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