Misogyny in horror films  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Misogyny in horror films is the degrading representation of women who fight to survive in a male hierarchical world within the horror genre. Specifically in slasher films, misogyny is evident. There is an obvious sign of gendered specific violence towards women as well as "the proportion of time spent watching young women cower, scream, or run in terror" compared to male counterparts. Males are almost never seen running away from the assailant, instead they are killed quickly with no chase involved.

Contents

Genres

Mark Edmundson believes that we live in a world that is constructed as a terrifying nightmare and that horror films represent this gothic tradition we are surrounded by. The horror films we watch everyday are a supposed way of adverting evil influences that have always been inside of us. We consist of contemporary gothic fears, as do horror films. Edmundson sees the world “as an evil, randomly violent, godless universe” and “gothic horror functions in psychologically and culturally significant ways.”

Slasher films

According to J.B Weaver III, slasher films do not predominantly victimize women like many individuals believe. However, the fact is both women and men who have been sexually involved in the slasher genre are destined for death. Even though Weaver’s research is unable to pin point whether women are or aren’t the gender who is dominantly killed in an explicitly sexual way, he shows small ways it can be seen. The research done by Donnerstein and Penrod allowed them to believe that the violence occurring in slasher films “is overwhelmingly directed at women”. Slasher films are primarily sexually violent films that consist of "scenes of explicit violence primarily directed toward women, often occurring during or juxtaposed to mildly erotic scenes".

Teen slasher films

Teen Slasher films consist of teen-aged protagonists that are seen to integrate and portray the stereotypical American family. Films such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Carrie (1976), allow us to see the relationship between society and horror films. Pat Gill states that, “teen slasher films both resolutely mock and yearn for the middle-class American dream, the promised comfort and contentment of a loving, supportive bourgeois family.” In these films we see a uselessness of parents and their inability to help their children when they are in dire need of help. Psychologists have taken a deeper look into the reasons we see this in our society. They have come to a conclusion that there has been an “ethical shift in the meaning and value of family responsibility”. This change comes from the obligation to others towards the obligation of ones self. In today’s society divorce is seen to be the main reason for this shift and horror films tend to portray what they see going on in society. This is why teenagers in horror films are left to fend for themselves and the boundaries of their homes are “entirely permeable to evil”.

Torture films

The torture we see in the torture horror genre can be seen in contemporary U.S. discourses. The methods of torturing in these films can be adapted from how we think about terrorism and terrorists. After the War on Terror, the film industry was having trouble distinguishing between the characters of “torturer, victim, villain, and hero.” Writers and directors of horror films were having difficulty allowing their torturers and villains survive after doing such heinous acts. Mashia Wester looks at films such as The Descent, Saw, and High Tension to see how these films show “average Americans both as tortured victim and torturing hero.” The heroes within these torture films do not actively torture but contribute to their own and others’ suffering.

Eli Roth, the creator of the Hostel films, taps into an “undercurrent of anxiety about the place of gendered bodies in relation to torture as well as the connection between gender equality, torture, global capitalist venture, and the passive American consumer.” In Maisha Wester’s states in her article, Torture Porn And Uneasy Feminisms: Re-Thinking (Wo)Men in Eli Roth’s Hostel Films, that the popularity of the Hostel films makes the questioning of gendered dominance be “both elusive and inescapable in the face of capitalism since, within such a system, we are all commodifiable and consuming bodies.”

Gender

The misogynistic treatment of women in horror films can be associated with the fear of the abject. Julia Kristeva explains the abject to be “something rejected from which one does not part, from which one does not protect oneself as from an object. Imaginary uncanniness and real threat, it beckons to us and ends up engulfing us.” Kristeva is stating that we are horrified by the abject because “it is something that disgusts us, yet comes from us or from which we come.” We are brought up being taught what we should see with disgust; therefore we must conceal it in shame. Horror films use the female body as a form of an abject. The bodily fluid, blood, gets related to the period and birthing only the female body can perform. This then constitutes motherhood as something society is taught to be disgusted with feeding into this patriarchal world.

