First, the Stephenie Meyer novel "Twilight" will soon be showing in theaters. Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily reports that users of online ticketing service Fandango voted "Twilight" the most anticipated new movie of the year, and that the response, 95% from women, is tremendous. Naturally, of course, no man, or certainly straight man, would willingly be caught dead watching the movie. Or undead, as the case may be. Interestingly, 42% are 25 or older, while 58% are younger than 25. The novels and movie appeals strongly to young women. The Orange County Register has an article that also suggests this is the case, that teen girls form the core readers for these types of fantasy-romance novels.
"I feel bad for my future husband," says Hammel, 16, of Mission Viejo, who says practically everyone she knows has fallen for the books. "Because he'll always be second in my heart to Edward."
What is interesting is that the news story points out how the vampire novels cater to young women's desire to never grow up. To stay young, sixteen to seventeen, without responsibilities, beautiful, and in love, forever. This is a very different view, of course, from the traditional type of romance novels, pioneered by Jane Austen, where the whole point was to grow up. To become an adult, free of the confines of childhood and the childhood home, able to act as a mature young woman, indulging in both romance (and implied sex) with her husband. Marriage and children were considered the goal — it was merely a question of finding the correct husband, and avoiding the unsuitable ones.
Certain themes pop up in the vampire novels, over and over again, as detailed in a recent Wall Street Journal article. The vampires are of course of perfect physique, washboard abs, and beautiful countenances. The vampires are all "rich" and have wealth, and often power, in their own secret societies. Interestingly, most of the novels feature byzantine politics and "treaties" with humans and fellow vampires, other supernatural creatures, that the female protagonists must navigate. The parallels to the tortuous "Mean Girl" politics of High School Girl Popularity are of course, obvious. The female protagonists of course do nothing, really, except land the most powerful, and politically influential (in the "secret society") vampire, and become the "Head Mean Girl" of the supernatural version of High School. Indeed, many of them are set in Vampire Prep Schools.
For all of feminism's chorus of changing society, it is instructive that none of these novels show the protagonist gaining a career, a skill, a family with a supportive husband, or entering into a traditionally male field where the protagonist is accepted as an equal on her own terms. No, instead what these novels provide is the vicarious thrills of being the most popular and powerful girl in school, with the Big Man on Campus as the eternal boyfriend, forever. With no adult responsibility, or anything else to intrude in the "forever now," where time and the idea of time, simply does not exist. No planning for college, no career focus, no concern about family. None of that.
It's striking, how young women want so little of what feminism offered, and indeed chose the exact opposite — updated versions of the Bronte novels, only with supernatural overtones. Contrary to Freud, we can read these novels and discover what their readers want (they certainly reward the authors well, with sales in the millions). Which is, with respect to men, perfect physiques, physical power far in excess of other men, wealth that does not require work, or a daily job, and very hierarchical, feudal style politics echoing that of female cliques in High School.
The Wall Street Journal calls this the "Alpha Male," but of course it's a Woman's idea of an Alpha Male, echoing Byron, not a Man's idea of an Alpha Male.
For most men (well, straight ones anyway), Byron would be considered a failure. While dubbed, "mad, bad, and dangerous to know," Byron was by the standards of modern men an absolute failure. He had affairs with distant cousins, a married woman (whom he treated cruelly), and was likely, bisexual, having affairs with men at College, and afterwards. He was reputed to have had an incestuous relationship with his half-sister. He sent his illegitimate daughter away to an orphanage, to the disgust of the Shelleys, who eventually broke with him over that issue (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's daughter was born prematurely and died as an infant.) None of Byron's works are much remembered today, and are only rarely read, in contrast to the Shelleys. While "Frankenstein" remains a classic, Byron's works like "Childe Harold" are forgotten.
Nevertheless, he had many affairs, was famous, and was likely the first "celebrity" in the Western World. Famous for being famous, as opposed to actually achieving anything. It's significant that he had few real friends, no real political or cultural influence, and was not an "Alpha Male" in the way that most men would understand it.
For men, Alpha Male is pretty much leadership. The man who dominates a social setting by virtue of his social network, which includes hefty doses of patronage, mentoring, decision making, and most of all, success. Not just for the Alpha Male himself, but more importantly, those in his social network. Thus, Generals Grant and Sherman, would both be considered Alpha Males, even though their sexual pairings were few, and both remained loyal and faithful to their wives. The late Coach Bill Walsh, who successfully mentored an astonishing number of NFL Head Coaches, and took over temporarily as Head Coach of Stanford, so that protege Dennis Green could become Head Coach of the Minnesota Vikings, at that time, the second Black Head Coach in the NFL would be considered by most men, as an Alpha Male. Even though Walsh was not imposing physically, or someone of stature so dominant that he controlled any room he stepped into. Nevertheless, his players and assistant coaches all felt Walsh, his system and his unique analysis, gave them the best chance to win every game. Walsh, like all successful head coaches, made it a point to expand his power and influence, by pushing for his proteges to be hired at head coaching jobs of their own.
