Monstrous Females and Female Monsters

“A free woman in an unfree society will be a monster.”
– Angela Carter

Monsters. The very word conjures fear and terror of the unknown, the abnormal. We all know what monsters are: evil, twisted examples of Nature gone terribly awry. They may be horrible inside and out, or lovely to look at but warped on the inside, or most insidiously, perfectly ordinary in appearance but malignant inside. We are surrounded by them in our books, our movies, our television shows. Our news programs.

Unlike a male monster, a human female can be “monstrous” simply by behaving outside of her assigned social role. An “unnatural” woman is a terrible thing to behold, after all. Everything from our government officials to religious leaders to the culture around us tells us that.

Pop culture holds up its models of what it means to be good women, to conform to the age-appropriate roles that we are assigned: the young and beautiful Maiden, the good and maternal Mother and the wise (or invisible) Crone of modern times. Balanced against them are their counterparts: the ageless vampire, the middle-aged unmarried bunny-killer and the evil hag. These monstrous women feed off men (and occasionally women and children), destroying and/or killing them. They are destroyers rather than nurturers, the very definition of what makes them “monsters.”

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