Snake Sisters in Literature and Film

deadline for submissions: 
June 25, 2024
full name / name of organization: 
96th SAMLA (South Atlantic Modern Language Association) Conference

Although a monster with a head of swarming snakes, Medusa has been firmly embraced as a snake sister by more women. In her 1975 essay “The Laugh of the Medusa,” Hélène Cixous pioneeringly urges women to re-visit their mythological snake sister - Medusa - who has long been (mis)construed as ugly and sinful. Cixous writes, "You only have to look at the Medusa straight on to see her. And she’s not deadly. She’s beautiful and she’s laughing” (885). In current feminist terms, Medusa is often read sympathetically: “The ugliness she first experienced as an unjust punishment” is transformed into her greatest strength she “learned to use as a weapon” (Zimmerman 3). Through feminist reinterpretations, Medusa, once condemned by Athena as a snake monster, has transformed into a symbol of empowerment—a snake sister—for any woman who aspires to wield a gaze as fierce and fearless as hers.

Beyond the revolutionary Greek-origin Medusa, other snake sisters have also persisted from worldwide mythology into contemporary speculative fiction. For instance, the Chinese snake women figure “embodies both the dangerous and glamorous aspects of female sexuality and fertility” (Wang 186). White Snake emerged as a defiant female rebel in earlier premodern Chinese fantasy. Across tales from the Tang and Song Dynasties, she has been depicted as a ferocious spirit, indulging in sexual pleasures and serial killings. Though White Snake was later transformed into an angelic wife in stories since Ming times, the image of the snake rebel has been revitalized in contemporary feminist retellings, such as Hong Kong author Li Bihua’s Green Snake (1986) and Chinese American Cindy Pon’s Serpentine and Sacrifice (2015, 2016).

This session seeks to construct an imaginary genealogy of snake sisters derived from worldwide literature and film. We welcome any studies concerning the images of snake women, from iconic figures like Medusa and White Snake to more characters. Hopefully, these snake sisters have embodied subversive female subjectivities in parallel worlds of imagination.

Submission Guidelines:
Please submit your abstract of 200-300 words, along with a short biography of 100-150 words, to this link: by 06/25/2024.