Category Archives: gender

Women in Horror Month

Enter, you. You’re a writer. You’re a horror writer. You’re a woman.

***

You go to see a new horror movie. It is filled with young ladies in peril, and then in various states of undress (still in peril), and then in various states of dissection (still in undress). The camera fawns over their destroyed bodies. The one who entered the movie broken gets to live. It’s the reward for her suffering. You come home disappointed. “Well, I could have told you it was going to be like that,” your male roommate says. “If there’s a half-naked girl in the trailer, you know the movie’s going to be rapey.”

***

You are an ambassador of your gender, so you better be good: in your writing, in your attitude, in your openness to overture. Someone generous is taking a chance on you, so don’t disappoint, or you’re the last lady horror writer they will ever try. Don’t scare them off.

***

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Women in Horror month comes around and everybody’s a statistician. Editors lay bare their numbers, and many outlets’ submission data does show that women submit fiction less than men, a fact duly blamed on the female writers for not submitting enough. Not being brave. Of course, you as a woman have never applied for a job for which you feel underqualified, and you have never negotiated a raise. In your current workplace, you don’t engage in as much self-promotion as your male peers. This isn’t just because you’re trying to be nice. You know that a good girl follows the rules and waits her turn and doesn’t push her luck, or herself, onto others. After all, you wouldn’t want to come across as too abrasive. You also notice that some of these outlets only ever seem to publish men, so no wonder you wouldn’t have submitted there. You know when you’re not wanted.

***

You write a story that includes some discussion of gender issues. You worry you’re overdoing it. You worry you’re going to be labeled as a writer with a political agenda, mostly because you are a woman writing about gender. If you were a man, you would be writing a story. But you are a woman and you are writing a polemic. You do it anyway.

***

You are invited to an anthology. You hope it is not just because you are a woman, or because you are young, or because you are (half) a minority. But even if it is, oh well. You believe the editors are trying to do the right thing.

***

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Women in Horror Month is here and it’s a giant popularity contest, even more than writing already is: let’s-name-all-the-female-horror-writers-we-can-possibly-name! You don’t look at the lists, because you know you’re still not on them, and that worm of self-doubt that lives inside your brain doesn’t need any more to chew on (why do you even try?), thank you. Then you feel bad and jealous, and bad because you feel jealous. You re-read the manifesto, “In Which We Teach You How To Be A Woman In Any Boys’ Club,” and remember that progress for one is progress for all. Besides, you feel shitty about promoting yourself anyway – how dare you, who the fuck are you? Then you feel shitty about not promoting yourself – you’re a dumb ass and you deserve everything you get.

***

You go to see another new horror movie, a sequel to one of your all-time favorites. You anticipate that it will be terrible, and it is. It has also introduced a brand new rape-and-captivity subplot to explain the origin of all the evil. It’s our punishment for her suffering. The fact that this movie was made is punishment enough. You wonder what it is with blind old recluses and rape these days. The young female lead rests on her side in bed, her breasts lovingly pressed together by her tight white camisole.

***

When you were young, you couldn’t count any women among your favorite writers. You can’t understand any of the female characters you read as humans, let alone as women. The boys in your American Literature class chortle about them, about how their male creators defined them solely by their “easy” sexuality. Your favorite writer in high school admitted that he never writes female characters, because he knows he would be bad at it. He’s kind of right. But you are also bad at it, and you are a girl! Your best friend, another girl, tells you after reading your novel draft, “Either you have a serious problem with women, or do.” And you know it’s you. You were raised on classical British literature and you love big heroic adventure arcs (like paladins, more paladins please) and what’s more, you hate yourself. Then you read The Bell Jar, and that changes everything. Then you read The Haunting of Hill House, and that changes everything again.

***

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Congratulations – you have helped fill an anthology’s diversity quota. Collect $200. You hope your story doesn’t convince somebody never to read another lady horror writer.

***

You and your roommate have seen a lot of horror movies: bad ones, good ones, so-bad-they’re-good ones. You have also noticed that you have never seen male rape depicted in a straight-up genre horror movie. “That would be the worst thing,” your roommate says, shuddering. “As a guy? That would be the most terrifying thing to watch.” You reply, flatly, “Yeah, well, that’s how it is for women, all the time. And we just have to deal. We just have to get used to it.” On-screen, some anonymous woman is crying and afraid.

***

An anthology you are in is accused of reverse discrimination because it is populated solely by female writers. It is accused of having a political agenda (because reinforcing the status quo is never political; only disrupting it): promoting shoddy women over competent men. Other people launch defenses: you have to over-correct to break structural inequality; many anthologies are essentially male-only because no female writers were chosen or submitted to be chosen; it’s important for our society to make sure marginalized voices are heard and the male voice permeates SF/F/H as it is. Meanwhile, you are hit with a soft psychosomatic blow to the stomach. Oh no. What if you are actually shit?

***

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You attend a Superbowl watch party with about 50 other people. When they air the trailer for the next season of Stranger Things, everyone cheers loudly. You are much more subdued. Your coworker leans over and confesses he has yet to watch this show. You say, “Yeah, it’s good. I’m not as enthusiastic about it as most of these guys, because…” “Because you’re a writer,” he guesses. “…Because I didn’t like how it treated its female characters,” you finish. “Like I said,” he says, laughing. “Because you’re a writer.”

 ***

You are lucky. You were supported, by both men and women with more clout and experience and influence and power than you. You try to believe in yourself enough to trust that this support had nothing to do with quotas, nothing to do with anything except your writing. You believe, as good girls always do, that SF/F/H is generally meritocratic – certainly more so than your day job, anyway.

 ***

You have been published since you were 21, and you still feel like an interloper who wouldn’t fit in and wouldn’t have anything intelligent to say. So you are still, mostly, quiet. You find it amazing how confident men are in talking about their work (young men, old men, much-younger-than-you men), how confident they are in talking to older and more established writers, how easy it must be for them to see themselves in their idols. How nice it must be, you think, to feel like the place at the table is already set for you.

 ***

It’s Women in Horror Month, and you read some article asking Where Are All the Women, Are They Just Not Writing?  And you slowly bash your head against the wall.

 ***

Movies Pictured: It Follows; Under The Shadow; The Witch; Darling

Soundtrack: “Sick” – Salem

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Damaged People

Today I want to talk about some differences I have seen between TV shows created by women and TV shows created by men. I’m going to be using the example of Stranger Things and The OA. 

Major Spoilers Follow, for more than just these two shows.

Both of these shows involve a group of boys in a quiet suburb who get involved with a newly-arrived girl/woman with mysterious origins and apparently supernatural capabilities. She is a Stranger From Afar who shakes up their lives and demands incredible suspension of disbelief. She has been abused by an older man who wanted to push her abilities to their full potential, and harness them for himself. Ultimately, she sacrifices herself and in the process returns the boys to their normal lives, albeit forever changed.

There are also major differences: The OA is an “older” show, with a female lead in her late twenties and a teenaged group of boys; Stranger Things is anchored by children. The OA is also much more ambiguous in its supernatural phenomena. Stranger Things has a much more defined and traditional narrative arc than The OA, which I suspect is part of the reason it’s been much better received (I too struggled with that finale).

But this is the difference I want to focus on:

  • Stranger Things was created and directed by two men (the Duffer Brothers). It had one apparent lead executive producer, a man, and eight executive producers in total, seven of whom were men. It also employed two male editors.
  • While The OA was also directed by a man, one of its two creators was a woman (Brit Marling, also the star). It was also produced by two women (two out of two), had six executive producers (three of which were women), and four editors, three of which were men.

All other differences aside, this difference significantly impacted how well I was able to connect with each show, because The OA had the following things:

A Complex, Central Female Lead

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Stranger Things is much less about Eleven than it is about the boys she befriends. They are the heart of the story; the camera views the whole world from the point of view of these 12-year-old boys; rescuing one of their own is at the heart of the story, and it is for his rescue that Eleven ultimately sacrifices herself. Likely because of this vantage point, Eleven is a cipher, pretty much a blank except for her powers. Apparently good-hearted and wanting to adopt oddly old-fashioned, baby-doll symbols of femininity, but that’s about it – that’s all the boys can discern.

