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?