The Monstrous Feminine

in Literature and Art


Cindy Sherman, "Untitled, #341E"

"The female is as it were a deformed male."


"Distinguished women . . . are as exceptional as any

monstrosity . . . for example a gorilla with two heads."

--Le Bon (1879)

"Sir, a woman's composing music is like a dog walking on his hind

legs. It is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all."

--Cecil Gray (1928)

"It was certainly an odd monster that one made up by reading the

historians first and the poets afterwards--[woman as] a worm winged like

an eagle; the spirit of life and beauty in a kitchen chopping up suet."

--Virginia Woolf (1929)

"Wouldn't the worst be, isn't the worst, in truth, that women aren't castrated, that they

have only to stop listening to the Sirens (for the Sirens were men) for history to

change its meaning? You only have to look at the Medusa straight on to see her.

And she's not deadly. She's beautiful and she's laughing."

--Hélène Cixous (1976)


Essays on Gender and Pop Culture

The Bodybuilding Grotesque--good introductory essay on monstrous female bodies.

Abject Appeal and the Monstrous Feminine in Lady Gaga’s selffashioned persona ‘Mother Monster’--analysis of Lady Gag's constructed image.

Carousel of Genders--Smelik's essay on gender performance in pop culture (Madonna, Michael Jackson, etc.)

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble--short biography, interview, links. Gender Matters page (Landow site), with links to Butler's theories; see especially The Relation of Gender Theory and Semiological Theory, with links at bottom of screen. Nealon's Theory that Matters, a review of Butler's Bodies that Matter.

The Monstrous Feminine: Stereotyping against the Grain--excellent introduction to Barbara Creed's theory of the "monstrous feminine" in mythology, psychoanalysis, and film.


Monstrous Feminine in Myth and Literature




Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Shelley Jackson

Angela Carter


Saartjie Baartman, the "Hottentot Venus"

Saartjie's Story


"Hottentot Venus 2000," photo by
Lyle Ashton Harris and Renee Valerie Cox

Saartjie as Image and Theatre

Cult of True Womanhood vs Deviant Bodies

  • The Cult of True Womanhood--generous excerpt from this classic essay by Barbara Welter.
  • Cult of Domesticity and True Womanhood--introductory essay based on Barbara Welter's thesis.
  • Bodies, Pedagogies, and the Buddha--excellent scholarly paper on the "gaze" as constructing sexuality; includes excellent definition of the postmodern concept of "gaze"--with references to Foucault's "deviant bodies" and to the Hottentot Venus.
  • From Freaks to Goddesses--book review by Martin of Thomson's Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American culture and Literature. Excellent review of a book with a fascinating thesis that can be applied to the "monstrous feminine" on this web page.


Post-Modern Women Artists

Cindy Sherman


"The Broken Column" by Frida Kahlo

Frieda Kahlo


  • Guerilla Girls--unorthodox and hilarious; you'll never view art the same!


Cinema and Cyborgs

Alien Film Series

Alien: Movie Review.

Alien--thorough description of all phases of this movie.

Alien and the Monstrous-Feminine by Barbara Creed--excellent application of Creed's thesis to the first Alien film.

Gothic Tradition in Alien and Blade Runner --excerpt from the Fred Botting study.

Monstrous Mothers--selection about the film Alien from the book Alien Constructions.

Alien Queens and Monstrous Machines: The Conflagrationof the Out-of-Control Female and Robotic Body--scholarly article on the monstrous feminine in the Alien films and the Transformer films.

Alien Resurrection--scholarly article.

The Monstrous Feminine in Cinema

The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, and Psychoanalysis--introduction and Chap. 1 from this important book.

Monsters as (Uncanny) Metaphors: Freud, Lakoff, and the Representation of Monstrosity in Cinematic Horror --psychoanalytic explanation of how and why the monstrous in movies evokes "horror." Long and rather detailed, but highly informative.

Crush and Sweetie: Female Grotesque in Two Contemporary Australasian Films--scholarly study.

Brazen Brides, Grotesque Daughters, Treacherous Mothers: Women's Funny Business in Australian Cinema from Sweetie to Holy Smoke--Collins' article on women's cinema.

A Vampiric Relation to Feminism: The Monstrous-Feminine in Whitley Strieber’s and Anne Rice’s Gothic Fiction--scholarly essay of the vampire image.


Donna Harraway, The Promises of Monsters:  A Regnerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others--essay on "nature" and cyborgs

He, She, or It: The Cyborg De-constructs Gender--scholarly essay on Marge Piercy's futuristic novel.

Body Parts That Matter: Frankenstein, or The Modern Cyborg?--scholarly essay.

Cyberpunk Women of Neuromancer, The Matrix, and Blade Runner--analysis of these popular movies.

Cyborg: Engineering the Body Electric--advertising blurb.

The Cyborg--a number of helpful links.

Rosi Braidotti, Cyberfeminism with a Difference--good essay on the post-modern cyber-body as parody and parodic repetition.



Painting in left & right margins: detail from

'Quarrel of Oberon and Titania' and detail from 'Quarrel'

by Joseph Noel Paton

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Updated:  10-10-12