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.
I’ve just discovered Squidoo, and have started posting lenses. A lens is like an article, a focus on a single topic, but with lots of nifty modules to help add interactivity. It’s been a great exercise in writing for the web.
One of my first lenses is based on “What I Know About Chinese Vampires,” a background piece I wrote several years ago for Rob Fitz for his film, God of Vampires. It’s shorter than the piece I wrote way back then, and includes information about and links to Chinese vampire movies.
If you’re interested in reading more, check out “Chinese Hopping Vampires” on Squidoo.
A great start to 2010! My most recent essay, “Vampyros Lesbos: Lesbian Vampires, Sexadelic Style,” is now available in issue #4 of Scarlet: The Film Magazine.
Released in 1971, Jess Franco’s psychedelic lesbian vampire film is a one-of-a-kind journey into the inner life of a world weary lesbian vampire and her intended victim.
“On the surface it would seem that Vampyros Lesbos is a story of love gone awry, of Nadine’s attempted seduction of Linda, and Linda’s rejection Nadine, of her lifestyle and everything the lifestyle has to offer. In the end, however, it’s the tale of two women, each with their own desires, and each with their own means of attaining the objects of their desire.”
Available at Universal Newsstands, Hollywood Book & Posters, Creepy Classics, Horrorbles, Midtown Comics, Scary Monsters, DreamHaven, Oldies.com, Dark Delicacies & more. Overseas Scarlet may be ordered from Cinema Store & Hemlock Books (both in England).
You can also order directly from Scarlet Film Magazine by using PayPal. Send an e-mail to: email@example.com.
From the archives: Paula Guran interviews women writers, editors, and readers — including Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Tabitha King, Joyce Carol Oates, and yours truly — about what women look for in horror film and fiction.
A lot of the appeal of horror for women comes from its gothic roots,” says writer, editor, critic Pam Keesey. “Gothic literature, often dismissed as ‘women’s literature,’ was women’s adventure literature, women’s quest literature. Traditional gothic literature often put women at the center of the story, testing their strength, intelligence, bravery, and endurance, often in the face of supernatural adversity. Those elements still appear with frequency in horror films and literature — John Carpenter’s Halloween comes to mind — and I think is, in part, what women find appealing about horror.
Read the full article: What Women Want…in Horror.
Poking around the ’net, I found this interesting piece on a site dedicated to “an understanding of the wolf, its natural, history, its varied relation to humans throughout the ages, and its role as a major symbol in folklore, myth, legend, art and religion, through education, science and public awareness.”
Among other things, they have a commentary on my book, Women Who Run with the Werewolves, and its inspiration, Women Who Run with the Wolves.
I’m particularly please with how they summarize my introduction to Women Who Run with the Werewolves:
This article is certainly not suggesting that modern women wish to go out and devour those who have wronged them in the past, but it does suggest that the use of both the wolf as well as the wolf-human hybrid monster can be transformed into tools of reflection on women’s contemporary social condition. A huge part of the appeal, again, is the simple escape from constricting ties. Commitments to work, family, friends, and society at large are not monstrous and they do not have to be domineering, yet a key feature of modern feminism lay in emphasizing the emotional need to feel in control, to be wild and free, to single-handedly determine the course of one’s own path. This is why many women choose to run with the wolves, as well as with the werewolves; the important part is the ability to choose itself.
The ability to choose. The power to choose. Yes, it’s all about empowerment.