The Horror of Womanhood: mother! is a Feminist Battlecry


As an artist, I have serious trouble with the view that all art is concession. The idea of representation acting as a form of endorsement is anathema to me, particularly when the representation in question is unapologetically honest. Creatives have a unique ability to act as photographers; to capture a thought, moment, or action and immortalize it. This immortalization is neither positive or negative, but rather vulnerable and brave. It begs a viewer to gaze into the past or present and live within a moment outside of their lives, experience feelings they have never had before, or relive past struggles or delights. Representation such as this is raw, powerful, and doubly necessary when it depicts something horrific. I shudder to think of a world in which representative horror is absent, and it pains me to see our culture cry for its death in favor of safe cinema.

Safety is a lie. The reality of our world is horror. There is horror in action, in lack of understanding, in atrocities and cruelty enacted against our fellow humans and planet. There is horror in genocide, slavery, imperialism, and war. There is horror in being a woman. 

The horror of womanhood is something seldom discussed in its full capacity, because it hurts to talk about it. It hurts to look at it. Gazing upon the full scale of the malevolence within female oppression is not a pretty thing, but it is a truly necessary thing. If we do not face the reality of misogyny, in all its violence and danger, we become complacent in the quasi-safety of our western world. Art that forces us to gaze into darkness, threatens to drown us in its power, and refuses all respite is irreplaceable in the war against complacency. mother!, the latest film from director Darren Aronofsky (NoahBlack Swan), is an unflinching, sickening illustration of the cyclical oppression of women, and that makes it easily the most feminist film made in the last decade. 

There are a multitude of allegorical meanings throughout this dense, ambiguous film, but a very clear, omnipresent force within it is the clear condemnation of casual misogyny. This condemnation comes not in spoken word or even action, but rather through the path the audience is guided to walk upon from start to finish. This film features an exclusively female perspective, never breaking away from the lead (Jennifer Lawrence) as she battles horror after horror in a nightmare-esque funhouse designed to break her. The audience sees what she sees and is guided to feel what she feels through visuals and words so delicately crafted anyone, regardless of their gender or background, is incapable of refusing her empathy.

mother! inspires revulsion and righteous fury in its audience, as well it should. We should be brought to the edge of our seat when we witness cruelty. We should feel sick when someone is needlessly harmed. We should be overcome with pure, unfiltered rage when women are literally and figuratively thrown aside to make way for “progress.” mother! does not decry the systematic oppression of women in words, because if words were effective the true horror of our lives would not still be present. Honor killings would not exist. Rape culture would not make villains out of victims. Emotions, however, are powerful. Fully immortalizing the horror inherent in womanhood is the most feminist thing we can do. mother! provides the ammunition for millions of women, when met by the head shakes and rebuttals of the blind or careless, to stand up and scream, “This is exactly how it is.” 

I could write endless praise for the bravery of not only the film, but of Lawerence herself. She is a true Everywoman, navigating the everyday gut-shots that plague half the population. She is forced to defend the validity of her womanhood against her lack of children, and then watch as the whole purpose of her life becomes fulfilled upon her giving birth. She feels the betrayal of internalized misogyny in other female characters. She watches as female unity is trampled under a masculine savior complex, and the audience watches with her. We feel with her, hurt with her, and hate with her. We endure as she does, but in the end she is gone with the credits and we are free. In the end, mother! begs the question; If we are so quick to condemn the oppression of women in theory, what is stopping us in our lives? How many women aren’t free as you are leaving the theater? How many may as well be gone with a roll of the credits? 

This is the truest horror of mother! It is the horror of not ever knowing how much damage has been done over millennia of casual misogyny by complacent people. You have to look. You have to see, and watch. You must feel, because we need you to.