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Jess Zimmerman: Women and Other Monsters w/ Helen Rosner

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“Every one of these essays is muscular and dangerous, with a mouth full of teeth." —Carmen Maria Machado

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A fresh cultural analysis of female monsters from Greek mythology, and an invitation for all women to reclaim these stories as inspiration for a more wild, more “monstrous” version of feminism

The folklore that has shaped our dominant culture teems with frightening female creatures. In our language, in our stories (many written by men), we underline the idea that women who step out of bounds—who are angry or greedy or ambitious, who are overtly sexual or not sexy enough—aren’t just outside the norm. They’re unnatural. Monstrous. But maybe, the traits we’ve been told make us dangerous and undesirable are actually our greatest strengths.

Through fresh analysis of eleven female monsters, including Medusa, the Harpies, the Furies, and the Sphinx, Jess Zimmerman takes us on an illuminating feminist journey through mythology. She guides women (and others) to reexamine their relationships with traits like hunger, anger, ugliness, and ambition, teaching readers to embrace a new image of the female hero: one that looks a lot like a monster, with the agency and power to match.

Often, women try to avoid the feeling of monstrousness, of being grotesquely alien, by tamping down those qualities that we’re told fall outside the bounds of natural femininity. But monsters also get to do what other female characters—damsels, love interests, and even most heroines—do not. Monsters get to be complete, unrestrained, and larger than life. Today, women are becoming increasingly aware of the ways rules and socially constructed expectations have diminished us. After seeing where compliance gets us—harassed, shut out, and ruled by predators—women have never been more ready to become repellent, fearsome, and ravenous.

Jess Zimmerman is the editor in chief of Electric Literature. Her essays, fiction, opinion pieces, and prose poetry have appeared in publications including Vice, Slate, The Cut, the Washington Post, The Guardian, and the New Republic. She lives in Brooklyn. Connect with her @j_zimms.

Helen Rosner is a staff writer at The New Yorker. She has been an editor at Saveur and New York Magazine, launched the seminal food site Eat Me Daily, and was for a time a book editor. In 2016 she won the James Beard Award for her ode to chicken tenders, published in Guernica. Before joining The New Yorker, she was the executive editor of Eater, where she founded the publication’s James Beard- and National Magazine Award-winning features department.

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