behave, these are the longings we have been dealt--and God means us to live this judgment. (For my argument against this conviction see the last chapter in Ruby Slippers).
Deep down I believe most women struggle with a desire to be exalted by a man mysterious and otherworldly (be it Lydia's Wickham, Jasmine's Alladin or Bella's Edward in Twilight), a man worthy of joining, uniting to, a man stronger, better than us. The female captivation with men who are "out of our league" tells me more about the state of women's souls, than the reality of the number of good men on planet earth. It tells me that we're more in love with our version of romance, than we're in love with a real man of flesh and blood and soul.
My concern, here, is that these longings are not worthy of the image-bearers of God that we are. We cannot dream of a romance between "unequals", and then expect a marriage of mutual love and respect, of partnership, unity, sexual satisfaction and enduring warmth. If we expect that a man with the prowess of a Mr. Rochester or a vampire-powered Edward will appear in our lives, we can safely assume that 20 years into our marriage we will find ourselves much more like Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice than Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy.
The Perfect Woman
Across the Pacific Ocean, Japanese women are less concerned with concocting the perfect male hero and more attracted to embellishing the perfect female form. The latest fashion has women idolizing the old-world styles of European royalty, leaving their homes be-decked in fully costumed princess attire, frilly dresses, stiletto slippers with ribbons, tiaras, elbow-length gloves, huge bows embellishing their long, dyed hair curled in Pre-Raphelite ringlets. This style, hime gyaru or princess girl, can cost $1000 per outfit. Princess use tricks of the trade like speaking in soft chirpy tones, applying mascara to fake eyelashes and curling hair both outward and inward to get more volume. The appeal: a bit of escapism from the stress of work coupled with the longing for a happy-ending fairy tale. This style is for those who want to be, in the words of hime model and salesperson, Keiko Mizoe (pictured above), "perfect, gorgeous and feminine."
This is the femininity of style without the femininity of soul.
You might guess that after endowing your own look with so much precision and premeditation, you would not deem most men worthy of a second glance.
So dress the part and this makes you worthy of a prince? (Similar sentiments float in our world during prom dress shopping) As one aspiring Japanese princess says of this style, "Their cuteness is beyond human, I'd like to be like them."
If we want feminine to be as simple (and complex) as elaborate embellishment, if we crave male heroes who make us feel bewildered by their perfection,prowess and masterful "handling" of us then we do not know what Man and Woman were created for in the first place. If we think the dance between the sexes is about our moves and clothing and the endless flirtation, then we forget that Woman was created to Help and Man created with Need.
We are interdependent in a way that will always speak of our vulnerability, not a game of cat and mouse, not a party to dress up for, not a seduction to dabble with but a created need that cannot be filled unless we acknowledge it with sobriety and grace. For the sake of men and women everywhere, we cannot lose touch with what our humanity, our gender, our sexuality means. "In the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman" (I Corinthians 11:11).
Our Real Selves
The Christian mystic, Thomas Merton, writes in his preface, No Man is an Island that "the life of the spirit puts us in the fullest possible contact with reality--not as we imagine it, but as it really is." True spirituality makes us aware of our real selves, and places these real selves in the presence of God.
What becomes of the women that Jesus wanted to redeem when she shrouds her body (and even her soul) in fashion that minces her steps? I have seen how woman's visions of romance limit her gifts being used in the body of Christ. I have watched my own dreams of a princess-type marriage breaking the community between two equals into a hierarchy of the leader and the submissive one. I believe much of our adolescent hankering for a man of perfection leads to the embittered comments of wives who've found they've married a mortal, a human, a man.
Whether you be 17 or 73, let's get into the fullest contact with reality, not as we imagine it, but as it really is. If you are united to a man, let's rejoice that he is human, and not superhuman. If you have crazy messy hair and wear jeans and sweatshirts (as I do tonight), rejoice with me that I am fully human--walking into my full humanity with Jesus as my companion.
A Litmus Test
Let me offer a final test to ponder on in the days to come. If a fashion, idea or romance mocks either the limitations or realities of our humanity, it is not worthy of imitation. Jesus never mocked our limitations, instead he embodied them, so that being human would be, once again, something glorious.