In the article, Monster Pains: Masochism, Menstruation, and Identification in the Horror Film by Aviva Briefel, she states that there are two identifications of gendered modes for monstrous suffering: masochism and menstruation. Masochism is central to the identification of male monsters “who initiate their sadistic rampages with acts of self-mutilation.” However, if we look at the female monster we will see that she does not commit acts of self-mutilation out of pleasure but instead “commit acts of violence out of revenge for earlier abuse by parents, partners, rapists, and other offenders.” Female monsters will engage in masochistic acts when she is coerced or is trying to terminate her monstrosity. Briefel shows examples of these certain masochistic acts by female monsters with films like Carrie (1976), The Exorcist (1973), Stigmata (1999), The Hunger (1983), and Alien 3 (1992).

Final girl

The slasher film was the first genre that allowed gender norms to take a different path. The role of the final girl confused audiences with the portrayal of a female being a violent hero. However, there was finally a possibility that the heroine who defeats the monster is a female and is categorized as the final girl. The final girl is the “first character to sense something amiss and the only one to deduce from the accumulating evidence the pattern and extent of threat; the only one, in other words, whose perspective approaches our own privileged understanding of the situation.” The only way the final girl is able to kill or escape the monster is by taking on male characteristics. However, Clover cautions audiences against seeing "final girls" as products of feminism. Final girls are still seen like the other women who have been killed after taking part in sexual activities by being a part of "the chase". Clover concludes that the final girl is “an agreed upon fiction [for] male-viewers’ use of her as a vehicle for his own sadomasochistic fantasies.”

Monster

Carol Clover states that the monster in horror films possesses emasculated rage that portrays the male idea of the monstrous female identity. Wester states that the hero and the monster have blurred lines making their characteristics very similar. Both the hero and the monster are dependent on the female body whilst taking part of the patriarchal world and degrading women. The monsters in horror films try to hide their sexual frustration by masking their identity and human self. The mask allows the monster to kill and release the tension from his sexual repression.


The female monster

Shelley Stamp Lindsey states “Carrie is not about liberation from sexual repression, but about the failure of repression to contain the monstrous feminine”. We are not supposed to identify with Carrie whilst she becomes the monster, instead we are suppose to be scared of her destruction and ability. Carrie is purposely being seen in this manner because she allowing us to see what happens when women gain power and are no longer repressed. Carrie is ultimately telling its audience that we must live as a patriarchal world and if we don't then this is what will come of it.

Aviva Briefel states that menstruation is the start of monstrosity. Once a girl has reached her puberty she is seen to be monstrous. Horror films feed into the female monsters identity through her menstruation. This then states that having your period makes you weaker. The overall objective in Briefel’s article, Monster Pains: Masochism, Menstruation, and Identification in the Horror Film, is that the female monster is unable to control their emotions when pain occurs whereas male monsters are unable to feel pain.

The repressive patriarch

In every horror film the repressive patriarchal form of a monster is either “symbolically castrated, pathetically lacking…or he is overly endowed and potent.” The real sexual interest that occurs in horror films comes from the monster. “The monster’s power is one of sexual difference from the normal male. In this difference he is remarkably like the woman in the eyes of the traumatized male: a biological freak with impossible and threatening appetites that suggest a frightening potency precisely where the normal male would perceive a lack.”

Men only stay on the screen long enough to show their incompetence, unless they are seen to be a true form of patriarchy. The repressive patriarch is often dressed as a female and because he does not exemplify patriarchy at its finest, the final girl is his “homoerotic stand-in”.

The “masochistic monster” revels in acts of self-mutilation before the audience sees the harming of others being done. Briefel looks at films like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), The Fly (1986), Hellraiser series, Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991). All these horror films show examples of masochistic monster’s that take pleasure in the pain they inflict on themselves. It is something they must endure to be monstrous.