The OA is about OA/Prairie/Nina; her saga is the saga. She is altruistic, self-righteous, judgmental, loving, and selfish all at once, like all new religion messiahs. She fucks up on the regular; she is myopic in her pursuit of her father; she shows some real slivers of cold-heartedness, particularly toward her adopted parents. She craves the approval of older men to replace the father she’s lost, only to fall in love with a man her own age who renders her more vulnerable and compassionate but still myopic. She believes in her own grandeur, unabashedly. She also believes that she is doing good in the world, even despite evidence to the contrary, causing her to frequently bulldoze over dissent and to demand blind faith – which ironically makes her rather similar to her captor/archenemy, Hap.

Visible “Invisible” Women

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The most widely-voiced criticism of Stranger Things – which I shared from the get-go – was the show’s treatment of the women that are invisible/non-entities to 12-year-old boys. Ugly duckling teen Barb is unceremoniously killed and mourned by next to no-one while the entire cast of characters is torn apart by the death of 12-year-old Will. This makes more sense when set against the blank mystery of Eleven, Nancy’s depiction as the coveted prize in a social battle between Jonathan and Steve, and Joyce’s sole defining characteristic as a well-meaning but histrionic mother.

More than anything else, this element is what will kill a male-created show for me, partly because it is so easy to overcome, and partly because it is so unhelpful. No one questions that boys in middle school wouldn’t care about someone like Barb – but why does the show’s God (i.e. its creator) take His cue from them? Besides, plenty of men can and do create very convincing and fully-realized “invisible” women – David Lynch (Twin Peaks), Tom Fontana (Oz), Charlie Brooker (Black Mirror).

The OA, meanwhile, actually humanizes its Barb, frumpy teacher Betty Broderick-Allen. It would have been plaintively easy to turn “BBA” into a nagging shrew who tries to sabotage the plot. Instead she is not only an integral part of the boy group but a character with her own struggles who is called upon to save others, sticks her nose where it doesn’t belong, and has twice the pluck and courage of any of the boys. Even more remarkable to me was the bit character Joanne, the angry, disobedient tomboy who Steve takes a liking to. Despite her prickly self-assuredness, Joanne knows she’s invisible, asking Steve after he kisses her if he’s going to dump pig’s blood on her at prom. “Not unless you think it’s hot,” Steve replies, in an interaction that warmed my subaltern-girl heart.

Sexual Violence as a Part of Life

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I have found that a lot of men struggle to write about sexual violence. They either depict a world that is weirdly sanitized from it, even while a huge amount of other violence is taking place, or linger obsessively over the gruesome details in a manner that can only suggest a fetish. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the former, it’s simply not reality – women know that, because women are usually on the receiving end of the threat; because women structure their whole daily lives around protecting themselves from men, whether walking through a dark parking lot or partying with friends. That’s why most shows created by women include sexual violence – not as a theme necessarily, but as a fact of life given the structure of society. Jessica Jones (Melissa Rosenberg), Orange is the New Black (Jenji Kohan), and Top of the Lake (Jane Campion, Gerard Lee) are some notable examples. I love The Fall (Allan Cubitt), but I think Gillian Anderson redeems what is otherwise a bit of a leering depiction of sexual murders; I love Halt and Catch Fire (Christopher Cantwell, Christopher C. Rogers), but it is shocking that its female leads in a sea of masculinity are seldom even sexually harassed, let alone threatened.

[I should point out that some men do a great job depicting sexual violence against men – The Leftovers (Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta) and Broadchurch (Chris Chibnall) deserve special call-out here – underlining my point that Empathy does wonders.]

