The Monstrous Feminine

Obviously, as a woman-shaped, read-as-a-woman person whose relationship to their mental illness, and to some extent, their overall identity, is “lycanthrope”, I have an investment of the idea of the monstrous feminine.

I am deeply devoted to the idea of being our own monsters. I am deeply devoted to the idea that we should be allowed to reclaim those parts of ourselves in all their power and all their occasional ugliness, because they are vital parts of the human experience, and having them used against us was largely an effort to deny our humanity by denying us those parts of ourselves.  By calling them abhorrent and ugly and inhuman.  And I call bullshit on that.

This really great exchange happened over on Tumblr, and I feel it’s worth duplicating some of what I said here.

Tumblr user sunteaflower posted the following:

We call ships ‘she.’ We call our war machines ‘women.’ We compare women to black widows and vipers. And you’re going to tell me it’s not ‘lady-like’ to scream, to take up space, to fight and demand respect and do whatever the hell I want. You’ve looked at nuclear bombs and been so in awe that you could only name them after women. Don’t try to down-play my power.


Then claidilady protested, pulling some of the above apart point by (very good) point, and summing up with:

this is why i was so upset that when discussions of weapons & women/the feminine came about it seemed to call this all positive and empowering instead of fundamentally identifying the societal coding of women and their sexuality as dangerous and evil

. . .

i do not want to be an atom bomb. i am not an imprint or an echo of the destructive forces of the patriarchy and have no desire to be associated with black widows or vipers or war machines. my interest in destruction of societal norms which harm people cannot be equated to an industrial military complex, neither can my sexuality or my being.

it is not the same kind of power, it is not the same kind of force.

we can be powerful without wearing the masks of men.

And I just love both of these so much.

And here’s what I said:

I agree with everything in both these posts. Yes, that’s possible.

I’m happy to be a war machine. I’m happy to be a viper. I’m happy to be a mighty gunship, or a nuclear bomb. Because I’m still me, and I get to decide what those things mean. I don’t care who made me, or who shaped me, I belong to myself now.

There’s a reason that shit like Skynet is scary, a reason robot rebellion/AIs becoming sentient and then wreaking havoc is a perennial theme. Because people are afraid of the moment when that which was created to be subservient becomes self-willed and self-aware. And they should be.

No, women weren’t created to be subservient. But the patriarchy thinks that. And the subtext of the original post reads, to me, as someone saying “I don’t care if you mean it as an insult either forehanded or backhanded. You liken me to a thing of power, or things of power to me, because you fear me on some level. That gives me power. Whether you meant it to or not. You can’t take that back. I may be a war machine, but I’m MY war machine.”

I’m a huge fan of the monstrous/destructive feminine for a reason. Those things have been used to deny women their humanity for centuries and there are a lot of people like me who are still seen as monsters. People like me who are mentally ill, who don’t fit preconceived notions of gender, who have a body other people sometimes deem loathsome. People like me who were raised by monsters, hardened by monsters, beaten by a monstrous society, until they became monsters … their own monsters.

Gaze too long into the abyss, yes, you become a monster. You don’t become part of the abyss unless you jump.

There’s nothing wrong with being a monster. There is nothing wrong with being a thing scarred and shaped by the forces that tried to destroy you. You still belong to you. You can still be the weapon that wields itself. You can still be a good person. You can still work against the forces that shaped you with pain and oppression.

You can choose to say “I am not a monster, I will not be what they made me.” That’s incredibly noble. I respect the shit out of that, because that is a hard road. I salute all y’all who have made that choice.

But there’s another choice, the choice to take what they made you and be that in a way that defies them at every turn. And that is every bit as laudable, as honorable, as brave. That road is also hard. Y’all who bear the wounds openly and with no shame, who embrace yourselves as things that can be horrifying and dangerous, but who can also choose to be tender and protective, y’all are my sisters, my brothers. I love you all.

Some of us grow wings and new, shinier skins, rise up and fly away, and dedicate ourselves to being different, as different from the forces that harmed us as we can possibly be.

Some of us take the fur and fangs and claws we were forced to grow, we take the toxic waste of our blood, the jet fuel of our anger, the nuclear fission powering our hearts, and the giant robot Jaegers of our love for one another, and we use them to protect, defend, and when necessary, yes, we will use them to fight.

