- Men Who Run with Wolves, and the Women Who Love Them: Child Study and Compulsory Heterosexuality in Feral Child Films
My title alludes not only to the rhetoric of talk shows but also to a particular text, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ 1992 bestseller Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. Inside every woman, asserts Estés, is a Wild Woman struggling for release, whose instinctive, creative energies have long been repressed. A Jungian analyst and cantadora, or storyteller, Estés argues that women bear powerful resemblances to wolves; she began her study of the archetype, in fact, by studying wolf culture. Estés notes the ways in which folk narratives have been altered to suit specific audiences, but also insists that beneath those changes lie the bare bones of female experience, emblematized by La Loba, the Wolf Woman, the incarnation of feral woman.
Estés’ work is a compelling rejoinder not only to the Freudian tradition of fairy-tale analysis and bibliotherapy, but to the contemporary mythopoetic men’s movement, which has adapted classic folk mythology. Even those not sympathetic to archetypal criticism should agree that her book is a timely intervention in the masculinist landscape of Jungian pop psychology, challenging the manifestos of male shamans like poet Robert Bly, whose best-selling Iron John (1990) remains the ur-text for weekend warriors. Unlike Estés, whose recuperative mythology embraces men as well as women, and homosexuality as well as heterosexuality, Bly attacks women and gay men for the psychic trauma they inflict upon heterosexual [End Page 90] men. As his book attests, the contemporary men’s movement, like the backlash of a century ago, draws upon paranoid narratives of feminization and sexual dysphoria. 1 Central to Bly’s program of male regeneration is his reading (or rather rewriting) of the Der Eisenhaus or “Iron Hans” fable circulated by the Brothers Grimm in 1850. As Jack Zipes demonstrates, Bly distorts the history and content of Der Eisenhaus to fashion his own myth of feminine meddling and masculine revenge. Iron John is indeed a “nightmare” not only for folklorists but for everyone concerned about the politics of gender and sexuality (Zipes 104), especially since Bly’s use of folk literature lends credibility to even more reactionary texts.
The juxtaposition of Estés and Bly suggests the gendered and sexually coded nature of the battle now waged over folk literature and the category of the feral. For Estés, the feral is feminine and instinctively creative, for Bly et al., it is masculine and violent. Bly repeats the tiresome narrative of feminization; perhaps in response, Estés implies that our culture masculinizes universal life patterns, encoded in folk literature. Estés’ La Loba runs counter not only to Bly’s Wild Man archetype, but to the contemporary masculinization of the werewolf of classic lycanthropy, or werewolf lore. Historically the werewolf has encoded female as well as male sexuality and power, but in twentieth-century texts it is usually presumed male and heterosexual. Like revisions of “Little Red Riding Hood,” Estés’ work reclaims wolf-cultism organized around female deities. 2
A few novels, poems, stories, and films have similarly challenged the custodial dimensions of feral child narrative, implying that the feral might be an index of bad parenting and even reactionary politics. Yet despite these more promising incarnations, the motif remains rhetorically masculinist and heterosexist, and in the current political climate has enjoyed a renaissance, especially on the silver screen. In most stories, the feral child is a boy whose savage virtue and virility prove him superior to both animals and civilized humans. The few girls in the genre live a dismal life, if they survive at all. Even as Estés and others try to rescuscitate and empower the feral girl, the feral boy has been become fetishistic by the mythopoetic industry.
The reactionary antics of Bly and fellow shamans parallel the representational politics of several recent feral child films, including Teen Wolf (1985), Hook (1991) and Disney’s live-action The Jungle Book (1994). This essay examines the ways in which these films, ostensibly made for and consumed by...