Volume XIII, Number 2, Fall 2017


"Bitch training. Discipline and Punishment in Postfeminist Narratives of Female Werewolves" by Annamária Hódosy

Annamária Hódosy is a member of the faculty in the Department of Visual Culture and Literary Theory, University of Szeged. Her major research interests include the relationship between rhetoric and gender and sexuality in pre-modern literature and popular films, ecocriticism and eco-cinecriticism. She has published extensively in the deKON series edited by the Ictus/JATE Literary Theory Series, and in the Hungarian journals Tiszatáj, Literatura, and the e-journals Apertura: Film-Vizualitás-Elmélet, and TNTeF. Email:

1. What are female werewolves for?

“I was once butt ugly and a geek to boot. The night I turned into a werewolf, I woke up beautiful.” (4) – so begins the introductory chapter of Ronda Thompson’s bestselling young adult novel, Confessions of a Werewolf Supermodel (2007). Even if the reader is familiar with novelistic and filmic adaptations of the werewolf myth, this confession may sound surprising. Firstly, unlike in vampire fiction, where the subjects are often more beautiful and seductive in their undead form than they had been in their human mortal frames, in werewolf narratives the human form of the subject usually remains unchanged after being bitten. This is not an arbitrary feature, since werewolf fictions strategically oppose the normal state of ‘being human’ with the abject and horrendous state of ‘being a beast,’ which cannot have a beautifying effect, since a positive representation of human-to-beast metamorphosis would contradict the traditionally negative evaluation of sub-human, instinctual animal existence. Secondly, unlike vampires, the majority of the werewolves that inhabit the discursive spaces of the twentieth century are male. This gendering is due to their monstrosity’s manifestation in enormous strength, physical violence, and aggressive sexuality which have been conventionally associated with testosterone-driven masculinity (features far from a stereotypical image of femininity identified with maternal caretaking, tender love, and fragility).

One might venture the hypothesis that the figure of the female werewolf is a rhetorical tool to subvert conservative notions of femininity, a figurative way of asserting that the rigid differentiation between the sexes is arbitrary and repressive, since women can be just as aggressive sexual beings as men (and animals). The uncanny and frightening wolfish form may signal the offbeat and dangerous aspects of this newly recognized womanhood. But the idea that female werewolves came into being to embody the emancipation of women has its problems. The logic of the above reasoning may be applied to female vampires as well, who surfaced in literary fiction roughly simultaneously with the beginning of the feminist movement. The National Society for Women’s Suffrage in the United Kingdom was formed in the year (1872) when the story of the first female vampire, Carmilla was published. With the ascension of the cinema, the female vampire soon became associated with the “new women” of modern times, the “vamp,” who irresistibly lured audiences into the movies. The final battles for the passage of the suffrage amendment after the First World War were fought while Theda Bara, the most famous representative of the vamp had her greatest triumphs on screen. But the vampiress’s history is not parallel with that of the cinematic female werewolf, who remained latent for a much longer period of time (Bourgault du Coudray 85). The difference implies that the latter monster possibly symbolizes female problems and themes that gained importance only later on, towards the end of the twentieth century (see Waterman 1996). As I shall try to demonstrate here, although werewolf fiction raises problems that are worth analyzing from a feminist perspective, the methodology and “questionnaire” of classical feminist approaches usually do not yield appropriate results, and cannot properly interpret the “confessions” of female werewolves. The critical literature on “postfeminism” a strand of societal development that “consists of the notion that feminism (as a social movement) not only belongs to the past, but more fundamentally has outlived its purpose” (Kauppinen 84) is much more appropriate to find the meaning of the graphic link between the idea of femininity that is predominant today and the fictive existence of be(com)ing a werewolf.

Most often the theme of lycanthropy relates to a metaphorical problematization of our biological, animalistic nature, the tension arising from the entrapment in a material embodiment the human ‘spirit’ struggles and occasionally fails to come to terms with (Bourgault du Coudray 3, Cohen 4). This anxiety is rooted in our culture’s fear of nature (Graham 12, Hendershot 1-2), and the imminent danger of our potential failure in repressing natural corporeal urges. But it also evokes the threat involved in the inadequate disciplining of a body that, once let loose, might endanger social order. The Foucauldian echoes of the latter wording make a difference: while the Freudian discourse of psychological repression was traditionally embraced to reflect on the malaise of women discussed by classical feminism, since the last decades of the twentieth century Foucault’s ideas have gained increasing ground as effective tools used to explain the contemporary cultural construction of femininity. The discussion of the functioning of modern technologies of power plays a preeminent role in current academic discourse about postmodern and/or postfeminist female subjectivities, and gives space to ideology-critical interpretations reaching beyond the repression-based psychoanalytical discourse on this topic. One of the most striking features of western consumer societies today is a new sexual freedom (Attwood 80-84, Levy 2-5), which – according to the critics of this “pornographic culture” – paradoxically enhances the demand on self-discipline (Heinecken 122). Indeed, these self-disciplinary technologies of power are implemented to construct and enhance women’s sexuality so that women can fulfill the requirements of “proper” female subjecthood (Bartky 75, Kauppinen 83). The obligatory elements of post-millennial women’s culture, including fitness training, make-up, fashion, diet and body-modifications trends, are all examples of the “technologies of sexiness” that aim to create from the material of a female body a feminine subject, that is, the ideal consumer of a patriarchal neoliberal economy (Sivulka 348, Evans et al. 119, Gill 2007, 152).

In the following I try to demonstrate through the analysis of Thompson’s novel Confessions of a Werewolf Supermodel as well as two werewolf films that this topic of human-to-animal shapeshifting is extraordinarily appropriate to express the tensions and challenges that women, or more appropriately girls, experience in a hypersexualized culture that promises freedom and agency but is constructed through the technologies of power mentioned above strictly disciplining feminized subjectivities (Hatton-Trautner 74). Contemporary young adult werewolf fiction targeting a teenage audience recycles the romantic comedy or the melodrama within the frames of the horror genre: the ambivalent feelings awakened by the process of puberty, the natural bodily changes (Miller 4), and the cultural rules and conventional rituals involved in the transitional period of the coming-of-age process are interpreted along the lines of the horrible effects and terrible consequences resulting from a werewolf infection. In the merry horror-comedy The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (2010) and the darker horror drama Ginger Snaps (2000) and its (first) sequel (2004), the transformation into a monster does not so much indicate sexual liberation as exemplify the strategies of power that prescribe and control the expression of sexuality.

2. Being a werewolf supermodel

Hollywood movies made for a female audience often use a plotline that constitutes a special subgenre of chick flicks we could refer to as “makeover films.” Makeover narratives focus on the transformation of a lonely and unattractive girl into a sexy and self-confident woman. The metamorphosis is achieved by the changing of clothing, the acquisition of make-up skills, and in general the learning of the know-how of making oneself more attractive, hence more appropriate in the eyes of others (men and women alike). The transformed girl is also made to believe that it is her positive attitude and her diligence in complying with the normative notions on femininity that earns her recognition as a “normal” human being (Negra 123-124, Hollinger 48, McDonald 45-47).

If the norm is to comply with the social expectations of femininity considered prerequisite for one’s qualification as an autonomous subject, than the deviation from the beauty norm also signifies a deviation from the status of “fully human” existence. Since the aforementioned expectations can be fulfilled by way of the Foucauldian “technologies of the self” (Foucault 46-49) that aim at consciously managing the body to guarantee the domination of the “human” spirit over the animalistic, untamed, “wild” corporeality, women deviating from the beauty norms are seen as “wild”, animalistic beings. This logic constitutes a central organizing principle of a popular makeover comedy, Miss Congeniality (2000). (Fig1) In a telling scene, the hilariously unfeminine female FBI agent, who is about to go undercover in a beauty contest to prevent a terrorist attack, is having a meeting with her beauty consultant during a dinner in a fancy restaurant. We see her devouring a bloody beefsteak, while the juicy-grainy materiality of the meat is foregrounded by the filmic close-up shots. Unintimidated, she is speaking while eating, unlike her consultant, who explains his grumpiness with an arrogant critique of her voracious ways: “I was distracted by the half masticated cow rolling around in your wide-open trap.” The woman’s lack of discipline and sophistication is represented here by the spectacularization of the wild, predatory, animalistic nature of the meat-eater, evoking the threat of becoming an animal – which is the fundamental fear motivating all werewolf fiction. But this is also an exceptionally appropriate way of symbolizing the dread of improper female behavior disrespecting feminine manners and thereby risking the entitlement to feminized subjecthood.

