Gender in Horror Films

***Spoiler Alert(s)***

Even after a decade of disappointment and a mountain of ticket stubs, my desire to discover a horror movie that can compare with The Ring (2002) hasn’t subsided. So my best friend and I found ourselves this evening at the Rave, patiently awaiting for You’re Next (2013) to begin. I’ll still be searching for a Ring comparable movie but I was captivated by two of the female narratives in the film and how they continued to perpetuate the dichotomous stereotypical representations of women in horror movies: the sexualized victim and the masculine asexual heroine. 

The first scene of the movie already introduces you to the sexualized nature of the victim who is engaged in sex, complete with a shot of her breasts. Afterwards as her lover goes to the shower, she walks around the house in an unbuttoned flannel and underwear, breasts and body exposed. The sexualized victim narrative is not complete without some level of deviance, and our victim has two: she reportedly broke up her lover’s  marriage and was enjoying an alcoholic beverage. Needless to say, she met her timely and “deserved” death as the narrative so often predicts. I think the two biggest and most controversial questions to be asked when understanding the sexualized victim are: what implications are there when horror movies associate sexuality and violence; and how detrimental is it that liberated sexuality is followed by a negative consequences? The rest of the movie develops the narrative of the masculine asexual heroine in Erin. She takes charge of the situation, deploying her rational thinking to secure some degree of safety and her intuitive combat skills to take down the three assailants and her conspiring villainous boyfriend. But however inspiring her character may be, it is riddled with complicated gender issues. For instance, the reason her story was so captivating is because you weren’t supposed to expect her to be the movie’s hero (and that’s even the tagline of advertising for the movie). Another is that the skills and traits that helped her overcome the murderous situation, such as rational thought and the knowhow of weaponry and combat, are stereotypically associated with masculinity. The final is that the heroine is asexual. Throughout the movie, she is never engaged in lewd behavior and is conservatively dressed in long sleeve shirts, cardigans, and jeans. The questions and implicated issues I think of when I saw this narrative:  what would a horror heroine’s story look like devoid of masculine attributes; and what consequences does distancing the heroine from sexuality have? I would love to open this discussion considering how much attention horror films have gotten for being anti-feminist. What do you think?


3 thoughts on “Gender in Horror Films

  1. laurenarchambeault

    These are interesting questions you bring to light with regards to portrayals of sexuality and female roles in horror movies. I think that there are a number of consequences that result from distancing the heroine from sexuality, most notably the result of creating unrealistic female characters. While there are women out there who may fit the bill of the sexualized character at the beginning of the film and simultaneously the conservatively-dressed, non-sexualized, combat-skilled heroine, I think that creating heroines that are stereotypically masculine can create representations of women that are just as dangerous as sexualized, unintelligent representations of women. In real life, there are women who can be both sexual in nature, physically strong, mentally adept, and a slew of other character traits that serve to create complex human beings. While the objectification of women’s sexuality is a huge issue in media’s portrayal of women, I think the trope of uber-masculine heroic (and often unemotional and non-sexualized) female characters only serves to demean the characteristics stereotypically associated with the female gender (emotionality and sexuality) even more. Ultimately, female characters should be given the kind of complex representation that many male movie and TV characters are, instead of being written to fit into dichotomies that are unrealistic and often offensive.

  2. pennjennywrites

    You make very good points. It is problematic to associate female sexuality with danger and death. It only further contributes to the common mindset that female sexuality is scandalous and inappropriate, while male sexuality is widely accepted. This double standard only further contributes to the harmful virgin/whore dynamic. Women are expected to be sexy and appealing to men, but at the same time, if they are too attractive or show interest in sex, then they are a slut, because women are also supposed to be pure and virginal. Obviously, this expectation is contradictory and harmful for women who absorb its message and most horror films fall into advancing this trope. I do not think that all heroines should be distanced from sexuality, as there is nothing wrong with female sexuality and stereotypically sexual women are in no way lesser than more conservative women. However, you seem to have confused asexuality and an unsexualized woman. Asexuality is a real sexual orientation where someone is not sexually attracted to other people. This may have an effect on clothing, but conservative dress and lack of lewd behavior does not automatically mean a character is asexual, though representation of minority sexualities in media is important. But back to the topic at hand. Both womanly and masculine female characters are wonderful in my opinion. However, when a female character is punished for being sexual, there is a problem. It sends the message that female sexuality is dangerous and that a woman is superior if she distances herself from sexuality and adopts traditionally masculine traits. Women should feel free to be whoever they are, whether that’s feminine, masculine, a mix of both, sexual, or asexual. Horror films and media in general are guilty of pushing the sexist idea that masculine women are stronger and more adept, which lowers stereotypically feminine traits and reinforces the idea of male superiority.

    1. ngrabowski Post author

      You make a great point! I should have distinguished better between asexuality and being unsexualized. I will definitely keep that in mind from here on in when thinking/writing.


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