Essay from Jaylan Salah

The Unsaid/ The Other

Female Monstrosity, Menstruation and Feminine Awakening in Film

The female character has been depicted throughout the history of cinema in the form of various tropes. The “Other” woman, ever since the time of the female vamp has been always a challenge; used in the stark comparison to the good girl image; the doting wife, the female role model and the female archetype of beauty vs. ugliness, madness or evilness. Women have always been depicted in the “Otherly” autre form whether through traditional religious scripture which then transcended to the early forms of art.

The female body has been handled with care for many years either through glorifying its sexuality or playing on its vulnerability. In a teenage flick like “The Breakfast Club” the two female protagonists –the beautiful, pampered Claire and the introverted, outcast Allison– are pitted against each other, with the Claire model significantly winning over Allison’s, when the latter takes after the more “accepted” feminine, Claire-like model to gain the admiration and romantic interest from the handsome athlete Andrew. In a very uncomfortable scene in the eponymous “Carrie – 1976”, menstruation and reaching womanhood are associated with acquiring supernatural powers. Blood is used as a symbol of both empowerment and alienation for our female protagonist. In the scene where a repressed Carrie discovers menstruation for the first time could be seen in parallel with the scene where the bucket of pig blood is thrown from high above down on her as she receives her prom queen title. She is dethroned in the most demeaning, humiliating way, and her initial discomfort with blood is linked to the emergence of her femininity as a sign of bodily maturation.

In “Raw – 2016”, Justine discovers her bodily maturation in similar, although a bit more sexually aggressive (and liberating) way. When she joins veterinary school in the footsteps of her parents and her sister, Justine discovers an underlying lust for the human flesh, both in its gustatory and carnal forms. She craves human flesh to consume both as food and sex. Her repressed sexual appetite and abstinence from eating meat, result in her uncontrolled esurience for skin and bone, and the inability to satiate that subdued wildness in her.

The wild woman trope is rarely represented on the big screen, and when that happens, it is usually in the “natural” characteristic; female sexuality as monstrous, female emotions as a sign of drama and females “losing it” as the hysterical, hormonally-charged creatures. But in a film like “Raw – 2016” our perception of the Wild Woman archetype is challenged; is Justine’s transformation from naïve, vegetarian, veterinary school-virgin, into sexually charged, cannibalistic monster, good or bad? Veterinary school is already depicted as academic hell; what with mortifying hazing rituals, strong, arrogant colleagues, creepy professors and animals at their most vulnerable. To survive this danger zone, Justine had to sharpen her skills and refine her senses to suit the new environment into which she was plunged, blood buckets and all. Acquiring the new taste of meat results in a more empowered, sexually proactive female; arming Justine with the capability to be on equal grounds with her sister in their unrelenting rivalry.

Sibling rivalry is also represented in the Canadian cult film “Ginger Snaps – 2000” through the separation of the woman where a woman enters the dangerous territory of womanhood; through menstruating while the other is left behind in her fragile, non-sexualized form. Stuck between girlhood and womanhood, two sisters who were once so similar become separated by an omniscient force, which punishes the one who entered womanhood for being womanly by turning her sexual awakening into a monstrous event. Even the universe inflicts punishment on the woman who enters womanhood, mirroring religious taboos of menstruation and the menstrual cycle; how the women are tainted and harmful during their menstrual cycle, how men are supposed to avoid them on this particular period of their lives. So when a woman is harmful, carrying“harm” within her; the universe conspires to punish her accordingly. But from a different perspective; menstruation can be seen as a gift handed to Ginger, for which she was rewarded to have her monstrosity unleashed –full throttle. She “snapped” in all her monstrous feminine and sexual glory, taking everything in her wake, her identity, her teenage emo attitude and even her sisterly bond.

The werewolf (Ginger Snaps) represents a collapse of the boundaries between human and animal. This highlights how the animalistic side has been exposed completely by Ginger’s transformation into beast/woman, linking pure bestiality to womanhood.

The idea of the “impure” woman is represented reciprocally through two different films; the arthouse “Under the Skin – 2014” directed by Jonathan Glazer and starring no other than Scarlett Johansson; the epitome of feminine sexuality of our pre-Kim Kardashian era, deconstructing stereotypical femininity and sexuality at its core; through subjecting this creature to its dehumanization when it discovers its own human side; acquired from the various humans it met throughout its intense hunter/prey journey. The creature loses its power, faces sexual violence at the hands of the creatures it desperately wants to belong to. The film demystifies and boldly braves the feminine monstrous as the superior creature, only when the female loses her detachment from the earthly binds does she lose her life. When the creature’s skin is shed off, the viewer discovers what is underneath; the female creature which lacks proper gender boundaries, and yet is claimed by the vulnerability with which it masquerades; the femininity that it proudly displays while hunting the men.

On the other hand, the impurity of the aberrant feminine is a tool of her actual “purity” and keeping in touch with the original, feminine; the Ava, the Mother Earth, as depicted through the French-Canadian thriller “Splice – 2009” directed by Vincenzo Natali. Though created by two mad scientists; Dren, the human/animal hybrid retains her original curiosity and primitive intelligence through the use of her stinger and her overt sexuality, emphasizing how keeping in touch with her feminine side slowed down her destructive capabilities, while turning into a male deprived it from the naïve primitivism and accelerated his tendency to bestiality as opposed to the pacifist attitude of the original Dren.

The concept of a border as central to the female monster archetype; in “Ginger Snaps” it represents the border between childhood to womanhood, in “Splice” it is a border between genders as Dren transforms from female to male, as well as the border between the “normal” grounded female “Elsa” and the wild, unrestrained “freakish” female “Dren”, the latter threatens the stability and normalcy of the world on which the narrative is built upon, which could be projected to how the “other” monstrous woman threatens the normal world, and thus deserves death and punishment for doing so.

A lot of the women in the aforementioned movies face death or the complete transformation into the “evil” other as a punishment for their otherness; except “Justine” in “Raw – 2016” whereas the modern feminist tale provides solace for the wild woman gone astray; in the hope that she could both retain her wildness and live peacefully with other creatures; blend in, adapt and adopt.

Onscreen female monstrosity has been a subject of controversy and analysis, however, how relevant this monstrous otherness has been related to a positive female onscreen representation, straying from the norm and the stereotypical should be a subject of a meta-analysis, channeling films from all over the globe; by women and female-centric alike, to understand how filmmakers’ minds have digested such a complex, feminist concept.