Evil Women: Women and Evil
4th Global Inclusive Interdisciplinary Conference
Saturday 18th March 2023 – Sunday 19th March 2023
Prague, Czech Republic
Key Words and Abstracts
The Trope of ‘the Obsessive Woman’
University of Melbourne, Australia, Australia
Obsessive Woman; Contemporary Film; ‘mental illness’; Queer woman; Lesbian phobia; gynophobia, misogyny.
I would like to investigate the way ‘the obsessive woman’ is represented in the contemporary films, Fatal Attraction and Single White Female. The ‘mentally ill’ character Alex from Fatal Attraction and queer woman character Hedy from Single White Female are represented as villains. Despite both films having male directors the films are constructed in a way where it seems that the films are less about men and more to do with women’s relationships with each other. Especially as it is women who murder ‘the obsessive woman’ at the end of both films. It is ‘mentally ill’ women and queer women who represent a threat to other women in both films. Women are portrayed in both Fatal Attraction and Single White Female as protecting family values over ‘mentally ill’ women and lesbians. Single White Female particularly demonstrates lesbian phobia in the relationship of Hedy and Allie while Fatal Attraction represents phobia toward other women by Dan’s wife, Beth. In addition, I would like to perform a small suite of ‘obsessive woman’ poems that explores these themes.
The Witch as Resistance Through her Contemporary Practices and Performance: Through the Lens of a Black Aesthetic
Philosophy, Practical and Systematic Theology, UNISA, Pretoria, South Africa
In Fred Molten’s work of “Resistance of the Object: Aunt Hester’s Scream” (2003) gives a detailed analysis of black performance and presentation. Its focus in on how blackness in its representation cannot escape objectification but it’s from here that its resistance to objecthood begins. Molten (2003) examines the Fredrick Douglass’ account of his Aunt who was a slave and was being beaten by her master. Molten asks how to give expression to such historical accounts without falling into the trap of further normalising of black pain by reducing it to a spectacle for consumption. His solution is one that defamiliarize the familiar through his critic of Karl Marx’s description of the “impossible speech of commodities” shows how those deemed of having no inherent value. Through this Morten (2003) examines how the humanity of such commodities can be seen in their “condition of possibility of a richly augmented encounter with chain of messages the (re)sounding speech of the commodity cuts and carries”. My paper examines how this defamiliarization can be applied to the concept of the witch, woman from social peripheries whose bodies became the site of struggle. Using Silvia Federcici’s account of how the development of capitalism and its creation of labour was superseded by the appropriation of woman’s bodies reduced to sites of reproduction and accumulation. I will examine how the spiritual (Magikal) practices that would threaten this commodification and how current representations of witches and their continues this resistance in popular culture today.
The Inheritance of Disgrace: A Dialogue on the Evilness of Women
Savitribai Phule Pune University, India
Women and social evils, role relationship between man and woman, women’s life stories, marriage and identity, women in orthodox community, women’s subservience, women’s incapacitation, female chastity, women in patriarchal system, woman identity.
Women having been treated unequally and socially separate, struggled to identify themselves away from the shadow of the males palisading them. In the Indian context and its social reform history setting out roughly two centuries back the foundation of ‘women as outsiders’ was laid deep and strong enough to put the blame of social evils on their shoulders. The role relationship between a woman and a man within the fold of domesticity functions on a normative pattern. A projection of its development in Indian context needs to be discoursed. The paper aims to develop a dialogue around the history of inheriting the blame of social vice by the Indian women during later nineteenth century. The Indian pioneer social reformers were mostly men, except for Pandita Ramabai Saraswati, who is considered as the first woman to inspire many generations of women for self-emancipation. Other women conspicuous in social and public arena, however, as ‘unequal’ partners of their reformer husbands were Ramabai Ranade, Lakshmibai Tilak, Rakhmabai, Parvatibai Athavale, and Anandibai Karve to name a few whose biographies/ autobiographies bear testimony to the degraded evil status of women; young, old, and widowed.
The status of women represented in different cultures has travelled through several stages of social evolution. The commonalities need to be highlighted for analysing the upward or downward changes in it. The subservience of women to men is laced with sufferings, taunts, disapprovals, tensions, silent resentments, and contradictions. This gives rise to certain questions as to; why the women silently bore the brunt of mortification and let evil happen to themselves? What have been the socio-historical reasons which define this arrangement of humiliating female sex by regarding it as vicious? What are the complexities of her social struggle while she stands on the verge of societal transition? An interaction and sharing of experiences, viewpoints, and ‘putting ourselves into the picture’ might determine and demarcate the ‘expected’ and the ‘actual’ status of women. The paper shall be presented through the medium of paintings revolving around the major theme and the sub-themes covered under it.
Boksi: An Evil Woman of Society
Program Coordinator, Women AID Nepal, Kathmandu, Nepal
A boksi (Nepali: बोक्सी) is a person staying alone and has knowledge of witchcraft, Tuna Muna and Tantra. According to Tantra-shastra and Shivapurana, a boksi is a woman who is different from normal god or goddess and has her own language. Boksi has a divine power and is capable to heal various diseases. A Boksi is capable to differentiate god, goddess, ghosts, pret, pichas or dakini. She is able to call any of the goddess or witches and ask them to do a job for her. According to mythology, Parvati, the wife of Shiva was the originator of boksi knowledge. She gave this power to seven of her sisters. From the youngest sister, this knowledge is believed to be transferred to the human.
