Women Who Run As the Wolves
October 27, 2017 9:57 PM   Subscribe

Why Are There No Great Female Werewolves? Lycanthropy has clearly been stolen from women over the years, and yet, while the condition is indeed connected to many supposedly “masculine” traits, the state of werewolfism is also very similar to menstruation. According to most werewolf narratives, the wolf cycle follows the lunar month, and is characterized by behavioral and physical changes caused by chemical fluctuations, much like the menstrual cycle. An Artsy editorial by Julia Oldham

A link from the article to The Nerdy Werewolf list of Lady Werewolves from Film & TV. (Posted separately in hopes of heading off some of the desire to argue there actually have been female werewolves in popular media, which is noted in the article.)
posted by gusottertrout (39 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, 1995, Clarissa Pinkola Estes [GoodReads]
posted by lazycomputerkids at 10:08 PM on October 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

A link from the article to The Nerdy Werewolf list of Lady Werewolves from Film & TV.

Hmpf! Needs more Hank (and Ada).
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:15 PM on October 27, 2017

The allusionist (Helen Zaltzman) (transcript) had a segment on the etymology of warewolves, including the notion of a wifwolf. There is fan art.
There are links there to other articles on the topic:
"Further werewolf reading-matter: find out about Old English wolf-words; read this plea for feminist werewolves/wifwolves; and this, apparently, is The Problem with Female Werewolves (too hairy for this bikini-waxed world?)."
posted by poe at 10:17 PM on October 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

Obviously someone's never played White Wolf's RPG Werewolf: The Apocalypse. There's an entire tribe (The Black Furies), the main baddie (Zhyzhak), Mari Cabral, the wise leader of the urban werewolf tribe (Mother Larissa)...

Also, what about Marsha Quist in the Howling, who is not only the leader but the only werewolf to survive the film? Or Stirba, Queen of the Werewolves, in the Howling 2?

Ginger Snaps? Pepper?

Megan in Dog Soldiers?

Or going from mythology and folklore, the werewolf wife of Ossory? Hendrika Dirks? Remy (the French author of Demonolatry) considered werewolf formulas to be more popular than flying ointments amongst the witches of France....

Talk about ignoring evidence that doesn't fit your thesis, yeesh....
posted by LeRoienJaune at 10:39 PM on October 27, 2017 [26 favorites]

Talk about ignoring evidence that doesn't fit your thesis, yeesh....

It is explicitly undesirable to post counterarguments.

heading off some of the desire to argue there actually have been female werewolves in popular media
posted by fairmettle at 10:55 PM on October 27, 2017

Delphine Angua von Überwald, aka Sergeant Angua.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:03 PM on October 27, 2017 [28 favorites]

well, lycanthrope anyway. very 80s. sexy. also...bowie!
posted by j_curiouser at 11:19 PM on October 27, 2017

Boobs by Suzy Charnas -- a fantastic short story which made me ponder what my female peers were going through as a teenager
posted by benzenedream at 11:29 PM on October 27, 2017 [11 favorites]

Talk about ignoring evidence that doesn't fit your thesis, yeesh....

It is explicitly undesirable to post counterarguments.

I've no problem with people going into the history of female lycanthropy, I only ask that they first note that the article itself points to some instances of that, so there isn't any suggestion there is no such thing as female werewolves and second that some thought be given to the argument as more a strongly heretofore defining characteristic and what that means before just pointing to other examples.

In other words, we all know there have been some female werewolves, the more interesting questions are in the relative lack and how they have been handled. Any discussion engaging those issues is great, whether agreeing with the article or not.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:55 PM on October 27, 2017 [10 favorites]

Don't forget The Curse from Alan Moore's Swamp Thing run. Details here.
posted by Paul Slade at 12:13 AM on October 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm not opposed to this thread becoming a reflexive/defensive, yet exhaustive listing of internet-accessible wolfemmes
posted by panhopticon at 1:20 AM on October 28, 2017 [11 favorites]

How to be a Werewolf (another lgbtq'ish webcomic)
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:35 AM on October 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Shakira's She Wolf, 250 million views. Though aside from the popularity it does match most of the article's claims.
posted by Balna Watya at 1:42 AM on October 28, 2017

Urban fantasy / paranormal romance is rife with werewolves, including female werewolves. But they're greatly outnumbered by female vampires.

