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Woman + Womb = Disease

In Barbara Creed's The Monstrous Feminine, the womb is considered a monstrous place inside the female body. This is where another life comes into being and lives for nine months feeding off of the host body, like a parasite. What's so monstrous about that?

In the horror film The Brood David Cronenberg takes this image of the "monstrous womb" and goes a step further, not only are the products of Nola's womb monsters, but they are psychically linked to their mother. The rage that Nola feels towards the injustice done to her in her past and present manifests itself in the form of her "brood." According to Creed, "It is not that their identity has sunk irretrievably into the mother's; their identity is the mother's" (47). This link that these monsters have is tied completely to the feelings of the mother, as though they are one. She goes on to say,"the disease which is passed from mother to daughter is the disease of being female," so we have gender as a disease (47).

When we think of disease we usually think of a bacteria or organism that is destroying the confines of our bodies, yet sometimes these diseases surface in the form of lesions or growths on the outside of the body. This is seen in great detail through Jan and Mike the other two patients of Dr. Raglan. Creed attributes this to "the subject's rage-manifested as sores on the skin- is a rage at having been born of woman," but why, if this is so, are Mike's psychoplasmic treatments about his father (48)? If being born of woman is the disease, why are memories of his father what evokes such horrific lesions on his skin? And Jan, we never quite find out exactly what his problems were that led him to Dr. Raglan in the first place. It is only Nola's rage at her, supposedly, abusive mother which leads to the tumor-like womb that extends outside her body and the murderous brood that she births.

I actually enjoyed Creed's chapter on the monstrous womb, but I'm not sure that this movie is a great example of her arguement. Yes, the elements are definitely there, the angry woman, her perverted births, and her uncapped rage which boils over into the creatures that she has created, but my problem lies within the other characters. If Mike and Jan were not in the picture, or if their own psychological problems stemmed from relationships with their mothers then I would say that there is better validity to these claims.

And Nola is not reliable. We cannot immediately, if ever, believe her story of abuse. There is no proof other than her word and she is insane. Her problems stem from a deeper place in her mind. So, this passing of the disease of being female would have started with Nola's mother, and actually further down the genetic line. But, Juliana, Nola's mother, is not subjected to these bumps which seem to be the beginnings of all the problems which plague Nola later in life. Everything seems to start with the onset of these mysterious bumps. At the end of the film it is young Candy who is afflicted with the bumps, perhaps this can be seen as the passing of the disease, but where were it's origins? It had to begin with someone. The bumps began when Nola was a child and were not the manifestations of Dr. Raglans psychoplasmic therapy. When the film ends and we get a close up of Candy's arm and see the bumps forming there we realize that this is a sign that the horror will probably continue with the daughter. But why? What caused these unnatural growths? We are never given that information. Nola's mother only mentions that these bumps appeared on Nola and she was hospitalized because of them.
My disagreement with Creed lies in what I feel is the problematic position of Mike and Jan and how they fit in with the female as disease, and with the passing of the disease from mother to daughter. There is definitely a passing of something dreadful between Nola and Candy, we see this in the final scene with the close up of Cany's arm, but is it the disease of woman? I think that might be a stretch. Cronenberg never explains to us, the viewers, what these bumps are and their appeance is the greatest mystery of the movie. Are they manifestations of rage that came to Nola at a young age because she is already disturbed mentally, or are they caused by abuse that both Nola and Candy are subjected to at a young age? Because they certainly are not caused by Raglan's warped therapy, though other monstrosities are.

Cronenberg takes full advantage of Nola's femaleness by exposing her womb and creating the little monsters which are ripped by Nola's teeth out of the womb sac, but does he show that to be female is a disease? I don't think so, I do think he does an excellent job of showing the womb as having potential to be something monstrous, but I don't know if I would go as far as calling the entire gender a disease which gets passed from generation to generation.

Works cited

Creed, Barbara. The Monstrous-Feminine. New York: Routledge, 1993. 43-58

The Brood. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perf. Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar,
Art Hindle, Nuala Fitzgerald. MGM, 1979.


Comments (1)

Great critique of Creed, sorting out the value in her argument from the contradictory evidence. Beard would likely agree with you, because he also takes Creed to task in his essay a little bit. But perhaps Showalter's essay on Dr. J & Mr. H might sugggest another answer? I think Creed implies that Jan & Michael are 'feminized' in some way.

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