There isn’t any rape in The OA but it is clearly a reality that is part of the equation, as when Scott assumes that Hap has been raping OA/Prairie/Nina when he takes her upstairs alone, or the girl at the restaurant talks about how inspiring it is that OA/Prairie/Nina looks so great after having been beaten and raped in captivity. When Hap drags her out of his vehicle and gets on top of her on the side of the road, saying he’ll leave her as he found her – broken and alone – my heart jumped into my throat. Stranger Things has no moments like these, even though there’s plenty of room for them. Eleven is neither sexualized nor ever seen to be in any sexual danger throughout her captivity; Nancy manages to join a rough new popular clique without even being pressured into sex, surely a one-in-a-million success story; Barb is unattractive and so never considered to be in sexual danger from monsters or teen boys; Joyce is the mom and thus devoid of any sexuality. Again, I suspect this is a by-product of adopting a 12-year-old boy’s worldview.

Good Guys That Hurt Women, Too

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The most interesting difference I’ve been able to identify between Stranger Things and The OA is The OA‘s willingness to depict its male heroes clearly hurting women they care about. Stranger Things paints a little too clear of a line between Good Guy Jonathan and Bad Guy Steve. Jonathan is nothing but worshipful of Nancy, and Steve is an utter slut-shaming asshole; the fact that Nancy picks Steve anyway furthers the great delusion that women simply prefer bad boys who treat them badly. None of the boys around Eleven ever does anything to hurt her; the slightest doubt of Eleven’s leadership by Lucas is promptly shut down by his friends and punished by Eleven in a manner that I found not only unrealistic but rather disappointing, as Lucas is the show’s only minority character and clear “token black guy” (but that’s a whole other discussion). Joyce’s ex-husband is an obvious douchebag; police chief Hopper is a tortured, inexplicably gentle alcoholic who never seems to take it out on the crazy woman convinced her dead son is alive.

This is a very tempting fantasy, for men and women alike, especially when confronted with the reality of the sexual violence above. There’s a prevailing preference in the Patriarchy to elevate “good men” who are chivalrous, respectful of women, as the paragons of virtue, to raise little boys to “never hit a woman,” as if there is something particularly breakable about a woman. But just as women transcend the [Attractive & Valuable] / [Ugly & Valueless] dichotomy, men transcend the [Heroic & Chivalrous] / [Villainous & Knavish] dichotomy – precisely because the Patriarchy encourages violence, physicality, sexual aggression, and the devaluation of women. This is of course not to say that hurting anybody should be excused; but a recognition that humans are flawed and subject to poisonous social constructs, and to be authentic in one’s creative choices is to acknowledge this.

And that’s why I love that Steve, the troubled heart-and-soul of the boy group, makes his entrance as a domineering bully who actually physically attacks OA/Prairie/Nina twice: encouraging his dog to literally maul her to death upon meeting her, then stabbing her with a pencil after he has become her friend. There are a lot of reasons for the pencil incident: anger that OA/Prairie/Nina is just using him to rescue the man she actually loves; anger over being abducted by a military boot camp on his parents’ instructions; anger that he has been clearly taught to deflect onto the weak and feminine; self-hate so deep that the only thing he can think of to do is destroy what he loves the most. Once again, Steve is one of the good guys despite all of this, and unquestionably the character that develops the most drastically over the course of the series, transforming from a violent bully to a non-violent leader. Steve is a victim of toxic masculinity, an example of the great truth: Patriarchy Hurts Everybody.

And that’s also why I love that Homer, truly practically angelic in his kindness, patience, and love of OA/Prairie/Nina, nonetheless cheats on her when presented the opportunity to have sex with someone else – and in the process unwillingly helps Hap (the very personification of the Patriarchy) abduct another woman. He’s not perfect; no one is. It doesn’t erase his basic virtue, although it was clearly Hap’s intent to use this to debase Homer as a subhuman “animal,” as Scott says. The sequence where OA/Prairie/Nina tells the boys about this incident is illustrative of the difference between Stranger Things and The OA in this regard. “How can Homer do it? How could he have done that to you?” French demands, full of righteous fury. “I would have never given in. He should have kept trying.” OA/Prairie/Nina responds, “Try to imagine what it’s like to have been a prisoner for all those years. You’re not free just because you can see the ocean. Captivity is a mentality. It’s a thing you carry with you.” Because Patriarchy Hurts Everybody!