UL is hampered by its heritage of the "Alpha Male Werewolf" trope. Not that there couldn't be alpha females, and there are a few, but the whole subgenre seems much more interested in working through conventional gender roles in the context of cishet women's romance. So the werewolves are male because they represent the male gender roles of protecting and controlling.

I've found it very interesting that, generally, women protagonists are initially drawn to the feral, passionate dominance of the alpha male werewolf, but end up finding it stifling (and, in the end, prefer the sensual, eros-laden sexually ambiguous vampire). So the alpha male werewolf trope is a stand-in for the complicated feelings women have about protective and controlling men -- which is unfortunate because it conflates the "alpha" trope with what's feral, wild, uncontrollable, ravenous, all interesting themes to explore within the context of female sexuality, cishet or otherwise.

Personally, I think the alpha male concept is pernicious -- it's not even an accurate description of wolf behavior, much less a model for human.

There's a lot of room for exploration and subversion in more portrayals of women as werewolves.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:09 AM on October 28, 2017 [20 favorites]

As a young female, I thought that the idea of werewolves was to point out that males had hormonal fluctuations too; as if it was defacto understood that females already ruled the howling at the moon thing. It's interesting to understand that the opposite concept is also a possibility.
posted by mightshould at 2:45 AM on October 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

Ginger Snaps?

Actually mentioned in the article.

But if we need more examples, there's Wolfsbane from the X-Men comics. (Though some are going to argue she's just a mutant, and not a proper werewolf like say, Marvel's Jack Russel. To which my response is "Really, you're going to invoke the character with the worst pun name in all of Marvel canon as your example of a proper werewolf?")

And lets not forget kid focused media. Winnie from the Hotel Transylvania franchise, and Claween Wolf from the Monster High dolls (along with her sisters Howleen and Clawdia).

Even with examples like this, I don't disagree with the article's premise that women are under represented in the werewolf genre, but I think that's merely a another example of a much larger problem with media in general.
posted by radwolf76 at 3:29 AM on October 28, 2017 [6 favorites]

Ginger Snaps and "The Curse" were the first things that occurred to me, and both are given extensive mention in the article. They're also both kind of old. I think Oldham's point stands.

To be fair, though, werewolves in general have rarely been as prominent in horror as one might think. In movies and TV, their under-representation largely comes down to how hard it is to make a werewolf look good on a modest budget. On the other hand, a two-dollar set of plastic fangs you can buy at Party City is all you need to make your actor a vampire.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:49 AM on October 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

Since radwolf brings the name up, I'm just going to link to this very short Winnie animation.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:32 AM on October 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

The Dresden series features female werewolves; the initial alpha of the local pack is a female wolf.

Also it is pretty much a side story but The Belgariad series has a female werewolf.

Neither of these though show werewolves as horror objects.

j_curiouser: "well, lycanthrope anyway. very 80s. sexy. also...bowie!"

Though not using that specific example; that there are female cat shape shifters is part of the author's thesis.
posted by Mitheral at 6:39 AM on October 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's Saturday, so probably not an issue for most people, but it should probably be noted that the illustration at the top of the article is NSFW-ish.

Although as noted counter examples exist, I can't think of any I have seen that focus so extensively on the hairy and bestial aspects, like in American Werewolf in London. And I thought it interesting the contrast between actual history (where many more women were accused of and killed for being werewolves) and the stories about men that are mostly told (like the example of Peter Stumpp).
posted by Dip Flash at 6:48 AM on October 28, 2017

Huh, I've always understood werewolves as "what if menstruation.. but for men?" The hyper-masculinity and aggression that comes from a man's monthly curse. I'm making a distinction here between general shape-shifting vs. the specific disease of lycanthropy, the uncontrolled monthly change from man to beast. I've got no problem with female werewolves too, particularly with our contemporary understanding of gender fluidity. But it doesn't surprise me that lycanthropy is male-identified because it seems like a grotesque exaggeration of a feminine thing happening to men.