Which points to the big difference in preferred social structures between men and at least as indicated by the vampire novels, young women. Men like "flat" social hierarchies, where hard work, leadership, and talent combined can give them opportunities to be part of a "winning team" that expands their own social network. Just as Grant and Sherman both protected each other politically, when each was at a low ebb, so too do the preferred social hierarchies of men protect against losing (since to move ahead takes risk). Achievement is measured in concrete goals accomplished — enemy cities taken, armies destroyed, supplies destroyed or rendered useless. In peacetime, games won, or items sold, or buildings constructed. All of which require cooperation, trust, and delegation of duties, indeed specialization, to accomplish anything big and worthwhile.
None of which, of course, are evident in the profoundly feminine world of the Vampire romances. There might be males in them, but they don't bear any resemblance to what most men consider "manly" anymore than Lord Byron would be any man's idea (at least any straight man's) idea of a role model. Indeed, while the relationship is paramount for the female protagonists of the Vampire romance books, for men in fantasy novels dealing with the supernatural, it is usually just an afterthought. Build an army, an alliance of trust, defeat the monster, and get the girl. All of which happen in sequence, as a result of being a supernatural Bill Walsh or William Tecumseh Sherman. Known to his troops as "Uncle Billy" and in the years after, in the habit of quietly assisting his former troops with food and money if they called at his house. For the girls in the Vampire books, it is of course the reverse. Get the brooding, Byronic hunky vampire guy, and then get the rewards, such as social power, eternal beauty, and popularity.
It is not wrong for men and women to want different things, in different order. Profound gender differences drive each culture, regardless if they are acknowledged openly or not. Yes young women seem to have decisively rejected feminism. But the problem lies in the current situation where men and women's fundamental interests are not aligned. In Jane Austen's day, as lamentable as the restrictions on women's lives were, the fundamental interests of both men and women, to make a good, life-long match for marriage, were aligned (at least for the middling Gentry that Austen wrote about). The economic growth of the 19th Century, and that of the Twentieth, brought that alignment about to the Western masses, down to the most ordinary of persons. While men and women may have thought about society differently, had different perspectives, and wanted different intermediate things, their end goal of making a happy marriage, and having successful, happy children, was shared by both, and society as a whole.
Now, there is a huge mis-match in the relationship market, and nothing speaks more to it than the Vampire novels. Young women want the hunkiest of hunks, natural of course, but also a very hierarchical society where losers and winners have already been picked, and no one changes out of their status, ever. It is a society frozen in Amber, fixed with as the Wall Street Journal describes, "atavism" of a backward, feudal nature. Not just in the original, Bram Stoker version of Dracula, but all the updated versions, from the Sookie Stackhouse series to the Laurel K. Hamilton novels, feature very feudalistic societies made up of "Kings" and "Queens" who "run things" like a combination of the Borgias mixed with the Sopranos mixed with South American Drug lords, with a supernatural twist. Societies made for pretty young women, but not for ambitious young men.
As these young women grow up, they are more likely to demand these hierarchical societies, which advantage pretty young women and place at severe disadvantage ambitious young men. They are likely to prefer older men, who will be in competition with their male peers for their favors. After all, a great deal of the Vampire fantasy is that of the older man, who looks younger. All the vampires are very much older and more experienced than the female protagonists. Politically, this equates to a high degree of support for socialism, among young women. Because socialism provides a frozen-in-amber society, with influential and powerful families running things by design. It is no accident that every socialist economy is plagued by scores of young men, outside the margins of economic success, looking to trump aristocratic control by extreme violence. This is as true in the banlieus of France as it is in the favelas of Brazil.
Among other things, this explains the infamous Gender Gap. Why single women in particular prefer more Leftist, socialist politics than men. It is really a preference for a stable aristocracy, which makes sense given how the different sexes view romantic success.
