television: sookie stackhouse vs. bella swan
Sookie vs. Bella: The Heroine Showdown
There was once a time when the vampire genre was deliciously subverted. Pretty young blonde girls were powerful super-heroes, who went around slaying demons and vampires, and didn’t take crap from their boyfriends. Those were the days of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Long, long gone are those days. From Twilight to True Blood, the vampire genre has returned to its Victorian roots: it’s all vicious virile men and virginal women. The empowered female heroine is a thing of the past – now, we’re left with role models the calibre of Bella Swan and Sookie Stackhouse.
Much has been said/written on the weakness of Bella’s character. I won’t rehash those epic feminist rants here. Instead, I propose a comparison, to see whether Sookie Stackhouse is any better.
1) Super Powers
Firstly, a look at each heroine’s super powers. Bella has no powers at all when she first meets Edward in Twilight. She is mortal, while Edward has super-strength, super-speed and super-hotness. In Meyer’s own words, Bella is the helpless lamb, at the mercy of the lion. By Eclipse, Bella has developed ‘super-self-harm!’ powers. In a perverse attempt at empowerment, Meyer has Bella slash her wrists to distract some evil vampires – thus, Bella saves the day. Only in the closing chapters of the final novel, Breaking Dawn, does Bella finally vamp-out and become equal with Edward.
Sookie, on the other hand, starts out with powers of her own. She is no mere mortal – she’s a telepath, able to read human minds, with possibly greater unexplored powers waiting to surface. Her telepathy also makes her immune to vampire mind-control. Though her powers are (initially) passive and internal, Sookie uses them to save Bill and to bargain with vampire overlord Eric. The fact that Sookie has a supernatural ability puts her almost on even ground with Bill – she is as special and as useful as Bill is.
Sookie wins hands down in the super powers department, simply by virtue of having any. Bella, in comparison, is a helpless heroine.
2) Saving and Getting Saved
As noted above, Sookie does her fair share of saving in True Blood. Her telepathy helps her find and free Bill; she anticipates dangerous situations and solves a string of murders. There are an equal number of occasions where she is saved by Bill/Sam/Eric, or by some combination thereof. However, over all, Sookie gives as good as she gets in the saving department.
In comparison, Bella is the perpetual damsel in distress. She is always the target of the aggressors (James tracks her in Twilight, Victoria/Lestat hunt her in New Moon/Eclipse, The Volturie come for her and Renesmee in Breaking Dawn). And she always needs Edward or Jacob (or both) to protect her.
Sookie somewhat lives up to the title ‘heroine,’ in that she does heroic things to save others, and to save herself. Bella is less a heroine than a victim.
3) Romance and Men
To be honest, neither Sookie nor Bella is exemplary in this department (though, again, we have a clear winner). Twilight and True Blood are glorified romance novels. Both heroines spend a lot of their time embroiled in man-related drama. Sookie escapes one tiresomely predictable love triangle (Sam/Sookie/Bill) to get snared in another slightly more interesting one (Eric/Sookie/Bill). Bella spends all four books caught between Edward and Jacob.
Both Sookie and Bella fall tragically in love with their vampire beaus almost instantly. Both women are proposed to, and agree to get married very quickly. And both love their un-dead other-halves with Romeo & Juliet intensity.
Overall however, Sookie’s relationship with Bill is a little less painfully anti-feminist than Bella’s relationship with Edward. Yes, Sookie puts up with a lot from Bill, but she doesn’t put up with everything. She chastises him for manipulating humans, refuses to talk to him after he kills her uncle, and even threatens to break up with him. Bella, on the other hand, is a squishy human doormat when it comes to Edward. She complains when he imprisons her and prevents her from seeing other men, but she doesn’t actually stand up to him. She never wins any of their arguments. And I couldn’t even imagine her telling Edward “this isn’t working”, like Sookie does.
And the Winner is…
Comparing the three most prominent characteristics, it’s pretty clear who the winner is. Sookie Stackhouse beats Bella Swan to a pulp. It’s not that Sookie is a perfect feminist role-model (far from it!). It’s just that Bella is such a terrible one. Sookie is comparatively empowered, well rounded and balanced, in the face of Bella’s passive, single-minded devotion to her abusive partner.
Want more? Read what Lex Rosenberg had to say about True Blood Season One here.