"It's kind of a double-edged sword, isn't it? If you say you haven't, you're a prude. If you say you have, you're a slut. It's a trap. You want to, but you can't. And when you did, you wish you hadn't.
A pattern of thought that divides women into two mutually exclusive categories: Madonnas and Whores. The virtuous Madonna figure, possessing and protecting social virtue (and deploring sexuality)
is an object of worship and everything that a woman should aspire to be. However, sex is not part of this. Any woman who fails to live up to the Madonna standard in any part is a worthless Whore, driven by sexual desire and therefore lacking morality.
As soon as a woman is known to have an active sex life, she is automatically viewed as a whore.
The Madonna-Whore Complex (sometimes referred to as the "Virgin-Whore Complex") was described by Sigmund Freud on the basis of some of his clinical work. Specifically, he noticed the difficulty some men had in having sexual relations with their wives because they differentiated women into these categories. Those men were aroused by prostitutes and mistresses but not their wives.
Like most Double Standards
, this presents problems for both sexes and carries major Unfortunate Implications
. Many societies past and present have bought into this dichotomy (see All Women Are Lustful
and Honor-Related Abuse
and Defiled Forever
). Women can be forced to identify with one or the other, and can be ostracized or socially stigmatized for failing to do so. This burden weighs heavily on the heterosexual relationships of both partners, entirely dismissing the sexual needs of "good" women and relegating the sex lives of "good" men to illicit partnerships. Practical considerations, such as the use of sex to strengthen a relationship or as the means by which the madonnas became mothers in the first place, have no place in this sort of thinking.
Commonly found in older, pre-feminism works (though it still sometimes turns up, especially in religious literature and because Most Writers Are Male
). Under the Madonna-Whore Complex, all women are either portrayed as promiscuous, immoral, often Evil Is Sexy
seductresses or sweet, naive ingenues
(or the sweet, sexless matriarchs they become). Smart, capable, good women who enjoy sex do not exist.
Occasionally enforced by The Scourge of God
. Contrast A Man Is Not a Virgin
. See also: Betty and Veronica
, Double Standard
, My Girl Is Not a Slut
The madonna is always good at heart, though she sometimes is corrupted - often sexually, and often by the whore
. Common tropes applying to the madonna:
Always evil and scheming, but with massive sex appeal, catering to the Male Gaze
and Fetish Fuel
. Common tropes applying to the whore:
- There is probably not a single woman with normal sexuality in The Big Bang Theory.
- Castlevania games... this element is pretty much universal to the series.
- Grease. Oh God. Grease.
- This is basically how Rorschach from Watchmen views women.
- In Making Money this is exploited by Mr. Bent's Love Interest who concludes that she's already "ruined" simply by being in his room and may as well keep on going.
- Swan Lake follows twin sisters, each expressing one side of this complex, and ultimately ends in tragedy. It subtly deconstructs this trope, as the prince loves the White Swan's purity, but doesn't seem to have any problem with it when she seduces him (though it's actually her sister). It further emphasizes the deconstruction by having the same dancer play both parts, implying a real woman has both the Black and White Swan.
- Black Swan: explains the whole plot of the ballet, and juxtaposes beautiful but sexually repressed Natalie Portman vs. smoldering sexpot Mila Kunis.
- Left Behind.
- In Anita Blake, the titular character suffers from this kind of thinking. Often she and other characters, mostly male, believe her to be a 'slut' and treat her badly because she is forced to be promiscuous because she has something called The Arduer, which is a magical compulsion to have sex and gives her energy which if she didn't give in to, would eventually kill her and through her everyone she is magically tied to (which is most of the cast). This is a source of much Wangst in the series.
- The music video for Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me".