Sexuality

The horror film is the only form of media that portrays female sexuality as bad.Template:Citation needed It shows that once a woman acts in a lustful way she will be killed. The American fantasy of women continuously being sexualized is completely taken away in horror films. Once a woman is related to sex, her sexuality is punished. Klaus Reiser argues, “It is not so much the girls’ sexuality per se…but the fact that they have sex with other boys”. Sex is considered to be a masculine trait because it is a form of power over someone, and if a woman tries to take control of this power she will instantly be punished for trying. Her sexual freedom is not within gender-norms and the patriarchal society does not accept it. Only “male domination is natural and follows inevitable from evolutionary…or social pressures”.

The chase

The chase consists of a sexualized and degraded woman running for her life as an assailant hunts her down and kills her, unless she is termed the "final girl". Female victims in slasher films are shown to be in a state of fear five times as long as males, specifically occurring during "the chase".

Phallic weapons

The phallic weapons assume the characteristics of a masculine male when in the hands of the monster, male hero, or final girl. Once the final girl is given the chance of killing or injuring the monster she can only be successful with a phallic weapon.

Audience

The audience first identifies with the monster until there is a shift in point-of-view camera narration, and allows identification with the final girl once the monster is after her. The audience relates only with masculinity and is disdained by femininity. Horror films resemble a mirrored object. They gaze back at the audiences' who are unsuccessful in hiding their own sexual desires.

Aviva Briefel believes that pain is central to the audiences understanding of horror films. It is “the monster’s pain that determines audience positioning in the horror film.” "By gendering the monster’s pain, the horror genre prevents the audience from losing control of its own."

Male

Scholars such as Mulvey, Clover, and Creed have argued that we live in patriarchal society. Men dictate the rules and women have to abide by them. Clover looks at the notion that men might “elect to betray their sex and identify with screen females.” In slasher films, male characters are often killed quickly and easily leaving the audience to resonate with the strong female character left to kill the monster. Clover seeks to suggest that masochistic impulses is seen within the male spectator who finds a “vicarious stake in” the “fear and pain” the final girl endures by the monster’s torturous actions.

The male gaze

The “Male Gaze” is a term that has been coined by Laura Mulvey in her written essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”. The male gaze is seen from the audiences’ perspective, specifically the perspective of a heterosexual man. Women are looked upon in sexualized ways, degrading them of their humanity. Mulvey states that because women are being looked at through the male gaze in the media, women themselves tend to take on this male perspective. Women are only on screen to erotically please the men within the narrative and the spectator.

Female

Linda Williams suggests that it is supposedly honorable for males to gaze upon terror being shown on a movie screen whilst females hide away purposely hiding from the images on the screen. She also suggests, women have every right to feel as if they do not belong since they are the ones powerless “in the face of rape, mutilation and murder”. As Laura Mulvey argues, “she exists only to be looked at.” When female audiences’ gaze upon the screen and when the women on screen are involved in the gaze, they are seeing “a distorted reflection of” their own image. “The monster is thus a particularly insidious form of the many mirrors patriarchal structure of seeing hold up to the woman.” Linda William believes that the woman’s gaze is “so threatening to male power, it is violently punished.”

The female gaze

Mary Ann Doane suggests that a woman can only actively participate in the gaze when it is “simultaneous with her own victimization.” The woman’s gaze is turned into “masochistic fantasy”. As soon as the woman feels as if she has some form of power and tries to act on it, she is punished for trying. In Linda Williams essay, “When The Woman Looks”, she analyzes the deeper meaning into the terrified gaze a woman encounters when looking at “the horrible body of the monster.” In that very moment when the monster and the woman are gazing upon another, there is recognition of “similar status within patriarchal structures of seeing.” What the woman gazes at in horror is always first seen by the audience and then seconds later by the woman on screen. It “ensures the voyeur’s pleasure of looking” and punishes the woman by “the horror that her look reveals”. The monster and woman’s gaze are seen to be similar. There is not “much difference between an object of desire and an object of horror as far as the male look is concerned.” Williams is stating that it isn’t an expression of sexual desire that is formed between the monster and the girl but instead “a flash of sympathetic identification.”

See also





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