The Monstrous-Feminine: Eyes Guts Throat Bones by Moïra Fowley | Magazine | Interviews | Literary Fiction
Eyes Guts Throat Bones by Moïra Fowley

By Moïra Fowley

Female monsters, the monstrous-feminine, and the language of devouring

The monstrous-feminine is a term coined by feminist horror academic Barbara Creed in her 1993 book of the same name, discussing female monsters in horror cinema. Drawing on Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection, The Monstrous-Feminine examines women in horror as monster rather than victim (which was the focus of most critical work before Creed’s), and reads the horror of the female body through the terrified male gaze.

The fear of female bodies that frames them as monstrous is one that exists in a positioning of woman as object, as doll, rather than as a person of flesh and guts and fluids. In this way, female monsters in classic horror cinema often were presented to and for men, about (cisgender, heterosexual) male fears and desires.

Within the male gaze of the monstrous-feminine, the female body – and it is often the cis female body that is seen this way by cis straight men – is a mystery: a site of blood and birth. The things that women’s bodies can do are unknowable to the male gaze, and that, Creed posits, is part of what makes them monstrous in the texts she analyses.

And if straight women are unknowable, lesbians are even more mysterious. What are lesbians for, if they cannot be packaged for the male gaze? What do they do? The familiar rhetorical question of what lesbians do in bed can be answered in horror terms: we literally eat each other (out). The language of lesbianism is a language of devouring.

This is the language of Eyes Guts Throat Bones.

While I didn’t intend to write horror-adjacent fiction (I didn’t intend to write a collection of short stories at all; I was supposed to be writing a YA novel but this creature came out instead) I knew once I’d started that I wanted to explore the monstrous queer female body. In which the word monstrous and the words desiring, desired, passionate and embodied are not in opposition. There are many contemporary stories of queer female monstrosity in which the trope of the mad, bad lesbian is reclaimed and celebrated, and that’s part of what I wanted to do as well.

In the year or so before I wrote Eyes Guts Throat Bones, and during the writing, I read Carmen Maria Machado’s queer feminist body horror collection Her Body and Other Parties. I read the lyrical frenzied monsters in Julia Armfield’s Salt Slow. I read the domestic hauntings of Kirsty Logan’s Things We Say in the Dark. I read Gretchen Felker Martin’s intense and upsetting Manhunt. I read the dark fairy tales of Jen Campbell’s The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night. I read the twisted ghosts and starvings of Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching. These books (and more) exist within a queer (re)writing of the monstrous female body. The monstrous queer female body, the monstrous fat female body, the monstrous trans female body, the monstrous female body of colour, the monstrous pregnant female body, the monstrous disabled female body. The female body that eats, that bleeds, that does not conform to societal beauty standards, that does not attract the male gaze. The definitions of monstrous here are cavernous.

Outside of the white cis-hetero male gaze fears of Creed’s monstrous-feminine, the monster is a mirror, framed not in fear but in recognition. We are creatures of flesh and guts and fluids. Mysterious, certainly, but not necessarily frighteningly so. Or maybe that fear of our flesh and guts and fluids, of our bodily desires and our appetites, is part of the appeal. It hits different, when you know you’re at least part monster. It hits different when the monster is also what you desire. It hits different when you know exactly what monsters do in bed.

I write the monstrous-feminine to come back to women as embodied, not object or doll or projection for cis-het male desires and fears. I write the monstrous-feminine to come back to the language of devouring. My monsters are viscerally embodied and ravenously hungry. I’m interested in appetite. I’m interested in the intersection of female appetite and queer desire. I’m interested in how sex and eating can be presented as monstrous acts and how seldom we still see and celebrate women as hungry and horny.

Of course, there are gorgeous examples of straight female appetite and desire read monstrously, centring the monstrous-feminine and giving her a voice that speaks against the common tropes of straight women as submissive victims in horror fiction. But in writing these stories I was less interested in exploring femininity within heteronormativity. Instead, I deliberately excluded men, either as side characters or antagonists (with a couple of exceptions, notably the collection’s interval, a short playscript titled Sad Straight Sex at the End of the World). I wanted to write the monstrous-feminine alongside other female monsters, not as a reaction to the fears of cis-het men. And in doing that I found myself pushing back against the dual stereotypes a lot of us grew up with, of lesbians as either fetishized straight-male-porn fantasies or as predatory dykes, and to mirror actual queer women’s desires and appetites.

There are plenty of dykes and sex and predators spread across the pages of Eyes Guts Throat Bones, but none of them are male-gaze-coded, and all of them are deeply embodied. Also, importantly, almost all of these stories, no matter how horrible, at their core, are love stories. Love stories to, from, and about monstrous women. Love stories to flesh and guts and fluids. Love stories to blood and birth. Love stories to horniness and to hunger. Love stories written in the language of devouring.

(c) Moïra Fowley

About Eyes Guts Throat Bones:
Eyes Guts Throat Bones by Moïra Fowley

What will the end of the world look like?

Will it be an old man slowly turned to gold, flowers raining from the sky, or a hole cut through the wire fencing that keeps the monsters out?

Is it someone you love wearing your face, or a good old fashioned inter-dimensional summoning?

Does it sound like a howl outside the window, or does it look like coming home?

This startling and irresistibly witty collection from the phenomenally talented Moïra Fowley is an exploration of all our darkest impulses and deepest fears.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Moïra Fowley lives in Dublin with her girlfriend and her two daughters. Half French and half Irish, she is the author of four critically acclaimed YA novels. Eyes Guts Throat Bones is her first book for adults.

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