In popular literature and songs, women’s bodies or sexualities are often compared to animals. Take, for example, “I want to fuck you like an animal/Iwant to feel you from the inside” in Closer by Nine Inch Nails. Or the incessant comparison of pretty girls to Bambi, or women’s bodies to racehorses. Women’s fear is often compared to that of a deer in the headlights. This form of zoomorphism in our culture is extremely common, and, while often women being compared to animals is a typical literary tactic, it’s interesting to think of the underlying dehumanization: a woman is not a woman with big eyes, she’s a virginal baby deer; a woman afraid is not a woman who is afraid, she is soon to be road kill. The simultaneous romanticizing and dehumanization of female beauty is common: when you are beautiful, you are an ideal, viewed as someone almost holy or above others, and simultaneously seen as something not human, as in you’re not a person, you’re a body part, a commodity.
In almost every YA novel, girls are compared to burning fires, birds of paradise, deer, horses, roses, lions, tigresses, parrots, and so on, and in this way, beauty and womanhood are turned feral. I’m sure if you Googled me, you could find multiple poems and stories and novel excerpts where I compare bodies to oceans or fires or sick animals or burning buildings, so I’m not necessarily saying that there’s anything wrong with doing so, or using Zoomorphism as a literary device. However, the concept of beauty or womanhood or desire for girls, or a girl’s desire or fear as something animalistic, un-human, is a disturbing topic. In our culture, girls and women’s bodies are used as commodities or warfare or advertisements, and in this way, it’s like beauty and womanhood negate your personhood, turns you into something usable, something animal, that can be consumed.
The music video for Animals by Maroon 5 consists of a man breaking into a woman’s apartment repeatedly, photographing her half naked and sleeping, and then, in a meat bunker, smearing himself in animal’s blood, like he’s preparing himself for the hunt. He then follows her to a club and presumably takes her home, as they can next be seen entwined and dripping in dark red blood. Their desire has turned them into the hunter and the hunted, and, apparently, the prey has been caught.
Older women who date younger men are referred to as “cougars” (I have yet to find the lesbian equivalent for this, but I assume it would involve some kind of large cat as well). Virgins are compared to pure flowers, petals that have not yet crumpled or withered or dried out which is apparently what happens when a girl loses her virginity: she withers, her petals fall off. In this context a woman’s desire both punishes her and gives her power (a dying flower, a threatening hunting cat). In most of the literature I’ve read, men are never flowers or road kill deer, they’re usually portrayed as either primitive hunters or predatory creatures, and, on the brief occasion that women in literature are referred to as predatory animals, it’s derogatory (“she’s a cougar, watch out,” “she’s a shark” etc).
The question in this article, is why are girls dying fires or withering roses or Bambi-eyed ingénues or helpless but decorative birds? Why are we always the prey?