Horror fiction about women has all sorts of other fantastic metaphors for menstruation. All that witchery and blood magic... My favorite male fantasy tropes though are the Old Crones, the women aged beyond menstruation, women so old and wise you better not fuck with them. Baba Yaga is gonna eat you, child.
posted by Nelson at 7:02 AM on October 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Favorite female fantasy trope, sorry. Atropos made me miss the edit window.
posted by Nelson at 7:09 AM on October 28, 2017

Werewolves were always my favourite of the common supernatural beasts/witches etc. And I had noticed that they are certainly male dominated in popular culture. Yes, there are exceptions, but they are exactly that exceptions.

Never knew that historically women were more likely to be accused of being a werewolf, so thanks for the post.

I always wanted to be a werewolf, to be honest, only one in control of all that rage and power which sorta defeats the whole purpose I know.
posted by Fence at 7:13 AM on October 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Elena in the Otherworld series. Oh whoops, never mind, already mentioned, forgot there was that movie.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:28 AM on October 28, 2017

Delphine Angua von Überwald?
posted by my-username at 10:45 AM on October 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

Why are there so many damn werewolves? What happened to werebears and weretigers and such? Down with lupine imperialism!
posted by homunculus at 12:18 PM on October 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

Annette Curtis Klause's excellent YA novel Blood and Chocolate features a female lead wolf.
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:59 PM on October 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

The list of movies in the second link has very recent stuff -- or at least I find it recent. No mention of, for instance, Cry of the Werewolf (1944), a favorite film of a woman I know who shares the same name as Nina Foch's character. So maybe the real question is why so many female werewolves recently?
posted by CCBC at 3:17 PM on October 28, 2017

Ya'll really need to read the Suzy Charnas teen-girl werewolf story linked upthread. It's brutal but awesome.
posted by emjaybee at 5:50 PM on October 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

The list of movies in the second link has very recent stuff -- or at least I find it recent. No mention of, for instance, Cry of the Werewolf (1944), a favorite film of a woman I know who shares the same name as Nina Foch's character. So maybe the real question is why so many female werewolves recently?

That was part of my interest in the article. Growing up, I took it as something of a given that the use of werewolves in movies and shows was due to their ability to stand in for uncontrolled male libidinous impulse. If the threat of the vampire was in the evils of unacceptable seduction, then the threat of the werewolf was in its insatiable animal instinct. They were treated as something of a stand in for showing men acting on their desires without thought or concern for consequence. The werewolf was a creature beyond control and, through that inability, was monstrous.

In more recent times, a few decades now perhaps, the "monsters" of old have become increasingly recast as, if not heroes exactly, a possible or even desirable embodiment for protagonists to inhabit that stresses some critique or anxiety of or with the norm. Werewolves in this aspect then can become something other than purely monstrous or in representing a wholly uncontrollable and destructive urge.

The why of that and its continuing expansion is, to me, something worth considering, just as other representations of monsters and the "other" continues to shift to fit new cultural wants or needs. In many cases it does seem as much the social convention being questioned by those once seen as only monsters, for largely obvious reasons, while at the same time using this particular form of embodied critique carries something of those past uses and additional audience desires accompanying power, danger, and difference along for the ride, leaving the results sometimes unstable in their vacillations between the two perspectives of the monster and the other.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:32 PM on October 28, 2017

It's certainly persuasive to argue that the werewolf archetype has been masculinized, but it's worth noting that werewolves in general don't have too many "greats" of any gender. There aren't any "Name" werewolves with the pop-culture status of vampires like Dracula and Carmilla, and werewolf movies and TV shows are much thinner on the ground than are vampire movies and zombies shows.

Shows and movies with a lot of different supernatural elements will have "a" werewolf or two, they get cast as rivals to vampires in stuff like Twilight and Underworld (and typically come up second best), and every seven or eight years someone tries to make A Werewolf Movie. But werewolves in general just don't seem to click with audiences.

