If you take a casual survey of modern media’s treatment of things that go bump in the night, there seems to be a pretty even spread between male and female monsters. Ghosts and zombies come in all genders because everyone dies. Vampires of the “born this way” type come with both innies and outies, and vamps of the “bite you and turn you” variety don’t seem like picky eaters, so there’s plenty of boy and girl blood suckers around. The only monster that seems lacking this diversity is werewolves, where dude-wolves outnumber femme-wolves at alarming rates. What the fuck, man? Where’s all the lady wolves?

Don’t worry. There’s always furries. Image by Del Borovic.

When examined as a myth, the werewolf is the pinnacle of hyper-masculinity. Physically, a werewolf tends to bulk up like they’re eating ‘roided puppy chow, able to perform amazing slam dunks and other feats of strength. If they don’t change into an actual wolf but rather a sort of half-man-half-wolf sundae, they usually grow hair in a manner similar to those suffering from hirsuitism, linked to androgen imbalance.

Psychologically, they follow the rules of the alpha wolf myth (which is bullshit, by the way). They are predators in every sense of the word, taking what they want, be that blood or sex. While there’s some wiggle room in how their human psyches deal with the change, while in wolf form they are generally confident, virile, aggressive beasts. And in their rapid transformation from man to creature, they embody what many women fear: A man who, despite all outward appearances to the contrary, will eventually change into something monstrous.

From the lack of female werewolves in modern cinema, it seems that the industry just doesn’t know how to apply these features to a woman. While the male werewolf in film can be a canvas on which we explore the plight of a human who is forced to experience a violent nature against one’s will, female werewolf movies instead say more about how society treats real life human women.

In The Howling, the character Marsha is used to sculpt a morality tale about the dangers of giving women power. A cookie cutter Girl Gone Wild, she has long dark hair, smokey eyes, and wears a black leather dress with nothing beneath it. She is the foil to innocent protagonist Karen, and is called both a nymphomaniac and a bitch within her first scene.

Marsha is brazen in her language and her mannerisms. She’s a homewrecker, seducing Karen’s husband so they can have wolfed-out sexy time next to a bonfire. Marsha usurps rule from Dr. Waggner, stating that humans are nothing but food. She’s what jizzy MRA mouth-breathers fear: That if women had the power normally granted to men, they would use it just as some men would. They would take what they wanted, regardless of the consequences, unable to be controlled by anyone. While these behaviors are not singular to men in real life, they are still coded in the real and cinema worlds as masculine. Still, though Marsha may behave like a man-wolf-woman, she doesn’t look like one, even after transformation: Her lipstick is intact, and her breasts are still perky.

Similarly, the titular character from the feminist film Ginger Snaps doesn’t devolve into physical beastdom until the end of the film. Pre-bite, Ginger is nearly asexual, showing zero interest in anything other than her relationship with her sister Brigitte and their morbid faux-death art pieces.

Agreed. Image by dvdtalk.com.

Post-bite, she begins to behave in ways more suited to teenage boys, becoming less a werewolf and more a weredouche. While she tries to rid herself of the physical effects of her condition (shaving off the bristles that push through her skin), she graduates from sullen sarcasm to outright hostility toward her family and schoolmates. She eats with her hands, tearing meat off the bone. Ginger’s protectiveness toward her sister becomes more intense and is colored by her off-the-charts-to-the-point-of-incest lasciviousness: she murders the school custodian, claiming “I don’t like the way he looks at you,” and moments later, murmurs into Brigitte’s ear, “You know, we’re almost not related anymore.”

She stalks the halls of her school scantily clad and self-satisfied, and deep in her crazed, entitled lust, she rapes her boyfriend. She admits that her wires between sex and violence are crossed, saying, “I get this ache, and I thought it was for sex. But it’s to tear everything into fucking pieces.” Just like Marsha, she is poisoned by false masculinity, and is turned into a physical manifestation of What Happens When Women Git Too Big For Their Britches. While her personality and behavior degrade throughout the film, her physical form goes through a more subtle change, only becoming truly monstrous at the end. Snarling, with six breasts, she is beyond saving and must be put down by her sister.

It should come as no surprise that filmmakers can’t handle turning women into burly, hairy monsters, as western society can’t abide those traits in women who don’t howl at the moon. With a multi-million dollar hair removal industry built to convince women that being mammals isn’t okay and a citizenry who regularly shames even professional athletes for being too muscular, the world seems very interested not just in telling us what women are (delicate, weak, and fuckable) but what they are not (men, or anything vaguely resembling them).

When women are happily strong, fuzzy, confident, sexual, or confrontational, society takes it upon itself to put them “back in their place” (which, if you’re new on this planet, is “below men”). They are lesbian baited (a phenomenon where certain traits/interests are coded as inherently lesbian). They’re raped and beaten and murdered. At the least, they are mocked, ridiculed, and degraded with names: As Ginger says, “A girl can only be a slut, a bitch, a tease, or the virgin next door.” And this doesn’t shift when the women are actual bitches. A woman with power is just too darned scary, even for horror films.

One of the most palatable she-wolves exists not in film, but in print: with Suzy McKee Charnas’ “Boobs” (click here to read it if you want to avoid spoilers. Don’t worry, it’s short). Early developer Kelsey “Boobs” Bornstein discovers she can change into a wolf shortly after she gets her first period, and looking in the mirror, revels in her new body:

After that first shock, it was great. I kept turning one way and another for different views.

I was thin, with these long, slender legs but strong, you could see the muscles, and feet a little bigger than I would have picked. But I’ll take four big feet over two big boobs any day.

She runs the streets in wolf form, gleeful at how her cumbersome human breasts aren’t there to get in her way. Like Marsha, she retains her wits while transformed, rather than blacking out while her beast-self takes over. She lures a mercilessly abusive boy to a playground with promises that she’ll let him feel her up, but arrives instead in wolf form and tears out his throat. While some readers took offense to her apparent lack of remorse about this murder, many female readers understood what compelled her. As Kelsey’s stepmother says, “I’m sorry about this, honey, but really, you have to learn it sometime. You’re all growing up and the boys are getting stronger than you’ll ever be. If you fight with boys, you’re bound to get hurt. You have to find other ways to handle them.” Haven’t all women dreamed of walking through life unencumbered not only by our physical forms, but by the limitations that society puts on them? Whether through magic, weapons, or raw strength, haven’t most women wished they would be gifted with something that would even the odds, to not only defend themselves but also give comeuppance to our aggressors? We’ve learned that society won’t mete out this justice. Even if that power should come with a side of fur and the worst PMS in history, there’s many who wouldn’t turn it down.

Kelsey Bornstein may not be the hero we have, but maybe she’s the heroine we need. Get on that shit, Hollywood.

Featured image by lessthanhuman.

Alexandra MoeHagen

Alexandra MoeHagen

Alexandra MoeHagen

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