The Horrors of Horror: How women are misrepresented in Hollywood Horror Films

Introduction:

Since the beginning of Hollywood film women have been misrepresented in all aspects and genres of the film industry. According to Variety Magazine in 2015, “Women comprised 13% of directors on the top 700 films, but just 7% on the top 250 films. They made up 13% of writers on the top 700 films, and 11% on the top 250 films. And 27% of producers on the top 700 films were female, while 23% on the top 250 films were female. And women accounted for 9% of cinematographers on the top 700 films, but 5% of cinematographers on the top 250 pictures. The number of female editors stayed consistent at 18% in both test samples.” As a female who wants to enter into the film industry as a director and producer this directly affects me and my plans for the future. These statistics show how misrepresented women are in the behind the scenes jobs in the film industry, but what about the actresses.

There is a much more equal ration of men to women in the acting community than in the production community, but the problem is how they are being represented in the films they act in. This can be seen in almost every hour movie you can think of. Women are highly misrepresented in horror films as several different tropes such as the damsel in distress, the demon seductress/demon host, and the saved virgin.

Horror films:

People all across the world love horror films and people all across the world hate horror films. Horror films only appeal to those who aren’t faint hearted, due to the disgust, suspense, or anxiety that these films can cause people to feel. Regardless of the people who don’t like horror films, there are millions of people who love them. And women play a huge role in the horror industry, so much so that the month of February has been declared Women in Horror Month. “Which is dedicated to recognizing women in the horror film industry. As with all film, women behind- and on-screen are woefully under-represented. This is probably because, according to a recent report, women are less likely to work in the action, horror, and sci-fi genres” (Frelang). Women are less likely, but name for me a horror film that doesn’t include a female actress or that has the connotation that women are somehow involved (typically as the reason for the issue). To me the issue isn’t the number of women working as actresses in the horror film industry, to me the issue is how those women are represented. 

Types of Women in Horror:

When you watch a movie like Psycho for example the women are the victims of Norman Bates, but even if none of the female victims appeared in the film we still know that his mother was one of the reasons he developed into a killer. Women can play several different types of people in horror films and that’s what I plan on discussing in this post.

The Damsel in Distress:

The most recognizable misrepresentation of women in horror films is the damsel in distress. The damsel in distress character portrays women as weak and inferior to men, in the aspects of intelligence and strength. This character portrays women as these objects that are owned, wanted, and in need of rescuing. For example, in all three movies of the Scream franchise the main character Sidney is the damsel in distress. She is in constant state of panic and fear and is always saved or assisted at the end of the film by someone, typically by a man. 

The Evil Demon Seductress or Demon Host

The Evil Demon Seductress can be see in an endless amount of films and TV shows. Typically this is a woman who becomes possessed by a demon and uses her new found confidence and sexuality to get what she wants or it can be woman who is temporarily convinced to do bad things. Then comes the demon host, who is a woman that has become pregnant with a “demonic” entity or has one embedded deep in her subconscious. Both types can be seen in the popular TV show American Horror Story (AHS). In each season of AHS women are portrayed as either one or both of these characters. In season one, the mother becomes pregnant with the antichrist, season two, one of the nuns becomes possessed by a demon, season three showcases a clan of witches who sometimes do awful things due to fits of rage or convincing from outside sources, season five showcases a strong female vampire like creature, and season six has both a demonic woman who can control the minds of others and woman who get possessed by her. The only season that doesn’t showcase theses identities is season four, becauses it doesn’t deal as much into the supernatural.

The Saved Virgin:

In a majority of slasher films, you can see the layout of the types of people in the film. Such as the athlete, the sexual being, the fool, the intellectual, and the virgin. These characters typically die in this order or in a close version of this order, but the virgin normally survives. This can be seen countless times in films such as Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street. What do these films have in common? They are all slasher movies, that have a male killer that finds the female virgin to be to innocent for them to kill. One of my favorite representations of this type of character and kill list is the film Cabin in the Woods, released in 2011. This film makes fun of the idea of a kill list and even the idea of the “virgin” in slasher films. Cabin in the Woods uses this idiotic way of identifying characters to make a sort of satire horror film that still succeeds at scaring its viewers.

