About a month and a half ago, I received in the mail a book written by Sady Doyle: Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers: Monstrosity, Patriarchy and the Fear of Female Power.
Before reading it, I had no idea the adventure I would embark on. And now that I’ve finished it, I find I can barely put into words the rollercoaster ride I’ve been on – but I will try! Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers is a bold book that we as a society desperately need.
In a book that, even as Doyle says, is a form of a Frankensteinian monster, since it draws from films, literary works, quotes, real life cases, folk myths, etc., it is difficult to be consistent and coherent, but this book does it perfectly.
As we start reading, we feel as if we are entering a new world. Or rather, we are looking at our own from afar, and Doyle is gently guiding us through it.
She explores the socio-political scenario the world is currently experiencing – with the upsurge of feminism, the backlash of conservative governments, the violence against people of colour and LGBT+ people – and she takes advantage of it to put it all into perspective and to hold people responsible.
In a constant parallel between fiction and real life, Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers explores why society is seemingly so afraid of female power, and how it works in order to tame it. Doyle divides the book in three main parts: daughters, wives and mothers. Not because it is a woman’s natural progression, but because it is the path the patriarchy has written for us.
She starts off exploring puberty and the discovery of female sexuality, of course, comparing with films such as The Exorcist in which Regan is possessed by the devil.
The storyline – especially the possession – can be, and indeed has been, read as a form of exploring female adolescent sexuality as a demonic apparition. She masturbates, she swears and she bleeds, all of which are caused by the demon inside her.
Her mother is also to blame. The horror! She is a working-mum with no time for her daughter… and even worse, they are not Catholic! This family must be punished. And as I’m sure you already know, they are.
This narrative is explored by Doyle in other films and cases, such as The Exorcism of Emily Rose where she analyses the differences between real life and fiction. As you can see, Doyle does not start us off lightly – it begins as strong as it finishes.
The following parts of Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers, wives and mothers, are equally analysed – the role that women are supposed to accept and also, how are we really to blame for other’s violence.
Notwithstanding, Doyle also delves into the patriarchy as a whole. Why have we been thrust into these roles? What happens if we step out of them? How powerful are we really? Why do we kill or even how do we kill?
Doyle doesn’t ignore our guilt, but she doesn’t condemn either. She looks at serial killers, male and female, comparing how they are sentenced, what are their motives, and how the media has come to portray them or how the media has come to explain their blame – spoiler alert!
Every serial killer has a mother – maybe this common denominator is the reason! True crime documentaries and female obsession with it – why are they so popular? All these questions that we never actually asked are answered in this book.
Two things have stood out for me in Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers. The First one is how inclusive it is. When talking vastly about patriarchy it is so easy to fall into the binary of men and women, these two polar opposites, but when doing so it is easy to forget about trans women, women of colour, women with disability – whose problems are beyond what we see in the news.
In this book, Doyle makes a conscious effort to bring these differences to the front line. She doesn’t ignore or hide them, she acknowledges them and she includes them in the conversation, demanding that we care about them, as well.
It reminded me of Luce Irigaray, when she states that there isn’t one ‘woman’, but rather many different identities, each with its own dream, reality, past, and each should be acknowledged. And because this multitude of women exist, they are not always right.
Doyle puts forward the hierarchy that exists within the oppressed and how privileged white women are when compared to their trans sisters or sisters of colour. And this brings me to my second point…
Again, she runs from the expected victimised point of view. Mind you, Doyle spends the whole book talking about patriarchy and how women have been diminished into the house/family framework, albeit she never takes the role of the damsel in distress. She doesn’t write women as innocent victims, she does, however, write women as sources of unimaginable power. Such is the power that it must be restrained!
Sady Doyle’s Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers is a book everyone should read. It is scarier than any horror fiction out there but it is truly relevant and delightfully written.
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