While rather uncritical and superficial, Thomson’s novel Confessions of a Werewolf Supermodel draws these correlations clearly. The memories of the protagonist, Lou, structure the novel similarly to makeover films, where the transformation of the heroine’s appearance is necessitated by her marginalization resulting from her inappropriate looks:

I am transported back to Haven High School. I am a dorky sophomore. Sometimes the more popular girls press themselves against the lockers when I pass like I have something catching. They laugh and everyone laughs with them. On days like that, I would walk home from school crying. (150)

Lou turns into a werewolf for the first time on her prom night. In American films this school gathering is a metaphorical marker for a girl becoming a woman, often by means of a symbolic ritualistic act of sexual initiation. In Thomson’s novel this event is rather painful and frightening as Lou can barely avoid being raped by a fellow schoolmate; hence, her transformation into a werewolf is a fantasticated equivalent of her maturation and an imaginary compensation of a traumatic rite of passage.

From this time on Lou turns into a werewolf always around the time of her period. The connection between menstruation and the cyclic metamorphoses of the moon makes it easy to link the traditional werewolf-narrative to menstruation, a decisive moment in the process of female biological development, often burdened with negative feelings (Briefel 25, Bourgault du Coudray 122). Menstruation is commonly presumed to make women neurotic, hysterical and unpredictable, isolated. It is identified with the biological essence of womanhood women usually wish to hide because of its shameful cultural connotations (Houppert 216, Delany 5, Wolf 223). Connecting lycanthropy with menstruation is therefore a handy means of marginalization and demonization: the signs of being a werewolf are just as monstrous and in need of concealment as those of menstruation.

The traditional role of the moon in the werewolf’s transformation can be used to feminize the phenomenon via the shapeshifting’s association with the cyclic nature of menstruation. The beautifying, disciplinary routines involved in the management of feminine bodies are also cyclical activities, since they demand repetition according to the rhythm of the natural renewal and regeneration of the body. The hairs must be plucked, the skin must be the peeled, the fat must be burnt, over and over again, as they reappear despite all efforts at camouflage. The repetitions never end – just as the cyclical transformation of the werewolf terminate only with the decease of the lycanthrope. Like the traditionally repetitive female household chores (cleaning, cooking, washing dishes, taking care of the young and the old) that can never be regarded as accomplished, “finished,” the bodily-management tasks necessary for “staying in shape” (cosmetics, hairdressing, plastic surgical interventions, fitness training, diet regimes) are also endless, since they aim at controlling material, cyclical phenomena pertaining to the sphere of nature, and whatever is achieved always falls far from the “ideal.” “Why can’t I be beautiful and not be a werewolf?” (6), asks Lou in Werewolf Supermodel. The answer is given by the symbolism of the narrative: woman are always metaphorical werewolves, their beauty is the ephemeral, temporary result of the transitional cleansing of werewolf attributes which are doomed to return as biological side-effects of the inherently bestial ‘other sex.’

In Thomson’s novel the animal attributes can be decoded as the metaphorical expression of the painful adjuncts of the everyday grooming activities of average women. Indeed the heroine reports about her werewolf symptoms as inconveniencies that are simultaneous, similar, and mixed with other problems arising from the need to appear fashionable and trendy:

The skimpy lace panties I wear ride up my crack. My bra is two sizes too small. I am bloated and have a zit on my forehead that would make a Cyclops jealous. All these things have combined to make my day miserable, but now I’ve topped them all off with a fur outbreak. (1.) Ripping the waxing cloth away, I put a fist into my mouth to keep from screaming (…) Sticking a finger down my throat and puking up calories would be preferable to the horrific sting going on in my shoulder, but I have no need to purge. (…) I can eat whatever I want and never gain weight. That happy thought is chased away by not only the sting going on in my shoulder but the ache that erupts in my gums. (…) Great. Fangs. Just what I need (5)

Traditionally, the most important attributes of becoming a werewolf are the uncontrollable growth of hairs, fangs, the emergence of a monstrous appetite, aggressive behavior, and rough sexual initiatives. These attributes are the most “horrible” everyday signs of lacking or losing one’s “feminine” appearance, problems that must be confronted by every woman who want to fit in the socially assigned category of their gender. Inconvenient lingerie is compulsory for being sexy, and a diet or a regurgitating procedure should be also necessary, if one does not have an exceptionally fast digestive system. Even a supermodel must submit to the cruel disciplinary regimes of the beauty industry, as the ideal she is supposed to represent is practically unattainable. Even a woman labelled as a “natural beauty” is as far from the culturally mythified ideal of femininity as the werewolf from a “normal” human. This is exactly what the popular reality TV show Make Me a Supermodel shows to the viewer – maybe to comfort them for their presumably hopeless fight for glamour and success. But this self-stylizing work is the prerequisite of the female career: “If I go wolfy again, I won’t have the job that helps pay half her rent in this overpriced building. I won’t have anything but a real fur coat.” (25)

