The Monstrosity of Female Sexuality

The sexual characteristics of the female monster in horror movies

Please note that when referring to whore in this essay, a female gender stereotype is meant which is portrayed as sexual and at times evil – such as for example the Biblical Whore of Babylon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whore_of_Babylon) – and is the counterpart of the madonna in the madonna-whore complex. It is not used with the intention of being offensive.

Within literature and arts, and society in general, women tend to be placed in to one of two categories. They are either angelic, virginal and basically good characters wanting to care for others or they are sexual beings, at one with nature, almost beast-like in their characteristics. Compare for example the stereotypical mother to the stereotypical girlfriend. They are two almost completely different characters and the idea of the two of them merging into one is often met with disgust for example in comedies, especially if there is even the slightest hint of a mother’s sexuality.

This paradox is known as the madonna-whore complex and is often referred to in gender-based – or feminist – analysis of literature, movies and art in general. So what about horror movies? An earlier text on the subject brought up the madonna-like features of the final girl and the more whore-like tendencies of the women set to be victims in slasher movies. It does not however stop there. The female monster is also highly sexualized and most of the time more so than her male counterparts.

First and foremost it should be mentioned that female monsters tend to appear less often than male ones, which in itself could be a result of seeing women as less capable of committing the atrocious acts needed for a horror film, but of course it could also simply be a result of real-life crimes more often being committed by men. But when female monsters do show up, they tend to be highly sexual creatures, almost as if being monsters have moved them further away from anything resembling the madonna and since they are closer to the whore, the sexuality of the whore seems to be a natural addition to what it is that makes up the monster.

Even though the female monster is not as prevalent in horror as the male one, there have been enough horror movies made to see different aspects of female sexuality portrayed. For example the need to reproduce is the driving force in the 90s sci-fi horror Species where the hybrid of a young woman and an alien escapes a scientific facility to find a suitable male. It could be argued that the movie combines the angelic characteristics of motherhood with the monster’s sexuality, but motherhood here is closer to that of the animal kingdom. Similar to an animal, she feels an uncontrollable urge to reproduce in a manner closer to the idea of it being mating season rather than wanting a child to care for.

The transition from childhood to womanhood as seen in Species, is the main focus of quite a few female monsters and it is this change from an asexual child to a sexual woman which brings out the monster inside. In teenage werewolf movie Ginger Snaps, the titular Ginger is attacked by a werewolf and her asexual self is slowly transformed and with it comes a newfound sexuality making her a predator in more than one way. Her unbitten sister remains asexual and is the one who has to try and save her, but once the transition from asexual girl to sexual woman or beast has begun, there is no stopping it.

Even parts of a woman’s body can become the monster. For males, it is not rare that if this happens it is often a hand that is affected, as in Evil Dead II and Idle Hands, but in Teeth, it is a young woman’s vagina that is the monster as she in becoming a woman discovers that it has sharp teeth, a myth so common that it has its own name; vagina dentata. Having taken a pledge to remain a virgin until marriage, but becoming the subject of sexual violence, her vagina becomes her protection against the young man trying to rape her. So at first, she is acting in self defence, but as she is subjected to more sexual violence she eventually embraces the idea of having a vagina with teeth and uses it to punish sexually violent men.

Since blood tends to be an important part of horror movies, a woman’s period can also be the source of the monstrosity, as in the short film that is the fake trailer for the movie Alien Tampon where a woman is transformed into a monster by using a tampon which has accidentally been in a puddle of alien slime. Menstruation as a symbol of the transition from innocent child to sexual monster can also be seen in Ginger Snaps and the low-budget horror film PMS Cop (or Monster Cop), which uses the stereotype of female anger caused by PMS. The title can be compared to the film it might very well be inspired by, Maniac Cop, where the murderous male police officer is not driven by anything associated with his sexuality.

There is however one male monster that is seen as sexual; the vampire. Especially the character of Dracula is a seducer of women, using his sexuality to lure unsuspecting women into his arms where they are subsequently drained of blood completely or themselves turned into vampires. However, though quite the sexual monster, Dracula is no match for the female vampires who seem to be completely unable to control their sexual desires as they squirm and moan near their master or their victims. The female vampires in the German film We are the Night are clearly sexual beings, but that film also at times show the vampires longing back to their more madonna-like origins, such as looking longingly at a pair of baby shoes. Unfortunately, there is no turning back once you have strayed from the path of the nursing, virginal woman.

And so it goes on in one horror film after the other. In The Exorcist, the possessed, and changed, girl Regan shouts sexual profanities and stabs her vagina with a crucifix. In Zombie Strippers, having already discarded the idea of being the madonna, the strippers fully embrace the idea of turning into zombies, especially since it also appears to enhance their stripper abilities. In Jennifer’s Body, Jennifer is already the beautiful popular girl and when she becomes the monster, she uses that sexuality to lure in boys and kill them. In Splice, Dren, a genetically modified girl, grows up in the care of the scientists who created her and it is of course impossible to leave out Dren discovering her sexuality which even serves as a plot twist in the movie.

Monsters in horror films are more often male than female (as for ghosts and evil humans, that is a topic for a different essay), but when they do make their way into a film, sexuality tends to be a common characteristic. This follows the idea that since the monster is the woman removed from the possibility of becoming the madonna, she therefore becomes the whore – no other option seems available – with all the features that comes along with it; such as violence and uncontrollable sexuality. There are however horror filmmakers interested in more complex female characters, whether they are monsters or not. Lucky McKee’s The Woman, among other films by him, shows a savage, almost monstrous, woman being captured by a “civilised” family and subjected to sexual abuse from the men in the family, whereas she herself seem almost asexual. Rape-revenge horror Savaged (or Avenged) by Michael S. Ojeda is about a woman becoming possessed by a vengeful spirit after having been left to die in the desert. The female body becomes a vessel for the spirit’s revenge on the men, but the possibility for using female sexuality as part of the story is left out. Perhaps this can be seen as a new direction for female monsters, that there is a middle road to take instead of simply reusing the old and somewhat tiresome stereotypes that are contained within the madonna-whore complex.

Written by Mattias Danielsson, 2015-04-23