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From feminism to BDSM: the powerful life lessons Morticia Addams taught us

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Kayleigh Dray
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Who is the ultimate 90s feminist icon?

When presented to millennials, it’s a question which prompts a veritable plethora of answers: plenty insist the honour be bestowed upon the Spice Girls for spreading the message of “girl power” across the world. Others cite SATC’s Samantha Jones (who taught us that we can be as promiscuous as we damn well please) as the decade’s ultimate pop culture feminist. Then there’s Buffy Summers, who reminded us that we should never underestimate the strength of a woman, Titanic’s Rose, who refused to conform to 1912’s imposed ideals of ladylikeness, and Clueless’s Cher Horowitz, who blazed a trail for feminine feminists everywhere

In our humble opinion, though, there is one fictional badass who trumps all of the above. And, on top of her feminist ideals, she’s also unashamedly creepy, kooky and mysterious.

We’re talking, of course, about Morticia Addams, of The Addams Family fame.

Click, click.

If you glance at the synopses for the 1991 and 1993 films, it’s easy to dismiss Morticia as just another two-dimensional ‘mum character’ in a kids’ movie: in the first, her husband rushes to save her after she’s kidnapped by a villainous con artist. In the second, she celebrates the birth of her baby son – despite the fact that the new arrival hasn’t gone down a storm with her two older children.

But, if you sit and watch the films in their entirety (and you should definitely do so, because they’re both insanely good), then it quickly becomes apparent that Morticia is the fully-actualised matriarch of our dreams.

Why? Because she’s smart, confident and more than capable of rescuing herself from danger, thank you very much. Because she’s sexually liberated – incredibly so – and ½ of a healthy BDSM relationship. Because she’s non-judgemental of other women and passionate about pursuing her dreams (all while acknowledging how difficult it is for any “modern woman trying to have it all”). And because she’s 100% dedicated to her goal of empowering her daughter, Wednesday, with the tools she needs for adulthood.

In short, she’s a total queen, and we couldn’t love her more. So, to celebrate her badassery, here are just some of the life lessons that Morticia has taught us over the years…

1) Never let anyone speak over you

Forget the dramatic make-up and black clothes: if there’s one thing that Morticia – and the rest of the Addams women, in fact – are famed for, it’s making their voices heard. And, more importantly, taking up arms against anyone who dares to even attempt silencing them.

It’s a fact that Morticia is keen to point out to her brother-in-law, Fester, during a tour of the family graveyard. “And our credo: Sic gorgiamus allos subjectatos nunc,” she informs him, pointing out where the words have been inscribed on a well-tended tombstone. Spotting his baffled expression, she smilingly translates the Latin for him: ’We gladly feast on those who would subdue us.’”

Then, to make her meaning as crystal clear as possible, she adds lightly: “Not just pretty words.”

2) Women are real people, with sexual needs and desires all of their own

How many times have we been forced to sit through a movie about an unhappy, sexless marriage? That tired old trope of the frustrated husband and the nagging wife is far more damaging than it initially seems: not only does it reduce womankind to two-dimensional irritants, it also suggests that women are, essentially, beings free from desire, placed upon this earth to ‘serve’ their partners in the bedroom.

Not so for Morticia: all you have to do is look at her to see a woman who’s confident in addressing her desires, however sordid they may be – a point underlined wonderfully when, after Gomez makes reference to the “old ball and chain”, she coquettishly promises to go fetch them (more on that BDSM bombshell in a moment).  Throughout, sex is played as something the couple does regularly and with open communication. Indeed, they never soften the truth for their children with stories of storks: Wednesday and Pugsley know exactly what goes into making a baby by the time their little brother is born.

Perhaps most importantly of all, though, is the fact that Morticia is keen to seek out sexual pleasure for herself and no one else – a trait which is innately feminist.

“Witches, sluts, and feminists are the trifecta of terror for the patriarchy,” historian Kristin J Sollee explains to The Guardian. “To me, the primal impulse behind each of these contested identities is self-sovereignty… witches, sluts, and feminists embody the potential for self-directed feminine power, and sexual and intellectual freedom.”

3) And there IS such a thing as a healthy and respectful BDSM relationship (take note, Fifty Shades)

If your only experience of BDSM is in the flimsy narrative of Fifty Shades of Grey, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the acronym is a byword for domestic abuse and emotional manipulation, topped off with a series of violent threats.

Bondage and discipline, though, is very different. It’s kinky, sure, and it’s definitely fetishistic in nature – but it relies on communication, mutual trust and respect for boundaries. There are safe words, and there is aftercare. Above all else, though, there is consent, which is why Morticia’s first lines of the movie are so vital.

Her eyes gleaming in the moonlight, she looks up at her lover and tells him: “Last night you were unhinged. You were like some desperate howling demon. You frightened me.”

Then, as the camera zooms closer, she adds: “Do it again.”

It’s may be the first time that the BDSM nature of their relationship is mentioned in the films, but it’s definitely not the last. We see them coo over handcuffs, smile fondly at medieval torture devices, worship one another wholeheartedly and make plenty of jokes about their sexual inclinations. 

“Don’t torture yourself, Gomez,” Morticia orders her lover at one point. “That’s my job.”

Oh yes, that’s right: both members of this exquisitely enviable couple take turns acting as the dominant and submissive role. Talk about equality in the bedroom, eh?

4) Never be afraid to ask for more

Mila Kunis – who received critical acclaim for her role in Black Swan – recently admitted that she finds it difficult to balance her acting career with being a mother to her and Ashton Kutcher’s children, Wyatt and Dimitri.

“Simply put, the idea of balance doesn’t exist,” she told The Cut. “It is your work or your kid, but you can’t balance it. There is really, in my opinion, no such thing. One will take a weight.”