As a Bildungsroman, Werewolf Supermodel focuses on the problem of Lou’s identity, and the question “Who am I”?. The final answer seems to be “I am a werewolf’”, which means that Lou resigns herself to an existence that comprises of constant transformation and the ensuing self-disciplining. Since Lou does not wish to reveal her secrets – at least to the men she is sexually interested in – the narrative seems to support the concept of a postfeminist female identity, grounded in the belief that there is no other way to become a subject than complying with the sexualized, gendered norm. This identity is artificial: the werewolves were “created by science,” as results of experiments at a chemical factory (242) evocative of the technologically enhanced embodied identities created by way of plastic surgery or regular doses of botox injections. Still, werewolfhood makes Lou feel powerful. On the one hand, she is stronger than other girls and has several superhuman abilities. On the other hand, being a werewolf helps her in becoming beautiful and sexy – and hence gain indicators which are associated with empowerment in contemporary media discourse (Evans et al. 114-115, McRobbie 27, Hatton-Trautner 74).

4. Bitches with depression – Ginger Snaps

In the focus of the narrative of Ginger Snaps there are two teenage girls, the older of which is bitten by a werewolf. From this time on, Ginger grows more and more aggressive and arrogant until she turns into a monstrous wolfish creature. Her sister, Brigitte can defend herself only by killing her werewolf sister in the end. The sequel of the film deals with the tragic story of Brigitte, who has been bitten by Ginger.

Already at first sight, the two girls appear to be perfect embodiments of the “ugly duckling” stereotype (Fig2), which make them ideal protagonists for a makeover plot that surfaces again within the frames of a werewolf transformation story. Becoming a werewolf is (again) the metaphor of becoming a woman. The first menses of Ginger happens exactly when she is bitten, which makes it undecidable whether the blood attracted the werewolf, the bite initiated the period, or the wound simply represents the menarche. The symptoms of turning into a werewolf are again problems related to the unwanted properties of the female body and the social requirements to hide them. But “sexual agency” and “power,” which are the celebrated features of being a werewolf in Werewolf Supermodel, here become problematic.


 



 


When Ginger begins to change, she becomes more self-confident, provocative, apparently more beautiful, and suddenly very popular among the boys. But as her wolfish (sexual) appetite cannot be contained, she is soon deemed monstrous and is destroyed in the end. It would be tempting to conclude that Ginger’s is a society that represses female sexuality and punishes the woman who is not passive and obedient. But the film clearly indicates a society that is the exact opposite. The adults in the film who represent the norm are far from promoting prudishness or a repression of female sexuality. While Naomi Wolf complained that becoming a woman is not celebrated in our culture as opposed to the ritual initiation of men (279), the mother of the sisters in the film can hardly wait for the signs of the first ovulation of her daughters, and makes a big cake to rejoice at the news of Ginger’s first menstruation. In her influential book originally written in the 80s, Iris Marion Young talks about

the shame associated with menstruation that compels girls and women to conceal their menstrual events, and the misfit between women and public places such as schools and workplaces, which often refuse to accommodate women’s social and physical needs. (97-98)

As opposed to this, in the world of Ginger Snaps the nurse at the school does her best to convince the girls that menstruation is normal and there is nothing to ashamed of; what is more, she is also quick to offer a contraceptive to Ginger, just in case. While Ginger is reluctant to buy a sanitary pad in the supermarket and make her condition public this way, the boy who overhears her dilemma offers his sexual services to trigger the menstruation spasms; he does not find the blood repugnant. All this seems to imply that “the changes in women’s status and opportunities in France or England or the United States have mitigated our sense of alienation or annoyance with this most normal and regular bodily process” (Young 100). The shopping scene seems to emphasize that the characters live in a “liberated” world where the sexualized female body is not an object of fear and resentment but is a cause for excitement and celebration (Faludi x-xi).

What is the problem, then? Should not her “werewolf” features help Ginger adapt to our “porn” culture, instead of causing her demise? The film clearly explains which werewolf traits prevent the happy ending. For example, Ginger begins to grow a tail, which she attaches to her thigh with tape. When she is overwhelmed by lust and has sex with a boy for the first time, she is accused of expropriating the male role. The scene clearly attributes to Ginger’s tail a phallic symbolical significance, and labels her “wolfish” sexuality aberrant on account of its being manlike. Hence the film stages the limits of “liberated” gender roles: female “monstrosity” is related not only to the inability to meet the requirements of normative feminine beauty ideals but also to the unwillingness to perform sexuality conforming to the gendered norms defining women along the lines of passivity (Fig3). Here it becomes clear that the proper articulation of the apparently-encouraged female sexuality is “tied to one’s ability to avoid excess, to discipline one’s self, and to control and contain one’s body and desires” (Heinecken 133).

Unlike Werewolf Supermodel, which presents “body discipline” as the price worth paying for sexual liberation, Ginger Snaps demonstrates that sexual freedom is only an illusion; “wild” sexuality is only an image that girls should “properly” perform. In this respect, the provocative licentious behavior of the sexually “mature” Ginger is not opposed to the modest disgust she feels about sexuality before her first menstruation. In both cases, she fails to properly perform the cultural script of restrained female sexuality, since she is unable “to identify the social forces that shape and constrain individual choice” (Hatton-Trautner 74). Her death at the end of the film represents her failure to live up to the postfeminist social conventions of femininity and also her inability to live outside these norms.

The sequel of Ginger Snaps makes the narrative’s entanglements with this troubled concept of femininity even more obvious. A large part of the story takes place in a sanatorium for drug addicts, where Brigitte is confined when she runs away from home after the death of Ginger. Brigitte, bitten by the dying Ginger, tries to suppress the symptoms of her infection with monkshood injections, the traces of which are misinterpreted by the social workers – the representatives of normative social control – as evidence of her drug abuse. Even more radical in its social critical intent than the first part, the story reveals how a beneficial cure is misdiagnosed as an addiction necessitating correction by means of a cruel involvement of power in the life of the individual. The plot clearly resonates with Foucauldian notions of discipline and punishment: the similarity between the rehabilitation clinic and the mental asylum as well as the prison analyzed by Foucault is undeniable.

According to Foucault’s analysis of the making of modern subjectivity, the development of medical institutions, and mainly the medicalization of sexuality, functions as an ideological mechanism of technologies of power aiming to regulate the population throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This social discipline severely affects especially women, who are deemed to be weaker, more prone to “sickness” than men. The recurring theme of women’s pathologization often surfaces in classical movies:

Disease and the woman have something in common—they are both socially devalued or undesirable, marginalized elements which constantly threaten to infiltrate and contaminate that which is more central, health or masculinity. (…) As is frequently noted, the word hysteria is derived from the Greek word for uterus, and the nineteenth century defined this disease quite specifically as a disturbance of the womb—the woman’s betrayal by her own reproductive organs. (Doane 38)

The discursive construction of female desire as “abnormal” can be tracked in clinical descriptions of hysteria and later on “depression” which tied in with the celebration of conservative virtues of female domesticity and served to contain women in their traditional subservient and passive roles (Devereux 20). Jane Ussher argues that the “pathologization of femininity” serves the “regulation of ‘difficult’ women” (Ussher 63): accordingly the drug rehabilitation center becomes an instrument of the medicalization of Brigitte’s unruly behavior. The institutional therapy aims at educating patients to become submissive, obedient, and useful subjects – yet it never strives to repress their sexuality. Similarly to the critique of postfeminism in Ginger Snaps, “sexual liberation” is thematized in the sequel as a requirement of an identity-performance expected from the patients, who are trained to embrace overall obedience. The film depicts liberating emancipation as illusory.

The rehab center attributes a therapeutical function to sex: the inmates are encouraged to practice communal autoerotism that presumably will help them overcome their drug addiction. Although the scene of collective masturbation might be a hallucinatory vision of Brigitte, the use of sexual satisfaction for curative purposes follows the logic embraced by the critics of our “striptease culture.” Gill, Levy or McRobbie argue that sex today is not seen as a disruptive force, but rather as a blessing, a perfect motivation, and a reward for the appropriately behaving self-disciplining subjects. Yet in the filmic plotline sexualized cure is applied by force, and sexuality becomes a means of domination, since the male head nurse is willing to give the female inmates drugs in exchange for sexual services. Hence cure is transformed into abuse. Similarly to Ginger’s, Brigitte’s story performs a critique of postfeminism by disclosing the persistence of sexual exploitation preventing the hope of a happy ending.