Witchcraft (boksi pratha female: boksi, male: bokso) is generally defined as a person having alleged supernatural powers to control people or events by the use of magic. Belief in witchcraft exists among people, regardless of their individual religion or faith. Upon being accused of witchcraft, a person may face extreme forms of physical and psychosocial violence imposed by other members of the community members of their own family, and even the dhami/ jhakri himself. In the most extreme cases, it leads to killing, including by being burned alive. The survey findings on belief in witches/witchcraft show that the majority of the respondents upholds a belief in witches/witchcraft in their respective communities
Witchcraft may be blamed in Nepali societies for material loss, sickness of cattle, and other problems, in addition to mental and physical illnesses in humans. It is also believed that witches can give deadly or chronic diseases by means of food or drinks. As such, suspected witches are completely marginalized from the community even if they have received no public accusations or violence. Facial hair or baldness in women, stooped posture, cantankerousness, garrulousness, red or yellow eyes, infertility, and talking to oneself are some of the characteristics that can get a person suspected or accused of witchcraft.
Mob violence (including killing) based on accusations of witchcraft, sometimes sanctioned by a committee of village elders, is prevalent. The accused may be paraded naked, with their faces blackened with soot or battery powder, and a garland of shoes around their neck, made to feed on excrement, shaved, beaten, tortured, and banished from the village. The accused may be made to put their hand on red-hot iron and inhale fumes from burning chillies. The most vulnerable group are the widows who may be accused of killing their own husbands using witchcraft. Such an accusation against a widow is almost always used as a means to prevent her from inheriting her husband’s property. A significant number of victims are poor Dalit women. Witch-doctors play a key role in providing an authoritative accusation against the targeted victim in order to rouse the whole community to participate in the violence. It has been suggested that witch-hunts serve to discipline all women, preventing them from asserting their rights. There is social stigma associated with reporting violence, and normalisation of violence as a way of life. The police are more likely to suggest reconciliation and altogether reject a complaint. Almost all perpetrators go unpunished unless there is a death, and victims are left without any remedial measures.
Dowry: A Cause of Violence Against Women in Nepal
President, Women AID Nepal, Kathmandu, Nepal
The word ‘dowry’ means the resources and money which is brought by the bride to her husband’s home at the time of her wedding. This practice has been proved evil for the bride and her parents because many times this practice leads to social violence on the females if they lack to fulfil the demands of the dowry. Dowry has become a societal norm, which is a major issue for both society and women. The dowry system is the evil that has murdered and disabled countless vulnerable women, forcing some to commit suicide. Dowry is the oldest social malady or sickness on the Indian subcontinent. Dowry has become a societal norm, which is a major issue for both society and women. The dowry system is the evil that has murdered and disabled countless vulnerable women, forcing some to commit suicide. Dowry is the oldest social malady or sickness on the Indian subcontinent.
In Terai-Madhes region in Nepal, now the dowry system has become a very important part of marriage. Nepal is in the 129th position in literacy rate among all countries. Illiteracy has turned out to be a major reason behind dowry. Women, mainly in the Tarai region, are found affected more by the ill-practice of dowry. Women are subjected to mental and physical violence and even murdered in the name of dowry. The main reason why our authority is failing is the authority itself is discriminatory. Besides, the practice of doing settlement, a lack of awareness in the officials and their stereotypical mindset towards women, the Madhesi community and other vulnerable groups are some other reasons. How sensitively the authority is dealing with such issues is still a question.
Also, any research analysing the strength, effectiveness and weakness of anti-dowry campaigns is usually not carried out. As a result, the campaigning system is not updated timely, leading to failure. It is very necessary to have discussions at the family and community levels on why this system is wrong, and why one should stop this. A learned individual in a family or a community should initiate such conversation. Side by side, if we want this to be eliminated by root, the authorities have to be serious and responsible. The feminist movement also should be inclusive. With changing time, problems change, research should be carried out time and again to find ways to deal with such problems. Likewise, big weddings should not be promoted. Moreover, the expenditure of the wedding should be equally shared between the bride’s side and the groom’s side.
Eileen Gray, Le Corbusier and a Mural Framed as a Rape
OCAD University/ University of Toronto/ Mt. Allison University, Canada
Women architects have been ruthlessly marginalized and demonized by the profession and the academy for years. Despite a recent surge in a generation of new authors retelling the silenced stories of the suppressed “other” figures who shaped modern architecture, with gender and race at the forefront, these texts often remain tools to further marginalize and demonize women architects. Male architectural historians have played a large role in forcing women to remain in the shadows of a history that was, in fact, co-produced. However, such a simple condemnation is too easy and incomplete. The male historian is not the only root cause. Indeed, many of the most significant architectural historians of the past few decades have been women and these historians also have both perpetuated and reproduced the female figure in both negative and counterproductive ways. In my exploration of this thesis, I will look more closely at the work of these historians (Colomina, Rault, et. al.) and how they have treated Eileen Gray as a particular case study to see how figuration and the trope of the evil woman persists in the modern architectural imaginary. Eileen Gray, despite her notable contribution to the history and practice of modern architecture, either appears in the background of the dominant narrative or when Gray does appear she appears as a sad, often hysterical scorned woman. She is seen as being subject to abandonment, neglect and even became a victim of an architectural “rape” as Beatrice Colomina has claimed (2005). Eileen Gray perpetuates female stereotypes in order to reaffirm the male dominance of the history of modern architecture in ways that are much more insidious than just being unjust and sexist. In William Curtis’ landmark modern architecture textbook (1982), the famous modern master Franco-Swiss architect, Le Corbusier, is honoured with more than five chapters dedicated solely to his career. Eileen Gray gets one sentence in Curtis’ text, which serves as a footnote to Le Corbusier’s vacation cabin on the Fence coast. The now frequent stories of women who have shaped modern architecture are now coming to the surface with new texts being published in a flurry of scholarly production (Decq 2020, Espegel 2018, Willis 2022, et. al.). Scholars choosing to retell the story of modern architecture with women as key figures have used iconic architects and designers such as Charlotte Perriand, Margaret McDonald, Lilly Reich and Aino Aalto. The strange case of Eileen Gray, Le Corbusier and a mural framed as a rape tells a different story that is worth deeper analysis. This narrative serves as a case study for the exploration of the liminality of architectural theory and gender, a reminder about the ground-breaking role that Princeton University played in bringing gender and identity into the architecture studio (Colomina, Sanders, et. al.), but more importantly, how dominant architectural narratives continue to perpetuate the dopant narrative with the tormented woman as a central trope. I will demonstrate how the spectre of the devious female figure still looms large in the imaginary of the male-dominated atelier of myth and fantasy. The role of the modern female architect is now being retold, but in Gray’s case with an air of lingering repulsion, scorn and condemnation. Inasmuch, the notion of the evil woman still looms large as women are “othered” by a profession that thrives in in the retelling of modern architecture’s golden age. How the female figure is situated, positioned and configured by the male gaze remains a problem. By specifically looking at the figuration and re-figuration of Eileen Gray, I will tease out how architects, historians and others condemned her to a last chapter framed as a scorned cat lady, rather than a modern master. Demonized, canonized and then abandoned, Gray, as a figure, has been manipulated with such cruelty by both women and men, but why? Why has she been singled out as a subject lost in a haze of fictional figuration and character condemnation that has relegated her to being nothing more than yet another tragic female figure, cast in the same vein as Marilyn Monroe and others who chose to toy with the male gaze, domination and fame. Is it that simple?