Isn't part of the issue that werewolves, unlike zombies, vampires, and even Frankenstein-type creatures, have the whole "not always a werewolf" thing built in and are usually played as unable to control themselves or their transformations? They can't as easily be imagined as the faceless horde a la zombies, but they also can't be "cool" in the same way as vampires.

And it's hard to envision a "werewolves take over the world" scenario, unlike vampires and zombies. The stakes of a werewolf story have to be smaller and more personal, which in production terms means using lots of FX but without much grand spectacle. There's also the whole "wolf head or furry human head" conundrum. One of the big changes in horror over the centuries has been that simple "this standard animal meshed with this other standard animal" category confusion isn't effective for audiences any more. The "something's a little off" gradations of the uncanny valley and the "bugs 'n' cephalopods" Lovecraftian method of monster visualization have overtaken the gross mismatch monstrosities of previous eras.

I wonder, too, if it's tougher to revamp werewolves for a contemporary, more urbanized era. Wolves are scarier when you live near the woods, or in rural areas more generally. And while the "phases of the moon" bit has a lot of thematic resonance, it makes plot construction a lot tougher because the story either has to skip over the other 25 days of the cycle or throw out that rich symbolism and have something else trigger the changes.
posted by kewb at 4:17 AM on October 29, 2017

The timetable doesn't have to be all that limiting for horror movies. I mean there are _plenty_ of horror movies that take place during a single night or weekend. Flashbacks can provide long term history without all the "boring" non-full moon days.
posted by Mitheral at 6:02 AM on October 29, 2017

Timmain from Elfquest? (What's the elf equivalent of were?)
posted by ikahime at 6:58 AM on October 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

The timetable doesn't have to be all that limiting for horror movies. I mean there are _plenty_ of horror movies that take place during a single night or weekend. Flashbacks can provide long term history without all the "boring" non-full moon days.

Sure, but the article seems more interested in the idea of claiming werewolves as an empowering figure for women or as a way to push back against the narrow boundaries of mainstream culture's views of feminine sexuality. It doesn't seem like it's about werewolves as a figure of horror, but rather about appropriating them from the horror genre much as has been done with vampires.

Even within the horror genre, aren't the majority of werewolf-centered stories as much about the horror of being a werewolf -- "Oh, god, what did I do last night?" -- than about the horror of being stalked by one? Certainly that's the archetype established by the Universal Horror version.

The Howling is certainly more about being stalked by the wolf, and it draws in a lot more of the "unrestrained male libido" metaphorics discussed above, and uses a whole town of werewolves, also putting it in the 'town with a dark secret" genre. And the film version also throws away the full moon idea and instead has a cult of werewolves led by a serial killer, all of whom who can transform at will.

I suppose the central conceit of scary werewolves would be a literalization of the old Samuel Johnson bit about making a beast of oneself to get rid of the pain of being human, making it a metaphor for something like getting blackout drunk and doing terrible things. Again, that's a far cry from what the article seems to want to do with werewolves.
posted by kewb at 1:25 PM on October 29, 2017

Even within the horror genre, aren't the majority of werewolf-centered stories as much about the horror of being a werewolf -- "Oh, god, what did I do last night?" -- than about the horror of being stalked by one? Certainly that's the archetype established by the Universal Horror version.

With werewolves traditionally being seen as sporadic monsters, those who only turn at certain times rather than being that creature always, the tendency definitely was in making the stories either about "the monster that lurks inside me" or someone close to me is a monster and we need to figure out who and how to deal with the problem, with the former being the more common.

Once you change the idea to allowing werewolves to transform any time, then the stories no longer have to be about some "hidden" part of the individual in the same sense. Werewolves may be secretive about their curse/ability, but they are that all the time, which differs from someone usually normal but who becomes a monster under certain narrow restrictions.

The traditional werewolf then had a hint of the tragic about, usually, him, but at the same time with a more sexist or outright misogynist element involved too, where the tragedy was tied to their being unable to control impulses that were often coded in part as sexual. Those werewolves would kill men, but would often be framed in a way that involved stalking some woman as a main purpose or "instinctive" desire.

