The Tyranny of Sexy: Female Werewolves in Pop Culture
Over at Jezebel, they’ve been discussing “The Tyranny of Sexy: Female Werewolves in Pop Culture.”
I’m delighted to see so much enthusiasm for women werewolves! When Women Who Run with the Werewolves was published in 1995, women werewolves were hardly on the radar, let alone generating so much excitement. I guess I’ve got the Underworld series and Twilight to thank for that.
The article uses Elizabeth Clark’s thesis “Hairy Thuggish Women: Female Werewolves, Gender, and the Hoped-for Monster” as its starting point. In her thesis, she makes the argument that werewolves are specifically coded as masculine, and one of the reasons we don’t see more female werewolves is because of the transgressive nature of such “masculine femininity.” She argues that the sexualized nature of women werewolves is designed to “neutralize the jarring effect” of such “masculine” women.
I stumbled upon Clark’s thesis several weeks ago, and read it with great interest. So much of what she has to say is so very true. In my own writing, I draw upon popular culture as well, but focus more on the historical and mythological underpinnings of the archetype. (I’ve been a horror fan since I was a child, and the classic monsters—those who are featured among the Universal classic films—are among my very favorites: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Bride of Frankenstein, the Mummy, and the Wolf Man.)
It’s important to note that sexuality is at the core of female monsters, whether vampire, werewolf, mummy, or (significantly) witch. Many of the monstrous aspects of women in horror are taken directly from the Malleus Maleficarum, a book published in 1486 describing how to identify, prosecute, and convict witches. It’s full of—ahem—charming quotes such as:
All witchcraft comes from carnal lust which in women is insatiable.
The descriptions of witches are not only still widespread in much hate speech today, but also central to the theme of female monstrosity. For example, back in 1986, Pat Robertson said:
[The] feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.
(You can always count on Pat Robertson for colorful hate speech.)
Interestingly, many of the descriptions of the evil of witches in the Malleus Maleficarum have also been applied along racial and ethnic divisions, particularly (at the time) gypsys and Jews.
In my opinion, it’s these persistent beliefs, and how they manifest in mythology and archetypal imagery, that inform our pop culture notions of monstrosity.
In tracing the history and mythology of women werewolves back to the demonization of ancient goddesses and the (much later) demonization of women as witches during the witch trials, what I’ve found is that there may be historical, cultural, and mythological reasons why men are more likely to be werewolves than women:
Early images of the Goddess also included the wolf-god as her male consort. Males who were dedicated to the worship of the Goddess in her wolf form are often associated with early man-wolf imagery. As Christianity made inroads into pagan and Goddess-worshiping cultures, wolves and their man-wolf images became associated with the Devil. In the years between 1520 and 1630, an estimated thirty thousand cases of werewolves were recorded in France alone. Werewolves, the Devil’s creatures, were believed to aid and abet witches in their “evil deeds.” Many women were accused of “riding a wolf,” the implication being that they were on their way to a witch’s sabbat. Although some women were accused of being werewolves, the majority of women condemned during this time were accused of being witches. Mostly men were accused of being werewolves. The persistence of the archetypal image of the Goddess and her wolf consort may explain, at least in part, why werewolves are, more often than not, men.
“Introduction,” Women Who Run with the Werewolves
Not that there isn’t room for more women werewolves in the world. I, for one, would love to see them.