“The women who have been most acceptable to patriarchal culture are those who have been powerless; passive rather than active, self-sacrificing rather than self-assertive, meek rather than bold. Mythology, religion, fairy tales and popular literature all reflect this split in its myriad forms. The "good" submissive women have been rewarded with praise, marriage, admiration and sanctification; the "bad" assertive women punished by ostracism, opprobrium and death” ~ Karen F. Stein
When I was in college I took a class called Monstrous Imagination. The focus of this class explored the role of our beloved fictional monsters in popular culture such as film, art, literature and television.
This class was an incredible seed packed with hidden knowledge and exciting discoveries. It was also hard-core. Fast paced and packed with tons of tight reading, teeny tiny print, and its very own vocabulary. It was my absolute favorite class for all of time forever and had the very best instructor who suffered no fools. This was an incredibly inspiring course and it did what any good class does, changed my perception of the world around me.
For the mid-term assignment we had a choice to write a paper or make an art piece. I, of course, chose the latter.
The concept I chose to research was the monstrous in the female. You know, the woman who is too tall, masculine, loud, opinionated, independent or childless. Those traits that women may possess that are not accepted by the male gaze and are therefore regarded as wrong, socially deviant or obscene and must be cast out and destroyed to be replaced with the feminine, sweet, docile creature we all recognize as the correct way to be a woman, the perfect bride and the perfect obedient child.
This image highlights the duality of the two female constructs, which I believe exist in every woman. The woman who is powerful and bold, turned into monster by the eyes of our society, holding up the limp form of femininity that she is expected to be.
The ornate Iron fence behind them represents the confinement of the domestic sphere, which was often restrictive, oppressive and sometimes abusive, giving this image a double meaning. While patriarchal society perceives anything other than femininity and beauty in the female as monstrous it in turn creates a monster within her as she becomes resentful for her necessary dependence on marriage and men, and her infantilization at the hands of both, which is why the horned woman is dressed all in white reminiscent of a freakish bride and her limp counter part looks like that of a helpless sweet beautiful child.
Thanks to the amazing team who put their time and effort into making this image come to life.
MUA: Del Brown
For more information on this subject this piece by Karen F. Stein is a really good read.