Expressions of Limited Agency in Cases of Intimate Partner Homicide
Nottingham Trent University, United Kingdom
Intimate Partner Homicide, Digital Coercive Control, Safety Work, Co-Victims
The literature on safety work has been well established by scholars such as Kelly (2012) and Vera-Gray (2018). However, to the researcher’s knowledge, no research considers safety work or associated safety zones (Stark, 2007) used by women in the context of intimate partner homicide where digital coercive control has been used as a means of abuse. Instead, this tends to be considered as part of the larger intimate partner abuse and sexual violence literature. This presentation will illuminate the experiences of women who were able to express limited agency during periods of intimate partner abuse which resulted in their death. The use of safety work in these cases enabled women to reclaim moments of autonomy and agency where darkness and constant struggle impacted every part of their daily lives. Using a feminist methodological approach, this presentation will highlight the positive ways in which women increased their ‘space for action’ using digital media. Unstructured interviews with victims’ families’, referred to as co-victims, will form the basis of this discussion. This research found that the use of reverse charge phone calls, posting of comments and changing of relationship status on Facebook allowed these women to change their narrative – albeit in small ways – which enabled them to seize control in abusive relationships even just for a short period of time.
In Search of an Ethics for the Disappeared
John Kaiser Ortiz
Millersville University, USA
Border theory, Disappearance(s), Ethics, Femicide, Human trafficking, Sexual slavery
Arguably one of the most pernicious realities of human trafficking, sexual slavery, and disappearance concerns the epistemology of un/non-sightedness that disheartens efforts to call attention to these realities, including efforts to resist such practices. Complicating matters, an ethics of silence—what we might define as the mostly unexpressed but sometimes dimly articulated normative expectation that these are realities one simply has to live with—lends credence to and supports acceptance of this haunting code of conduct. Between what we know and talk about, on the one hand, and how we think one should act under such circumstances, on the other, there emerges a distinct sense in which our knowledge of and dispositions toward the evil these forms of captivity represent for women amount to a concrete and troubling sense of ghosting humanity. Ghosting humanity, I argue, refers to everyday epistemological and moral attempts (blind spots, distortions, scrims, veils) to deny our selves and each other the knowledge and courage necessary to confront these evils enacted against women. My paper visualizes what an ethics of the disappeared might look like if these and other (un)seen realities are posited as real as allied discussions of the victims of human trafficking and other instances of violence against women, including femicide and sexual slavery. Ghosting humanity, in other words, captures the fundamental moral problem with our collective un/non-sightedness pertaining to women and evil.
Sexual Harassment in the Night-Time Economy: Negotiating the Right to Space
Nottingham Trent University, United Kingdom
Sexual Harassment, Licenced Venues, The Night-Time Economy, Public Spaces, Gendered Spaces
Sexual harassment is a global issue that disproportionately affects women (Gouseti, 2020: Stanko, 1990; Vera-Gray, 2016). Whilst research has explored safety and women’s perceptions of safety in licenced venues, the focus tends to be on drink spiking and rape. Despite unwanted sexual behaviours such as touching and unwanted attention being documented as pervasive there is a lack of research in a UK context that focuses specifically on sexual harassment in licenced venues. This presentation will present the initial findings of the authors PhD thesis.
Using a feminist methodological approach and based on semi-structured interviews, the experiences of women who have been impacted by and witnessed sexual harassment in licenced venues will be discussed. This research will illuminate the ways in which women experience harassment and how space and safety are negotiated in licenced venues. Findings suggest that the appearance of men and women and the appearance of venues influence perceptions of safety. Women also negotiate their rights to space in licenced venues by avoiding certain areas of space or accessing areas collectively. Findings also suggest that sexual harassment is presented as ‘just routine’ and interestingly, in some cases, women position themselves as abject when they do not experience unwanted sexual behaviours.
Evil Women and the Quest for Eternal Youth: From Elizabeth Báthory – the Vampire Countess – to Vampire Facials
Cynthia Jones and Justin Rhees
Weber State University, USA
Elizabeth of Báthory, a 16th century Hungarian countess, who was rumoured to have bathed in the blood of virgin girls in order to maintain her youth and beauty has served as the inspiration for various cultural representations of vampiric women. One such example is La Vampire (The Vampire Countess -1856) by Paul Féval. This novel highlights the exploits of Addhéma, a vampiress from Eastern Europe, who has come to Paris to prey on young women to steal their youth. However, it also mirrors popular belief in the restorative properties of blood, as well as advancements within medicine. Nearly thirty years before this work’s publication, another novel treatment was gaining popularity within the medical community -blood transfusion. Most of these early cases were to treat haemorrhaging in women, and the treatment carried great risk -and pain -for both the patient and donor.
