Barbara Creed (born 1943) is a Professor of Cinema Studies in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne known for her cultural criticism. Creed is a graduate of Monash University and LaTrobe University where she completed doctoral research using psychoanalysis and feminist theory to understand certain practises of horror films.
Barbara Creed is one of Australia's most well-known commentators on film and media, she is a graduate of Monash and La Trobe University, completing her doctrinal thesis and research on the cinema of horror. Whereby she used feminism and feminist theory and psychoanalysis in order to ascertain specific exercises within horror films. Creed is currently within the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne where she is a Professor within Cinema Studies.
Overall, Creed's work is of interest to feminist theory and psychoanalysis and how these theories can be applied within horror films. Her work is derived seriously on the subjects of feminism, psychoanalysis, and post culturalism. Her themes of investigation incorporate, horror cinema, film, depictions of sex in graphic society and feminism. However, it is clear that film theory and feminism are two of her greatest interests and influencers. Her work relies on a number of theorists including Freud, and Julia Kristeva. Creed more recently has had a clear focus on human and animal rights on screen and animal studies.
Julia Kristeva can be considered as one of Creed's clear feminist influencers, Creed studied Kristeva in great depth and her notion of the abject. Creed wrote an essay on Kristeva and film in 1985 for the British Film Journal. Creed's Monstrous Feminine which was published in 1993 can clearly been seen as influenced on her earlier work on Kristeva.
Throughout history women's representation within horror films has consistently represented as weak, submissive and highly sexual. Creed argues that within horror movies, the male gaze is extremely obvious which can be noticed through concepts and visually. Concepts of female sexuality are inherent within horror movies, a common theme is that virtuous women are survivors at the end of a film, and women who exhibit sexual behaviour commonly die early on. This shows the concept that sexually active females are harlots who warrant death and only the pure woman deserves to live. Women are commonly shown in horror movies as weak and pathetic, however when they are represented as the villain they are innately evil, due to their reproductive system.
Creed further acknowledges abjection the notion utilized by Julia Kristeva, abjection according to Kristeva is the failure to distinguish what constitutes as self and what is other and is a breakdown of borders between human existence and non-existence. Creed argues that abjection theory is profoundly engrained within themes of horror and she focuses on how horror emphasizes boundaries of humanity and beyond. Within horror films this theory of a border and the breaking of rules is extremely important in regards to the formation of the monstrous, the notion suggests that anything that navigates across this ‘border’ is considered abject. Kristeva's theory therefore can be applied to the monstrous feminine through the mother-child relationship, the mother's womb and milk stimulate horror in regards to the female body and further brings her back to an ‘archaic mother’.
As a whole, Creed's works focus on the horror genre and the impact of patriarchal ideologies upon the genre. Creed focuses on Freudian psychoanalysis and Julia Kristeva's works in semiotics. Creed's work with psychoanalysis validates its usefulness in the feminist film theory field.
The Monstrous Feminine refers to the dominant interpretation of horror films which conceptualises woman as predominantly a victim. Barbara Creed, through the Monstrous Feminine observes this position of woman as victim within horror films, and challenges this overriding, patriarchal understanding. Barbara Creed challenges this masculine viewpoint through arguing that when the feminine is fabricated as monstrous, it is commonly done through association with the female reproductive body and other mothering tasks. Creed utilizes the expression ‘monstrous feminine’ as it accentuates the significance of gender in relation to the construction of her monstrosity, she also refrains from using the term ‘female monster, as it suggests a mere “role reversal of the ‘male monster”. According to Creed, the monstrous feminine horrifies her audience through her sexuality for example, she is either constructed as pure virgin or whore. Barbara Creed argues that concepts of the monstrous feminine within horror arose from male concerns regarding female sexual difference and castration. Creed argues that there are a variety of different appearances of the monstrous feminine which all reflect female sexuality: archaic mother, monstrous womb, vampire, possessed monster, witch and castrating mother.
Monstrous-Feminine and the Types of Monsters
Barbara Creed's the Monstrous Feminine: film, feminism, psychoanalysis looks at the types of monster women play in horror films, particularly examining archaic mothers, and mythological adaption's of characters. Creed analyses women as monstrous through their roles in horror movies as witches, vampires, archaic mothers, possessed monsters and mythical creatures like Medusa and her severed head. In her discussion of the many ‘faces of the monstrous-feminine’, she draws on Kristeva's concept of abjection to describe how patriarchal society separates the human from the non-human, and rejects the ‘partially formed subject’.
