Male-Female Gender Dynamics

In Dracula, Stoker has told an epic tale about the battles between our Anglican heroes and their foreign foe. Throughout this novel, Stoker has also told a less obvious story, but just as prominent and important: the complicated dynamic of sexuality in Victorian England. Dracula’s female characters exist in an England where they can be both independent and educated. After all, Lucy has the freedom to choose her husband and Mina greatly assists in compelling a manuscript on the Count. However, while some freedoms exist, women are still constrained by a suffocating patriarchy. This is evident when our male characters refuse tell Lucy why she’s ill and in keeping Mina away from their investigation. Not only this, but even our undead male villain’s only known concubines are all female: the three sisters, Lucy, and Mina. In this way, Dracula is a story characterized by complicated male-female gender dynamics.

To further illustrate this tension between male-female gender dynamics, let’s assess a specific incident. While compiling a manuscript, Mina is confronted by a distressed Lord Godalming. In her diary, Mina recounted that the Lord broke down in front of her, and she wrote that “I suppose there is something in woman’s nature that makes a man free to break down before her and express his feelings on the tender or emotional side without feeling it derogatory to his manhood” (p. 244). In concluding this episode, Lord Godalming conveys his appreciation for her comfort, and calls her a “little girl” (p. 246).

Here Mina is contributing equally to the work of our male leads. And while this may be true, Lord Godalming and others do not appreciate the work she does, but merely her gender for its assumed motherly and nurturing qualities. Lord Godalming does not express his concerns or grievances to those he directly works with, other males, but someone he seldom interacts with, a female. Effectively, by being a woman, Mina’s work goes unacknowledged and her emotional intelligence and sensitivity are overemphasized. In this way, Mina is able to stay close to the investigation, only insomuch as her presence provides comfort and vulnerability in the face of danger. This is why Mina is kept out of the loop on the specific work being done, yet still around our male characters. Effectively, Dracula demonstrates that while women have gained some opportunities, much of their livelihood is still subordinated to the comfort and bidding of men.

One thought on “Male-Female Gender Dynamics”

  1. Pardon this comment being so late… Your post heavily relates Bram Stoker’s view of evolving gender dynamics to that of Christina Rosetti’s prejudice against men. Within Dracula, men are threatened by the idea of the “new woman” who has begun to express sexuality, which, prior to has been repressed by the patriarchy. This sexual constraint perpetuated by men is beginning to be challenged at the time of Dracula, and Rosetti’s work contrasts this heavily in her use of misandric themes.

    Rosetti’s failure to attain recognition and acceptance into the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood likely influenced her work, in that many of her poems portray strong female characters that seek solace among other women, particularly in sisterhood. I’m especially thinking of the poem “No, Thank You, John” which tells the story of unrequited love, however not from the perspective of a man trying to win the admiration of his lady but from the female perspective turning down any interest in the wooing parties.

    Furthermore I recall the sonnet, “The World” in which the parallel sonnet structure mirrors the context of the poem which is about constraint and the limits that men place on women. The poem itself uses imagery taken straight from Greek mythology regarding Medusa’s serpentine hair, and the mockery made of her who challenged Hera’s beauty. This is further developed in the second half of the sonnet where the prison-like labyrinth houses the “feet, cloven too” of a minotaur. Both creatures may themselves be interpreted as unconstrained sexuality of their respective gender, the woman (medusa) who seeks to challenge the gods themselves in beauty, only to be knocked back down, and the male depicted as a bull, possibly a reference to the often aggressively masculine sexual image. This further reminds me of “Lady Audley’s Secret” in which Phoebe’s husband Luke is described multiple times as bull-headed with red hair indicative of unrestrained rage and unpredictability.

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