Lizz Hoskins is here to tell you why Horror movies empower women so much more than you realise…
I love horror and I’m a woman. I’m a nerd when it comes to horror; I want to know about all the latest films, I watch the extended director’s releases, I pre-order films, research the origins of the narrative and most importantly, I feel I should actively defend my love of horror.
Funnily enough, I don’t remember the first horror film I watched. I do however, remember feeling an affinity with the genre and the more I learnt, the more I loved. Slasher films were my first love: I loved the simplistic nature and premise of them. The pattern was so easy to follow throughout each film, and I could recognise said pattern each time and in turn became more and more in tune with the genre. I started obsessively watching any Slasher film I could; I went through Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Prom Night, and My Bloody Valentine so quickly I started losing count. The old classics showed a new side of women in film: they were tougher than their romantic comedies and other genre counterparts.
When I began talking about my love of horror to my peers and family, they made it clear that this wasn’t the type of genre they expected a girl to be so enamoured by. As I grew older, and fell even harder for all things horror, people would often ask one of these two questions: Don’t these films degrade women? Isn’t it unfeminine to like Slasher films?
I’m a film graduate, so the first question seems obviously false to me – a little scholarly knowledge makes it seem almost absurd. But I can understand how some people may perceive the genre from the outside, so, right now I want to clear it up in two simple points: one woman always survives. She is strong, she is resilient, she is the Final Girl. Secondly, both women AND men are killed in equal measure. Not one gender is seen more or less than the other on screen. Compared to other genres, women in horror have a larger percentage of screen time. The goriness might seem objectifying to some, but when you look closer, it’s actually just gloriously equal.
The Final Girl is a theory that I hold close to my heart. The term was coined in 1993 by film academic Carol Clover and has been a key theory in film studies since (and has even inspired a horror movie, entitled, you guessed it, ‘Final Girl’. Most people may have never heard of it, but will recognise it instantly when they see it. The theory suggests that in most horror films there is always one remaining female who survives when others have perished. The Final Girl is ferocious, she’s tough, she defeats (usually a masked) killer by herself when others (men) have failed. The Final Girl is usually de-sexualised, intelligent and puts her friends and studies above any sexual or immoral practices. The Final Girl proves that you can be feminine and tough – Ripley from the Alien series is an exceptional example of the Final Girl, and from a movie you’ve almost certainly seen. The fact that she is able to defeat aliens and remain sane when others fail proves that she is a warrior and that her gender has nothing to do with her survival. If the Slasher film degrades women, then how is it possible that a woman saves the day? She is the woman we all want to be, she is resilient and courageous – she won’t let anyone save her but herself. Women in horror movies have been around long before the new Wonder Woman, and they’ve been saving the day for decades.
Another way women shine in horror is screen time. Within Slasher films, and horror in general, women are seen more frequently on the screen than other genres. Horror films have always been a force for change in how much time women are allowed to have on screen. Surely that’s positive? The women in horror films hold an equal amount of screen time as men, giving more equality than you see in most movies. The film industry is a fickle patriarchy, but horror is always on the woman’s side.
The second question always seemed so curious to me. I’m a young, educated woman (I have a Masters Degree in Film and Television) – why do we still think a persons passions are gender-orientated? I never cared whether a love of horror and gore made me less ‘feminine’ – and to be concerned about that perpetuates an understanding of femininity that I’d have no interest in fulfilling anyway. Growing up with an older brother hugely impacted my perspective of ‘femininity’. Boys fear being feminine – it has historically been equated with weakness, not being allowed to do anything dangerous and not being able to play rough. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to be weak – I wanted to do dangerous things and I wanted to be able to play rough. I wanted to create a ‘femininity’ that suited me, and when you think about it, The Final Girl archetype sounds like a pretty inspiring role model. We’re surely past the time when we genuinely think a persons gender has to dictate where their interests lie – to even ask the question seems archaic. A genre that gives us so many strong female characters be ‘unfeminine’ anyway sounds exactly like a genre women would be interested in.
Whenever someone tells me it isn’t very feminine to love Slasher films, ” I say “yeah – but it isn’t masculine either”. To me, a world where I can’t cuddle up on the sofa and re-watch Scream is real horror story.
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