Wolfish appetite and “the technologies of sexiness”

Yet such a tale can have a happy end, too. The Boy Who Cried Werewolf is a teen horror comedy featuring sibling protagonists: a secondary school girl, Jordan, and her younger brother, Hunter, who live with their widowed father in a small town in the US. The family inherits a rich estate in Transylvania from a distant relative, Dragomir Vukovic, and they travel to Romania to sell the inheritance, Wolfsberg Manor. In the castle the children find a secret laboratory with test tubes filled with blood, one of which is broken by Jordan. The girl cuts herself with the glass, after which she experiences weird symptoms that the viewer and the children can clearly understand in this stereotypical horror context: Jordan is about to become a werewolf. Meanwhile the prospective buyer of the mansion, the charming Paulina, is unveiled as a vampire who wants to secure her evil reign by buying the property. Hunter also turns into a werewolf and the two children overcome the vampires. Jordan succeeds in turning back into a “normal” girl with the help of a recipe they find in the laboratory. However, the boy refuses to get rid of his supernatural abilities, and puts them to the service of mankind. He becomes The Wolfsberg Beast who protects humankind from the invasion of vampires (a position once fulfilled by Dragomir Vukovic) and is revered by pilgrims from all over the western hemisphere.

In line with the comedy tradition, the appearance of werewolves is not really frightening: they look like animated plush animals, unable to terrify viewers. While the violence of instinctual behavior is foregrounded in the case of the girl, who is represented in terms of imagery of infection and sickness, the boy’s becoming a werewolf seems normal and even celebrated as heroic. All this implies that in the case of a man, werewolf features (aggression and the drive to dominate) are in place, therefore they are invisible, unproblematic. The plot suggests that this normalization of male werewolf-transformation can be integrated within the patriarchal tradition as noble and necessary for survival: the male werewolf is a “natural” heir of power and wealth. It is impossible for a female werewolf to aspire to fulfill such a hereditary position of supernatural empowerment. It is the patriarchal lineage of power that is metaphorized and legitimated in the “disguise” of the werewolf narrative and made easily digestible, imperceptible, and forgivable in the form of a comedy. The name of the boy, Hunter, suggests a subject position that places physical violence in the service of rightful authority and order (in this case hunting down the wicked vampires). The same aggressiveness in the case of the girl, however, appears as an “error” of nature, represented by the accident that made Jordan an unwilling werewolf.

The patriarchal werewolf-order represented by Hunter is opposed to the vampire-world governed by Paulina, a representative of the monstrous idea of subversive women’s rule. Jordan’s turning “wolfish” appears as a deviance in this structure: her appearance as a female werewolf usurps a gap opened up in-between the death of the old patriarch Vukovic and his male heir who is not yet mature enough to be a “king.” (She is like a queen in the history of patriarchal Europe.) The narrative suggests that this is a provisional role, since feminine gender is incompatible with a power position. When Jordan enthusiastically declares that she is willing to fight the vampires and “save the world,” the housekeeper of the Vukovic estate warns her: “No. Must be Bloodline Werewolf. [sic].”. And Jordan does not belong to the bloodline because she is a girl. Her being a werewolf is a mistake that must be cured. In view of the gendered power antagonism that constitutes the base of the narrative, this “mistake” can easily be associated with the “emancipation” of women or the rise of feminism.

When Jordan turns into a werewolf she, too, matures from a timid and awkward girl into a self-confident woman. Suddenly she looks at the world with joy and feels free to do anything, but she becomes scandalous in the eye of Hunter and dreadful for her Romanian suitor. The boy who was so fond of the timid Jordan now feels like a “piece of meat” beside Jordan-the-werewolf. Beyond the literal sense the metaphorical meaning implies the loss of male dominance and the fear of the sexual liberation of women (Hollinger 35). The light tone of the comedy masks and sublimates the fear concerning feminism that may invert the usual gender roles and objectify men, who turn into prey for predators (Gill 2008, 47). Female power is shown as a deviance, a monstrosity, in Jordan’s case an illness that can and should be overcome.


 



 


Some of Jordan’s werewolf symptoms may be regarded as metaphorical representations of postfeminist concepts of femininity. Again, the narrative is structured very much like makeover films. In the beginning, the girl is shy, humble, and is seen as ugly. In an early school scene she is shown as unnoticed by the boy she likes and is ridiculed and humiliated by the “popular” girls. Her timid and quiet behavior again seems to be in no relation to the systemic repression of women’s sexuality but is shown simply as the manifestation of individual incompetence. Jordan is not sexy and feminine enough to be interesting to boys she really yearns for. Her friends encourage her saying “you are the predator and he is your prey” (which clearly forecasts the coming events).

