The Gender of Monsters

My little girl doesn’t think monsters can be female. We play a game on the walk to school sometimes in which cars are monsters and the pavement is a magic path that makes us invisible to them. Revving engines are roars and parked cars are sleeping monsters. My daughter has recently added the rule that it’s only the boy cars that are monsters, not the girl cars. She’ll decide which car is male or female, although I don’t see any pattern in her choices. When asked why girl cars can’t be monsters, she says doesn’t know, that’s just the way it is, apparently.

 

 

I’ve read a couple of interesting blog posts this week, over at Reel Girl, about how girls are missing from the latest Halloween Movie offerings and about the lack of female representation in monster movies. This got me thinking about the monsters themselves and how monsters in films are almost always male.

I can see how the thought processes involved in making a monster might result in a male creation. Words like fierce, scary, angry and tough are more likely to be associated with men than women. If scary females get a look in it’s usually through their devious nature, they are slyly wicked rather than being straightforwardly fearsome.

The emphasis on physical appearance is also tellingly human; female monsters are made to resemble female humans in the most unoriginal stereotypical ways, think ‘sexy’ Celia and ‘old bat’ Roz in Monsters Inc, or the pink dragon in Shrek.

 The same tired old stereotypes keep on being imprinted on impressionable young minds”.

Do we even need gender specific monsters? Surely all an effective monster needs is to be scary? Instead the female is often presented as ‘other’. She is likely to have ridiculous eyelashes, fall in love and look after babies. The same applies to non-human animations in general as societal sexism is reflected through the, (lack of), imagination of the movie makers. From the sexy cats in Tom and Jerry to the token females in todays male dominated children’s films, non-human females continue to be sexualised and marginalised, irrelevant adjuncts to the main male adventure. The same tired old stereotypes keep on being imprinted on impressionable young minds.

 

My daughter was given a DVD recently and has subjected me to repeated viewings. ‘Trap Door‘ is an animated UK television series from the 80’s. It’s about a group of monsters who live in a castle and keep guard over a trap door. It’s good fun and she loves it, but it seems I’m the only person who’s noticed or cares that all the monsters are either male or unspecified. Perhaps this has something to do with her notion of the ‘car monsters’ being male only. There could be any number of reasons and it might not matter in the slightest, but it does indicate that somewhere along the way, even with a cranky feminist mum like me, she’s absorbing the cultural messages that tell her ‘monster’ equals ‘male’.

(monster illustrations provided by my daughter)

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About tricialo

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6 Responses to The Gender of Monsters

  1. lisa says:

    So right. See Monsters vs. Aliens for confirmation (love that movie, but it proves your point). Also see Sesame Street for more confirmation.

    In addition, the few female monsters are just different: Medusa kills by looks alone, while other monsters are big and strong and stomp you to death. I think Scilla is female (the whirlpool) but can’t think of any others. Maybe it is too bad we have so much Classical in our culture and less Anglo/Saxon: Grendel is female and is just a straight up monster that needs killing.

    • tricialo says:

      I haven’t seen Monsters vs. Aliens but probably will at some point as I often see it recommended. I did think of Shelob, (Lord of the Rings), after writing this, she’s not the only female spider type creature around either, something about spiders that makes it acceptable for them to be female too, maybe it’s all that weaving 🙂

      • anon says:

        Many female spiders eat the male after mating (whether all the time, or in times of shortage) making them an animal femme fatal in the minds of monster makers in a sexist society.

  2. eteokretan says:

    Excellent post! I thought of Shelob too. And isn’t Voldemort’s snake, Nagini, female? But there aren’t many, it’s true.

    Greek myth had some, but many aren’t as well known (or aren’t often thought of as female): Medusa and Scylla were mentioned above, plus Charybdis, Sphinx, Echidna, Chimaira, the Hydra.

    And you pointed out–some are different and don’t exhibit the violence of many male monsters. The Sirens seduce men to death with their songs, the Harpies didn’t do much at all (they’re most famous for stealing a blind guy’s food). The Sphinx and Echidna eat a lot of people, but the Sphinx is most famous for telling riddles–not for her violence.

    And animals in general tend to be male. Kanga is the only female character in the Pooh stories that I know of. There were no dogs with speaking parts in Up that were female. It goes on and on.

  3. ollie says:

    Excellent point. I haven’t actually seen Frankenweenie, but I’m a bit enraged by the set of posters that adorn the front of my local cinema right now. There are 4 posters, of 4 characters, each with its name at the top of the poster. The characters are three humans and a dog. The dog is called Sparky. Two of the humans are called Edgar and Victor. The third human? Weird Girl.

    Weird. Girl. Doesn’t even have a name! My partner suggested that maybe the dog was female, but my argument was that if it were female? You’d know it was because it would have eyelashes. Damn, animated films make me so mad.

  4. I’m with your daughter on this one. Monsters are definitely male – but don’t ask me why!

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