Not only does the Báthory legend influence literary and cultural productions, but we can also see its influence on contemporary blood therapy practices. Facial creams infused with blood, vampire facials, young blood transfusions, etc., all promise youth and vitality either by applying blood to the skin or infusing it directly into the veins. This presentation, through an interdisciplinary lens of cultural studies and medical history, seeks to tease out the various ways in which advancements in blood transfusion influence culture, and vice versa -particularly in the representation of villainous women. We will start by looking at the historical influence of Elizabeth Báthory, and how her alleged thirst for youth -and blood –are represented in literary depictions of female vampires. We will discuss the discovery and use of human-to-human blood transfusions, and the effect they had on women. We will then examine the cultural influence of these literary female vampires and how they continue to influence contemporary blood therapy practices.
The Image and the Boundary of Beauty/ Ugliness of Asian Female Ghosts: A Case Study of Taiwanese Sister Lintou and Japanese Oiwa
National Kaohsiung Normal University, Taiwan
Asian female ghosts, Sister Lintou, Oiwa, beauty/ ugliness, empowerment
Ghosts and Hells: The Underworld in Asian Art Exhibition takes an insightful look at fears and imaginations of unknown world in Asia of centuries. In the exhibition, which puts on display of Taiwanese Sister Lintou and Japanese tragic character “Oiwa”, both of them are the most famous female ghost images in Taiwan and Japan respectively. They both represent the vulnerability and hopeless women under the old-fashioned and patriarchal societies when they were alive, but they eventually transformed to be strong consciousness and real forms that cannot be destroyed and killed after being murdered by their beloved men. Yet something remains unchanged in each of them, these are all stories of revenge, murder, ghost, love and betrayal. In particularly, the archetypes of Sister Lintou and Oiwa were original beautiful and charming women, their “beauty” became frightening and ugly appearance after being transformed into ghosts. As Sister Lintou, a delicate and pitiful weak woman became the ferocious ghost with dishevelled hair, and Oiwa was even depicted as a disfigured woman. In Asia and the Eastern world, the image of female ghosts is closely related to Buddhism and Tao, the shackles and taboos of traditional societies, and folk beliefs and legends. However, why these representative “strongest female ghosts” in Japan and Taiwan must show their “ugly” faces or appearances after death to express the revenge power they could not access in life? How can a gentle woman become a fierce and terrifying female ghost? This paper tries to explore the social and cultural significance reflected by the Asian female ghost images, from the viewpoint of both sexes, pointing out the differences between men and women, and the stereotypes framed by the society. What’s the connection between beauty/ ugliness and the power of women? Whether beauty and ugliness have substantial power association for women is the question to be explored in this paper.
Glamour and Monstrosity: Evil Women in Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Music Videos
University of Lodz, Poland
Gothicism, music video, intertextuality, transmediality, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, evil women, camp, glamour.
From the 1980s onwards, music video as a separate artistic creation has been gaining more and more recognition, among casual viewers and within academia. Lori Burns suggests that “[i]n the late 1980s and early 1990s, a number of scholars analysed music videos as a postmodern cultural form, considering the implications of artist promotion and spectatorship and offering critical textual analyses of selected videos,” whereas in the last 15 years “Internet sites such as YouTube and Vevo have made it possible for viewers to access not only the most recent video releases, but also a full range of historical videos, allowing for comprehensive examination of video trends, design strategies and artistic development” (67). One of the defining artistic strategies of numerous music videos is their intertextual approach to other works (fiction, cinema, various TV formats, paintings, other music videos). The following paper will focus on creative reformulations of Gothic elements in a visual context, in particular the character of a female Gothic tyrant. Using the theoretical framework of intertextuality and transmediality, I will refer to selected music videos by Sophie Ellis-Bextor (e.g., “Murder on the Dancefloor,” “Move This Mountain,” “Music Gets the Best of Me,” “Catch You,” all of them directed by Sophie Muller) to illustrate how the figure of a Gothic anti-heroine transitioned into a new medium.
“Learning to be good’: Jessamine’s Chan’s School for Bad Mothers
University of East London, United Kingdom
Jessamine Chan’s recent dystopian novel, The School for Good Mothers 2022, explores and critiques mainstream Western attitudes towards good and bad mothering in the last twenty years. Chan creates a dystopian surveillance fantasy that functions as both a warning as to what may happen if these intensify, and exposes the cruelties, contradictions and inequalities of the current neoliberal state and media enforced model (McRobbie, 2013; Garrett 2013 and 2021; Cain, 2016; Jensen, 2018; Orgad, 2019; Rose, 2019). In The School for Good Mothers a struggling Chinese-American working single mother is separated from her baby, incarcerated for a year and forced to practice intensive parenting on an IA equipped cybernetic doll. The novel offers a salutary dose of race and class awareness to the existing cycle of popular ‘bad mother’ texts.
As I and others have stated (Littler, 2013; Garrett 2013,2021) the mainstream ‘bad mother’ trope in fiction (Diary of a Stressed Out Mother and Hurrah for Gin) and screen drama (Bad Moms, Motherland) is comedic and focuses predominantly on the minor foibles of white middle-class mothers. The economic privilege and secure social status of the characters ensures that they are viewed indulgently and are not regarded as a danger to their children. However, even then, the ‘bad’ behaviour must be confined to bitchiness, petty rivalries, tardiness, poor home making skills and occasional drunkenness rather than the admission of more serious lapses in socially-validated standards of good motherhood. In contrast, the diverse group of mothers in Chan’s novel (a high proportion of whom are young, poor and non-white) have behaved in ways that have caused their child potential or real harm, but within a context of significant challenges and overwhelming stress. Drawing on recent work on maternal ideology, the paper highlights and examines the novel’s biting exposure of the way in which child welfare concern is distorted and weaponised to reinforce misogyny, racism and hatred of the poor at a moment in which the demonization of ‘bad mothers’ is intensifying at an alarming rate.
