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Monstrous Women

University of Windsor
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In this paper I argue that “monstrous” women – violators of both moral and gender norms – mark the limits of acceptable behavior through such violation and thus provide particular insight into the workings of gendered power relations within contemporary western societies. Drawing upon Michel Foucault’s 1975 College de France course titled Abnormal, I begin by arguing that gendered power relations in western societies can be characterized as “normalizing.” Next, I refer to Foucault’s discussion of “natural” and “moral” monsters in order to provide a sketch of the monstrous woman, and then show how specific monstrous women violate moral and gender norms. By way of conclusion I argue that the figure of the monstrous women is not wholly negative but rather ambivalent. As Foucault asserts, monsters are “limit figures;” monstrous women challenge limits – including prevailing norms governing the feminine and the human – in ways that render them explicit such that they are denaturalized and ultimately opened up to critical interrogation.

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