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Wen-yi Lee

Lady Macbeth, the Pontianak, and the Compulsive Power of the Monstrous Feminine

The female ghost is a particularly enduring image, one that crosses borders and has spawned icons of horror films. These ghosts are usually long-haired, slender, and wearing dresses—their horror is practically hinged on these classic symbols of femininity, as though that in itself is shorthand: this is a woman with fury and bloodlust but none of the propriety to hold her back. Run.

These figures have always been striking, but we seem to be amidst a particular reclamation of the monstrous feminine: one in which they are not only deeply sympathetic but—in a coy way—aspirational. I support women’s rights, but more than that, I support women’s wrongs. Jennifer Check’s renaissance is rearing its gorgeous, lighter-tongued head. Harley Quinn, Wanda Maximoff, Jinx from Arcane, Iron Widow’s Wu Zetian, Joy Wang from Everything Everywhere All At Once, and even the Cool Girl herself, Amy Dunne, have all struck particular chords as unhinged feminine warpaths against systems that have wronged them. There is nothing, indeed, like a mad woman.

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