From Image Text:
Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing #40, “The Curse,” is a product of the complex history of race relations within the feminist movement. It presented a powerful portrait of the experience of women living under patriarchy to a mostly male audience of comic book readers. This audience, most likely, had encountered few examples of explicitly feminist literature within their medium of choice when the issue came out in 1985. However, a close reading of Moore’s story reveals the extent to which the “race problem” tainted the First Wave of feminism, which urged women of color to throw their weight behind the feminist cause by impeaching men of color as especially misogynist. The comic accepts the assumption held by the white women of the First Wave that Native American cultures treat their women with more cruelty than do “civilized” European or American cultures. Unsurprisingly, a revisionist historical accounting of the actual practices of Native American First Nations reveals that this assumption is based in racist and sexist anthropological scholarship. Studies of gender within Native American cultures were long corrupted by both an over-reliance on the testimonies of male voices within the populations that were surveyed and by the faulty extension of Western ideas about gender to non-Western systems of thought. Unfortunately, many feminists in the First Wave used this biased science in order to push for their own political platforms, arguing that white women should be given positions of power in colonial missions and in assimilationist efforts aimed at “saving” Native American women from their own culture. As Moore’s comic shows, these racist sentiments tend to echo forward in time, creating further schisms within the women’s movement and leaving many activists of color at the tail end of the Second Wave when the comic was released feeling ostracized by the mostly white face of mainstream feminism.
Moore describes his storytelling efforts in “The Curse” as an exercise in solidarity with feminist thinking:
This story was about the difficulties endured by women in masculine societies, using the common taboo of menstruation as the central motif…. [T]he plot concerned a young married woman moving into a new home built upon the site of an old Indian lodge and finding herself possessed by the dominating spirit that still resided there, turning her into a werewolf (Moore, Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics 6-7).
Through Phoebe, the middle-class housewife who transforms into an avenging werewolf, Moore confronts the pathologization of menstruation and mobilizes an alternative feminist reading of premenstrual syndrome or P.M.S. Moore’s comic implies that the negative feelings that surround women’s experiences of menarche and menstruation do not come about because of some mental weakness associated with their gender but rather are a reasonable reaction to the stresses associated with living as a woman under a pervasive system of patriarchy. According to this theory, menarche and menstruation are psychologically taxing for young girls and women because they are visible markers of their second-class citizenship, symbols of their induction into a womanhood in which they will take up the same burdens that they saw taken up by their mothers and grandmothers. Menstruation thus becomes a monthly reminder of the restrictions that bind their everyday lives (Lee 33). Though Phoebe fails in her attempts to destroy the gender-based power structure that causes her such distress, her suicide at the conclusion of the comic drives home to readers the depths of despair that women can experience (Moore, “The Curse” 21).
Throughout Swamp Thing #40, Phoebe repeatedly confronts the symbols of her own oppression as she goes about her daily routine, and her building anger is coded by the text as a rational and righteous reaction. For example, the opening panels depict the stigma and shame that Western culture attaches to the woman’s body through the menstrual taboo. As Phoebe purchases tampons at a local convenience store, she watches as “the checkout lady places the package in a paper bag, as if to protect her other groceries” (Moore, “The Curse” 1).
We also see an advertisement for a douche in the background of the store. The ad is rather coy, referring to nebulous concepts such as “freshness and confidence” (Moore, “The Curse” 2), implying that the female body inspires something less than confidence when it is not constantly scrubbed clean by consumer products.
Both panels emphasize the notion that the woman’s body and the menstruating body in particular should remain hidden. Menstruation is a process so disturbing that even the products women use during “that time of the month” must be cloaked in polite, sanitary language rather than discussed openly. This theme is reinforced by the title of the issue itself, “The Curse,” which is an oft-deployed euphemism for menstruation.