Morticia, as a mother of three, knows this feeling all too well. Indeed, when Gomez asks her if she’s happy, she lets him know that she finds it hard to be as ambitious as she once was.  “I’m just like any modern woman trying to have it all,” she tells him. “Loving husband, a family. It’s just… I wish I had more time to seek out the dark forces and join their hellish crusade.”

Thankfully, Gomez is in awe of his wife’s prowess and all too happy to oblige: it’s not long before they’re interviewing nannies in a bid to free up Tish’s day, so that she can dedicate some time to the other most important person in her life: herself.

5) Women don’t cease to exist when they hit 30

It’s no secret that Hollywood has an ageism problem: in a review of the top-grossing romantic films since 1978, among the two primary romantic sub-genres (comedies and dramas) the average age of female leads is about 30. Only a handful of actresses over 30 played romantic leads in these films, and usually as older seductresses of young men. 

But, in The Addams Family, things are very different. 

Anjelica Huston was 40 when she took on the role of the ethereal Morticia Addams, which is no small feat in itself. The fact that the character was empowered, desirable, sexually liberated and immaculately beautiful in every single scene she’s in (how many black evening gowns can one woman have?) was nothing short of miraculous: how often do we see a mother character who is genuinely sexy, after all?

6) Always be the hero of your own story

When the Addams family are kicked out of their home, and Gomez is overwhelmed by feelings of grief, it is Morticia who steps up to become the sole breadwinner as a seriously #nofilters kindergarten teacher. And, later, she’s the one who takes initiative to bring Fester back into the fold, placing herself in danger in order to save her family. Of course, this culminates in what appears, at first, to be a damsel-in-distress situation: Morticia is kidnapped, tethered to a stretching rack, and tortured for information… except, as mentioned earlier, Morticia is a pretty ardent fan of BDSM (indeed, the Wheel of Pain they use is one of her very own torture devices).

You guessed it: the damsel-in-distress isn’t really in distress at all: she may have needed to be untied (and she may have allowed her husband the thrill of ‘rescuing’ her), but Morticia was definitely not in any danger. In fact, she allowed herself to be ‘tortured’ because she knew Fester’s kind heart wouldn’t be able to take it – and she was right.

Check it out:

7) A film really can  pass the Bechdel Test with flying colours

Let’s remind ourselves of the criteria, shall we?

  • The film has to have at least two women in it
  • … who talk to each other
  • … about something besides a man

Yup, it’s not hard – yet, to this day, there are so few films that manage to check all of these boxes. The Addams Family and Addams Family Values, though, do this with serious aplomb: an overwhelming five of this film’s main characters are women (think Morticia, Wednesday, Debbie, Grandmama, Dr. Pinder-Schloos and Margaret Alford), and they tend to talk with one another about all manner of strange and wonderful things: witchcraft, homicide, the failures of their parents, home interiors and more.

All in all, they have far more important topics to broach than boring old men.

8) Always stay true to yourself

Morticia is regularly forced to attend school plays, meet with conformist WASPs, and sit down for long, tedious chats with the more conventional members of the community. She’s been branded “weird”, “odd”, and a “freak”. She has been run out of town by her narrow-minded neighbours. And yet, despite all of this, she refuses to bow down to societal pressures or change herself in any way. Instead, she practices the long-lost arts of self-love, self-esteem and self-belief.

Essentially, Morticia teaches us to ignore what everyone wants us to do and embrace our own badass selves for who we truly are. To be unafraid to stand out from the crowd. And, above all else, to let go of the f**king patriarchy and be our best feminist self.

9) … but don’t inflict your views upon others

Remember when Morticia’s baby, Pubert, finds himself afflicted with chubby cheeks, blonde curls and a cute, gummy smile? Yeah, Morticia’s son may be cursed with ‘nromality’, and he may grow up to be (horror of all horrors) the president, but she still accepts him for who he really is. So much so that she even goes against every gut instinct and reads him a Dr. Seuss story before bed, without complaint.

Well, just one complaint, maybe – and it’s only a small one: who can blame her for feeling irked that the Cat in the Hat doesn’t die at the end, eh?

10) Always try to see things from the other person’s point of view

In The Addams Family Values, Morticia does her best to understand her psychopathic sister-in-law, Debbie Jellinksy-Addams, listening to her multitude of complaints without interrupting her and acknowledging all the times she has been wronged in the past (two words: Malibu Barbie).

Morticia also refrains from indulging in any unnecessary girl-on-girl hate – and, despite having a fair few reasons to hate Debbie, she is a big enough person to take a step back and objectively list all of her enemy’s positive qualities… which is no small thing, as we’re sure you’ll agree.

But there are, of course, limits.

“You have placed Fester under some strange sexual spell,” Morticia tells her nemesis, with no small degree of respect in her voice. “You have married him, you have destroyed his spirit, you have taken him from us. All that I could forgive.

“But Debbie... pastels?”

11) Recognise the importance of female role models

Whenever Morticia is at her lowest and in need of advice (as seen in The Addams Family Values, when “my baby is sick, and my husband is dying”), she turns to the most important woman in her life: Grandmama. 

It stands to reason, then, that Morticia makes a point of regaling her own daughter with tales of badass female relatives – something which creeps into her daughter’s artwork at school. But, when asked for clarification from Wednesday’s teacher about some of the more… well, let’s call them the more ‘obscure’ women in the Addams family tree, Morticia is unapologetic.

“Wednesday’s great-aunt Calpurnia,” she says, when confronted with one drawing in particular. “She was burned as a witch in 1706. They said she danced naked in the town square and enslaved the minister… but don’t worry. We’ve told Wednesday: college first.”

And, just like that, she underlines the importance of educating young girls, too.

What a woman.

Images: Rex Features / GIPHY