The Monstrous Feminist

Published on September 29th, 2010 in: Editorial, Feminism, Halloween, Horror, Movies |

Sometimes it’s hard being a horror movie fan, especially of the female persuasion.

À l’intérieur, 2007

It’s not that anyone has outright accused me of being a bad feminist for preferring to watch 28 Days Later (for the umpteenth time) instead of [insert romantic comedy here], but I am more than familiar with seeing shocked faces and averted eyes when I start waxing rapturous about the ways À l’intérieur broke my soul or describe how the creatures from The Descent scared me so much I had nightmares for days.

Again, not that anyone has outright asked me, “What in the hell is wrong with you?” but I’m pretty sure it’s implied.

I know I’m not alone, however. Websites like Final Girl, Day Of The Woman, The Feminist Slasher Project, and MonsterZine are all helmed by women and all unapologetically celebrate horror films. But still, the nagging question of, “why?”

In an attempt to provide an answer to, “do women want something other than men from horror?” a 2001 article in The Spook magazine surveyed several women writers. Opinions ranged from “yes” to “no” to “hell no,” which just proves that women don’t all want the same thing out of any art form; we’re not The Borg.

However, I do agree with those who suggest that many modern horror films (with the exception of the aforementioned The Descent and À l’intérieur, among others) are mostly just Torture Porn Without Plot and woefully lacking in character development.

Yet, for all the lack of depth in a lot of horror movies, I don’t want them to be boring. I like my horror movies to be scary and I’m not afraid of gore (though I detest rape scenes and animal killings). And I don’t think that my love of horror means I’m being ironic (trust me, when I’m being ironic you’ll know it) or masochistic.

the descent eyes
The Descent, 2005

As far as women being victims in horror movies, that’s fodder for another article. I don’t feel victimized when watching them, however. It’s quite the opposite. A comment by reader “efsarbaby” on Sara Carroll’s article “Survival of the Female” illuminates how overcoming childhood fears has made her feel “stronger and in control.”

In “Why I Love Horror Movies,” Jessica Wakeman puts it another way, saying, “. . . for someone who suffers from crippling panic attacks, like I do, it is liberating to succumb to fear and terror that goes away on its own. Fear isn’t always something to fear. Sometimes, it can be fun and even silly.”

For me, there is also something deeper at play. At one of the after parties during the Toronto FanExpo, I met a fellow female horror fan who’d come from the US to check out Rue Morgue’s “Festival of Fear.” She mused, “Science Fiction is about the future, what CAN happen if we don’t fix what’s wrong with today’s world. But Horror films are about what’s happening NOW. To me, that’s what makes them so exciting.”


—Less Lee Moore, Managing Editor

10 Responses to “The Monstrous Feminist”

  1. Lisa:
    September 30th, 2010 at 12:03 am

    I loved this! Thank you. I am a sucker for horror movies which either have female protagonists, female villians or both (hello, Descent), even if they’re not perfect. Jennier’s Body, which I loved, is mentioned on one of the sites you linked, and other good examples include Ginger Snaps and Teeth.

    I have read before that the horror genre is actually fertile ground for better depictions of women and of women’s issues, because we get “othered” so often, and because our and bodies (most of us, anyway) are life-giving and considered mysterious. I believe that observation came from Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown, but I could be wrong. Her review of Ginger Snaps is here.

    Now that I think about it, Mimc and the Sandman movies have female protagonists, too…but I don’t think they dig into the female experience in the way that any of the movies mentioned above do. High Tension, too…now there’s a twist! I will always love Jamie Lee Curtis’s work in the Halloween I, II and “H2O”, even though those don’t really depart from the “Final Girl/Death-as-punishment-for-sex” formula.

    Anyway, I’m always in favor of more discussion about feminism and the horror genre, and for more horror from a feminist perspective.

  2. Lisa:
    September 30th, 2010 at 12:08 am

    Okay, guess I wasn’t done after all.

    You mentioned 28 Days Later. You probably know I love this movie. I heard a very interesting panel presented at Wiscon last year about how it subverted a lot of sexist and racist tropes, by having Selena be reticent about Jim’s attentions, by having her be allo strong and leader-y, and in the fact that [spoiler alert] the rapes never actually occur.

    Also, at the end of the descent [Spoiler alert] something about the way the protagonist’s performance, as she was covered in blood and facing down the monsters with her weapon, reminded me SO MUCH Cillian’s performance at the end of 28DL. There was the same quality of someone who’s just kind of out of their mind, temporarily.

  3. Jo:
    September 30th, 2010 at 4:12 am

    See, that’s why I don’t identify as a “feminist”, and find a lot of it annoying and occasionally offensive: it’s the absurd reductionism that lumps gender in with tastes and values, as though 3 billion people could possibly have the same ideals and desires.

    I’ll admit that I do gain a visceral thrill from Neil Marshall’s films with their very physical heroines, because I’m not used to seeing women in films react how I hope I react – or how I fear I’d react – to terrifying situations. I’m sure there are plenty of women in the world who’d just scream uselessly – perhaps I would too – but I like to think I’d be the one who’d pick up the axe and start crushing monster heads.

    (I’m not so much of a fan of The Descent because of the particular way some of the characters react to the situation. Though less scary, I found Doomsday much more enjoyable.)

    As you say, there’s a feeling of strength that comes from watching people overcoming worst case scenarios, and the more they remind us of ourselves (perhaps being of the same gender), the greater that feeling. It’s where fairytales come from: a sort of mental training ground where we face our fears and vanquish them.

    I think that’s a very primal, basic, human reaction.

  4. jemiah:
    September 30th, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Jo – if you believe that women are just as valuable to the world as men and deserve the same rights as human beings, you’re a feminist. If not, I’m sorry to have misjudged you. If you believe that identifying as a feminist means that one engages in reductionism as a rule, you are guilty of the same fault that you supposedly deplore. I’m a feminist and I make no assumptions about any individual I encounter – their abilities, their desires, their aspirations. Individuals are individuals. But I believe I should have the same rights to health care, education, and respect as a male, and I believe that for all women (and all men). Or do you simply hate any kind of label? I can dig that. 🙂

    Great article, Les. H

  5. Jo:
    September 30th, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    @ jemiah, thanks for the clarification. To answer your question, I guess “hates labels” would cover it – but more accurately, it’s just that your list of beliefs is what I’d call “the natural order of things” and any expressions to the contrary to be a weird deviation – in much the same way that “normal people” believe all races to be equal, and only fascists think otherwise.

    Going to Less Lee’s question about whether women and men like different things from horror films, I know my husband prefers gorier films and I like psychological horror, but we tend to like the same films overall, since a good horror normally has a good mix of both.

  6. Popshifter:
    September 30th, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    Thanks for weighing in Lisa and Jo!

    I haven’t seen Ginger Snaps, though I have heard lots about how great it is. That blog link makes it sound amazing!

    I look forward to writing more pieces about horror movies and feminism in the future.


  7. Kaye Telle:
    October 11th, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    The only time I’ve been bothered and felt my feminist blood boil was while watching Dead Girl.

  8. Popshifter:
    October 12th, 2010 at 12:34 pm


    Which “Dead Girl”? I had to look it up because I haven’t seen it and apparently there are FOUR movies with that title.


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