The involvement of a "true love" would be needed to end the curse, suggesting the werewolf can only be overcome when it finally identifies with its potential victim, something beyond its ability otherwise. How that played out varied, but in linking the transformation to an often sexual urge its "tragedy" was tied to sympathy for the werewolf as rapist unable to control themselves despite being men of some distinction in "normal" circumstance.

As most movies were generally framed from a largely male perspective, the werewolf then was tied to internal worries of control over one's impulses. This is in contrast to vampires where the concern was over some "other" seeking to seduce and steal "our" women, and convert the weak to their insidious ways. There were variations on this of course and shifts over time, but that's a rough accounting of the larger general trend in the mainstream of movies I think.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:14 PM on October 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure I entirely buy the premise that lycanthropy has been "stolen" from women though I do agree that the lack of its prevalence (barring some examples) is culturally revealing.

Firstly, her example of the "Werewolf trials" of Europe needs a bit more nuance - they weren't just about lycanthropy but also about being witches (its right in the first 2 sentences of the Wiki article on the subject). The concept of witches & werewolves developed in tandem in Europe and had more to do with, I'd argue, the transition from Pagan belief to Christian belief. Like the persecution of "witches", it is about the maintenance of Christian standards and the fear of the "old ways" (and stamping out female agency along with that). So I'd argue, at that early historical point, the werewolf is about choice - one chooses to become a werewolf rather than it being an affliction. So lycanthropy is a choice between being part of the larger "civilising" Christian community versus being part of the more "dangerous" (from a Christian perspective) and "wilder" community of Paganism. There's a somewhat parallel belief of the Navajo "Skin-Walker" (a villainous witch with shape changing ability rather than someone afflicted).

So with a modern spin, that concept of "lycanthropy by choice" (Paganism vs Christianity) could be seen as a kind of female empowerment (which is I think partially what she's saying in the article though in a more roundabout way). While I think this could be a pretty interesting line of thought to explore creatively, I think in our contemporary culture this concept has been replaced by our idea of the "witch" rather than the werewolf.

Following that, our idea of the werewolf has "transformed" over the years. As others have pointed out it has come to be about the "beast inside us", unchecked sexuality, a wild masculinity disconnected from social and community mores, or how civilizing agency has been subsumed by the natural world. I'd argue too that there are elements in the werewolf myth about uncontrollable, and often cannibalistic, hunger for flesh (also echoed in the First Nation tradition of the Wendigo). Women can be seen as "civilising agents" in folklore so I wonder if that is partially to blame for a lack of female werewolves in this context. I'm not sure. Perhaps a better argument could be made about how culture has changed our notions of lycanthropy and how this reflects our contemporary ideas of womanhood?

That being said, I think there are some interesting examples of female werewolves (other than those mentioned above and in the article): Thom Fitzgerald's Wolf Girl, which is about gender identity, La lupa mannara while largely equating sexual appetite with lycanthropy it also has elements of lycanthropy as mental illness (not unlike how Martin deals with vampirism), and Santo vs. las lobas involves a coven of female werewolves (equating the older idea of witches & werewolves being the same or at least related).
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:51 AM on October 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Glen Duncan's "Bloodlines Trilogy", particularly the second book, Tallulah Rising, has come to my mind during this conversation as an example that includes female lycanthropy, and in quite a transgressive fashion, which zeroes in on blood lust and eros.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:45 AM on October 30, 2017

Wilderness, by Dennis Danvers, is an excellent novel with a female werewolf protagonist. I'm a bit amused to look it up now and see it with a Harlequin-ish plot description and book cover, but the last time I read it, I thought it was actually quite solid.
posted by WCityMike at 1:54 PM on October 30, 2017

(IJWTS that the list of lady werewolves supra omits Angel's squeeze Nina Ash, but maybe you gotta be crazy nerdy to remember her. Guilty.)
posted by uberchet at 7:21 AM on October 31, 2017

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