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Monstrosity, Patriarchy, and the Fear of Female Power

by Sady Doyle

Pub Date: Aug. 13th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-61219-792-0
Publisher: Melville House

A deep dive into misogyny in popular culture, from timeless myth to contemporary horror flicks.

The second book by feminist commentator Doyle (Trainwreck: The Women We Love To Hate, Mock, and Fear…and Why, 2016) is wide-ranging but operates from a simple premise: Western culture tends to perceive women as unruly monsters who can’t be trusted as girls, wives, or mothers. In exorcisms—and, by extension, the horror classic The Exorcist—Doyle observes a cultural urge to barricade girls from puberty and sexual independence. She draws a throughline from Celtic myth to Romantic poets to true-crime touchstones like the Laci Peterson case, showing how each represents a fear of women and urge to bring them to heel. In the case of serial killer Ed Gein (the inspiration for a host of horror tales, Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs most famously), Doyle notes how the blame for his actions often shifts to his mother, routinely portrayed as “fanatically religious, permanently enraged, a castrating, sexless, son-warping harpy.” The author sometimes approaches her source material, particularly movies, with wit and humor: She revels in rooting for the momma T. Rex in Jurassic Park and roasts Ben Kingsley’s turn in the terrible sci-fi film Species, as he “visibly chokes down every line of dialogue with a barely contained rage that says ‘I played Gandhi, damn it.’ ” But Doyle recognizes how much of our misogynistic, transphobic cultural id is revealed in our trashiest cultural products, and she never loses sight of how the social norms they promote have led to feelings of fear and entrapment at best and countless deaths at worst. The author’s accounting of the death of Anneliese Michel, the inspiration for The Exorcist, is especially chilling. A lengthy appendix serves as both a casebook of her sources and a recommendation list for further research both high (Julia Kristeva) and low (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).

Unflinching, hard-charging feminist criticism.