Female werewolves on the rise

female werewolf

The rise of female werewolves is to be welcomed. Do we really want to see naked hairy women creating havoc in the arts? Er, yes.

Let’s talk about female werewolves in pop culture (click the link for an amazing Q&A with academic Dr Hannah Priest). When you see a werewolf on TV, in a movie, or in a novel, have you noticed how few of them are female? While female werewolves do exist in art and literature, they simply aren’t as common as the male werewolf. Why not? Where is the female werewolf in our horror repertoire? Has she snuck away to hide in a dark lair, growling softly, waiting for an unwary traveller to walk past?

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?

Horror movies often aim to maximise the threat exuded by their monsters, and in our society one of the creatures we’re most likely to fear is an aggressive alpha male. Funnily enough, many werewolf movies  (barring a couple of notable exceptions that play with the genre like Dog Soldiers) feature monsters who are male, violent, large and hairy – in other words, alpha males thrust through the looking glass. In addition they’re often portrayed as semi-sympathetic characters to be pitied for their primal excesses, rarely recalling what happens when they’re on all fours.

On those rare occasions when the werewolves in a story are women, they often tap into social fears in a different way. Female werewolves are smart. They’re frequently aware of what they do when the moon is full. They make decisions they stand by in the morning. The periodic blood angle is played up, and they’re often not as hairy as their male counterparts. Which weirds me out, actually. If the threat is meant to be terrifying, aren’t an awful lot of people out there a bit scared of a hairy woman? Isn’t a hairy female werewolf guaranteed to make a theatre audience collectively spit out its popcorn? But no – female werewolves are often quite smooth and hairless, with a touch of tooth or snout. They look quite like most women, actually, but with more creative eyeliner. It’s almost as if someone somewhere thought the most terrifying monster imaginable is… a woman.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The foundations of any long-lived story are there to be reshaped and retold, as coming-of-age werewolf horror film Ginger Snaps did so well. Here’s a little crimson-soaked dialogue to whet your appetite…

“I’m sure it seems like a lot of blood… it’s a period”

  • Nurse: I’m sure it seems like a lot of blood… it’s a period.
  • Brigitte: Geyser.
  • Nurse: Everyone seems to panic their first time. Neither of you have had a period before and you’re how old?
  • Ginger: I’m almost sixteen, she just turned fifteen – she skipped a grade.
  • Nurse: A thick, syrupy, voluminous discharge is not uncommon. The bulk of the uterine lining is shed within the first few days. Contractions, cramps, squeeze it out like a pump. In three to five days you’ll find lighter, bright-red bleeding. That may turn to a brownish or blackish sludge, which signals the end of the flow.
  • Ginger: OK, so it’s all normal.
  • Nurse: Very, expected every twenty-eight days, give or take, for the next thirty years.
  • Ginger: Great.
  • Brigitte: What about hair that wasn’t there before, and pain?
  • Nurse: Uhuh, comes with the territory… you’ll have to protect against both pregnancy and carnally transmitted badnesses now, play safe!

— Ginger Snaps (John Fawcett, 2000)

And then we have…

  • BRIGITTE: Ging, what’s going on? Something’s wrong, like more than you being just female. Can you say something please?
  • GINGER: I can’t have a hairy chest, B, that’s f*cked.
  • BRIGITTE: Bitten on a full moon, now you’re hairy.
  • GINGER: Well, thank you for taking my total f*cking nightmare so seriously… Oh sh*t, what if I’m dying or something?

— Ginger Snaps (John Fawcett, 2000)

Seminal writers like Angela Carter (whose fabulously dark fairy stories were turned into the film The Company Of Wolves [DVD] [1984]) have known that a fairytale represents a warning against straying too far into the world of the Other. They are often stories about sexual awakening – few more so than the werewolf. If a werewolf is meant to be terrifying, and if many find the concept of an unconstrained woman terrifying in normative society,  let’s put the two together. Let’s have non-boring werewolf stories that aren’t just about evil-bad male predators hunting down unsuspecting women. Let’s make werewolf art that challenges stereotypes. Let’s have rude hairy women creating havoc. Let’s howl in unison for the rise of the female werewolf!

Werewolf films and literature that play with tradition: