Monday, October 28, 2013

"So why shouldn't I write of monsters?" A feminist considers the horror genre

Elsa Lanchester in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
It’s the week of the Halloween.

It’s my favorite time of year if only for the reason that I love horror. Truly and desperately love horror in all its forms, especially horror films.

This often surprises people because I am a feminist. I have a very clear memory of a college professor being totally aghast that I was a women and gender’s studies student and a horror fan. This annoyed me.

Because for me, horror is freeing. As a quiet, bookish, and all-around weird kid, horror films opened up a world of empowerment for me. It is only in horror that the Other has, if only momentarily, true power.

The Other in feminist thought owes its definition to Simone de Beauvoir and The Second Sex; she pointed out that in Western society, men are the subject, the essential, the Absolute, while women are the inessential, the less-than, and the Other (xxii). Of course, there are many ways in which groups can be Othered: through race, sexuality, religion, body type, health etc.

The Other is the main subject of the horror genre. They are often the monster: rebellious women (The Bride of Frankenstein), sexually ambiguous (Norman Bates, Dracula’s Daughter), victims of mental and emotional abuse (Leatherface), emotionally unbalanced (werewolves), etc.

As a weird child, seeing these sorts of characters exert even momentary power over the norm was exhilarating. Stephen King wrote lovingly in Danse Macabre “that children are better able to deal with fantasy and terror on its own terms than their elders are” (102). At the same time, children are aware of they’re own lack of independence and control in life, thus making them feel uneasy (103).

As it may be surprising to absolutely none of you, I was an uneasy and nervous child. But while watching horror films, I was in control. If I got too scared, I could turn it off. But I loved being scared because it was a safe scare. I was safe with Frankenstein, the Bride of Frankenstein, and the Wolf-Man because they were different. I got it. I understood it. And for the short time before their untimely deaths and destructions at the hands of the cisgendered, heteronormative, and usually white heroes, they were powerful.

I want to celebrate this Halloween by celebrating horror as both a longtime fan and as a feminist. Women and horror should not be viewed as oxymoronic. After all, it was a teenaged woman who wrote the seminal English language horror novel and thus invented an entire genre; my beloved Mary Shelley. Also, Bela Lugosi, the classic horror movie actor and the greatest Dracula of pop culture history, famously declared, “It is women who love horror. Gloat over it. Feed on it. Are nourished by it. Shudder and cling and cry out-and come back for more.” He was right.

I hope to discuss a few of my favorite feminist-friendly horror films this week. And I would greatly like to hear more about your favorite horror films. I am always hungry for more.

Beauvoir, Simone De. The Second Sex. New York: Vintage, 1989. Print.

King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. New York: Berkley Pub Group, 1981. Print.

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