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October 21, 2015

Woman Crush Wednesday: Halloween Edition!

Posted by Maya

Happy #wcw! In honor of the Halloween season, we're featuring the girls and women of genre fiction: females of sci fi, horror and fantasy! The ghouls, demons, witches and creatures of literature aren't all Frankenstein and his monster --- and let's not forget that it was a woman who began the entire contemporary sci fi genre and created Frankenstein and his monster in the first place! Genre fiction is in many ways dominated by men and male stories, but it fundamentally lends itself to telling the story of the "other," the marginalized, to exploring the structures of our society and envisioning alternatives. When we speak about genre fiction, it is crucial to include women --- writers and protagonists --- in the conversation. Speculative fiction that extends the suspension of disbelief to dragons or hyperspeed yet cannot imagine a world in which women have the right to their own stories leaves quite a bit to be desired. So this week, we pay tribute to the ladies who look into the future (or the past) and envision a world in which the Force can be with women, too! Happy almost-Halloweek --- celebrate your witchiest woman today!! 

Maya: Angela Carter, THE BLOODY CHAMBER
When I visited the Gothic Imagination exibit at the British Library last winter, they had original handwritten manuscripts of Gothic writers from Horace Walpole to Stanley Kubrick, and I nearly shuddered with visible delight to discover that my own handwriting looks like a less polished version of Angela Carter's. While Octavia Butler was nearly my first choice (as her powerful and socially aware work changed my understanding of science fiction forever) and Mary Shelley (mother of science fiction herself) a close runner-up, I realized my October #wcw has to be Angela Carter, for THE BLOODY CHAMBER. Dark feminist fairy tales are essentially my aesthetic. Angela Carter looked at the Western canon of fairytales --- the stories we use to teach morals, the stories essentially embedded in our cultural consciousness --- and saw the ways in which these tales inform and describe the patriarchy. Listen to your parents, don't stray off the path, don't encourage the beast. She saw too the tragic truth of girlhood in these stories: the wolves we must face, the monsters disguised as attractive strangers, the temptations that truly want to steal our souls. And so she wrote revenge. THE BLOODY CHAMBER is frightening, beautiful, surprising and poignantly powerful. Angela Carter draws attention to actual horrors of the world and positions young women as savvy protagonists who demonstrate how challenging it actually is to battle these beasts every day. Angela Carter walked into the literary world of fantasy/horror/genre fiction and was told that there were no beds in her size, or that the wolf had already taken her place --- and so she walked out into the woods and built her own house, and filled it with a raw yet elegant perspective that our canon was sorely missing. As a child I loved fairytales and as a 20something I am vindictively pleased to experience them through Angela Carter's eyes. 

Ronnie: The Wicked Witch of the West from Frank L Baum’s THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ/Elphaba from Gregory Maguire’s WICKED
Almost every little girl who reads the beloved fantasy or watches the classic film The Wizard of Oz idolizes Dorothy or Glinda the Good Witch. And understandably so --- both characters are personifications of kindness, goodness and morality, always on the side of right and working tirelessly to defeat evil. Growing up, I was definitely one of those little girls, dressing up first as Dorothy and then as Glinda for consecutive Halloween trick-or-treating ventures. And like the characters that I costumed myself as, I also despised the sinister Wicked Witch of the West, with her throaty cackle and iconic green skin. She was evil pure and simple, a force to be defeated and resisted at all costs. But when I read Gregory Maguire’s WICKED, a retelling of the Oz story that provides readers with the Witch’s history, I was instantly converted and fell in love with this misunderstood villain. 

In WICKED, Maguire chronicles Elphaba’s (the Witch’s) childhood, school years and the events leading up to her eventual meeting with Dorothy. Throughout, Elphaba is portrayed as a model student, a devoted sister and a strong, independent woman. Fighting for what she truly believes in and refusing to compromise her beliefs, Elphaba provides a much better role model for little girls than the meek Dorothy or the bland Glinda. After reading WICKED, I have never been able to view The Wizard of Oz the same way; the once frightening Wicked Witch of the West seemed grossly misunderstood and much maligned. The Witch’s side of the story is much richer than that of either Dorothy or Glinda, and of all the female characters of Oz, she is far and away the one to be celebrated. 
Nicole: Amy Dunne, from GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn
Amy Dunne is the perfect blend of basic b*tch and psychopath, and that is precisely why I’ve chosen her as this week’s #WCW. As we honor and celebrate women with “force” this week, we can all remember the ways in which Amy toyed with our heads and our hearts throughout the thrilling and chilling GONE GIRL. I think it’s safe to say that this story is very much a woman’s story, more so than a man’s story. And while it might draw attention to the fact that women can sometimes lose their sh*t, we can’t forget that love really does make you crazy, whether that be marital love or self love.
Emily: Cathy Earnshaw, from WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Brontë
My Halloween #wcw is Cathy Earnshaw, a woman so strong-willed that she managed to drive the plot of WUTHERING HEIGHTS from beyond the grave. Sure, she married for money, and sure, she went insane when Heathcliff, who is "more herself than she is," starts romancing her super basic sister-in-law, but she was wild and stubborn and flawed at a time when women were expected to be only docile. Her love for Heathcliff was elemental, unbound by society's constraints and preconceptions, and endured throughout a tepid marriage and beyond her own death. At one point, Cathy claimed to share a soul with Heathcliff; it's that passionate romanticism --- and her willful disregard for the laws of heaven and earth --- that makes her a terrifyingly cool chick and my Gothic #wcw queen.