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Representation of Women in Horror Essay

Since the inventions of television and film, media influences have become extremely important in modern society with people constantly being inundated by images and messages that come from film, television, magazines, internet and advertising. Researchers and theorists such as Carol J. Clover and Jean Kilborne believe that the fact that people are going to be affected by the media is absolutely unavoidable. Films can act as guides to how people, particularly women, should act and look.

Women in horror are typically shown as the ‘damsel in distress’ and are usually attacked by the killer after committing a sinful act like having sex or misusing drugs or alcohol. The females are usually very attractive, slim and quite often blonde. These characteristics are usually reinforced by seductive body language, heavy make-up and vulnerability giving the message that women are unable to take care of themselves and have to look a certain way to fit into society.

Many directors have tried to change the messages in horror films my introducing the ‘Final Girl’ where it is a female who is a virgin and does not do drugs or consume alcohol that fights back and becomes the ‘hero’ rather than a male, giving the unrealistic message that if people don’t do wrong, nothing bad will ever happen to them but horror films are notorious for presenting women in a particular way, often making them victims of sexualisation.

The representation of women not only influences the way that females think they have to be or the way males think that women should be but they also have a great impact on the values in society. Sexualisation in the representation of women is predominantly obvious in horror films, specifically Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Rosemary’s Baby, directed by Roman Polanski and Scream, directed by Wes Craven. All three movies display sexualisation using gender stereotyping, victimisation and the male gaze.

Scream is known to be extremely unrealistic, being on a more imaginary level rather than a realistic one and is full of violence and sexuality while reinforcing the cultural and social values at the time of its release in 1996. It focuses on the issues of power, danger, sex and anger in females of
the 1990s. It is important for adults to understand these issues in teenage girl’s lives although the ways they are presented in Scream make them seem far more disturbing than they actually are. Just like popular culture, Scream has used ideas influenced by other films but in attempt to capture and address different audiences, the messages are presented in different ways.

The plot of the original Scream movie is similar to many modern day teenage films, set in American suburbia with white, affluent homes and a quiet community, which is ‘preyed on’ by a masked serial killer. The film begins with the stalking a brutal killing of a blonde teenage girl who is home alone and, ironically, about to watch a horror movie.

After her murder, the focus moves to Sidney, who becomes the next target. A year prior, Sidney’s mother was found raped and murdered and on this particular weekend Sidney is home alone, as her father has gone away on business. As a result of her grief for her mother’s death, she constantly resists the recurring pressure for sex from her boyfriend who she has been dating for two years. In the meantime, news reporter Gale Weathers obsesses over the story of the recent murders.

The subsequent events lead to a party during which Sidney decides to have sex with her boyfriend, Billy as the murderer gets most of the boys out of the house by calling to say that their principal has been killed and is hanging from a goal post at the school. Following the gruesome battle, an injured and bloody Sidney realises that Billy and his friend Stu have been working hand-in-hand as the killer, ‘Ghost Face”. Billy claims that his motive for killing her mother was that her mother was sleeping with his father and consequently, his mother left them. With assistance from Gale and Randy, Sydney kills Billy.

Scream’s most dominant issues that are raised are common issues in the lives of teenage girls; sexuality and virginity, femininity and its connection to power and identity as it is shaped and influenced by the media, experiences and relationships, particularly a girl’s relationship with her mother and in this case, the death of her mother.

Director Wes Craven confronts all of these issues and solves them in powerful ways which encourage girls to defend themselves by being assertive and finding their identity in their own way and in their own time. Scream’s main focuses are sexuality and virginity and how they have an impact on anxiety in young women and have an effect on the reputation on the girl –“your mother was a slut bag,” Sidney is told.


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