The Other Woman: The Monstrous Feminine as feminist praxis
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 14:11 authored by Katharine Emily Hawkins
The Monstrous Feminine is a liminal and constantly signifying cultural entity: simultaneously a product of and a response to patriarchal fears of the supposed 'Otherness' of women. This thesis examines the role of the Monstrous Feminine as feminist praxis, using case studies of women's performances of 'Otherness' to critique and destabilise boundaries of gendered embodiment. Implicit within this project is an interrogation of the relationship between the Monstrous and contemporary intersectional feminism. The liminality of the Monstrous Feminine refuses distinct and reliable categories of identity, and problematises the stratified hierarchies of power that intersectionality insists upon. Furthermore, the genealogy of the Monstrous Feminine reveals that her deployment has often been a means of perpetuating - rather than resisting - oppressive norms of gender, race and embodiment. As a result, the Monstrous Feminine cannot be made commensurate with intersectionality's push to be 'safe' and accessible to all women. However, this thesis asserts that the value of the Monstrous does not lie in its capacity to replicate the narratives of modern intersectionality. Rather, the role of the Monstrous is to make evident the limits and weaknesses within a given symbolic order; in this instance, her capacity to do so applies both to patriarchal systems as well as to the social and scholarly ubiquity of intersectionality. The purpose of this thesis is to position the Monstrous Feminine as a deliberate praxis of 'Otherness' that speaks back to patriarchal gendered and bodily norms in ways that intersectionality cannot. Through case studies of performance art, modern freak-show performers and extreme body modification, I will demonstrate that a critique of normative gender does not need to be 'right' or 'safe' in order to be valuable. Rather, it is through acts of transgression, jouissance and the liminal muddling of discursive and bodily boundaries that the subversive significance of the Monstrous Feminine emerges.