Subversive Mothers: Stop Rocking the Cradle and Start Rocking the Boat
Belfast School of Art, Ireland
mothers, dirt, resistance, disgust, disorder, ambiguity, art, housework, domestic, threat
Home, though depicted in western culture as a tranquil haven from the world of work, . The second shift refers to the hidden shift of housework and childcare, primarily carried out by women on top of their paid employment. It is physical, mental and emotional labour which demands effort, skill and time but is unpaid, unequally distributed and largely unrecognised.
How might we disrupt the lopsided structures that exploit this? Where is our power? What does resistance look like? This paper presents mothers as ‘the original subversives’. Beginning with Iris Marion Young’s essay about her mother’s rejection of housewifeliness, I discuss the power in maternal experience to disrupt the rigid expectations of women in the home.
Striking is the longstanding recourse for workers challenging the conditions of their labour. However, it is difficult to go that far where care work is involved: besides the emotional difficulty there is a not-unfounded fear of being seen to fail.
Mary Douglas offers the idea of dirt as powerful in its transgression of order and embrace of ambiguity. Women’s ‘dirtiness’ has connotations of misconduct, whether of sexuality, domestic skill, personal hygiene or appearance. Similarly, women are often presented as belonging to a realm of disgusting stuff, and closely associated with what is unpalatable and should be hidden. Disgust then might be seen as a confrontation with what we cannot, or will not, accept.
An act of resistance might be allowing ourselves to fail: to drop our standards and drop the ball. Perhaps it might also mean turning towards that which defies and threatens order. Disorder produces power, and this is threatening and dangerous.
Queering Mothering: Gender, Sexuality, Race, Class, and Disability in Contemporary UK and US Cinema
University of Edinburgh, Scotland
motherhood, queer, lesbian, working class, cinema, UK, US
This session considers how queer mothering has been presented in contemporary UK and US film.
We will begin by considering which kinds of mothers receive empathy from spectators (hint: it typically involves whiteness, being middle-class, and married heterosexual relations) before moving on to explore a range of queer mothers at the intersections of class, gender, ‘race’, sexuality, and disability.
Films we will cover include Tully (Jason Reitman, 2018); The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko, 2010); Gypo (Jan Dunn, 2005), and more.
Discussions will draw on a range of feminist (Beauvoirian binaries) and queer theory (including work on ‘passing’, Butlerian gender performativity, and Halberstam’s interjections on queerness and temporality) as well as work on class (Bordieu’s social, cultural, and economic capital) to consider how queer mothering has been represented onscreen, often as a form of bad mothering.
This is important not only with regard to representation but also reality: what viewers watch can lead to bias, both conscious and unconscious, especially for those who are not aware of knowing queer mothers in real life.
There will be lots of (safe) space made in the session for audience members to discuss and or ask questions.
Black Mothering in Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing
Brigham Young University, USA
mothering, Black mothers, white supremacy, Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
Over the last ten years in the United States, the police killings of unarmed Black children like Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice have ignited discussions concerning systemic violence against Black bodies and the helplessness many Black parents feel in not being able to protect their children. Sybrina Fulton and Samaria Rice, mothers of the aforementioned victims, have since become vocal activists for social justice, advocating for reform and keeping the memory of their sons alive. The plight of Black mothers frequently resurfaces in media and literature, alongside headlines of police brutality, and carries with it renewed reflection on how Black mothering reacts to white supremacy. The 2016 novel Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi offers potent examples of Black mothering from the 1700s to the present day, through which she explores the maternal instinct to shield one’s child from white supremacy.
My paper will analyse the ways Gyasi’s characters attempt to protect their children in ways that might be considered evil or “bad” mothering; including giving up a child to be raised by an adoptive mother, sacrificing one’s life and that of the child to escape a life of enslavement, and the continued forgiving and sheltering of a child through drug addiction. I will further examine how these acts of mothering operate in defiance of the systems of white supremacy around them, proving Dana Erekat’s claim that “mothering is an act of defiance in the midst of colonization” (Oka 51). Ultimately, I will argue how the efforts of Black mothers to protect their children from racist power structures not only validates the value of their existence but proves the ongoing necessity of passionate Black mothering in the present-day fight for Black lives and Black futures.
Evil, Bad Mothers in Film: A Historical Overview
Filmmaker, Death and Dying Educator
Berkeley, Californian, USA
This 20-minute session within the Panel on Bad Mothers will show about 10 film clips in a montage form, portraying evil and/or bad mothers over the last 100 years.
Commentary will be offered on how the historically cinematic male gaze of evil mothers- as conniving, sexual deviousness and competition, control, jealousy, coldness, insane, hysterical, and on and on- gave free reign to conscious and unconscious misogyny by male writers and directors, dominated and infiltrating the cultural zeitgeist.
Any time for discussion or comments could be devoted to how participants were impacted and what messages they absorbed by watching these films in their formative years and how cinema’s metamessage is changing because of feminism, especially with the advent of more women behind the camera.
Deconstructing the Temptress: Understanding Evil in the White Caribbean Plantocracy in Caryl Phillips’ Cambridge (1991)
University of Liverpool, United Kingdom
Racism, Rape, Abuse, Enslavement, Colonialism, Discourse, Race, Gender, Temptation, Lust
The emergence of a global trade that depended on the trafficking of enslaved Africans created a system of racial inequality that dehumanised and commodified Black bodies. Pseudo-scientific and philosophical justifications for slavery emerged to support a practice of inequality, creating a system of statements that were imposed on enslaved Africans through European colonisation. As part of this formation, female sexuality had to be redefined through race. bell hooks explains, historically, white men ‘placed the responsibility for sexual lust onto women’ and regarded them with the ‘suspicion and distrust they associated with sexuality in general.’ To adhere to colonial discourses, white women could no longer be the source of men’s lust and cause of damnation. Instead, a racial hierarchy and discourse structured around negative images of Black women’s sexuality emerged. This discourse situated Black enslaved women as sources of evil that lured white men into sinful sexual relationships, while white women became mythologised as pure and virtuous. This is a notable shift from historical discourses based on theological literature which positioned Eve as the seducer who tempted Adam to commit the first sin, cultivating the evilness of the temptress. Within this shifting discourse, Black enslaved women were defined as temptresses, and the white plantocracy used this narrative to justify acts of rape. I contend Caryl Phillips’ neo-slave narrative Cambridge (1991), which addresses slavery in postmodern terms, can be used to deconstruct historical and colonial discourses surrounding the temptress. Phillips’ narrative strategy unearths the shared disempowerment Emily, the white mistress, and Christiana, the Black enslaved woman, experience on the plantation through sexual relations with the abusive overseer, ultimately critiquing how the white Caribbean plantocracy defined itself against sexuality. As the role of the temptress is deconstructed, the novel reveals the true evil on the plantation to be the white plantation overseer.
