Wrath, and the fear it evokes, are intimately tied with gender. The angry, rampaging monsters are usually depicted as male: werewolves, the Minotaur, Frankenstein’s creature, the Hydra, Grendel, the Beast, King Kong, and so on down the nearly endless list. When female monsters are granted their anger, it’s usually entwined with sexuality or motherhood. La Llorona and Medusa are examples, but I’m hard-pressed to come up with even with a short list for the angry feminine. In cultural consciousness around the world, the message is that women can be scary but not angry (like the Sphinx and Carmilla), and only angry if that anger arises from a hetero-relationship that positions her as a victim – thereby undermining her power. Think of Medusa, angry at men as a rape victim. Or the angry ghost of a woman who committed suicide after being jilted by a lover (Japanese folklore is littered with them). A solely angry monster can’t be female, and certainly can’t be whole.

Why? Because then she would be really terrifying. An angry, rampaging woman is what society, particularly a patriarchal society, fears. Mona Eltahawy says it best:

[A]nger terrifies patriarchy…Patriarchy worries when you talk about encouraging and nurturing anger in girls because it wants to deny girls a necessary response to injustice. Patriarchy know that when we nurture anger in girls, they will hold patriarchy accountable and that those girls will grow up to be women who demand a reckoning. It does not want that reckoning, and we must demand it.
Patriarchy prefers instead that girls perform a self-reckoning, one in which girls learn to turn anger not outwards where it belongs and can target injustice, but inwards. The result is that instead of using anger to destroy patriarchy and its injustices, anger instead destroys girls. Instead of turning their rage at being diminished and abused outwards at patriarchy, girls learn to turn it inwards as sadness and shame, which debilitate and consume girls. In other words: girls become too consumed with that inner fighting against themselves to fight patriarchy externally. Girls grow up consumed with self- hatred and trauma, with little energy left to terrify anyone, let alone patriarchy. Sadness, not anger, becomes the currency of girls. Sadness does not terrify patriarchy (30).

Monsters are the embodiments of boundary crossing and taboo breaking. They are our fears and our desires. So it makes sense that the only examples of a feminine transcendent anger present in monstrous narratives c/o patriarchy are of a sad anger turned inward. The raging La Llorona searching for her lost children is continuously wailing and weeping. For the patriarchy, a truly angry woman would be too terrifying and too threatening. The former is what I call the near-monstrous, something that is othered but still close enough for us to be comfortable with, while the latter is beyond-monstrous, something so far removed from our ability to comprehend it that we can’t even come to grasp what that thing would truly be. Primal feminine rage is one limit patriarchy does not want us to cross, and seeks to deny our imagination even the possibility. The idea is un-entertainable. Which is precisely why we need them. We need angry, monstrous women who terrify the foot soldiers of patriarchy and devour whole corrupt societies. We need them lurking in the shadows and hiding under beds, because monsters are a roadmap to places beyond our current boundaries and they show us what is possible. It should be the perpetrators of atrocities who are constantly looking over their shoulders and hiding under the covers, not the victims of those atrocities.

Works Cited

Eltahawy, Mona. The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls. Boston: Beacon Press, 2019.

I hope to some day live in a world where there isn’t an International Women’s Day. A world where being a woman is not itself an exclusively special category that necessitates a day to reflect on because it is a type that is victimized in the most horribly gruesome ways. Some day, women won’t suffer for being women. They will simply just be human.

Until then, I would like to share with you some information about feminism and philosophy from Cornell’s Feminist Summer Reading Group. There are amazing people out there doing amazing things, and giving voice to the rest of us that struggle to make ours heard. Thank you.

www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09515089.2017.1363881

link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11098-017-0919-0

onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/hypa.12351/abstract

beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com

www.philosophy.rutgers.edu/graduate/climate/529-climate-of-women-implicit-bias

​bpa.ac.uk/resources/women-in-philosophy/good-practice

​opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/02/women-in-philosophy-do-the-math/

https://blog.apaonline.org/?s=women+in+philosophy

One of Teratology’s foundational pillars in the Middle Ages was how to avoid giving birth to a monster. Chapter eleven of Ambroise Paré’s On Monsters and Marvels (1575) is called “An example of monsters that are formed, the mother having remained seated too long, having had her legs crossed, or having bound her belly too tight while she was pregnant”. While obstetric teratology in the medical field has remained focused on studying fetal deformities, specifically how to do avoid doing so, cultural teratology has recently shifted the focus to the monstrosity of pregnancy itself. Movies like Prevenge (2017), Rosemary’s Baby (1986), and A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1986) focus more on the anxieties and physical transformation of the mother rather than on the developing fetus, soon to be born baby.

In Prevenge, Ruth is driven to kill people she deems guilty for the death of her boyfriend by the voice of the developing fetus. Scenes depict the protagonist in various states of mania and delusion punctuated by visions of a demonic woman mimicking a film she had watched. As the birth nears, her mania increases as she struggles to maintain her autonomous identity that has become conflated with “widow” and “mother”. The other two films depict the protagonists trying to maintain control over their own bodies as the pregnancy process has been co-opted by outside demonic forces. In many cultures, Western and Eastern, women in misogynistic cultures find that their bodies are even less their own once they become pregnant. What they ingest, how they move or position their bodies, how much they sleep, and all sorts of other aspects of their lives come under the scrutiny of partners, doctors, families, friends, and even strangers. If we accept Aristotle’s claim that women are deformed men, then the pregnant woman is even more so and subjected to more constraint for fear of what it is capable of.*

Thanks to feminism and the efforts of countless individuals, many women are now in a socioeconomic position independent of families and partners for whom they have traditionally relied on for survival. With this autonomy, they can now voice their anxieties, fears, and horror regarding pregnancy. Philosophers from Judith Thomson to Amy Mullin have questioned traditional models of pregnancy which tend to either trivialize the process phenomenologically, as if it had no bearing on the subject, or focus solely on the importance of children and childbearing as if the pregnant woman suddenly lost her subjectivity to the fetus. As more scholars and artists take up this subject, the experience of pregnancy qua the woman will become less taboo to discuss and more of its elements, monstrous and otherwise, will come to light.

*The Generation of Animals, Book 2, 737a: “For the female is like a deformity of the male and menstrual discharge is like semen, but unclean.”