Women in Horror: Hell is a Teenage Girl
By: Souknara Sidara
You may think horror views women in a more voyeuristic way, showing the main female characters being brutally murdered, tortured, and stalked in the most graphic and explicit way possible, but horror defies that judgment. The horror genre shows women as complex characters, unlike other genres in film and literature. Femininity and horror go hand in hand, revealing humankind's complexity; the ugly and the beautiful.
Victim and villain; why can’t girls be both? Girls feel connected to horror as it deals with topics concerning sexual assault, aging, puberty, motherhood, sisterhood, mental illness, etc. Female slashers fight back at these topics, screaming, killing, or slipping into a delusion that makes the viewer empowered and say, "good for her." We see this in many films, such as Ginger Snaps, Jennifer’s Body, Raw, The Witch, Carrie, Gone Girl, The Love Witch, Pearl, Last Night in Soho, Perfect Blue, and on and on and on.
In the 1976 film Carrie, Carrie, a 16-year-old girl, played by the iconic Sissy Spacek, becomes the villain, but only by being a victim. She became a woman in an unkind and unjust world. The blood on her hands was not only hers but others' who contributed to the cruelty she faced and unleashed the monstrous feminine inside of her.
The 2000s film, Ginger Snaps, also deals with the monstrous feminine as Ginger, a 16-year-old girl, played by Katharine Isabelle, gets her first period and is bitten by a werewolf on the same night, causing her to slowly transform into a werewolf. She ‘awakens’ to what was always there, where her sexuality is compared to the nightmare of a ferocious bloodthirsty monster. Her whole body undergoes changes that she didn’t ask for or want. Ginger’s transformation is scary, horrible, confusing, liberating, and sad.
The horror genre kills off the one-dimensional manic pixie girl and replaces it with the final girl trope. The final girl, who started off as an overly sexist trope, has now grown into a preeminently complex woman who faces her traumas and confronts the killer or monster, who is commonly portrayed as a man. Although women can be seen as decorative in the horror genre, they’re extremely important to the plot. The audience sympathizes with the final girl; she’s the one left in anguish at the end, the one who ends it all. She makes us feel the same terror she feels. Some of my favorite final girls are Sidney Prescott (Scream), Maxine Minx (X), Laurie Strode (Halloween), and Wendy Torrance (The Shining). There are so many iconic final girls in the horror genre, it has become a staple for slasher flicks to have one.
For me, the horror genre is something that I connect to my existence, because, without horror in life, who would we be? I can see parts of myself when I look at the women on the screen. The screaming, the crying, being so raw and ugly (a side that not many people see). Horror is engrossed with the feminine experience and uses blood and guts to illustrate the actuality of what it is to be a woman. The fact is that femininity is not all rainbows, sunshine, friendship, and happiness. Stories about broken family relationships, especially mother and daughter, girlhood, coming of age stories, sexuality, and revenge stories, are able to actually speak about the impact of the patriarchal system on women. I mean, come on, Mary Shelly’s book Frankenstein basically introduced the science fiction/horror genre to the world and critiqued masculinity while doing it.
In the future of horror, I hope to see all women represented as the genre grows more diverse and open to all. More women of color and trans women, along with the stories they hope to tell the world. The more inclusive storytelling can be, the more engaged the audience will be. I will be waiting for the day we see an Asian finalist on the big screen. But now, I will continue to appreciate and love the stories of complex female characters that horror gives us.
(1) Dazed Digital