As these young women grow older, the habits and views of men they have created in adolescence, of course, are unlikely to prove a happy template for solid, stable relationships. In real life, as opposed to fiction, relationships with Byronic bad boys rarely end happily. Theodore Dalrymple notes in his "Life at the Bottom" how both his female patients and his nurses, preferred violent, abusive bad-boys, over stable, decent men. That they only grew out of their attachment to the bad boys when menopause hit. Given the weakening influence of parents, Churches, and other purveyors of traditional social values, and the strengthening influence of peers and the media environment, this is not a happy development.
It would be a mistake, of course, to blame the authors. They simply see a market, and fulfill the demand in the marketplace. No, the blame is entirely that of the social system that allows the mis-match, between young women wanting what only a very few of their male peers can be (impossibly handsome and strong, impossibly rich, impossibly mature, impossibly socially powerful), and the reality of who most of their male peers really are: the lineup of geeks at the dance from the classic 1980's John Hughes film, "Sixteen Candles."
Many or perhaps most of these young boys who are "geeks" can grow up to be successful men in business, the military, or other careers. A look at actor Anthony Michael Hall then and now, is instructive. None of them can grow up to be "Edward Cullen" of the "Twilight" novels. Only a very few men can even approach that combination of physique, power, status, and Byronic brooding bad boy intensity. Perhaps the innate desire to have these qualities in men leads young women to indulge what Roissy in DCM has called the "soft polygamy" of major urban centers in the West.
The real scary thing, however, is that we may be seeing the result play out already, in Japan. Not as a Godzilla movie, but the depopulation of Japan. The CIA World Factbook reports that Japan's Total Fertility Rate is 1.22 (2.1 is considered replacement rate). Japanese women, like their American and European counterparts, would rather chase after the closest thing to Edward Cullen society has to offer, or indulge in consumerism, than marry their male counterparts and have children. Perhaps the failure of the economic success model — the old heroic myths where the male heroes assembled an alliance and slew the monster, saving the day and getting the girl, is responsible for the new reality of the Japanese Salary Man.
Recall the link at the top of the post? The "hodo-hodo" slacker generation of workers in their twenties and early thirties do not want to be promoted. They find the extra money (not as much as before) not worth it. Certainly not worth all the extra work and time away from their own activities. Given how much of Japanese productivity is built upon (largely unpaid) extra work by supervisors, the refusal of Japanese men to take promotions is telling. In part, the young men cite previous lay-offs, where the life-long work meant nothing during budget cuts and firings. But buried between the lines is the nugget that Japanese men, the younger ones at least, no longer believe that wealth and power that is achievable from a Salary Man job will lead to a family. This is the natural outcome, perhaps, of women's increasing power and status in society.
If women have independence, freedom, and their own wealth and power, then they can demand the Byronic bad-boy, and settle into single status, permanently. Only an extraordinary man, unlikely to be found among Salary Men, could persuade them to give up their independence, and it would require the extraordinary levels achievable only in supernatural fantasy, with feudal "secret Kings" and "Queens" living among ordinary people. It takes an "Edward Cullen" to get married, in other words, and for most men, knowledge of that requirement is a reason to stop caring. Stop caring about advancement in work. Stop caring about promotion, responsibility, more money. Leisure time and amusements rule. Much like the life of "Chuck" in the NBC-TV series, before the arrival of the beautiful secret agent.
Western society is predicated on a simple but historically effective bargain between the sexes. Men compete to acquire wealth, power, and status, in a relatively "flat" and open competition, with risks and rewards and social dynamism, which also implies that yes, men (and women) can lose power and status. Women accept this part of the bargain, and in return get much greater freedom of movement and persons relative to other societies, and the protection of men against threats internal and external. It's why Wyoming and New Zealand, rough frontier societies, subject to frequent reversals of fortune, both gave women the right to vote in 1869.
The corollary of course is that few men are priced entirely out of the marriage/relationship market, and no women can really "share" the few men who can approach the fantasy of Edward Cullen, the man who Byronically dominates them and (just as importantly) other men. Generally, societies that have men along the line of Byron tend not to be romantic utopias, but more along the lines of Idi Amin's Uganda, or Mobutu's Zaire. The classic, "Big Man" society with a Big Man ruling everything, and resentful, angry men in the Bush plotting revenge and overthrow of the Big Man.
In the current consumerist plenty, young men are not squatting out in the Bush, planning to overthrow the few men who approach Edward Cullen. Western (and that would include Japanese) society is simply too rich and filled with diversions, from the NFL to X-Boxes, for that to happen. Now. But in a prolonged, and lasting depression, with female preference still set and lagging, for the fantasy of an Edward Cullen, and willing to "share" the few that approach the fantasy?
Nothing good can come of that. Which is a prospect truly scary.