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  arrow pointing to the right   Home arrow My Thoughts arrow Pop Culture arrow Pop Culture arrow Horror movies and their impact on women in society

Horror movies and their impact on women in society PDF Print E-mail

Horror movies and their impact on women in society

Why media portrayals of women matter.

a zombie apacolypse would be a medical emergency - not a military one

My son, who is 9, was told by a friend about Freddy Kruger. For those of you who never saw the movie, Freddy is the evil supernatural bad guy from the movie The Nightmare on Elm Street. My son, being 9, was rightly scared of this Freddy character. For several days he was scared to be alone in his bedroom since we have an Elm St in the neighborhood.

I told him he didn't have to worry because a) Freddy wasn’t real and b) even if he was it wasn’t our Elm Street he haunted.  And when that didn’t work I told him that he didn’t need to worry because he wasn't a scantily clad teenage girl having sex - as that is who Freddy liked to haunt and kill so my son clearly had/has nothing to worry about.

My son, immediately wanted to know why Freddy preferred scantily clad teenage girls having sex.  And this led to a lovely discussion about cultural norms around women's sexual autonomy and horror movie cliches. (sigh)

For those of you who have never watch a typical horror movie, you should know, in American horror movies – young girls who have sex or who have a serious boyfriend have to be brutally punished for having the audacity to express autonomy and this punishment is meted out by our supernatural bad guy.  Sure, not all horror movies follow this script, but enough do that it’s a cliche. The only redeeming elements of these movies is that it is often a female who solves the murder/banishes the evil spirit – but this female is almost always sexually “pure” and innocent.

It’s a cliche – but that’s the morality behind our horror movies. Sexually active young women are sinners who have to be killed and women who are sexually unaware are saints who save the day.

My son’s response to being told this about horror movie plots – “you know – that’s kind of stupid.”  I agree.

What about other cultures?

Now, let’s contrast this with morality surrounding women and sex in other cultures. I watch a lot of Indian movies. And in Indian movies they have a rule – if they kiss – something bad has to happen to both the boy and the girl.

In the Indian horror movies I’ve seen, girls are rarely the subject of horror movie retaliation. What they are is the evil spirit that haunts and kills others. Girls are apparently pretty scary.

However, this doesn’t mean boys get off easy.  In pretty much every single Bollywood movie I’ve seen the boys have to prove their pure intention to our female lead by “getting their asses kicked for love.”  And yes, that’s a standard plot point in pretty much every single movie. 

My son’s thought about this?  Yeah – that’s pretty stupid too. Why can’t girls and boys just fall in love and have sex if they want to?”  Good question!

The Bechdel Test

But let’s delve further into the issues brought up by the Bechdel test. The Bechdel test is a test to see whether a) there are more than 2 women with names in a movie, b) whether those women ever talk to each other, and c) whether they talk about something other than the lead male.  It’s amazing how few movies pass this test – in ANY culture.

Most movies are about a boy on a quest so he can win a girl. And this is why the Bechdel test is so important and why the portrayal of women in movies and stories is so important.

What exactly is the morality we are teaching?  What are the cultural expectations about how we expect people to act?  What are we deeming evil worthy of supernatural vengeance and what is approved?  These cultural clues matter! Especially for women.

I mean think about it – can you name a horror movies that doesn’t involve scantily clad woman as a victim?   I can name a couple – like Six Sense, the Others, or the Ring or that movie about the double in the photograph. But those are the exception rather than the rule. And the fact they are popular should tell film makers something about what audiences really want from a horror movie.

Next – think about how many women in our movies are “punished” just for wanting sex?” The girls who “just can’t say no” are never the leads!  They are always the troubled friend that our heroine has to help out. This is even true in Dracula. 

If a girl is the lead in a movie, she’s almost inevitably a teenage babysitter who is forced to save the world and the little kids in her care from everyone, including the clueless boys who don’t see the dangers lurking all around them.

And these cliche’s don’t just harm women. They harm men too. We are telling women, you need to be sexy – but you can’t want sex or you could die a horrible death. We are telling men, you are supposed to be horny and noble and willing to get their asses kicked for love in order to have their sexual desires met. Because let’s not kid ourselves, boys get their asses kicked for love in western movies to. All movies that have a love interest seem to require our boys prove themselves worth of female love of a trial of some sort that risks death.

My son is right.

All these cultural norms are pretty stupid. We should be allowed to love who we want and have that be ok. No ass kicking or supernatural punishment for sexual desire required.

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