or, Why I Need Monsters as a Feminist
By Kaitlin Tremblay
Growing up with older brothers meant two things for me: one, I had Marvel action figures instead of Barbies, and two, I was always the helper, the sidekick, Player Two. Here’s what I quickly realized: if I was fighting my brother with our action figures, my best bet was usually with the Thing instead of Jean Grey. Not to say Jeannie wasn’t tough — but the Thing was intimidating. If, by chance, I threw him at my brother, Ben Grimm’s four pounds of plastic hurt a lot more than Jeannie’s one pound. In the end, I came to monsters through a desire to be a girl, but not the girl I was expected to be.
It was the same story with Sega’s side-scroller Golden Axe: you had your three choices of character, the hunky macho He-man, the sexy and fierce woman, and the dwarf with the immense axe. Growing up a tom-boy, I fiercely over-reacted against anything too overtly feminine. I chose the dwarf, Gilius Thunderhead, because neither of the other two characters felt right. I was never the hunky leader, nor did I feel overly drawn to the bra-and-panties wearing woman. It was self-identification with the character designed for those who did not want the stereotypical masculine or feminine. While Gilius Thunderhead is in no way a monster, I choose him for the same reason I adore monsters: the non-human are the third option, the last resort after the brazen male hero and buxom female.
Bear in mind, of course, that this is not to say that all depictions of females in games and geek culture are stereotypical, or that I suffer from intense penis envy. For me, monsters represent a part of my feminism that shouts for there to be another option – one separate from the expected roles that are presented again and again in popular culture. Monsters become integral to my feminism in their disruption of normal social codes.
In their own right, monsters have always been appropriate vehicles for social commentary. For my purposes, monsters are the non-human figure which is cast in opposition to normative society. Take Romero’s Dawn of the Dead with the undead flocking to the mall as a symbol of Western culture’s unfaltering entrenchment in consumerism (even after death, we cannot help ourselves). Take Godzilla: his thematic function is to take revenge for uncontrolled nuclear testing. Godzilla is reactionary and revolutionary. As Barbara Creed suggests in “Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine,” horror, monsters and feminism are intimately bound in that both function as disruptions to the normative world. She argues that “the function of the monstrous remains the same — to bring about an encounter between the symbolic order and that which threatens its stability.” They are the visible disruptions. And for me, monsters — all that is non-human and set in opposition to a stereotypical humanity — represent this stance in my own ideology.
In his article “Why We Crave Horror Movies,” Stephen King states that we, as a Western society, need to view horror and monster movies because they “re-establish our feelings of essential normality; the horror movie is innately conservative, even reactionary. Freda Jackson as the horrible melting woman in Die, Monster, Die! confirms for us that no matter how far we may be removed from the beauty of a Robert Redford or a Diana Ross, we are still light-years from true ugliness.” Monsters are normalizing in that they visibly illustrate the far-end of the pendulum and operate as a sign of our own normality. But what happens when you identify with the monster? What happens when rather than reinforcing normality, these monsters in turn breed an altogether new normality?
So for me, I want Godzilla, the giant spiders, the zombies and all the fierce non-humans because they reflect a childhood that was spent trying to be a girl, but not wanting to be type-casted. I especially didn’t want to be represented only by the scantily-clad love interest. This is not to deny the positive aspects of depictions of female sexuality. I am the first to support positive images of sexuality in feminism. It’s just to say that there is and should be more to it. And I’m quite content to allow monsters to represent this for me.
Recently, I was introduced to Magic the Gathering with the release of the Core 2012 set. Immediately I was drawn to the Green deck, with its giant spiders, hybridized beasts and Bloodthirst-y monsters. Even before I learned anything about deck-building, I had one thought: get my giant spiders and Tangle Mantis out there to do their worst. Because while my love of monsters does strike a feminist chord in me, sometimes monsters are just too much fun not to love.
Kaitlin Tremblay recently received her Master’s in English Literature from Wilfrid Laurier University, where she studied Canadian literature, gender theory and all-things grotesque. She will be moving on to the Creative Book Publishing program at Humber College in the summer.