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Keri-Ann Andrade Dr. Jason Edwards Comm. 295 12 December 2007
Andrade 2 Introduction Movies have been around for many decades. There are various types of genres including action, drama, romance, and comedy. The focus of this paper will be on films in the horror genre. Typically, men are portrayed as the killers and victimize women in all sorts of ways. Women are put into a specific mold within the horror flicks and seen in that light constantly. An example of such a character would be Laurie from the Halloween franchise. She is constantly in need of being saved and barely escapes the hands of Michael Myers during each sequel. This study will deal with the ways that the film industry portrays females in horror movies. At this point in time, very little research exists pertaining to stereotyping in movies, with respect to the horror genre. Roth (2005) talks about how films portray women as “marinal, pathetic figures” as they aged (p. 189). Helford (2006) writes that “mainstream filmgoers witnessed anti-feminist backlash and/or a more politically/psychoanalytically ambiguous contemplation of the figure of woman” in 1990’s films (p. 145). These are just two examples of how women are stereotyped and put into gender roles. Both Helford (2006) and Roth (2005) concentrated on the genre of drama, rather than horror as I have proposed. The way that females are being portrayed in horror movies is rarely explored. Many researchers take a broad look at the film genres and hardly touch the surface of the underlying reality. Females are stereotyped in a particular way across many genres and it needs to be explored, especially within the genre of horror. Another reason that this study would be beneficial is that it could help the public understand why women are stereotyped in films. A good majority of the horror movies
Andrade 3 that have been made have half naked women running around dark houses hoping to not be killed. The murderer, for the most part, always catches her and brutally murders the victim who he lusts for. Film goers want to see the female character running for her life and half naked. It keeps the attention of the audience and allows for suspense. Many viewers know how the chase will end, but like the cat and mouse roles that the victim and the killer fall into. Also, victims are very often engaging in sexual activities either during or before the slicing takes place. A study conducted by Sapolsky, Molitor, and Luque (2003) concludes that “exposure to scenes of explicit violence juxtaposed with sexual images is believe to blunt males’ emotion reactions to film violence and lead males to be less disturbed by scenes of extreme violence and degradation directed at women” (p. 28). Men tend to watch horror films in order to see women objectified and lacking intelligence in order to stay alive. The constant nudity and/or peek-a-boo of privates also entices males to buy a ticket or rent the movie. Movie viewers are often
left with the images of females, after the movie has ended, that tends to be far from truth. The female characters are portrayed as stereotypical needy women. These women cannot save their own lives, rather, they need to be saved by others or die. Filmgoers need to understand that this negative perception is not true in reality and horror movies are mere entertainment only. The last benefit that will be discussed is that the study can potentially give viewers the skills, or at least educate them, to critically watch horror films. Getting scared is the main reason to watch a horror movie. The screams, disgusting appearance of the killer and the token victims lure people into theaters year after year. The outcome of these films is to have been frightened and disturbed by the images shown. Few people
Andrade 4 look at the way women are stereotyped and degraded in the horror genre. Sapolsky, Molitor, and Luque (2003) reported that “slasher films victimize females more than other film genres, and that female victimization should be looked at in the context of those genres” (p. 32). This fact supports the idea that filmgoers need to be more aware of how horror movies are molded. Not only are women victims, but they are sometimes the monsters of the film. Aviva Briefel (2005) writes in her work that the horror spectator’s compassion for the killers have to do with a “gendered system of identification” (p. 20). This means that viewers expect to see a male killer whereas a female murderer has underlying issues and a male is likely to be the source of her anger. Becoming aware of these classic ideas will help people understand that movies do not reflect women in real life. Overall, the stereotyping of women in the horror genre needs to be addressed. There is little research available that has been conducted on the topic. Other genres of movies have been explored with respect to women and the way that they are portrayed. This study can help people get a better understanding of how and why women are shown in a negative light, for the most part, in horror. Writers think about their audience and the best way to sell tickets is with exposed skin and idiotic young women running into the arms of a killer. Finally, viewers will be able to take something away from the movie other than a short lived fright. The storylines of these films will make sense as to why, for example, she walked into the abandoned factory rather than the lighted neighborhood. The horror genre makes billions of dollars each year and to better understand why this occurs and the ways women are stereotyped, this study should shed some light on that specifically.
