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Why is it always a woman?

Have you ever noticed how female characters dominate the horror genre? Be it the role of the helpless victim or the monstress out for blood, a great majority of the characters created for this genre are feminine, and it isn’t unintentional.



“Horror, more than any other film genre, deals openly with questions of gender, sexuality and the body.”

-Shelly Stamp (Film historian)


Traditionally in cinema, women have been represented as symbols, existing for the development of the main character, who is usually a male. Horror, is one genre where this doesn’t occur. It does, however, become a bit concerning when we consider how horror movies are more likely to have female leads compared to males at 43% to 4%.


When speaking about women being seen as the victim in these movies, some argue that this due to the fact women have traditionally always been type cast as the weaker sex. With the horror genre, writers have to create as much dramatic effect as possible. One way of doing this is by putting a character that seems weak with little expectation of survivability in a dangerous circumstance. The bigger the gap between the perceived ability of the protagonist to survive and the dangerousness of the situation, the more the audience stays hooked. It is also due to the fact that, with the protagonist being a woman struggling, the audience is more likely to feel empathy and concern towards her as compared to a male protagonist who would be expected to able to “fight for himself.”



Another darker take on this would be the underlying intention of male filmmakers to “punish” the female characters. This is supported by the idea that female characters usually take twice as long to die as compared to male ones.


The two tropes I’m going to talk about are the damsel in distress and the final girl trope.


The damsel in distress trope is pretty self-explanatory, a weak female character that needs to be saved by a stronger male lead who protects her against the evil character in the film. With old classic movies like The Phantom of the Opera 1925 showcasing such, these tropes were taken over in horror as newer storylines came up.




This is where the “final girl trope” comes in. This trope is most commonly seen in slasher movies (famous in the 70’s – 90’s); here the main protagonist is almost always a female who is represented as being pure, fragile, and naïve. Her innocence is used to amplify the danger that exists around her. The final girl is then the one that survives, emerges more intelligent and braver, defeats evil and overcomes the fragile, naïve (feminine traits) that were holding her back at the start.



The other end of female representation in these movies was of the borderline torture

porn they seemed to display. These movies often had scenes of the female character begging for her life in extended suspenseful scenes. Most commonly seen in scenes where there is a woman running for her life from an evil killer. These graphic scenes were later criticized as being sexualized and exploitive when they included women.


Nonetheless, there are several other tropes to look into when it comes to women in horror. For anyone interested I’d recommend looking up the mother trope and the monster produced through sexual awakening. What are some tropes you have seen that dominate the horror genre? Do you think this type of representation is exploitive or just a part of horror story writing?

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what an interesting read!

women are frequently depicted as victims in horror movies. They are often subjected to violence, torture, and objectification, serving as the passive recipients of terror. This portrayal perpetuates the notion that women are weak "damsel in distress trope", helpless, and in need of rescue, reinforcing gendered power dynamics and patriarchal norms.

However, it's important to note that in recent years, there has been a shift in the horror genre towards more nuanced and empowering representations of women, (i.e in Hush 2016; a deaf woman fights off the villain). Filmmakers are increasingly creating complex and multi-dimensional female characters who defy traditional tropes. These characters are strong, resourceful, and capable of fighting back against the threats they face.…

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Khadija Nasir
Khadija Nasir
22 de jun. de 2023
Respondendo a

Thank you for the insightful comment! I really appreciate how you've brought up recent progressions the industry has made in representation. With the old movie tropes I've talked about, focusing on the movies from the 70's onwards there was a definite overuse of these tropes. But as the conversation around the subject of inclusivity and feminism has began to spread, there has been a definite shift in the media, with what i like to think is the representation going from catering to just the male gaze to being aimed at the female consumers.

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So True! okay so I was recently watching this Pakistani drama called Mehboob apke Qadmon mai where the woman is shown as this crazy character who learns and then practices black magic in order to get the guy that she wants and of course, it is then so easy to kill these characters because they are played by women. Similarly, I feel like often women in horror films who are not the evil characters are mostly raped before they are killed graphically which adds to the point of the other side of female representation you mentioned. One example that comes to my mind is the film The Cabin In The Woods, where the woman is sexualised, being watched by men…

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Khadija Nasir
Khadija Nasir
22 de jun. de 2023
Respondendo a

Thank you so much for the comment! I love how you mentioned a Pakistani show in this conversation as well. This shows how these tropes are not just limited to the horror genre itself; they are widespread throughout our entertainment consumption, and with how they are repurposed and reused, we get so used to them. In Pakistani dramas, there is the added layer of how Islam is brought into question; women are shown to be hurt and abandoned simply because of their distance from Islamic belief, which adds another layer of harmful stereotyping to the equation.

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ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS! The part where you mention the darker trope of "punishing" the women is interesting because it reminds me of this idea that when we look at horror films we make comments like "why would they go there?" or questioning why someone would go check where a creepy noise is coming from. A lot of times we do this when we are doing it in a comedic manner but I think it comes with this idea of questioning the choices made. And it's interesting that these are mostly women because women are the ones we associate as "emotional" or weak. In some ways I think it could also be subverting these powerful narratives of calling the women weak,…

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Khadija Nasir
Khadija Nasir
22 de jun. de 2023
Respondendo a

Thank you for the comment! And I completely agree; when watching a horror movie, its always the blond, white girl that is the first killed or the first to check out what the issue is! When we comment on why she would even go there, we end up ridiculing the characters' choices, and without realizing it, we sometimes internalize these thoughts. Constantly creating the actions of foolishness or the association of getting hurt women creates harmful notions in how we view the world.

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Women are either victimized or villainized. It's the idea of the fragile, helpless damsel in distress versus the crazy, overbearing girlfriend concept. An example of your text is Jenna Ortega. To start off, Jenna is tiny. Shes like 5 feet tall, and petite. In Scream, Jenna was a victim, screaming her lungs off and running as fast as her little legs would carry her. In comparison, Wednesday showed her as creepy and dangerous. In both different roles, Jenna is portrayed differently, with specific clothes, lighting and camera angles to either highlight her size in her victim role and alter it in her protagonist role.

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Khadija Nasir
Khadija Nasir
22 de jun. de 2023
Respondendo a

Thank you for the comment! It's interesting how simple things like wardrobe and camera angles make such a big difference on how a character is perceived. With Jenna's character in Wednesday and scream we can see how the way she talks in both films i pretty similar but the interpretation of both characters is worlds apart! Unfortunately for most female character however, these representations are all limited to stereotypes as you've mentioned.

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interesting, insightful, and very observant. loved the post! i never paid heed to females dominating the lead role in horror movie and with the way you have summed it up, it makes so much more sense now. I agree completely with the part where women are portrayed as sexualized objects in horror movies or they are often under the threat of being harassed or raped and this reminds me of the movie hollow man where upon gaining invisibility, the first thing he does he sexually harass his Neighbour and later his co-worker. The presence of a woman in one way or another is the extra buzz that movies often resort to. It is also perhaps a reinforcement of the ide…

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Khadija Nasir
Khadija Nasir
22 de jun. de 2023
Respondendo a

Yes, I agree entirely with your points! Even with such a broad and interesting genre like horror, it's disappointing to notice how the same repeated stereotypes are used. Showing scenes of women being abused or harassed, it's become a trend called torture porn. Using scenes such as harassment and assault, highlighting the pain they caused women just as a means of hitting suspense is disappointing. But then again, as you've mentioned, these things are so ingrained that they don't even get noticed anymore!

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