Monster High Dolls are the top selling fashion dolls in the world, out pacing even Barbie, Lady Gaga’s fans are “Little Monsters” and Gaga herself is “mother monster,” as I write this I am wearing a dress bedecked with purple unicorns and skulls with hearts for eyes with head bows and cupcakes…
Go read the whole thing. This is excellent commentary.
The trope of the woman-monster, beautiful from the waist up and hideous and man-eating below, is as old as the ancient Greeks and most likely older. There was a whole subgenre of poetry devoted to ‘revealing’ women in their monstrous forms, once the artifice of rouge and powder and corsetry and clothing, wigs and lashes and even false eyes and limbs and teeth, are stripped away. Femininity has always been portrayed as threatening and monstrous, even in its sweetest and most delicate and therefore most perceptibly harmless form; it is then that it looks the most deceptive and most dangerous to a patriarchal audience.
Linking the dark, macabre, and monstrous to the sweet, feminine, and frilly is an act of reclamation, a throwing-in-your-face of the monstrous with which we have always been charged. It defies anyone to dare to presume we are either submitting to the structures we have been forced to inhabit, OR to assume that we are subverting those structures in order to ‘lure’ men and destroy their masculinity. Skully cupcakes and flower crowns with spikes are a loud and violent ‘fuck you’ to both the contrary ideas that we fit into the roles we have been given, or that we are aping those roles for some hidden wickedness. They put the wickedness on full display. They say, here I am, this is what you have made of me, I will not hide it for your benefit. They are the wish that backfires upon the wisher.
An interesting perspective!
As someone who has long been an admirer of Elvira (and been a lesbian for as long, if not longer), I think it’s a bit unfair to say that Elvira plays into the trope of the sexy monster girl. For as long as I’ve known the character, she’s always pushed back against those tropes like crazy.
I mean, have you seen Elvira: Mistress of the Dark? For as much as she might have come off as a femme fatale for all of five seconds while watching her show (or her own movies), Elvira was a huge movie geek (a trait I’ve long shared with her). Elvira had all the most common traits of a geek, too: she was tirelessly enthusiastic, jumped at the chance to share her preciouses with anyone who would give her a minute (in the trunk of the Macabre Mobile she stored reel after reel of B horror movies), and unironically and unapologetically adored these terrible films just because they made her happy.
Elvira was a fangirl, in the truest sense, back before fangirls were even acknowledged to be a thing. Yeah, Elvira has the slinky outfit and the intense makeup and all that cleavage, but in Mistress of the Dark, Elvira’s clutzy, brash, impulsive, careless, and basically everything but sexy. She tries to play up the sexy if she thinks it might get her somewhere, but more often than not, her intended target is cluelessly naive or they get offended and she has to resort to another method to get what she wants.
Now, that’s not me saying ‘ooh, lookit the sexy woman, using her feminine wiles to get what she wants! us women are just so manipulative!’ - far from it, actually. The whole point of the on-going joke throughout the movie is that, for all of her efforts to actually be as sexy as she appears, Elvira really sucks at it. She’s actually a huge dork, to put not too fine a point on it. A loveable one, make no mistake, but she’s far from the sultry femme fatale that she appears to be.
For me, as a baby bat, I watched Mistress of the Dark over and over and Elvira was basically like my fairy gothmother-by-VHS-proxy. I was never going to look like her, or have that stunning rack or those lovely eyes or that freakishly fantastic car, but that was okay. I was different, and so was she, and Elvira taught me that being different is badass - no matter what the up-tight churchy people or asshole jocks or disapproving parents have to say about it.
Is the movie a masterpiece? Hardly. But, for me, it was a touchstone, and I’m not ashamed in the slightest to say that Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, is one of my heroes.
Although Elvira might have been spawned by (and played up to, in some ways) the male pin-up fantasy (exaggerated bouffant hair, especially revealing clothing, cleavage, crazy high heels, etc), Cassandra Petersen took that trope and turned it right on its head. She defied stereotypes and labels and the film actually shows her in quite a few seriously unflattering and unsexy scenarios — but she did it for the sake of humor, and to make a point that women, even beautiful, creepy, kickass goth ones, are human beings, too.
Even though Elvira’s favorite day-to-day outfit is cut up to here and down to there, that doesn’t mean she’s easy and it doesn’t mean she’s a victim. I mean, jeez - at the start of the film, it shows her driving across country and she stops for this hitch-hiker. The guy is a slack-jawed psycho with an axe in his hand and he sniggers menacingly as he eyes Elvira up and down where she’s seated behind the wheel. The car starts up — and then screeches to a halt after driving about half a foot, with the hitch-hiker scrambling to get out of the car, terrified, and clutching his shirt to his (now bared) chest. “Here, you forgot your axe!” Elvira calls after him, looking piqued, and chucks the thing, overhand, off-screen. We hear a screech off-camera and definitely get the hint that this guy won’t have the opportunity to try that shit with anyone else for a while, if ever again.
So yeah… say she’s a femme fatale all you like. There’s definitely no arguing with that, but cupcake/skully goth isn’t the only realm where goth women can feel confident and secure. Elvira took the femme fatale trope and crushed it under her stiletto. Back in the day, she showed me that withdrawing into girly innocence for protection wasn’t necessary, if you were comfortable in your own skin. I still like the skulls with bows and hearts for eyes, but that’s because they’re cute - not because they keep unwelcome whiffs of masculinity away from me.
For me, Elvira is skully cupcake goth all grown up. When you don’t have to apologize for being who you are or have to keep that frilly pink girl barrier between you and the rest of the world. Where you’re so comfortable with yourself that you don’t even see or feel the stares, and even if you do see or feel them, you don’t care. Because you’re awesome, and you don’t need anyone else to tell you that. What’s the point, after all? You already know you’re awesome.
Wasn’t ragging on Elvira, and I really like this response. Frankly, my look is a lot more Elvira than it is “cute monster girl” (frankly, I find the non-adultness of “Cute” suspect in many ways, and like if you see me, I’m all lips, tits heels and hair too). Elvira is awesome, and fantastic. Vampira was also incredibly awesome.
I was just differentiating the Elvira/Vampira/Morticia trope (and frankly all these characters do play with this trope, Elvira being an especially satirical example) from the “cutesy/gorey” thing which is a more recent phenomenon.
Like the trope Elvira plays with comes from the male gaze, doesn’t mean Elvira’s bad, or in any way less valid than the cutsy-gore thing. Elvira is mostly a send up of said trope, but what I was saying is that her origins are separate from this other phenomenon I was talking about in that post.