Andrade 5 Literature Review Scholars have looked at slasher films, a sub-genre of horror, to make conclusions about theories that they chosen to explore. Horror movie franchises portray females as paranoid, sexually defiant, having “abject terror personified,” and very often victimized (Trencansky 2001). I want to look at how the horror genre of the film industry sheds light on the female persona. There have been numerous studies conducted on the topic of females in horror movies, with the concentration on the term “Final Girls,” which was coined by Carol Clover in her book, “Men, Women and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film” (Markovitz 2000). Females are shown as vulnerable, highly
sexualized, and not intelligent. When, on the rare occasion, there are females playing the role of a murderer, it is because a male drove them to that point. Mainly, this paper will analyze the negative and positive roles (as rare as they are) that females occupy within the genre of horror movies. There is a commonplace generalization about women and how they are portrayed in movies within various genres. Women are objectified and controlled by the male driven society. Elyce Rae Helford (2006) points out that women are an “erotic spectacle and she [women as a group] holds the look, plays to and signifies male desire” (p. 148). The male gaze keeps the females as secondary to men. The men hold the power in many situations and women are often forced to do as they are told or risk losing their lives. These women are objects to the males and when they become empowered to act out, in the film The Stepford Wives for example, men take back power by destroying them (p. 147). Mary Blewett (1974) reveals that the “classic female victim is hopelessly naïve and passive” and in need of saving by a male. Even the Final Girls need to be saved towards
Andrade 6 the end of movie, like in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, when the passerby picks up the female who escapes the mass murderer. Paranoia is a characteristic of the women in horror. She is the one who is looking behind her back while walking down a darkened alley, questioning authority, and labeled an outcast. Most, if not all, of the heroines that are present in sequels survive because of questioning authority. Paranoia entails constantly being cautious of surroundings, checking behind, and never trusting anyone. This trait can be used as a survival skill and enables her to escape death, for some time at least (Markovitz 2000). Being afraid is the key to living. Sarah Trencansky (2001) writes that the girl needs to “recognize the horror surrounding her and [eventually] fights back against her attacker” (p. 2). When the female distances herself from the villain, due to the paranoia, she can save her own life in the end, or until the sequel (Gill 2002). Valerie Wee (2006) agrees with the idea that survival is reliant upon the watchfulness of the female, to the point of becoming paranoid (p. 58). Females are portrayed in a negative way in many horror movies. Another characteristic of women in horror is that her sexual indulgences and the nature of being a female can be harmful, or deadly. A girl who prefers sex to other obligations can be a means to her demise, without her being aware of the future aggression of the attacker (Gill 2002). Blewett (1974) touches on the point that if Hollywood portrays a sexually aggressive woman without her being punished, it would be dangerous (p. 14). Blewett’s (1974) study shows that society’s stereotypes of women are present in movies since the beginning of the film industry. Aviva Briefel (2005) looks at the female monsters in horror movies. Carrie is a good example used in the article because after pleasing herself
Andrade 7 sexually, she begins to menstruate. This is a sign of her sexuality coming of age and sexual desires are likely to follow. The horror genre “presents female sexuality as monstrous” (Briefel 2005). Natural female desires displayed by females can lead to the female character’s downfall. Helford (2006) asserts that women are emotional and taught to be private, which is quite the opposite of how males are shown (p. 150). A masculine view of sexual intimacy and exploration for a woman tends to lead towards her death in horror (Connelly 2007). Women who are engaged in sexual acts or are partially nude are susceptible to violence (Weaver III 1991; Gill 2002). Another characteristic of females in the horror genre of films is terror. The terror that the female feels after discovering the villain and the fact that she is ultimately going to be a victim is exposed in horror movies. Kelly Connelly’s (2007) study found that in order to defeat the monster, the female heroine must take on the concept of violence through the male perspective and become masculine (p. 20). The women must actively seek out the killer, although she is terrified by him (Markovitz 2000). Sarah Trencansky (2001) argues that the “Final Girl survives by her “ability to adapt to the new: to negotiate change” (p. 3). The female can only live if she recognizes her terror and accepts it, while overcoming fear and possible victimization. The gender identity of the female characters is typecast as needing to accept the way things are and working around the circumstances. The females do not have a choice and must act out in order to save their life. The literature that has been written up until this point has revealing results. For many of the scholars, they make it a point to say that males and females are victimized, for the most part, equally in horror movies. Barry Sapolsky, Fred Molitor, and Sarah