Creed firstly considers woman as vampire in such films as Dracula and The Hunger (1983), where she talks about the image of the ‘archaic mother’ with the female vampire being ‘mother’ and her lover or victim as ‘child’ in which she promises eternal life to. She also looks at the portrayal of desire and lesbian relationships in the horror film the Hunger (1983), stating that when the two female vampires kiss there is an eruption of blood in the women's mouths representing that lesbian relations are deadly and consequential.
The Monstrous Feminine also looks at the monstrous figure of witches, in which Barbara Creed critically examines the history of the ‘witch’ from medieval times to the rise of Catholicism. She identifies that early historical definitions of ‘witch’ were associated as healers or users of magic, but during the fourteenth century in the ‘witch trials’ or ‘witch hunt’, witchcraft was seen as a sin and a service of the devil. Barbara Creed looks at movies like Carrie and the Exorcist, and critiques the way in which they represent adolescent young women particularly as ‘possessed’ or ‘demonised’ during the stages of puberty. She states that the use of blood and gore are used to depict women as demonised or monstrous, and how both these possessed women are on the verge of menstruation and the blood used to symbolise this suggests a fear of castration.
Another key monstrous figure that Barbara Creed discusses frequently in her work, is Greek mythology's Medusa and her severed head. Medusa is defined as a mythological creature that's stare can turn people to stone, particularly men, and has a head covered in snakes which Creed believes to be a deadly symbol of the vagina dentata. The term vagina dentata was coined by Sigmund Freud and follows the myth that the female genitals are monster-like with teeth, and as Creed discusses, are feared as they are alleged to actively set out to castrate men. Barbara Creed frequently mentions in her work that horror movies play on this fear of the vagina dentata and even include it visually in films, through enormous toothed monsters or aliens to settings such as dark and narrow hallways, deadly traps and doors, and spaceships like in Alien.
Types of Monstrous-Femininity
The Monstrous Womb
A woman's reproductive system since the beginning of time has been constantly depicted as abhorrent and intimidating. Barbara Creed has a particular emphasis on this idea of the monstrous-womb, throughout history the maternal body has been considered a source of anxiety to the male gaze. Creed argues that a woman's deep connection to natural events such as reproduction and birth is considered ‘quintessentially grotesque’. Creed reflects back to the classical Renaissance where the uterus is depicted in connotation with evil and the devil. The reproductive system within horror movies is continually depicted as monstrous, the 1979 movie Alien clearly depicts this theory. These ideals are clearly imbedded within phallocentric philosophy. Creed's ideology of the woman's reproductive system is analyzed within the works of Kristeva.
Freud, Psychoanalysis and Women as Castrators
The Monstrous Feminine discusses the psychoanalysis theories of Sigmund Freud, primarily his ideas of castration and the female genitalia as monstrous. Creed examines Freud's psychoanalytic theory of sexual difference, and the marking of female sexuality as dangerous, as he believed women had the vagina dentata and that they were castrators of men. The idea of castration is derived from Freud's concepts of sexual difference, believing that women are substantially different from men, and that all women desire to be a man or masculine-like, suffering from a ‘penis-envy’. Sigmund Freud's works on psychoanalysis talks about the theory that women once had penises and are in themselves castrated, resulting in the formation of the female genitalia, and due to this ‘penis envy’, seek to castrate men of their penises. He applies this to his understanding of Medusa, as exampled by Barbara Creed in the monstrous feminine, where he compares the female genitalia to Medusa as men fear castration from the sight of her.
Media Matrix: Sexing the New Reality
Barbara Creed's ‘Media Matrix: Sexing the New Reality’ explores the impact of media and technology on subjects like the self, identity, sexuality and representation in the public sphere. She includes a definition of ‘Matrix’ in the introduction of this book, which is described as a ‘womb; place in which thing is developed’, which links to her discussion of the monstrous feminine. In the beginning of this piece, she discusses movies like The Matrix (1999) and Strange Days (1995) in relation to the concept of ‘jacking-in’, that is the use of technology to alter reality and experience life in other people’s minds much like virtual reality. Creed argues that the development of technology in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has allowed people to experiment with reality and time and disassociate one’s self from their own reality, as well as challenge ideas of ‘fixed personal identity’. Media Matrix also examines the role of media and news in the modern era, and particularly looks at how it is for the majority made up of stories that showcase the horrific, evoke fear and the abject. This is defined as what she calls ‘crisis TV’, where news reporters focus on disasters to provoke anxiety and immediacy, and bring the abject into reality.
