The Tyranny Of Sexy: Female Werewolves In Pop Culture


In pop culture, vampires rule, werewolves drool (literally). New York magazine argues that the “moment in the moonlight” for weres has arrived thanks to Twilight and upcoming film remakes – but where are the tales of female lycanthropes?

While there are a few pack females hovering on the outskirts of the pop cultural landscape (Leah Clearwater of the Twilight series, Elena Michaels of the Women of the Otherworld series, the character of Serafine in An American Werewolf in Paris a few scattered episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel), most tales of full moons and nighttime shifts tend to revolve around men.

So why don’t we see more tales of female weres, in the way that female vampires populate the world along with males?

Student Elizabeth M. Clark may have an answer. In the most authoritative document to be found online about representations of female werewolves in pop culture, her thesis “Hairy Thuggish Women”: Female Werewolves, Gender, and the Hoped-For Monster provides the provocative answer: werewolves are specifically coded as masculine, which directly conflicts with the pop culture narrative surrounding women and femininity. She delves into this idea over the course of more than 300 pages, but most interesting are comments from those directly involved in crafting images of women in fantasy worlds.

She provides a brief segment from an MTV interview with Kate Beckinsale, where she discusses the Underworld movies:

MTV: Why don’t we see Lycan [werewolf] women [in theUnderworld films]?
Kate Beckinsale: Because that could be really horrifying. Hairy, thuggish women.
Len Wiseman: [. . .] I’ve seen furry women.
Beckinsale: [Laughing] Not here!

Clark then breaks it down:

This interview segment illustrates how the idea of a female werewolf
challenges cultural conceptions about the appropriate female body and acceptable
female behavior. For a horror film to show images of large, muscular, hairy, aggressive women would just be too “horrifying,” according to Wiseman and Beckinsale.

She then goes on to explain how the gendered expectation of women – particularly those who appear on screen – are in direct opposition to the presentation of a woman were. Since these two images apparently cannot co-exist in the minds of the public, many filmmakers and writers see female werewolves as outside of the realm of possibility, even in a fantasy or horror setting. Clark continues:

The female werewolf is a cinematic monster that does not belong to the category of the monstrous-feminine, but to what I term the masculine-female-grotesque; its horror lies in a female body becoming grotesque through the taking on of masculine/male traits. […] Before the seemingly inevitable banishment or destruction of the female werewolf, audiences can be (but are not always) offered up the trangressive image of powerful, masculinized female embodiment. […]
Female werewolves offer a potential site of one kind of visual representation of the “unruly woman,” the woman who flouts gender expectations by being loud, aggressive, angry, and powerful.

In order to neutralize the jarring effect that seeing “masculinized” women would have on the viewers’ delicate psyches, many directors employ a common device to keep audiences connected – physical beauty conveyed through excessive nude scenes. In exploring the scenes in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Clark notes how both of the episodes emphasized the were-woman’s human form, and often featured long lingering shots of the women’s hairless, slender, nude bodies or images of the women behaving in sexually aggressive ways while still in human form.

She writes:

It is worth noting that all of these images reinforce dominant feminine beauty ideals (slender, nonmuscular bodies), as well as the idea that the “natural” human female body is smooth and hairless. Not only do these images of “acceptable” naked women work to regulate audience beauty standards and distance the “true” female body from the monstrous body, they also serve to further delineate the false binary of “masculine” and “feminine” by shoring up ideas of the naturally hairless female body.

An extreme illustration of this dynamic is present is Shakira’s music video for “She Wolf.” Both the song (darling, this is no joke/ this is lycanthropy) and the video play upon the idea of werewolf transformation, but the entire video is completely sexualized.

Viewers are treated to a tease of a transformation with changing eyes and lengthening nails, before the scene cuts to a nearly nude Shakira doing feline-esque flexing in a cage.

Interestingly, it is women who generally disrupt this frame. With a few (normally B-movie) exceptions, female scribes are the ones creating were-women. The screenplay for the acclaimed Canadian teen horror flick Ginger Snaps (pictured at the top of the post) was written by Karen Walton; Twilight is a franchise by Stephanie Meyer; The Women of the Otherworld is by Kelley Armstrong, and Annette Curtis Klaus wrote Blood and Chocolate, which became a (bastardized) movie of the same name.

It appears that women werewolves cannot penetrate the mainstream consciousness due to what they represent – women who do not conform to typical standards of beauty (even in monstrosity) and women who can and will utilize brute force. Sadly, despite the compelling stories surrounding characters like Elena Michaels or Leah Clearwater, their stories will not find a day in the spotlight until mainstream audiences can get over their fear of “hairy thuggish women.”

Werewolves vs. Vampires! [New York]
“Hairy Thuggish Women:” Female Werewolves, Gender, and the Hoped-for Monster (PDF) [Washington Research Library Consortium]
Blood, Sweat And Fur – ‘Underworld: Evolution’ Mysteries Explained [MTV]

Related: Ginger Snaps [IMDB]
Bitten [Kelley]
An American Werewolf in Paris [Wikipedia]
Blood and Chocolate

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