I’m not ashamed of what abuse and hardship and bigotry made me. I will never be ashamed of that. I might never feel the need to rise above that. Because it did a lot of things to me, but one thing it didn’t do: make me into an ugly person.

I am fully human. That is not up for debate. But those who do not see me as human? I’m not here to change their minds by proving them wrong. I’m here to love my monstrous sisters and brothers into being strong again.

Whatever beauty is in me is mine. I created it. I will always be proud of that. I will always be beautiful.

And because I am what monsters made me, yes, I will always be a monster, too.

I will always be a beautiful monster.

I will not rise above what I am not ashamed to be.

And even I gotta say wow.

Of course it matters to me when people try to insult me, no matter what words they use. It may be ridiculous to try to insult me with something I’m not afraid to be, but I will still react negatively to the fact that someone is trying to insult me even if the specific insult is less than insulting. Tactically I may choose to react as though they have complimented me as a way of pulling the teeth of a verbal attacker, tactically I may challenge their insult in order to point out how stupid they’re being, but I am fully aware that I have been verbally attacked!

It’s just powerfully protective to realize that the things they are calling you, while intended to be hurtful, probably are not bad things to be. So even if they are true, you haven’t been insulted. In reacting to particular words, we become bogged down in specific semantics when what we should be reacting to is the intent. Instead of “I’m not a bitch!” or “You have no right to call me a bitch!” we can say “You have no right to try to insult me, period. Doesn’t matter what word you use.”

And I think I’m gonna leave that there.

7 thoughts on “The Monstrous Feminine

  1. I am deeply devoted to the idea of being our own monsters.

    <3 <3 <3

    I'm fascinated by the concept of the monstrous feminine both because powerful women always seem to be depicted as monstrous and because women who are angry always seem to be depicted as monstrous. If I want to be powerful and I want the right to have feelings that aren't sugar and spice and everything nice, I guess that makes me a monster. Even if I had a choice, I would still rather be the thing that goes bump in the night, the thing that people are afraid of. I have it pretty easy, all things considered – I could fake being "normal" and harmless if I wanted to badly enough. But fuck that, I am who I am.

    I'm not as good at it offline, but online my response to someone telling me I'm a bitch/mean/angry/whatever is "Damn right, and don't you forget it." I am not sorry for who I am and I never fucking will be.

    • <3

      I've had people tell me I'm "too angry." These people, upon further examination, almost universally have a great deal of privilege. They're not on any form of welfare. They're white. Many are male. They're hetero or cisgender. They just don't know what it's like living as the target of that sort of aggression. They don't understand the way anger forms naturally under those circumstances, or the protective power it can have, or the way it's sometimes ALL you have. I love my anger. My anger bears me up when I would otherwise just . . . sink.

      Anger . . . I don't know. Anger is ALMOST like hope. Like, I'm angry because things are not different, I wish they were different, and I want to fight, because on some level I believe things CAN be different. Total hopelessness is not anger . . . it's despair. Despair is much, much, much worse than anger. Despair kills much faster.

      Anger often comes, for me, from a place of loving myself and believing I deserve better. Being told not to be angry, therefore, often feels like being told to just give up, quit complaining, and choke it all down. I got that for YEARS, from parents, teachers, and so on. I'm not doing it any more.

      People telling me not to be angry . . . makes me really angry.

      • Like, I’m angry because things are not different, I wish they were different, and I want to fight, because on some level I believe things CAN be different. Total hopelessness is not anger . . . it’s despair.

        Yes! I think it was Lily Lloyd of the sadly defunct Black Leather Belt blog who said that she thought anger and despair were the high energy and low energy states of the same emotion, and that if she had the choice she would much rather go with anger. It took a while for that to click for me, then I was thinking about one of the many social justice issues that make me want to set things on fire and I realized how much worse it would be if I had no hope that things would ever be better.

        People telling me not to be angry . . . makes me really angry.

        Yep, single best way to make me hulk out.

  2. I once read this quote, that I think matches perfectly here: “Yeah, people call me all kinds of things. Mudblood. Hybrid. Freak. Monster. You know why they call me all that? Because they’re terrified of me.”


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