‘The Serpent’s Skill is Among Our Gardens Still’: Reclaiming the Medieval Snake Woman in Letitia Landon’s ‘The Fairy of the Fountains’
University of Liverpool, United Kingdom
Romanticism, Medieval, Nineteenth-century, Gothic, Metamorphosis, Poetry, Sin, Eden, Women Writers, Gender.
In the Middle Ages, women were considered to have an affinity with snakes as a result of Eve’s capitulation to the sophistry of the Edenic serpent (often depicted in medieval art as a snake with a female face). Women’s interiority – spiritual, mental, or physical – was thus perceived as deceptive and serpentine, even when in their human shape. Nona Flores considers the representation of the medieval ‘maiden-faced viper’ as having an innate ability for evil due to its dual form, and that ‘Physical biformity becomes a sign of moral duplicity’.  However, Flores continues, ‘in the case of the woman-headed serpent, this deceitfulness is seen as a woman’s sin in particular, one made even more heinous by the fact that it is directed against a man.’ In response to Romantic representations of the medieval snake woman as a figure of evil, Letitia Landon recasts the medieval demon/fairy Melusine –who is cursed to assume a serpent’s tail – as a Romantic exile. Landon’s poem ‘The Fairy of the Fountains’, written by a female poet and medieval scholar, challenges the privileged posture of the male Romantic subject, thereby offering a depth of vision to the previously flattened view of women’s sexualised surfaces, and giving the serpentine woman a meaning beyond that of a symbol of evil, or a cipher for men’s poetic inspiration. ‘The Fairy of the Fountains’ rewrites the snake woman so that she will be understood by women, rather than merely consumed by men.
The Sadeian Woman: The monstrous daughter & the suffering mother. Narratives of feminine body transformation in the literature of Marquis de Sade’s Philosophy in the Bedroom
University of Thessaly, Department of Architecture, Greece
de Sade, sexual, body, Sadeian woman, transcendental bodies
The female body in de Sade’s literature undergoes many transformations. It needs to become docile to its sexual predator, eradicate its virginity, and then embrace its (pan)sexual nature through physical corruption or sexual initiation.
The Sadeian female characters are balancing between evil (Eugenie) and virtue (Eugenie’s mother: Mme de Mistival) under the supervision of the libertines. The libertines must extirpate any virtue from the feminine bodies of Eugenie and her mother, contaminate any kindness and manipulate their bodies as consumable entities in favour of their sexual pleasure. To reach the sensational pleasure of orgasm, Eugenie as a potential libertine must become evil, unethical, extreme, immoral, and unquestioningly emotionless. She must become a cruel monster without limits, that sets sexual traps to virtuous bodies (virgin or asexual), capable of murder, plotting, sacrificing anyone without hesitations, driven by emasculating virtue. On the contrary, her mother’s inescapable fate is to suffer and endure the overwhelming sexual corruption. These bodies deconstruct their identity and their bodily capacity only to reconstruct a brand-new libertine body/identity, a proper libertine artifact, in an agony to survive the discipline and/or conform to sexual education. Their bodily capacity changes and it either renounces virginity to embrace sexuality or changes its bodily anatomy, stitching its vaginal cavities forever. Therefore they become transcendental bodies. Whoever resists to change, gets punished, and physically and emotionally exterminated.
This paper studies the aborning construction of a promiscuous body as it learns to become ruthless, atrocious, and relentless against anything opposing to the Sadeian ‘libertinage’. Evolves around the clarification of the term ‘Sadeian woman’, how the feminine nature is seen both as evilly monstrous and as a trophy during the sexual corruption. The two feminine manifestations in de Sade’s work and their bodies are discussed as these evolve and become transcendental bodies.
“A narrative about female empowerment”? – A Critical Analysis of Feminist Tendencies in Disney’s Maleficent
Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main, Germany
fairy-tale, literature, adaptation, Disney, feminism, feminine evil, empowerment, witch, fairy
The character of the villain plays a significant role in the tradition of the fairy tale. Without evil, good (usually embodied by heroic protagonists) cannot be defeated and the desired ‘happy ending’ cannot be achieved. Disney has been following this pattern for several years as the company has adapted numerous fairy tales as animated films. However, most of these cinematic adaptations (just like the ‘original’ narrative texts) focus primarily on ‘irrational’ evil, meaning that the villains often act without any discernible reason. For recipients, the resulting one-dimensionality of the evil characters makes it almost impossible to empathize or even sympathize. Consequently, a pattern is created which only reinforces the dichotomy of good and evil, not recognizing potential nuances and ambiguities – particularly when the evil characters are women. However, in Disney’s Maleficent, published in 2014 and inspired by Charles Perraults fairy-tale “The Sleeping Beauty in the Woods” (1697) and Brother Grimms “Little Briar Rose” (1812), the attempt to highlight the complexity of the villainess is demonstrated. For the first time, it is illustrated why a character becomes evil as – in contrast to the 1959 animated version Sleeping Beauty – the life of Maleficent (embodied by actress Angelina Jolie) is shown in its multiplicity and emotional depth. In this context, especially the aspect of a symbolic rape is of importance, as it can be understood as a turning point in Maleficent’s character development: Instead of falling apart, she becomes a(n evil?) victim who empowers herself by taking revenge. In this respect, a feminist or emancipatory approach is often ascribed to the film which will be critically reflected in my paper by analysing the persona Maleficent and her evolution in the two film versions (from 1959 and 2014) in comparison to the original narrative texts. Moreover, further motifs, narrative structures as well as other (female) characters and their relationships to each other will be discussed in order to evaluate to what extent Disney’s Maleficent can be considered feminist.
