By Maria Lewis

Being a werewolf in horror is predominantly a male beat. Why is that? From Lon Chaney’s classic Wolf Man to – dare I say it – Michael Sheen in the Underworld franchise, being a movie werewolf is a bit of a sausagefest. After all, who is going to relate better to the concept of turning into a beastly creature with blood and gore for a few days a month more than women?

Now, full disclaimer here, this columnist has a personal stake in the rise of female werewolves. I wrote two books – Who’s Afraid? and the newly released Who’s Afraid Too? – in an ongoing novel series all about a female werewolf learning how to survive in a dog-eat-dog supernatural world. The main reason for writing it was a lifelong love of werewolves in pop culture and mythology, but rarely ever getting to see women inhabit those roles. We got Cry Of The Werewolf in the mid-1940s, The Howling movies from the eighties onwards, An American Werewolf In Paris, Cursed, Blood and Chocolate, Dog Soldiers, Trick R Treat, The Company Of Wolves and a smattering of other titles spanning B to C-grade fare. Annnnd that’s about it. Those titles rarely have women in the lead roles: at most the female werewolf gets to be a supporting character or someone dancing on the periphery, like Leah from the Twilight franchise. They don’t get to be the main characters and they don’t get to be the central drivers of story. At most they get to be present and film history has told us that’s as much as we should expect.

There’s also a significant difference between what people want and expect from male werewolves, compared to women. A cursory Google search of ‘best female werewolves’ will show you this: the first lists that pop to the top of the search tab are things like ‘sexiest female werewolves’ and ‘hottest female werewolves of all time’.  Female werewolves in pop culture, generally, haven’t been allowed to be ferocious if it comes at the expense of their fuckability. Men get to be monsters, they get to be cursed and battling the flesh-splitting, bone-cracking torture of transformation. In contrast, female movie werewolves rarely get to embrace the feminine grotesque: they get pointy fangs, fluffy ears and maybe glowing eyes. The lads? They become terrifying, statuesque beasts with rippling muscles and a terrifying roar.

The few times lady lycanthropes have been on the big screen in leading roles, it’s been significant for what it has said about the experience of being a woman. And it’s important to emphasise ‘few times’ because they truly are few. Women have spent their existence being prey, so when they get to play the predator something really special happens: look at Ginger Snaps, for instance. Expanding on Teen Wolf’s gimmick of lycanthropy being a metaphor for puberty, the first film follows Ginger Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle) as she manifests from a girl into a woman…that is likely to rip your throat out if she feels like it. Becoming a werewolf is synonymous with Ginger’s journey from a teen girl to a powerful grown lady in charge of herself and her future. As the story presses on with the second and third films in the series, her sister Brigitte (Emily Perkins) gets her opportunity to embrace her raw power and abilities as well. The series plays on cute PMS jokes to begin with and by the end credits of the third film it’s a series about two sisters who love and support each other despite their flaws. In the overwhelming face of the patriarchy, they create their own pack and feed on the strength of each other’s power. The message mightn’t be subtle, but it’s clear: there’s power in the sisterhood.

Danish horror When Animals Dream is just as special for what it has to say about the strength of women, in this case that strength being passed from mother to daughter. Marie (Sonia Suhl) is young girl living in a remote fishing village which is rife with sexist assholes who bully, assault and plague her on a regular basis. Yet the hunted soon becomes the hunter as Marie begins to develop powers – werewolf powers – the same very ones her mother has used to protect her in the past. It’s a slow moving, patient film that flips the script in a way Wes Craven’s Cursed tried very hard to do with Christina Ricci, but was just a little shaky on the dismount.

Films where women werewolves get to take front and centre are few and far between, but the ones that do exist have been important. They’re each different from each other for what they’ve had to say about being the experience of being a woman, being a sister, being a mother, being a daughter, being a survivor. The idea of lady lycanthropes that get to be bold, biting, beastly bitches mightn’t sit well with men who want to keep their female monsters sexy and subdued (while the dudes get to retain the exclusive rights on being hulking werewolves). Yet it’s a boundary that needs to be continually pushed as there’s few outlets that can – and should – be used to tell the story of women as overtly as that of the female werewolf.

Maria Lewis is a journalist and author who can be seen on The Feed, weeknights on SBS Viceland. She’s the presenter and producer of the Eff Yeah Film & Feminism podcast. Her debut novel Who’s Afraid? was released in 2016 with the sequel – Who’s Afraid Too? – out now. You can find her on Twitter @MovieMazz.



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