Phallic Panic: Film, Horror and the Primal Uncanny
In Phallic Panic: Film, Horror and the Primal Uncanny, Barbara Creed reflects on the representation of men in the horror genre, and specifically how they are portrayed differently to women. This piece offers a feminist analysis on sexual difference in the horror industry and the symbolic order in which the male monster challenges innate masculinity and is ‘caught between the opposing forces of culture and nature, the civilised and primitive’. Throughout this piece, she makes connections to the notion of the ‘primal uncanny’, which suggests that men as monsters are often connected to women, death and animals. The ‘primal uncanny’, as Creed looks at, was firstly discussed in Freud’s work as just the ‘uncanny’ that linked to ideas of psychoanalysis and castration. Yet, Freud only really considered death and the feeling of horror in relation to male monsters and didn’t examine the role of women, nature and animals. Phallic Panic draws on many examples of male monsters from the classic film adaption of Frankenstein and the male werewolf, to vampires and mad scientists, as well as the relationship between ‘beast’ and man.
In Darwin's Screens: Evolutionary Aesthetics, Time and Sexual Display in the Cinema, Creed examines the uncanny again through Darwin's works with sexual selection and origins. Creed uses films that were influenced by Darwin in the nineteenth century to analyze film techniques related to Darwin's works.
Awards and Committees
Most Recently, at the University of Melbourne in 2013, Barbara Creed established the Human Rights and Animal Ethics Research Network.
In 2006 Creed was chosen to be a member of The Australian Academy of the Humanities. Creed is on a variety of worldwide editorial panels.
Barbara Creed has published a variety of material within her time, some of these publications include, The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism. Psychoanalysis (1993), Media Matrix: Sexing the New Reality (2003), Phallic Panic: Film, Horror & the Primal Uncanny (2005) and Darwin's Screens: Evolutionary Aesthetics, Time and Sexual Display in the Cinema (2009).
- Gear, Rachel (2001). "All those nasty womanly things: Women artists, technology and the monstrous-feminine". Women's Studies International Forum. 24 (3–4): 321–333. doi:10.1016/S0277-5395(01)00184-4.
- Creed, Barbara (1993). The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge.
- Creed, Barbara (2005). Phallic Panic: Film, Horror and the Primal Uncanny. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
- Grant, Barry Keith (1996). The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film. Austin: University of Texas Press.
- Chaudhuri, Shohini (2006). Feminist Film Theorists. London and New York: Routledge.
- Kristeva, Julia (1980). Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Creed, Barbara (2002). Jancovich, M (ed.). "Horror and the monstrous-feminine: an imaginary abjection". Horror, the Film Reader: 67–76.
- Freud, Sigmund (1991). On Sexuality: Three essays on the theory of sexuality and other works. London: Penguin Books.
- Harrington, Erin (2018). Women, Monstrosity and Horror Film: Gynaehorror. New York, NY: Routledge.
- "Castration Complex | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
- Chanter, Tina (2010). "Abjection, or Why Freud Introduces the Phallus: Identification, Castration Theory, and the Logic of Fetishism". The Southern Journal of Philosophy. 42: 48–66. doi:10.1111/j.2041-6962.2004.tb01014.x.
- Creed, Barbara (2003). Media Matrix: Sexing the New Reality. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
- Allmark, Panizza (2007). "Masculinity in crisis: the uncanny male monster". Cultural Studies Review. 13 (1): 223–227.
- Creed, Barbara (2009). Darwin's Screens: Evolutionary Aesthetics, Time and Sexual Display in the Cinema. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
- The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis (London and New York: Routledge, 1993)
- Media Matrix: Sexing the New Reality (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2003)
- Pandora’s Box: Essays in Film Theory, Australian Centre for the Moving Image, (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2004)
- Phallic Panic: Film, Horror and the Primal Uncanny (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2005)
- Darwin's Screens: Evolutionary Aesthetics, Time and Sexual Display in the Cinema (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2009)
- Homosexuality - a Film for Discussion (1975)
- Barbara Creed's Staff Page at the University of Melbourne.
- Human Rights and Animal Ethics Research Network (HRAE)