Funny you’re the broken one, but I’m the only one who needed saving
‘Cause when you never see the light it’s hard to know which one of us is caving.

– Rihanna ft. Mikky Ekko: “Stay”

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a walking study in demonology

In responding to accusations that her character Amy Dunne in Gone Girl perpetuates misogynistic stereotypes, Gillian Flynn says:

the one thing that really frustrates me is this idea that women are innately good, innately nurturing. In literature, they can be dismissably bad – trampy, vampy, bitchy types – but there’s still a big pushback against the idea that women can be just pragmatically evil, bad and selfish … I don’t write psycho bitches. The psycho bitch is just crazy – she has no motive, and so she’s a dismissible person because of her psycho-bitchiness.

And also, in explaining her predilection for writing villainous women in general:

I particularly mourn the lack of female villains — good, potent female villains. Not ill-tempered women who scheme about landing good men and better shoes (as if we had nothing more interesting to war over), not chilly WASP mothers (emotionally distant isn’t necessarily evil), not soapy vixens (merely bitchy doesn’t qualify either). I’m talking violent, wicked women. Scary women. Don’t tell me you don’t know some. The point is, women have spent so many years girl-powering ourselves — to the point of almost parodic encouragement — we’ve left no room to acknowledge our dark side. Dark sides are important. They should be nurtured like nasty black orchids.

As someone who is writing her own female villain right now, I would like to suggest a few of the noteworthy “bad girls” that came before her and helped to inspire her – female villains that are authentically scary, violent, and arguably evil (I’m generally uncomfortable throwing around “evil,” despite writing in horror). They’re also so enrapturing that you just can’t look away. Clearly, there are many other types of female villains – the Bad Nurse, the Vain Actress, the Jealous Wannabe. The girls on this list, and the one I’m writing, are what I’ll call Superpredators.

Merricat Blackwood, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

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It’s to Jackson’s credit that you don’t quite realize it at first, but Merricat is a mass-murdering little psychopath who kills nearly her entire family for no reason and allows her older sister to take the blame. She exhibits no remorse and no regard for anyone except herself (and maybe her cat) – even her “care” for her older sister is ultimately an attempt to resist any undesired change in her life regardless of the cost she inflicts on others. She’s completely lacking in empathy – completely absorbed by her own logical system, a self-made witchcraft – and completely fine with that.

Tomie, Tomie, by Junji Ito

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Tomie was also born bad to the bone, but she’s more demon than psychopath. Always appearing as a beautiful, conniving high-school girl, Tomie breaks up relationships, ruins friendships, and inspires murder. Inevitably, she always winds up on the wrong side of somebody’s knife, but Tomie is unkillable – an eternal embodiment of the cost of desire. I’ve always thought there was something very bold about Ito’s decision to make his demoness both unquestionably evil at the elemental level and also a perpetual victim of horrific, very human violence.

Beloved, Beloved, by Toni Morrison

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Beloved was the first female character to scare the shit out of me, because Morrison writes her so incomprehensibly alien, so “not right.” She is clearly dead yet clearly corporeal, and imposes an oppressive gloom over a makeshift family that is already struggling uphill to stay together. Like Tomie, Beloved reflects the evil of human society and the darkness of the human heart. Her ultimate childishly selfish objective is to drive everyone else away from her mother using whatever means necessary so she can have her mother to herself – and, apparently, to consume and destroy life.

Daisy Buchanan, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Daisy is oft-dismissed as an ineffectual non-character, but I consider her a non-violent, slothful psychopath. Daisy is vapidly selfish, does not demonstrate capacity to feel for anything except objects (over-the-top melodramatic performances aside), and I think there’s a compelling alt-reading of this book in which she murders her husband’s mistress in cold blood and manipulates her brutish oaf-husband to have her cloying lover killed because he’s begun to inconvenience her. The fact that none of the male characters see this is demonstrative of how well she’s learned to game them.

Callisto, Xena: Warrior Princess

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Try as I might to root for bad-ass and rather boring Xena and idealistic jokester Gabrielle, it was unstable, evil, hyena-laughing Callisto, a female mix of Heath Ledger’s Joker and Apocalypse Now‘s napalm-and-surf-loving Kilgore, who always stole the show. She was such a shameless fiend. Callisto wasn’t born bad – she was driven mad by watching bad Xena kill her family. Like any classical supervillain, Callisto is completely warped by her desire for vengeance over Xena, which she also frequently mistakes for a desire to be Xena.

Katie Featherston, Paranormal Activity

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It’s hard to pick just one female horror spook – they are all over the place, and are usually the angry victims of a patriarchal society – but I went with Katie, the demon-possessed heroine/antagonist of the Paranormal Activity series, because her transformation from relatable girl-next-door to a non-human uber-monster is so shocking and tragic. Katie is also the victim of the patriarchy, having been saddled with the demon by her brother-in-law, and despite her unthinking post-possession brutality, the PA series loves her like Scream loves Sidney Prescott – she’s the bleeding heart of the franchise.

Maybe it’s because I’m absorbed with horror that I think there’s no shortage of evil women. The horror-related question I’m asked most often by friends is “why do all ghosts seem to be women?” and no matter how you answer (I have several stand-by explanations, and I’m sure there are many others), there’s no avoiding the very close relationship that women have with evil, or at least the dark, in horror. Things are different in political fiction – there are some morally corrupt Mata Haris, the Bond Girls who are on the wrong side of Western civilization, but they’re the women Flynn would dismiss as vamps. A lot of political novels have either one female character – a love interest or ingenue, flat with goodness – or no female characters (except a revolving door of prostitutes). It’s easily argued that politics and governance are a man’s game, but real life shows that women can very easily be political villains, no matter whether you think that’s Margaret Thatcher or Jane Fonda. Lady Macbeth aside, I’m not sure fiction has quite reached its full potential on this front. But I hope my girl Carly will be a worthy contribution.

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Our Horror Heroines, Our Selves

It’s Women in Horror month, and when I think of “women in horror,” I think of one of my go-to answers for why I write horror: because I think there’s a lot more room in horror for the kind of female characters I love to watch – three-dimensional ones, complicated ones, damaged ones, Good and Bad and Ugly ones.  Therefore, I present a chronological list of some of my favorite women in horror movies – from my junior high idols and beyond.  A note: There aren’t a whole lot of traditional final girls on this list.  Another note: It is pretty shameful how few non-white women are on this list as well.  Dear horror industry, work on this.

Daphne in Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island

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She’s the pretty airhead in the cartoons, but Daphne really comes into her own in Zombie Island, where she’s the grown-up host of Coast to Coast with Daphne Blake, in an insecure “It’s Complicated” relationship with Fred, and incredibly brazen and frankly, kick-ass.

Trish in Jeepers Creepers

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Trish was the first final girl I felt like I could relate to – she was prickly, mopey, tomboyish, jokey, outspoken, and has her heart broken by a political science student. A great mix of toughness and weakness, with also-great hoop earrings.

Clarice in Silence of the Lambs

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The FBI and its criminals are a man’s man’s world – little orphan girls from West Virginia better have a lot of grit to get ahead. I hugely prefer Jodie Foster’s Clarice, but it’s in Hannibal that you learn the great truth about Clarice: that she’s a deep-roller, baby.

Caroline in The Skeleton Key

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This is when I started to actually see myself in the day-to-day of grown-up female characters. I loved that Caroline goes clubbing, has tattoos, wears a lot of black – and is trying her best to do the right thing, despite her failings and uncertainties.

Selena in 28 Days Later

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The punk-tastic Selena undergoes some of the most important realizations in 28 Days Later: that there’s more to life than just survival, that there will be no more films, that some things are worth waiting longer than a heartbeat for.  But she was way smarter and stronger than I thought I could ever hope to be.

Marlena in Cloverfield

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Me and Marlena, we are basically the same. Surly, aware of Superman and Garfield. Go to a goodbye party for someone we don’t really know, try to avoid dumb-ass with the camera, end up with a bunch of suicidal douchebags, save said dumb-ass from a giant monster-bug, get attacked by monster-bug, explode in a bloody mess. Just another Saturday night.

Lisa in Silent Hill

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I actually never played Silent Hill, but I watched this fan-video focused on Lisa Garland as a good, helpful nurse who doesn’t realize she’s actually a monster – and, upon this realization, transforms into her “true form.” Lisa blurred Good Girl/Bad Girl.

Sarah and Juno in The Descent

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Speaking of Good Girl/Bad Girl, Sarah and Juno destroy that dichotomy. Sarah starts out depressed and deadened, grieving her husband and daughter; Juno is a risk-taking force of nature whose motto is “Love Each Day” – the same as Sarah’s dead husband. But Juno’s not a villain, and Sarah’s not sweetness and light. They’re fighters and survivors… with intense emotional lives too.

Tomie in Tomie

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Tomie’s a Bad Girl who steals other girls’ boyfriends and refuses to die, a subtler precursor to Megan Fox in Jennifer’s Body… but I dare you to try to empathize. She’s a simultaneous victim and manifestation of misogynistic lust, and as such spends her existence being repeatedly killed.

Laurie in Trick ‘r’ Treat

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The runt of the litter, the ugly duckling, the late bloomer – Laurie’s clinging to a romantic ideal that even she knows can’t last, since being herself hasn’t gotten her very far, while her beautiful sister’s set her up with a literal man-child.

Helen Lyle in Candyman

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I watched Candyman after the trauma of college, and my heart immediately went out to Helen. She’s a sharp student who I suspect married her anthropology professor and is now trying to prove herself by writing a dissertation to “bury” the Ol’ Boys’ assumptions. A little over-eager and a little blind, Helen is the original queen of kicking hornets’ nests.

Katie in Paranormal Activity

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I’m still disturbed by my love for Katie, who spends most of the Paranormal Activity series being a possessed demon-vessel, but what I love about her character is her transformation from Normal but Traumatized Girl into an omnipotent villainess. It’s a transformation she suffers because her brother-in-law sees her as expendable – but payback’s a bitch.

Ji-oh in Whispering Corridors 1

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Parents, if you want your daughters to emulate any character on this list, let it be Ji-oh. She endures an abusive school system with strength and self-awareness without compromising her kindness for others. She also makes paintings of horrible deaths to get them out of her head, and I know how that goes.

Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks

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My actual idol in Twin Peaks was Audrey Horne, but Audrey Horne was in a romantic drama; Laura Palmer was in a horror movie. She was another Good Girl/Bad Girl blur, a fire-walker, a girl you want to pin down as a teen queen, a slut, a victim – but Laura made a choice most of her neighbors wouldn’t have had the strength to commit to. Laura was a bad-ass.

Helen in “New Year’s Day,” ep. of Fear Itself

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I’ve written about Briana Evigan’s Helen before: she wakes up hung-over on New Year’s Day with dim memories of the night before – only that she went to the party of the man she loves who she believes loves her back – into a broken, burning city. Suffice it to say that this bundle of raw nerves hit real close to home.

Shelby in “The Spirit Box,” ep. of Fear Itself

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If Helen’s my picture of relatable dysfunction, then Anna Kendrick’s Shelby is my picture of relatable competence. Shelby’s dad thinks she’s “like a satanist or something,” but she’s got a heart of gold – she’s just a little bit weird and a little bit witchy, trying to stave off the wreckage caused by her mother’s death.

Sidney and Gale in the Scream series

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I didn’t actually watch any of the Scream movies until I watched the final one in theaters, and I was way more impressed than I expected to be – especially with bitchy, stone-cold reporter Gale and sad, reclusive survivalist Sidney. I love that the Scream series makes room for not one but two very different heroines, and that they’ve been enemies as well as friends. Oh, and Dewey’s pretty cool too.

India in Stoker

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Yet another young woman dealing with the death of a parent (there’s a theme), India’s wise beyond her years, one of Twin Peaks’ ultra-sensitive “Gifted and the Damned.” She’s also wobbling between sanity and insanity, an impassive glacier punctuated with moments of extreme aggression. Don’t approach this Five Alarm Horror Heroine until you think you can take her.

Mia in Evil Dead [2013]

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I love what the Evil Dead remake did with the “little sister” character. Now a recovering heroin addict, Mia spends the movie first controlled and condescended to by her supposed friends, then possessed by a demonic spirit, and finally – finally – able to take back her body and defeat her evil self with a chainsaw. She’s like Katie, but redeemed.

All of Sarah Paulson’s characters in American Horror Story

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First, she was a tennis-playing socialite-turned-medium. Next, she was a muckraking journalist put through hell and turned to stone. Finally, she was a meek and can’t-we-all-just-get-along headmistress of a witch academy afraid of her own potential. My love for Evan Peters notwithstanding, Sarah Paulson’s unsteady and conflicted heroines are my favorite part of American Horror Story. Good-hearted and blind Cordelia is my sentimental favorite, but this gif of Lana wins everything.

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backdrifts

vlcsnap-00003Silence of the Lambs

“And When She Was Bad” is up at Nossa Morte!

This story was inspired by my A Cultural History of Japanese Monsters class and our constant discussions about the archetype of the monster, and the cultural role it plays.  As a horror movie fanatic and a feminist, the “final girl” – as I’ve written about before – is a character that’s always intrigued me.  I actually wrote an essay for the class about the strange bond between the monster and the final girl.  This story’s sort of the fictional culmination of that essay.  It’s also personal.  I’ve always felt a real sympathy, or at least empathy, for those final girls.  Have I mentioned that Clarice Starling is my personal heroine?  Well, now I have.

So though I hesitate to say that the final girl in “And When She Was Bad” is me… she may be an alternate universe version of me.

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen‘s “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)” was the original prompt.  It comes highly recommended as not only insightful, but a good read.

Also, the fact that the nursery rhyme of the story’s title was my favorite nursery rhyme from a very early age probably says something about me:

there was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead

and when she was good, she was very, very good

and when she was bad, she was horrid.

gender dysmorphism

Silent Hill: Lisa Garland turns “bad”

Is it just me or are there not very many female horror writers? I base this on current horror magazines, sure, and my comments are more derived from paranormal horror then slasher horror, although the gender disparity holds up there too – after I saw Silent Hill two years ago I realized that most frightening supernatural entities are female. This is probably most obvious in J-horror but it exists in Western stories too – the most frightening of Stephen King’s characters are invariably female, from Carrie to Ellen Rimbauer to the lady in the bathtub in The Shining – and you consider the fun ghosts and you think, Casper (boy), or Slimer (asexual, but yet still male). I suppose this could get dragged down into another “women aren’t funny” argument, but more to the point, all these spooky, murderous women have grudges and attack because of wrongs done to them in life. More often than not they’ve been hurt by men. And these are the ghosts men create. They feel almost like an attempt to assuage a kind of gender guilt.

So what do the ghosts of female writers look like? Are they the same, because women also want to write vengeance for oppressed women? I wonder – after all, horror stories are supposed to be frightening, and are women really afraid of vengeful women, or do they cheer for their liberation from the chains of (male) societal oppression and consider their revenge sweet? I admit that I “watched” The Grudge from behind a blanket. But I think my fear has less to do with their gender as it does by their movements and sounds and images. I am still unable to watch the part of Silent Hill featuring the male Janitor-monster, and my favorite character in the entire franchise is Lisa Garland, who starts off helpful and good and pretty, and then becomes monstrous and bad. I found this transformation empowering – even if Lisa’s monster look scared me.

Anyway. Probably my favorite horror story written by a woman is “The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which breaks the mold of visceral fear of a ghost that happens to be female, and thus I cheer for her revenge. What Gilman does is really quite different. She becomes the vengeful female “ghost” behind the wallpaper, and she’s a first-person narrator, meaning as a woman I read it and I become “one of them” too. And that story truly frightens me, for reasons that are a great deal deeper than J-horror, which never actually lets me relate to its monsters with long hair.

There was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead: and when she was good, she was very, very good; and when she was bad, she was horrid.

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