Monstrous Women

cross-posted from CU Women’s Resource Center’s Blog


Who doesn’t secretly love monsters? Beautiful things with teeth and tongues and far too many eyes. Skulking about dark caves, decrepit buildings with roots and vines consuming mortar and steel, islands that you only find after a shipwreck in a raging storm. Girls who look human until they pull back their lips revealing rows and rows of shark’s teeth, dripping with saliva. Monsters are fantastic.

Even if you don’t love them, maybe you can still admit that monsters, and what gets labeled monstrous, is deeply fascinating. Medusa, Baba Yaga, even the Valkyrie (if we stretch monstrous to mean not-quite-human, which is often not so much of a stretch) will all be touched upon in this series. Women with tongues and snakes for hair. Who were they, who named them monstrous, and why?

The feminine is so often figured as monstrous, and the monstrous as feminine. Women are turned into monsters for speaking out, for acting up, for taking up to much space. The very act of a woman speaking is figured as a thousand screaming heads or multiple mouths filled with gleaming teeth. Or women are rescued from the monsters, even when the monsters are way more interesting than the limp romance being built up. Women and monstrousness are linked in cautionary tales – don’t go into the forest or you’ll be eaten by a monster, don’t go against the norm or you’ll be turned into a monster.

The monster has always been the Other, a further removal from humanity, and an acceptable target for the dominant systems. But for all the times the knight wins, the dragon is still the most imposing and memorable part of the story. There is strength in horns and petrifying gazes, an ability to carve out space in the story.

This series is going to introduce and celebrate multiple monstrous women, in a combination of the “original” stories, and my own re-tellings and analysis.


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