Andrade 8 Luque (2003) presented in their study the statistical fact that in 1990s slasher films, 8.2 males and 5.2 females were victims of violence (p. 32). Whether women are being paranoid about their surroundings, participating in sexual activities, or being terrorized by the villain, these are not positive images. The females in these story lines are weak, feeble minded and in need of being saved. Those female characters that are strong and self-sufficient are often looked at as losing their femininity. The females who survive the killer’s slaughter, such as Laurie in Halloween: H20, are shown as having masculine traits and boyish appearances (Connelly 2007). Laurie is a good student and is never seen with a boy or engaging in sexual desires or activities. She is de-feminized and given a boyish haircut. This is just one example of the masculine female character. In order to overpower the villain, the woman must go against all stereotypical female characteristics and lose her identity in the feminine aspect. Positive images of women in horror movies are rare and hard to come by. Women are constantly stereotyped in movies. Beatriz Badikian (1998) makes a good point that, “Americans learn history from the movies” (p. 46). The American public needs to be educated about the fact versus fiction portrayal of females in all genres. The horror genre is one category that does not get much attention from critics and scholars. They tend to think that the genre, as a whole, is unworthy of exploration because of the sex and gore aspects. More studies should be conducted which look into the way female victims are portrayed. I was limited in the type of studies and articles that have been written about the damsels-in-distress in horror. This is why I am proposing to study the way females are portrayed in horror movies.
Andrade 9 Method This study explores the various ways that women are portrayed in specific female stereotypical roles in horror movies. There have been previous studies conducted that looked at sex and violence in horror movies, with emphasis on how males and females are shown during these scenes. Although these studies do show that there is some difference in how male and female characters are portrayed, they do not get into detail about females as a single group alone. A quantitative method, such as a content analysis approach to gathering data for this study is appropriate because there isn’t a vast amount of studies that have been conducted on the portrayal of females in horror movies without comparing it to males. Others who have explored a similar topic to this study have chosen to look at a compilation of films in the horror genre. Following the analysis of 1990s slasher films by Sapolsky, Molitor, and Luque (2003), this study selects fifteen movies, rather than the ten selected in the previously mentioned study, in the horror genre and critically views them, with the help of coders. Three coders were given a reliability test in the Sapolsky, Molitor, and Luque (2003) study which helped to determine the homogeneity of the data once the ten films were viewed. The results of the study concluded that “females were shown in fear significantly longer than were males” (Sapolsky, Molitor, and Luque 2003). Another content analysis method was conducted to determine if slasher films are sexually violent. Weaver III (1991) selected ten slasher films from “Variety’s annual compilation of movies” and they “were identified by a panel of 12 judges.” This study, unlike Weaver III’s, takes into consideration sequels of films, which he chooses to exclude. The results of Weaver III’s (1991) study proved that “all depictions of full
Andrade 10 nudity [in the selected horror movies] presented female characters exclusively” and that “there was no significant difference in the number of male and female characters suffering violent victimization that the circumstances of these deaths did not differ as a function of gender.” A final study that was looked at was conducted by Linz and Donnerstein (1994) and it looked at “30 slasher films released in 1980, 1985, and 1989.” The findings indicated that “slasher films present violence in a sexual context that uniquely targets women” (Linz and Donnerstein 1994). Of all the previously mentioned studies, none of them primarily focus on the portrayal of the female character herself in horror movies. The researchers do not go into details about how the character is constructed, how she associates with others, and how her survival or death is determined. This study focuses on those ideas and looks into the female in horror films. A content analysis of fifteen horror movies from 1986 to 2006 will be selected. These movies will be selected from the top grossing full-length feature films of each year in the horror genre. From the top three choices of each year, a panel of ten judges will select the fifteen final films which will be analyzed. They will make their decision based upon the viewing of “in-depth synopses of each film” and which films are categorized into the horror genre, with an emphasis on slasher films (Weaver III 1991). The sample will include sequels to previously produced and released movies. The data will be analyzed by hand and cateogorized according to the different ways that females are coded as being portrayed. Conclusions will be made according to the results and it will be discussed as to the possible reasons why and how females are stereotyped in horror movies. By taking a variety of different movies from the horror genre, the study can shed