Female Fairy Tale Villains: Monstrous Motherhood, Evil Enchantresses, and the Patriarchy
Los Angeles, USA
fairy tale; villain; stepmother; evil queen; Maleficent; enchantress; witch; patriarchy; feminism
In recent years, there has been a barrage of criticism for Disney fairy tale films, and sometimes even the fairy tales themselves, because of the perception that they are not feminist. Those who are not familiar with the history of these tales often cite meek and passive heroines: Snow White and Aurora who must be woken by non-consensual kisses from a prince, Cinderella who is pushed towards the prince by the actions of others around her, and Ariel who willingly gives up her voice for a man. Whether or not these characters are anti-feminist is up for debate (did Ariel give up her voice only for a man, or also for the new world she so badly wanted to join?), but what is not up for debate is that there are other central female characters in these stories, and they are anything but passive and meek. These characters are the villains. Many fairy tale villains are women, and the reason for this is pretty clear when examining the history of fairy tales. Many of the stories we know today began as folk tales shared amongst women. This storytelling tradition began thousands of years ago, and often these stories served as a way to share the real-life concerns of women. These concerns included dying in childbirth, being replaced by a younger and prettier woman, having a new woman enter the home and bear new children who might steal an inheritance, or the parent’s affection. In a patriarchy, women are often competing for any scraps of power that might be available to them. This struggle is clear to see in fairy tales, where women are often fighting against each other. For a heroine, the most obvious villain is the woman who seeks to supplant her, or manipulate her, or replace a beloved mother with schemes that would favour her own child. As the feminist movement has changed and grown, there is a new culture emerging that celebrates these villains, particularly those popularized by Disney. This can be seen in films like Maleficent, which reframes the villain’s story to give her a sympathetic background, and in the recent Besame Cosmetics “Villains” makeup line, a collaboration with Disney. In lauding the more active female villains, we have perhaps lost sight of the fear that formed the basis of what made them “evil” to begin with. In this paper I aim to explore the specifically feminine anxiety behind the creation of these characters, and how our changing culture has led to us celebrating what once made women merely monstrous.
‘Beware of your Stepmother!’: Female Rebellion and the Evil Stepmother in Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s ‘Little Snow White’ (1812)
University of Salford, UK
‘Little Snow White’, evil queen, Snow White, fairy tale, femininity, motherhood, Sara Ahmed, Lee Edelman
This paper examines literary representations of evil motherhood through the character of the queen in Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s fairy tale ‘Little Snow White’. I argue that the queen’s murderous, anthropophagic, and abusive intents and actions are metaphorically representative of her rejection of feminine norms. I draw on Sara Ahmed’s Willful Subjects (2014) and Lee Edelman’s polemical work No Future (2004) to examine the queen’s rejection of gender roles such as motherhood. For example, I use Ahmed’s work to interpret the queen as a ‘feminist killjoy’. This term refers to women who ‘break the thread of a social connection’ and ‘leave the path of becoming part, breaking, or threatening to break, the tie that holds a community, a family, a nation together’ (Ahmed, 2014), an idea that bolsters the queen’s own status as an ‘evil woman’ in the cultural imaginary. Further, I interrogate how Edelman’s concept of ‘reproductive futurism’ – the idea that children affirm adults’ social and ideological needs – can be used to analyse the queen’s desire to challenge maternal norms. Indeed, the queen’s murderous actions towards her own stepchild move away from the structures and beliefs that sustain reproductive futurism, and I consider how the concept can be reframed to draw out politically useful feminist critiques of caregiving roles and the social pressure on women to reproduce. Since the 1970s, feminist scholars have engaged with representations of gender and villainy in the tale (Gilbert and Gubar, 1979; Abate, 2012; Santos, 2014); however, critics are yet to place the story in dialogue with Ahmed and Edelman’s arguments to explore new links between wicked women, femininity, and motherhood. Ultimately, I argue that the evil queen is punished because she works against feminine norms and social harmony, but her transgression is the vehicle that reveals broader themes of female emancipation and rebellion.
The Socialisation of Desirable and Undesirable Female Attributes Through Fairy tales
Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, United Kingdom
Fairy tales, Gender roles, Socialisation, Female role, Social Norms.
Fairy tales have always been an integral part of growing up. Many children have been read books, watched the movies and the shows that centre around many of these fairy tales. These stories pass on the values and cultural understanding to enable children to have a firmer grasp of the world especially the concept of good versus evil. However, what other values do these fairy tales embed in children and the next generation? The focus of this presentation is to look at the role of gender within these fairy tales and the conceptualisation of these ideas by children.
Most of the fairy tales clearly demonstrate what is considered to be good (e.g., helping others, being thoughtful, kind to animals and most of the time being clean) and what is deemed to be bad or in the extremism of these stories what is actually believed to be evil (e.g., curses, kidnap, being unkind, attempted murder). Similarly, to what is labelled as ‘good’ and ‘bad’, there seems to be a theme to who commits these acts. Many of the fairy tales portray the ‘good’ acts by women with particular characteristics and the ‘evil’ acts by women with certain qualities (Banerjee, 2020; Mukherjee, 2020). An analysis of these attributes and the internalisation by children of how one should behave in the real world would shed light to the values that these fairy tales hold; with the focus here being how women should behave.
The aim of this presentation will be to consider the themes and trends associated with ‘good’ women and ‘evil’ women in fairy tales and what attributes they demonstrated. Moreover, this presentation will consider how these attributes have been assimilated into the thinking of children. The results will be based on qualitative analysis of a sample of fairy tales and quantitative analysis of a small sample of primary school children’s categorisation of certain attributes as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in females. These results will be used as the basis of opening dialogue to the socialisation of children of gender roles.
