It’s taken me a little longer to put this out then expected. With something as polarizing as WOMEN IN HORROR MONTH, it’s very easy to pick your side and stay there. No quarter given, none taken. When I started writing this, I had a very clear and specific view on the matter. But, as anything in life, nothing’s ever cut-and-dried.
Now in its sixth year, WiHM puts the spotlight on female contributions to the genre – filmmakers, actresses, writers – with coverage in magazines, social media, blogs and podcasts. The mission statement reads, “ Women in Horror Month (WiHM) assists female genre artists in gaining opportunities, exposure, and education through altruistic events, printed material, articles, interviews, and online support. The vision is a world wherein all individuals are equally given the opportunity to create, share, and exploit their concept of life, pain, and freedom of expression.” . At its heart, It’s a positive movement, one dedicated to celebrating and spotlighting some of the best and brightest the horror field has to offer.
Yet every year, the question comes up, like clockwork: do we REALLY need it? Is Women In Horror Month really necessary?
The movement has had its detractors from the beginning, from the obvious misogynistic mouthpieces of the fan community to many women working in the field who feel that their comrades in the genre have treated them fair-and-square. While many of the statements go no further than the internet-standard “shut up, bitch” school of thought, there have been some compelling arguments dispelling any notion of gender bias in the horror community. Case in point: the archetypal “final girl” in all its incarnations, from Ellen Ripley to HELLRAISER’s Kirsty Cotton to BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, first took form in horror. The genre has proven to be the go-to source for strong, resourceful and intelligent female protagonists. The only real male counterpart to the final girl? Evil Dead’s Ash – a bumbling, arrogant clown with more luck than skill on his side. The “final girl” is so ingrained in the horror lexicon that many feel it’s actually become a cliche, but I digress.
But while female empowerment is well represented in the genre’s works, it’s outside the films and books and TV series where the real struggle occurs. I’m talking specifically about fan-culture itself ( a term I despise and a topic for another posting) where misogynistic outbursts and irrational hatred are just a keystroke away.
Now, I feel the need for some disclosure here: I am not, in fact, a woman. ( I’ll let that settle in for a bit).
I have no personal or political stake in this, nor do I have any of the experiences that WiHM are addressing in their promotion of equality. All I have are the stories I’ve heard from female friends and colleagues in the industry (and those are THEIR stories to share, not mine) and the evidence that presents itself every day in my online browsing routine. And that’s more than enough for me. So let’s do a little social recon, shall we?
Gamergate: women working in (and critiquing) the video game industry, and the inherent sexism represented by both designers and the gamer community. In retaliation for these views, an anonymous and amorphous group, uniting under the hastag #gamergate, Their stated mission: ” improve the ethical standards of video game journalism by opposing progressive social criticism in video game reviews, which they see as being the result of an unethical collusion among their ideological opponents—particularly feminism and the social justice movement.” Their means of engagement? ” the revealing of targeted womens’ private information, rape and death threats, including a threat of a mass shooting at a public speaking event.”
In case that needs a simpler clarification: a woman received death threats for her opinions. On video games.
The Ghostbusters Reboot: the announcement that the new reboot of the beloved franchise was to feature an all-female cast. The reaction was generally positive, but there was still enough hysterical man-rage to go around.
Colleen McCullough: A celebrated Australian writer, McCullough’s bibliography includes over twenty books ranging from historical epics to murder mysteries (as well as the best-selling novel, THE THORN BIRDS ). It’s an extensive and widely diverse list which made her one of her country’s most esteemed citizens. McCullough passed away on just days ago. Here’s how she was memorialized in the national newspaper, The Australian:
I will bet you even money that Stephen King’s obituary will contain no such snark or bitchery.
These are not horror-related stories. I get that. But it’s a part of the bigger landscape, of which Women In Horror is one facet. Not only is sexism alive and well, it’s become a casual part of everyday discourse. The times are a-changing, and the last bastions of “the way things ought to be” are fighting tooth-and-nail to keep that progress at bay. So the attacks have become more visceral and blatant, no longer concealed under the veneer of civility. Because it bares repeating: very-public death threats are now fair game in the battle of the sexes. So if someone working in the horror genre claims they have been harassed or are being discriminated against, I’m going to be pretty damned inclined to believe it.
But there’s more than just anecdotes and soundbites taken from the internet. I’ve seen the need for WiHM myself. I posted the following pic to my Facebook page, because, well.. I just thought this was cool.
“Well damn, that is a whole bunch of men right there and not one woman.”
“I’m not up on the horror genre but there must be women in there somewhere?”
Let me make this clear: this is not to assert that the above-stated interviews (or Mr. Garris himself) are intentionally misogynist or exclusionary in any way. But it does point to an absence of focus on women in the genre, accidental or otherwise. More importantly,it points to the impression that outside of the genre’s circle of influence, women in horror are seen as an anomaly at best, non-existent at worst.
So as we start another February, and another annual Women In Horror Month, the question remains: why do we need it? I think the following by Joss Whedon puts it best::
“So, why do you always write these strong women characters?”
“Because you’re still asking me that question.”
So in the end, until the day comes when that question is irrelevant… yeah, I’m in.