Lars von Trier, women and me

Is 'Antichrist' anti-women? Heidi Laura, the controversial new film's official 'Misogyny Consultant', has the last word

Could you write a sustained argument on the evil nature of woman, based on all available Western sources? This was Lars von Trier's proposition to me, a journalist and former university researcher in cultural history. It was July 2007, he was about to finish the manuscript for his film Antichrist, and he needed me to go through as much material as I could and come up with all the facets of misogyny.

The subject is as deep and wide as human civilisation itself. There is no age without its anxiety about women, and the texts and images range from sophisticated and witty to gruesome.

Call me evil, but I think the dark shadows of civilisation deserve to be seen and reflected on rather than ignored. As I moved through the sources, I realised that the age-old dichotomy between supposedly rational man and supposedly wild and uncontrollable woman, ruled by impulse and desire, has never left us.

Sources were hardly scarce: Max Weininger's early-20th-century bio-psychological description of woman as not in control of herself was close to Nietzsche's cynical reflections on the cunning nature of woman, who wants to control men, and therefore must be controlled in turn. "You are going to women? Do not forget the whip!", says one of his aphorisms.

The disturbing texts from the witch-craze of the 17th century were inspired by older Christian texts and the Bible. Renaissance hatred of powerful women – John Knox wrote a book on the unnatural state of things in England under Elizabeth I, called The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women – drew many ideas from figures such as the patriarch Chrysostomus, who claimed that woman's beauty was just "pretty colours" disguising the "delicious poison and natural evil" within. Condemning women as witches or heretics grew from a basic fear of the incontrollable power of women. Deep anxieties about women also find expression in mythological figures such as the Furies, Pandora, the Sirens; or the many witches in European fairy-tales, whose goal is to deceive and then devour man.

Anxiety about the treacherous nature of women could also be voiced as beautifully as by Shakespeare in his Sonnets for the Black Lady: "For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright/ Who art as black as hell, as dark as night" – a text that is quoted in Antichrist.

The male authors all seemed to agree on one thing: woman is intrinsically more connected to nature than man. This is why man rightfully fears woman: just like nature, she is beyond control.

The indictment against women I composed for Von Trier sums up the many misogynistic views all the way back to Aristotle, whose observations of nature led him to conclude that "the female is a mutilated male". Should we avoid staring into that abyss or should we acknowledge this male anxiety, perhaps even note with satisfaction that women are mostly described as very powerful beings by these anxious men?

The American feminist Camille Paglia sees men as both attracted and afraid of the mysterious fertility and groundedness of woman. The dark realm of woman could be seen as closer to uncontrollable nature; this is the realm of the forest, where mythological creatures abound. And this is the realm that Antichrist leads its audience into, as old images and ideas are transformed into a wondrous, cinematic universe by Von Trier's imagination.



'Antichrist' is out now

Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek
TV

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

    Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
    Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

    Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

    The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
    Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

    Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

    This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
    Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

    Education: Secret of Taunton's success

    Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
    10 best smartphones

    10 best smartphones

    With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal