I’m here to talk about the Stereotypical portrayal of Women in horror films. Since the horror genre is quite a broad category, I’ve decided to focus mainly on Slasher films, a subgenre of horror film.
Traditionally women are represented in horror films are blonde hypersexual damsels in distress with a seductive body language and strong make up being attacked by the killer because they have committed a sinful act. You may have noticed that the young girls that do get killed, in these films are those that have scenes showing them indulge in sex, drugs and alcohol, activities deemed inappropriate by society. The lone survivor is the dark haired Good girl with little or no make up that has been clean and a virgin throughout the film.
The slasher film typically involves a killer who stalks and graphically murders a series of victims in a typically random, unprovoked fashion. The victims are usually teenagers or young adults who are away from mainstream civilization or far away from help.
Women in these films are traditionally represented as the victims and men represented as the monster and hero. This was how women used to be treated before women had equal rights to men; so that was how they were portrayed in horror films. The book “Men, Women and Chainsaws” by Carol J Clover supports this. In her book she says, “The functions of monster and hero are far more frequently represented by males and the function of the victim far more garishly by females. The fact that female monsters and female heroes, when they do appear are masculine in dress and behavior and often in name.
This extract explains the typical representation of men and women in horror films and the roles they have; that men are the heroes and killers and that women are the victims and only the hero or killer if they show masculine attributes. This is supported in the movie “Scream”, released in 1996, by having strong female roles whom when are not damsels in distress are out fighting to find the killer, in a previously male role. When Gale rescues Sidney she is wearing a rather masculine looking leather trench coat and it stands very dominantly. This is an example of a woman in a male hero role.
The masculinity is usually a sign of competence or strength, rather than anything related to gender or sexual preference. The female characters in these films can often be prone to many different social stereotypes throughout the film. These stereotypes often work to lead her towards her demise, but she ultimately resorts to masculine behaviors in order to survive in the end.
Associating a particular gender with certain attributes in Slasher films is also worth taking note of. According to Adam Rockoff, “With a few exceptions, the killer in slasher films is overtly asexual, aside from the brief bouts of voyeurism which tend to precede the murders, and his/her gender is left ambiguous” On the other hand, from the viewer‟s perspective, it is imperative that the killer be male, even though his identity is often unknown until the end of the film; therefore, throughout the film, it is up to the viewers to subjectively decide that the killer is male based on assumption of social norms and the perspective through which filmmakers tell the story.
Films associated with the horror genre have also been noted to objectify and sexualize women through the camera. As pointed out by Jackson Katz in Tough Guise, the violence inflicted upon girls in Slasher films is often sexualized. According to him, violent scenes are deliberately choreographed at points when young girls are either undressing, taking a shower, and appearing in low cuts and they are positioned in sexually provocative camera angels to arouse young males. The use of camera angels is an important factor because it has been considered by scholars to have a male gaze.
The image of the passive woman as raw material for the active gaze of man is something that is demanded by the ideology of the patriarchal order of society.
Laura Mulvey has pointed out that the cinematic gaze is not gender free but is structured by male or masculine perceptions. According to Mulvey, the camera has two way of looking at a woman, both of which organized around defending against her “castration” and both of which assume the gazer is a male: a sadistic-voyeuristic-look, where seeing the woman being punished is in focus and a fetishistic-scopophilic-look, where the focus is on fetishizing the female body.
Needless to say, horror movies spend a lot of time looking at women, and in-first person ways, a point, which is well described by Mulvey’s “sadistic-voyeuristic-gaze.
However now with the influence of feminism and modern ideologies women in reality are more successful therefore the representation of women has changed in horror films to intelligent women who try to figure out who the killer is and stop them such as Gail and Sidney rather then be overwhelmed with fear and get killed as they stereotypically were before. Feminism has also influenced the change in ideology of the representation of women. This is supported by the book “Image and Representation” by Nick Lacey which says “feminism is an example of an emergent ideology that forced the dominant ideology to adapt but not to change fundamentally”- page 104.
This suggests that feminism changed popular culture to think of women in more dominant roles and so their function in horror has changed. The realism of “Scream”; a psycho killer changes to the surreal in “The Ring”; a supernatural child killer. This suggests that psycho killers are being replaced with the supernatural killer and therefore the horror genre itself is changing. This is due to the influence of modern culture. Women were traditionally represented as the damsels in distress such as in “Psycho” who were being punished for their sins by men; this reflected our culture at the time. However with the influence of feminism and our new ideology of powerful women our modern culture no longer sees women as victims but as strong women in both hero and killer characters such as in “Jennifer’s Body”.
The horror genre itself is influenced by what our culture perceives as horrific; war, terrorism, global issues, political issues all affect what society fears. This has what has changed the horror genre and why women are represented now no longer as the victims but strong, powerful heroes and even killers because women seem to have more power in society as compared to the past.