Saturday, 14 November 2009

How women are represented in the horror genre.

Women can be represented in four different ways, domestic, sexual, consumer and marital. Typical roles for women include the common housewife or a daughter as a student at a school. Not often do we see woman with good jobs bringing home the money for the family. Domestic activities usually consist of cooking, cleaning and looking after the children, which is stereotypically what most common housewives do. Sexual activities mean that women are seen as sex objects by men, this is linked to the ‘male gaze’ of how men look at women on screen as objects. Consumer activities include providing the family with food and other needs by shopping. Women are also corresponded to their marital status to men and family. The horror genre places women in typical roles, but it also challenges that by the idea of female protagonists and/or 'final girls'.

In the film ‘Halloween’, made in 1978, I noticed that there is the same amount of male and female characters, which suggests that the research done on 1992 stands incorrect for this film in particular, which informs us that men outnumber women by two to one. So visibility can be an issue in media representation of females. A lot of different types of women are not shown in many parts of the media, such as: black women, older women and lesbian women. This links well to the horror genre such as in ‘Halloween’ the female characters are all young, white and straight. I also noticed that more male characters are older and the females younger. This, in my opinion is mainly because younger women on screen are used as sex objects, also being a younger female makes them more vulnerable, physically and mentally, whereas older woman that are wiser would be less vulnerable in similar situations due to experience and age. This in a whole determines the ‘male gaze’ on younger females. We witness the ‘first kill’ of Michael’s sister Judith. Michael watches her sexual behaviour with her boyfriend, which instantaneously makes her a sex object and objectified by the audience as we see her in the ‘monster’s eyes, also the camerawork uses close-up shots, point of view shots and reaction shot to emphasise Judith sexually more than her boyfriend. When Michael is about to kill her,
her breasts are fully exposed, which creates a sexual and seductive look, just before she instantly tries to cover herself up when she realises that it is her six year old brother. The obvious view of the character of Judith is a ‘sex object’. The audience looks at her sexually due to her sexual acts and sexual displays. But we are unsure of how Michael Myers sees his sister (through the monster’s eyes), as Michael is only a six year old child, he shouldn’t see her sexually, but we can only assume and wonder. This mystery of how he sees her make that particular scene rather uncomfortable as the audience looks upon her though the ‘male gaze’ when the ‘monster’s eyes’ don’t. The audience first discovers that the character of Annie has a boyfriend and that she used her babysitting locations for sex. So the audience immediately sees her as a young female teenager that is going to get herself into an awkward situation. The rule about female characters seen as sexual objects, is that they are killed off quite early in the story-line, as if it were a punishment for enjoying sexual activities as they are too distracted to realise what is happening to them and other people around them. Another female character called Lynda is a ‘popular and beautiful
cheerleader’, who also has a boyfriend and plans to have sex with him that night at the place where Annie is supposed to be baby-sitting, which automatically creates a position where the young female is doing something that she shouldn’t be doing, this indicates that she will also be punished. The main female character in ‘Halloween’, in fact a protagonist, is Laurie, she is shy and virginal, she doesn’t have a boyfriend like her friends do and doesn’t seem as feminine as them either. The first character to be killed, once Michael had come back, is Annie. She ends up half naked initially as she is forced to clean her clothes which she had spilt butter on. Consequently she comes to wear only a shirt and underwear, so like Judith, she is half naked and her breasts are completely exposed when she is being slaughtered in her car. The next character Lynda resulted to be in bed with her boyfriend, Bob, not knowing that they’re being watched by Michael, just like when he killed his sister Judith. Lynda is killed by Michael whilst she is on the phone to Laurie after having sex with her boyfriend, and also after her boyfriend, Bob, was killed downstairs. As mentioned earlier, Lynda had been distracted by her sexual activities which blinded her from what was about to happen. She, again, had her breasts exposed which captures the male gaze and forces her to
become the third female sex object. These three killings portray that female sex objects in the horror genre are killed off easily and don’t seem to put up much of a fight. Finally Michael sets out to kill Laurie, but she is able to defend herself as she is not distracted by boyfriends or sex, therefore she is completely dressed and is not seen as a sex object. Michael fails to kill her because she is the virginal ‘final girl’ that is slightly more masculine than her friends which are seen as sexually by the audience. Laurie is also represented through her domestic activities by baby-sitting two children and keeping them safe. This also results in her being the hero.


I studied a second horror film called ‘The Shining’ made in 1980. The male and female characters in this film match the ratio of two to one from the research in 1992 of more male characters on screen than female characters. In one scene of this film, Jack goes to check out room 237, where there was a presumed ‘crazy woman’ that tried to hurt and strangle Danny. Jack comes across a beautiful young woman in the bath tub, who gets out and starts walking over towards him slowly and seductively, flaunting her naked body. This woman is definitely referred to sexually, and also is a perfect example of the ‘male gaze’, with close-ups and point of view shots of Jack and long shots of the woman, to emphasise her separate body parts, such as her legs. The point of view shots encourages the audience to look at her as Jack does. To the audience this woman is looked at very sexually, but the idea of the sex symbol females being killed off is slightly twisted. It turns out that this woman is already dead, which reinforces this idea. Wendy is looked
upon in many different ways, but not sexually. She is recognised and identified with by the audience through her domestic, consumer and marital activities. Wendy cooks, cleans, looks after Danny and is the wife of Jack. She seems rather weak, afraid and feminine, but turns out to the hero of this story. The audience identifies with her by the camera using lots of close-ups and point of view shots. The twin girls are the only other female characters in the film ‘The Shining’. They were shown as the daughters of the former caretaker, Grady. They were also represented through their family and their state of death. The two female children were not represented in any of the ways that females are usually shown in horrors, domestic, sexual, consumer or marital activities. This is mainly because they are not in the danger of being killed as they are already dead. Wendy becomes the female protagonist and the final girl of this film, very similar to Laurie in ‘Halloween’, the only females that can fight for themselves and survive are virginal and slightly masculine.

Women are mainly represented sexually in horror genres, but there is usually at least one female character that is not represented in this way. Instead they are virginal, slightly masculine and quite domestic, as shown in the two horror films that I have analysed. I have found that the horror genre and sex seem to go well together, as the sexual activities shown, results to the punishment that they receive for their behaviour and is this can be used in most horrors. The characters that are shown as sex objects seem to be killed off quite easily to show that their sexual statuses and activities result to an early death, what’s more, the female sex objects seem to be weak and blind to what is going on due to their distractions . The ‘final girl’ is never usually looked at sexually, like Wendy and Laurie. The horror genre mainly represents women sexually, but not the final girl, in past horror films, present horror films and, in my opinion, even in future horror films.

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