Combination of types;

Even though it is easy to identify the women in films that play these specific roles, the reality is that most women in films can play multiple of these roles if not all of them. “Horror films, and the slasher subgenre, are famous for portraying women as hypersexual damsels in distress who are usually murdered within the first five minutes as punishment for their indiscretions…”(Guenther). This quote is just one example that shows that women can play multiple of these types. An example of the women this quote is describing is the Sexual character in Cabin in the Woods, because she is seen at the beginning of the film as being a very sexual character but when it come to her kill scene, which is the first, she is seen as both the sexual character because she is nude and the damsel in distress because she needs her boyfriend to save her. 

Conclusion:

Women are highly misrepresented in the horror film industry. Some arguments to why include that showcasing women as these types of characters allows men to see them in this light, especially the demonic seductress and victim role. Due to the fact that men can look at the women playing the seductress, acknowledge her looks, but still hate her in the end. Then when it comes to the victim role this allows men to see women as incapable of helping themselves. “Horror film is far more victim-identified than the standard view would have it,” the camera often tracking what is structurally (and usually literally) a female perspective and inviting the male spectator to inhabit that perspective…this experience might indeed be pleasurable for the male spectator, raising questions about film theory’s conventional assumption that the cinematic apparatus is organized around the experience of a mastering, voyeuristic gaze” (Hurley).  This quote came from a Women’s Studies journal and is saying that by putting women in these roles it feeds the stereotypes and allows the Voyeuristic gaze to continue on in cinema. 

Learning Moment:

While in this class I have learned a lot about myself personally. Having to do this blog post that relates to one of my identities helped me narrow down the aspects of the female filmmaker identity I can relate closest with. I have come to realize that I am very interested in working in the horror genre of film and that when I get to that point in my life I would like to switch up what is considered normal in the horror film industry. When I make horror films I want the female actresses to represent how women actually are, not the stereotypes that society places on us.

Sources:

Hurley, Kelly. “Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, by Clover, Carol J.” Women’s Studies: an Interdisciplinary Journal 45.8 (2016): 805-08. PSU Library. Web.

“Women’s roles in horror films.” UWIRE Text, 4 Nov. 2013, p. 1. Educators Reference Complete, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=PROF&sw=w&u=s1185784&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA348073372&it=r&asid=35e3e43f06aa112b832d968f0ab874fb. 

Freleng, Maggie. “Pretty Bloody: Women and Stereotypes in Horror Movies.” VitaminW. N.p., 20 Feb. 2014. Web.

Lang, Brent. “Women Comprise 7% of Directors on Top 250 Films (Study).” Variety. N.p., 27 Oct. 2015. Web.

The Cabin in the Woods. Dir. Drew Goddard. Perf. Kirstin Connelly and Fran Kranz. The Cabin in the Woods. N.p., n.d.

Scream. Dir. Wes Craven. Perf. Neve Campbell. Scream. N.p., n.d. 

American Horror Story. By Ryan Murphy. Perf. Evan Peters and Sarah Paulson. American Horror Story. N.p., n.d.

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2 thoughts on “The Horrors of Horror: How women are misrepresented in Hollywood Horror Films

  1. Hi Casey, I enjoyed your essay because you broke down the different stereotypes. I would say that there are boundaries that are being broken the more and more that we talk about these representations. I am in the film program and see so many students using the woman body as their thoughts and projection.

  2. Hi Casey,

    Great blog post! I think that the issue of both portrayals of women in film as well as the lack of women in the film industry is a really important topic to discuss. A common theme that I have noticed about poor media representation is that it often corresponds to white, male identified filmmakers. It is hard to create media that doesn’t further oppress groups of people when those doing the creating are part of the dominant group.

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