Andrade 11 light on the common stereotypical roles that women play in these films. Over the course of the twenty year period that this study covers, it will show how the portrayal of female characters has evolved, or rather, slightly changed if at all. The unit of analysis for this investigation is the female character, which can be defined as a girl or woman who plays a part or role, as in film. For each female character that is present in the selected horror movie, a coder will record how she is portrayed while in the scene. The coding scheme for this study will place each female character into one or more of these categories: (a) sexual (engaging in sexual activities or behaviors), (b) violent (defending herself by inflicting pain upon another), (c) innocent (does not provoke violence unto herself), (d) aggressor (becomes violent for a reason other than self-defense), (e) victim (she is brutalized, tortured, or killed) and/or (f) other (which will be written as needed). The coders will collect this data and it will be analyzed after the viewing and coding of the fifteen selected horror movies. Going along with a previous study conducted by Weaver III (1991), there will be “three undergraduates recruited as coders.” After they are extensively trained as to what they should be looking for in the selected films and have been given a reliability test, they will each view the fifteen horror films that have been chosen for this study. Upon the completion of the coding, one set of codes will be selected for each film randomly between the three coders. Each coder will work independently over a one-week period to view all of the movies. Once the data has been coded, it will be analyzed and taken apart to see how females are generally portrayed in the selected movies. The different categories that have been outlined, along with an analysis of the coding data, will help to
Andrade 12 come to a conclusion as to how the horror genre’s stereotypical female character is shown.
Discussion This study has its strengths. It can bring the audience’s attention to the underlying characterization of women in horror movies. The audience can begin to develop the skills to critically view all movies. The study can give people a better understanding as to why and how female characters are developed and portrayed in a certain light, in many cases. Females in the horror genre of films haven’t been thoroughly explored and this study can venture into new ways of looking at the genre as a whole. There are limitations to the study. By selecting only fifteen horror movies to view and code, it bears results that can be less than accurate. The method of selecting these movies can cause invalidity because top-grossing movies may not be the main culprits of negative portrayals of female characters. In order to get a full understanding of a particular topic, a large sample should be used. This is not the case in the study because of possible time constraints and overlapping data. Overall, the study can be beneficial, if done according to specific specifications.
Andrade 13 Badikian, B. (1998). Food and sex, that’s all we’re good for: Images of women in Like Water for Chocolate (1993). Film & History, 28(1/2), 46-48. Blewett, M. (1974). Women in American history: A history through film approach. Film & History,4(4), 12-20. Briefel, A. (2005). Monster pains: Masochism, menstruation, and identification in the horror film. Film Quarterly, 58(3), 16-27. Connelly, K. (2007). Defeating the male monster in Halloween and Halloween H20. Journal of Popular Film & Television, 35(1), 12-21. Gill, P. (2002). The monstrous years: Teens, slasher films, and the family. Journal of Film & Video, 54(4), 16-30. Helford, E.R. (2006). Women in American history: A history through film approach. Film & History, 4(4), 12-20. Linz, D., Donnerstein, E. (1994). Sex and violence in slasher films: A reinterpretation. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 38(2). Markovitz, J. (2000). Female paranoia as survival skill: Reason or pathology in ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street?’ Quarterly Review of Film & Video, 17(3), 1-9. Sapolsky, B.S., Molitor, F., Luque, S. (2003). Sex and violence in slasher films: Reexamining the assumptions. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 80(1), 28-38. Roth, E. (2005). Momophobia: Incapacitated mothers and their adult children in 1990’s films. Quarterly Review of Film & Video, 22(2), 189-202. Trencansky, S. (2001). Final girls and terrible youth: Transgression in 1980s slasher horror. Journal of Popular Film & Television, 29(2), 1-17.
Andrade 14 Weaver III, J.B. (1991). Are ‘slasher’ horror films sexually violent? A content analysis. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 35(3), 1-8. Wee, V. (2006). The Scream trilogy, “hyperpostmodernism,” and the late-nineties teen slasher film. Journal of Popular Film & Television, 34(2), 50-61.
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