The accident in the Wolfberg laboratory does not so much support the associations of infection and illness as stands for a symbolic visualization of Jordan’s ‘becoming a woman.’ In view of the sexual desires of Jordan articulated at the beginning of the film, the breaking of the test tube and the wound caused by the shattered glass evoke not only menstruation but the loss of virginity and sexual initiation, too. Although the age of the targeted audience excludes the possibility of sexual explicitness, the transformation is nested within a makeover narrative throughout which Jordan learns the ways of making herself visible, offering herself self-consciously as object of the male (and female) gaze by mastering the “technologies of sexiness” (Evans et al. 117).

When “made over” into a werewolf, the inhibitions of Jordan disappear and she feels empowered on account of her newly gained sexual allure heralded by the dominant media-discourses today (Evans et al. 114-115, McRobbie 27, Levy 2-5). (Fig4) Her new look presupposes hard work and a constant self-discipline embraced by the “willing victims” in the makeover television shows Angela McRobbie criticizes. From the first appearance of werewolf-symptoms Jordan’s activities are again focused on tending her body, plucking her “grotesque” body-hair, repressing her beastly outbreaks (manifestations of an unfeminine aggressiveness), and controlling her enormous hunger. First, Jordan is a vegetarian, mocked by Hunter who argues that “Humans eat meat, Jordan. That is why we have these” while pointing to his canine teeth, foreshadowing the coming events. Indeed, the first symptom of the “infection” is newbie-meat-eater Jordan engorging an enormous amount of food served for breakfast. It is the carnivorous instinct that constitutes the central threat, yet the quantity of the meal Jordan devours and wants to keep a secret is also significant. The empty plates Hunter finds in Jordan’s room evoke the phenomena of dieting, bulimia and anorexia (also mentioned in Werewolf Supermodel). In this context the metaphor of the “wolfish” appetite represents not so much the instinct to kill but a threat to the slender female ideal: the danger of losing control over one’s body by putting on weight.

It is the housekeeper, Madam Varcolac, the confidential of the deceased count Vukovic, who first recognizes the real meaning of Jordan’s symptoms. Thus, she becomes a guardian of the body, symbolizing the constant monitoring process the “proper” female body needs throughout its normativization. However, she may also serve as a parody of the norm the film otherwise promotes: she is an excessively disciplined person who performs the orders of the invisible power in an almost automatized, mechanical way. But when the children reveal their secrets to her, she also uncovers hers in turn: the ring tone of her mobile phone is a Britney Spears song (who is also a werewolf, according to her comment), suggesting that the housekeeper is also a pleasure-seeking if not a sex-crazed woman “inside,” under the cold surface. The character of Madam Varcolac embodies a type of femininity that seems to be the very opposite of the aggressive, phallic confidence and instinctual sexuality that becomes the attribute of Jordan at the beginning of her transformation, but the difference turns out to be a question of disguise. However, the grotesque figure of the housekeeper is also a warning that Jordan must learn not to repress but to express herself properly through the technologies of sexiness.

The film suggests that proper femininity resides in the golden mean between full liberation and total discipline. However, the conclusion encourages another moral: perfect femininity seems to be the consequence not of proportion, but of the methodology of self-discipline. Self-discipline should not be too open or obvious, its result should look natural, and the fruits of hard work should be seen as if they have been always already “found there”. Hence, the “liberation” of women results from the internalization of normative ideological demands — the oppressive nature of which is rendered invisible. In this context, emancipation is grounded in a willing approval of rules that promise happiness. Indeed, at the end of the film Jordan is seen happy. She is shown in the very same situation that the film began with. She is in the school canteen where the boy she used to be interested in tries to please her and the girls who used to be the most popular are jealous of her because she is so effortlessly beautiful and sexy. But even the very plot makes it clear that this “natural” femininity is the result of education, the fruit of hard work and much training. In fact, Jordan is not a werewolf anymore (she has been cured), but she behaves as if she were still a werewolf. She already knows how to perform the feminine masquerade of self-confidence and provocative playfulness. Jordan’s cure signifies the end of the “twilight zone” of teenage sexuality – when the body grows strange and monstrous desires awake –, and the beginning of an adult life which is not a victory over that monstrous body, neither a peace with it, but a state of eternal fight and vigilance.

