Copyright 2009 by Gary L. Pullman
Some hypermasculine fictional characters are good guys (of a sort, at least), among whose ranks we may count The Incredible Hulk and Wolverine or, on a slightly more realistic level, James Bond or Dirty Harry. More often, however, especially in horror fiction, such characters tend to be the heavies, the Predators and the Xenomorphs or, on the slightly more realistic level of the espionage and the police dramas, the Odd Jobs and the Scorpios. In real-life, the hypermasculine good guy might be a cowboy, a policeman, a soldier, or a mercenary, and the hypermasculine bad guy might be a gunfighter, a sociopath, an enemy commando, or an outlaw biker.
Whether comic book super villain, horror story monster, or police drama bad guy, the hypermasculine character is fairly familiar, but what does his counterpart, the hyperfeminine monster, look like, and how does she act?
Hyperfeminine characters exhibit exaggeration of feminine qualities. Typically, they stroke the male ego, are passive, naïve, innocent, flirty, graceful, nurturing, and accepting, even, sometimes, of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. They want to be seen as all-woman women, and they are drawn to hypermasculine men (men who exaggerate masculine traits).
If the aliens of Predator and Alien represent horror fiction’s image of the hypermasculine monster, does Sil, of Species (1995), represent the female equivalent, the hyperfeminine monster, or are we talking something more along the lines of another extraterrestrial creature, the Blob?
“Sil” is the name given to a female alien-human hybrid produced by scientists, using instructions transmitted to them from the alien species, by splicing human and alien DNA together. When she reaches adolescence in only three months, breaking free of her confinement, the scientists view her as a potential menace, and the government seeks to hunt her down and destroy her before she can mate with a man or men. Able to revert to her alien form at will, Sil is extremely strong, agile, and intelligent. She also has incredible regenerative abilities.
She seeks a mate, killing two men, the first because he is a diabetic and, therefore, unworthy of her, the second because the couple are interrupted as they’re about to, uh, couple. Disguised, she does mate with one of the scientists in the hunting party, killing him when he recognizes her. Ultimately, she and her offspring are killed in a cave. (The monstrous Sil was created by H. R. Giger, the same superb biomechanical artist who designed the xenomorph that appears in Alien and its sequels.)
Although in her human guise, Sil is beautiful (Michelle Williams plays her as an adolescent, and Natasha Henstridge portrays her as an adult) and she is adept at turning men’s heads (both literally and figuratively), Sil seems to have too many traits that are traditionally categorized as masculine (or, indeed, as hypermasculine) to qualify as a hyperfeminine monster: she is aggressive, physically powerful, and violent.
Although she becomes a mother, she doesn’t appear to be the nurturing type, and she most definitely is not at all concerned with stroking the male ego, is not passive, is not naïve, is not innocent, is flirty only in a clumsy fashion, and is anything but accepting of others’ flaws. It’s hard to imagine any female creature that is less likely to tolerate physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. In fact, if anything, she is the predator and the abuser.
A more recent movie, Teeth (2007), may offer us the image of the hyperfeminine monster. The premise seems promising: Dawn O’Keefe, a young woman, has teeth in her vagina. She’s certainly able to defend herself: when a new acquaintance refuses to take no for an answer, forcing himself upon her in a cave after a quick swim, she--or her vagina dentata (vagina with teeth)--bites off the offensive offender’s penis, and she flees the scene of the crime, leaving him to bleed to death.
After researching the topic of the vagina dentata, Dawn visits her gynecologist to see whether her condition qualifies. When the doctor, pretending to examine her, molests Dawn, she--or her vagina--responds, biting off his fingers. Later, learning that her classmate Ryan has bet that he can seduce Dawn, her vagina dentata bites off his penis.
She recalls an earlier victim of sorts: her stepbrother, who molested her when she was younger. It wasn’t with her mouth, as she had remembered until now, that she’d bitten his finger at the time; it was with her vaginal teeth.
She leaves home on her bicycle, but, when it has a flat tire, she accepts a ride with a male driver. He locks the car’s doors when she tries to get out at a gas station, and intimates that he wants to have sex with her. Dawn responds with a sinister smile.
Both aggressive and violent, Dawn isn’t really a predator as such, attacking only those who have or would molest or otherwise harm her, so it seems difficult to imagine her as a hyperfeminine monster.
Maybe the much earlier movie, The Blob (1958), offers a better idea of the hyperfeminine. Although the alien’s sex, if it has one, is not identified in the story, it does seem to have some traits that are traditionally identified as feminine, and it seems extreme in its exercise of these qualities. An alien, the Blob is a formless creature resembling a colossal ameba. Able to envelope its prey, incorporating animals and human beings into its jelly-like mass, it is repelled by cold temperatures, and the military dispatches it to the arctic after it is frozen in carbon dioxide, where it remains until the movie’s sequel, Beware! The Blob (1972).
In the latter film, Chester, a construction worker who is helping to lay the Alaska oil pipeline, brings home a mysterious, jelly-like substance. When it thaws on his kitchen countertop, it is hungry, after being frozen for fourteen years, and appeases its appetite by devouring increasingly bigger prey: a fly, a kitten, Chester’s wife, and Chester himself.
Afterward, the monster attacks and eats hippies, police, a barber and his customer, homeless people, a Scout master, bowlers, skaters, and even chickens, before it is frozen inside the ice skating rink. The 1988 movie is a remake of the original, rather than another sequel.
The Blob is aggressive (in a somewhat passive manner) and, in its own way, violent, which are attributes that are traditionally associated with males. However, its ability to envelop its prey; its passive-aggressive nature; its aversion to cold (i. e., its preference for warmth, which, symbolically, might signify a desire for sociable contact, if not affection; its open acceptance of all; and its womblike “smothering” of others are qualities that are traditionally linked to females.
It seems, then, that the Blob is more hyperfeminine than either Sil or Dawn O’Keefe and, for the present, at any rate, earns the title of horror fiction’s most nearly hyperfeminine monster.