Catherine Lundoff is a former archaeologist, former grad student and former bookstore owner turned professional computer geek and award-winning author and editor. She is a transplanted Brooklynite who now lives in Minneapolis with her wife and the two cats which own them. Silver Moon (Lethe Press, 2012) is her latest book and “Medium Méchanique” in Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam (2013) is her latest story. Her website is www.catherinelundoff.com.

Monstrous Females and Female Monsters

by Catherine Lundoff

“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.”

There isn’t much room for nuance and depth in the portrayal of female monsters. Male monsters can be sympathetic, wrongfully accused, remorseful even, at least if they are humanoid. They can, under the right circumstances, even serve as romantic leads.

Of course, you can argue that by the time something formerly terrifying has become leading man material, he is no longer a monster. We take a creature like Nosferatu and in a few generations, he’s tamed into being square-jawed and sparkle-skinned and enamored of a contemporary teenager as tabula rasa. But then, is he ever truly tamed? It’s The Hulk inside Bruce Banner that makes him hot, after all, full of barely (or not) contained rage and anger and passion.

Passionate female monsters don’t tend to end well. Their choices are limited: tamed and cuddly, dead, or alone, usually through some desperate tragic act that kills a loved one. Their passions tend to be all about sex or rage, with very little in between. Grendel’s mother is driven by revenge, Lucy in Dracula by lust/hunger, Sil from Species is motivated by sex for procreation and none of them is particularly sympathetic. We see them and other female monsters through the hero’s eyes, or more much more rarely, the Final Girl’s. Not their own.

Female monsters only become sympathetic if they renounce what they are. This is generally achieved by falling in love with the hero. There are rare exceptions, like the sisters in the Ginger Snaps films, or Irena in Cat People, who remain both monstrous and sympathetic, but they aren’t the norm.

Still, they and characters like them are my inspiration to write stories about middle-aged female werewolves, monstrous yet (mostly) ordinary. While I’ve always been fascinated by monsters and written my share of vampires, succubi and other creatures, the Wolf’s Point pack are far and away my favorites to write, to have take up residence in my head.

They wrestle with what it means to be humans who turn into wolves, with other humans who want to use them or kill them, with love and orientation and attraction. I want them to be three-dimensional, multi-faceted characters who are also…monsters. Sympathetic, relatable, female monsters who are good and bad and points in between. Female monsters who embrace who and what they are, at the same time that they recognize just how complicated that is. And isn’t that the essence of being free monsters in a somewhat free society?

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