Conclusion

Since the werewolf is a monster that traditionally takes animal form cyclically at full moon, in the case of female subjects the transformation is quite obviously linked to the menstruation cycle and therefore to the initiation to female sexuality. Although werewolves are associated with the excessive violence and promiscuous desire that once were the prerequisites of manliness, in the werewolf texts analyzed here these attributes become the signs of “postfeminist” female subjectivity. Just as in contemporary makeover films and popular TV-shows, the transformation in werewolf films also “results in healthier subjectivities, cheerfulness, better ‘self-esteem’ and an improved quality of sexual relationships” (McRobbie 124.) By becoming werewolves, the female protagonists become active and confident, “emancipated” subjects who learn to govern their lives, which the plots present as the consequence of a magical beautification and empowerment (due to the werewolf capacities) yet further compulsory motifs in the narrative imply otherwise and destabilize the theme of female liberation.

In order to keep the “infection” secret, the werewolf body needs constant monitoring and diligent disciplining so that the subject can learn that “the task of the Single Girl is to embody heterosexuality through the disciplined use of makeup, clothing, exercise, and cosmetic surgery, linking femininity, consumer culture and heterosexuality” (Radner 15). Being a werewolf therefore is a handy symbol of the “contemporary ‘up for it’ female sexual subjectivities [that] appear to impose new individualized neo-liberal discourses which regulate the subject through an internalization of regimes of disciplinary power” (Evans 117).

The ubiquitous violence of the werewolf in these films may be translated as the active and self-confident (sexual) agency the female protagonists need so that they can “fit in”. The repression of female sexuality and “chastity,” which has been regarded as basic requirements for so long, now appears as something that is out of fashion (Levy 2-5). Through the transformation, the power the female werewolves gains is “the sexual power to bring men to their knees. Empowerment is tied to possession of a slim and alluring young body, whose power is the ability to attract male attention and sometimes female envy” (Gill 2008, 43). Indeed, this is the experience that is presented in the middle of Ginger Snaps and at the end of the Boy Who Cried Werewolf as a wishful dream coming true, and that is what makes the state of being a werewolf so satisfying for the Werewolf Supermodel.

It is the werewolf state that makes the female protagonists realize that being simultaneously active, clever, and beautiful is not a paradox any more, which may reflect the concept that “appearance and self-expression take on new importance when so many jobs are located in the service sector” (McRobbie 131). Two out of our three female werewolf narratives like other contemporary “chick flicks offer not a lament for female loss and unhappiness under patriarchy but a celebration of women’s glorious triumph over patriarchal restrictions and their ability to do so while still maintaining many aspects of traditional femininity” (Hollinger 48).

However, the critique of postfeminism seems to be also appropriate to analyze many scenes in these movies. As Susan Bordo, Feona Attwood, Rosalind Gill, Angela McRobbie and others have shown, this newfound agility and confidence that seem to characterize our female werewolves as well as other female participants in the contemporary cultural discourses, does not signify real emancipation and equality. Indeed, as Diane Negra writes, contemporary makeover plotlines are in the “postfeminist” habit of “reactivating previously problematized stereotypes of femininity” (Negra 107). Being sexy becomes compulsory, which is very well demonstrated in all the narratives analyzed above, where the witty protagonists are invariably marginalized for their ugly or average looks or simply for their timidity. The woman who cannot perform sexiness and sexual appetite becomes “less equal” (Gill 2008 44). If a female character manages to be accepted into “the elite,” to remain there requires continual efforts in performing the daily routine necessary to “stay in shape”. In this light the positive link between beauty and career is less emancipating. Although two of the narratives analyzed here represent the efforts of becoming a “postfeminist subject” as comic and worth the price, Ginger Snaps thinks otherwise. This film ruthlessly shows the punishment for not fitting in, exacted not only if one is not willing to take part in the beauty cult but also if one performs “sexiness” and agency too excessively. The story of Ginger and Brigitte shows too well that the “technologies of sexiness” aim at creating not so much satisfied individuals but docile subjects, sheep in werewolf skin.

 

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Filmography

  • Bross, Eric. dir. 2010. The Boy Who Cried Werewolf. Nickelodeon.
  • Petrie, Donald. dir. 2000. Miss Congeniality. Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Fawcett, John. dir. 2000. Ginger Snaps. Motion International
  • Starkman, Paul- Lazzaro, Glenn. dir. Make me a Supermodel. 2008-2009. Bravo.
  • Sullivan, Brett. dir. 2004. Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed. Lionsgate.