Murder Ballads & Female Murderers
Theresa Porter and Helen Gavin
Retired Psychologist, Connecticut, USA and University of Huddersfield, UK
Storytelling in song is an extremely old tradition, dating from before the written word. We use songs to tell stories of love and loss, to describe the glories and tragedies of war, and to offer both praise and supplication to religious deities. There is evidence that ancient Egyptians sang stories of their god Aten and the Bronze Age Sumerians sang of their goddess Nikkal, recording their songs on clay tablets.
The ballad form of narrative song gained popularity in the late middle ages, originally utilizing a specific form, such as rhymed couplets of a set number of syllables. Over time, various subcategories of ballads developed, each with a specific area of focus. Execution ballads, for example, were songs written about a specific criminal and often included details of the execution, to serve as a warning to listeners.
Murder ballads, as the name indicates, focus their story of event of a murder by a specific individual. Murder ballads can utilize the perspective of either the murderer or that of the victim, and may represent the murderer in a sympathetic manner, or encourage the listener to view the victim as, if not deserving of murder, at least as a dislikeable character.
Early murder ballads generally included a male murderer who kills a woman, or woman and child. At times a motive is given, such as jealousy, while at other times, the murder is described as occurring after a chance meeting. Murder ballads about female killers are a relatively new form. Some simply reverse the common narrative, with the woman killing a man out of jealousy. However, female murder ballads are more diverse, describing revenge killings as well as infanticide.
This paper will analyse murder ballads featuring female killers from the 17th century to the present, how these differ from murder ballads featuring male killers, and the diverse motivations seen in modern forms.
‘Just let ‘em imagine you’re who they want you to be’: Performing Identity in Scott Coblio’s Murderess: The Winnie Ruth Judd Story (2007)
School of Arts and Media, University of Salford, Manchester, United Kingdom
identity; performance; true crime; puppetry; manipulation; transgression; guilt; innocence; gender.
When, in 1931, the trunks that Winnie Ruth Judd transported to Los Angeles by train were found to contain the dismembered remains of her two best friends, the press had a field day. Stylish, beautiful, and just 26 years old, Judd didn’t look like a killer. Amidst lurid tales of extra-marital affairs, sex parties, lesbianism and drug abuse, speculation abounded about what had happened to the murdered women. Many believed that Judd had killed them in a cold-blooded fit of jealousy; others, like true crime writer Jana Bommersbach, have argued that Judd didn’t have the physical strength or medical training to have murdered her friends, dissected one of them with surgical precision, and packed both bodies into the trunks. The case continues to attract attention and despite the many hundreds of column inches written about the crimes, there is little consensus as to the extent of Judd’s guilt. The evocative Depression-era setting of the murders, Judd’s steely beauty, the suggested involvement of corrupt local officials, and an allegedly bungled police investigation have led many to view the case as a kind of real-life film noir, with Judd positioned as the smouldering and dangerous femme fatale. The filmic unreality of the case has led to multiple popular cultural treatments, including documentaries, true crime books, fictional representations, an art installation, and a genre bending, feature-length marionette film. Murderess: The Winnie Ruth Judd Story (2007), which was written and directed by Scott Coblio, explores the construction of Judd’s public image and the different facets of her private identity as wife, lover, friend, sister, and killer. It combines a surreal arthouse sensibility and gothic aesthetic, with a camp, tongue-in-cheek approach to the public’s sensationalistic engagement with Judd’s story (in Phoenix, she is viewed with something approaching affection). My paper will explore how Coblio’s creative choices lay bare the ways in which Judd is believed to have been manipulated by those who sought to control her narrative. His puppetry offers both a literal and symbolic rendering of Judd’s plight; the uncanny, jerky movements of the marionettes juxtaposing with the vocal performances of the voice actors to create an unsettling effect that perfectly captures the indeterminacy of Judd’s publicly performed self. I will consider how Judd’s transgressions and alterity are depicted in the film and how gender essentialisms coloured public attitudes towards her perceived levels of guilt & innocence.
‘Compliant victims’: The Reduction of Agency in the Cultural Construction of Female Killers
SETU Carlow & TCD, Ireland
Workshop, Creative Writing
“Most often, [women] are merely the distaff half of a murderous couple whose brain-power is supplied by the man.” – Joyce Carol Oates
This paper will focus on various cultural constructions of ‘evil women’, with a specific focus on several high-profile cases of female violence and sexual ‘misbehaviour’ in the domestic sphere. Women like Rose West, Myra Hindley, and Karla Homolka, complicit in the sexual assault and murder of fellow women and children, have had their crimes symbolically diminished by those left to make sense of their cruelty. According to Patricia Pearson, even the FBI’s notorious Behavioural Science Unit has expressed little desire to confront the ugly truth of violent female agency: “famous for their intricate psychological profiles of male serial killers, they offer only one category for female perpetrators: “compliant victims,” by which they mean that women like Hindley and Homolka—strong-willed, charismatic, nonconformist—are really just bendable creatures, easily bullied into doing one man’s bidding.” (Pearson, 1997, p.332). While the male serial killer is often perversely heralded as what David Schmid has termed “[an] idol of destruction” (Schmid, 2005); a destroying angel whose aberrant behaviour compels us, female killers occupy a different space in our cultural consciousness. In other words, male killers are special in their terribleness; they inspire awe, while female killers can only be understood within the already established parameters of female victimhood – we explain them using words like ‘snapped’, ‘broken’, ‘bullied’ ‘pushed’, or ‘forced’. According to this paradigm, a woman may not legitimately occupy the role of murderous agent, because her agency is intrinsically linked to those (male) individuals who act upon her, ‘pushing’ her toward violence. This paper will explore the ways in which we negate the agency of violent women when we compel them to step into the role of victim, even when this role is inadequate.