The Gothic preoccupation with otherness takes on an added dimension when women and the feminine are placed in the 'other' group as they so often are in Western culture. Misogyny, which is a basic hatred and fear of women, is explored from every angle in the Gothic: it is described, reinforced, subverted, and gleefully taken to violent extremes. Perhaps the most obvious form of misogyny in the Gothic takes the form of violence against women, or the threat of that violence. One early example is Matthew Lewis' The Monk (1796) in which there are examples of women subjected to the threat or reality of rape, abduction, matricide, imprisonment, torture, and a mob beating a woman to death. This violence is not the only type of misogyny presented in The Monk, however. The book portrays women in a terrible light; Matilda is a wicked temptress in league with the devil who easily corrupts the purest of men. The prioress, while attempting to appear righteous, is a liar, torturer, and a murderess; and (possibly worse) she cannot be controlled by the male in authority over her (the Pope).
In the Victorian era male misogynists in the Gothic range in their treatment of the female from barely acknowledging her presence to demonizing her. This attitude arises from a number of Victorian socio-cultural developments, such as the growing prominence of women beyond the domestic circle and growing masculine insecurity. The fact that such attitudes are presented in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein by a female author suggests that portrayals of misogyny in Gothic texts are not simply male fantasies but reflections of underlying currents of thought and fears of the period.
Fear of female sexuality is a key part of misogyny in Gothic texts, wherein it becomes a force that threatens to overwhelm the masculine self in texts like Dracula or Ollalla. It is the fear of the vagina detenta, in which the female sexuality is alluring to the male, yet also involves a symbolic castration of male virility. Often, in such texts, physical violence, shrouded in phallic terms such as the stake used on Lucy in Dracula or the tearing apart of Elizabeth in Frankenstein, is used to symbolically exorcise the threat to the masculine self and allow the male to continue partaking in purely masculine activities. This not only restores the male self-belief in his masculinity, but also serves as a containment of the female by isolating her away from the realm of the male, thereby removing the “threat” of her presence to male superiority. The concept of the hunt or adventure, for instance, as a purely masculine enterprise in a great number of Gothic texts reveals deep-seated fears of women entering and surpassing men in what were previously solely male activities.
Courtesy of Tang Chee Mun, National University of Singapore and Wendy Fall, Marquette University
Hughes, William, David Punter, and Andrew Smith. The Encyclopedia of the Gothic . Chichester, West Sussex, UK : Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Print.