February is Women in Horror Recognition Month!
When I was completing my PhD in history, one of my professors asked a controversial question: Why do we need all of these specialty areas of history? African-American Studies, Women’s Studies, Native American Studies, Chicano Studies–aren’t they superfluous? Isn’t history just history?
His question was a challenge to the budding scholars in the room, but it’s an important point to consider in non-academic setting, as well. Isn’t the history of women just plain old history? The answer is: yes and no. For centuries, history was written not only by the military victor, but also by the social victor. White, usually wealthy men left reams of documents highlighting their achievements. History was their history. But what of the countless other voices? What of the subaltern? The women? The colonized Other? In the post-war years, these voices have been rescued from the silenced spaces of history through the specialized arenas known as “studies.” Do we need “Women’s Studies?” Right now, yes, we do.
Similar questions have been raised about designating February as Women In Horror month. Do we really need this? A whole month’s worth of special recognition is a bit much, don’tcha think, ladies? A large portion of Gothic literature in the 1800s was written by women, but those numbers declined significantly in the early 1900s, particularly in the post-war years as the modern concept of the “horror genre” took hold in novels and films. Studies indicate that many people divide films into two categories: chick films and guy films. All things horror clearly belong to the second category–men like horror, women like romance. And if women don’t like horror, then doesn’t it stand to reason that they’re less likely, and perhaps even less capable, of creating it?
Drift through the horror section in a book store. How many initialized D.W. or B.E. or androgynous Kit or Dion names do you see? It’s interesting to note how much more frequently women horror writers chose androgynous pseudonyms as opposed to those who write paranormal or Gothic romance. While the authors themselves may certainly be comfortable writing within the horror genre, the abundance of gender-free pennames (also found in the male-dominated science-fiction and fantasy fields—J.K. Rowling, anyone?) indicates the suspicious that readers randomly pulling titles from a shelf or search page might not be quite so comfortable.
In many horror novels and films, women are depicted as the objects of violence, yet the blinders are still on in regard to their input as artists, authors, directors, and special effects people. The Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez described a recent horror film, Captivity, as “torture porn.” The studio was forced to take down 30 billboards promoting the film after complaints from people who said it glamorized violence against women (the posters showed the young female character being tortured and killed). There’s a disturbingly gleeful rush to brutalize, mutilate, and torture women, yet the crowd thins considerably when it comes time to recognize and appreciate (translate: support and buy the products of) women artists in the horror genre.
A post on the CHUD discussion board caught my eye while doing research for this article. Wetbones asked, “Looking at my bookshelf, which is all but collapsing with all kinds of horror novels, I notice a severe lack of female fright fiction. Is it just that I’m not aware of them or are there really very few female horror writers that are worth a damn?”
THEY ARE OUT THERE!
And that’s exactly why we need a Women in Horror month. As with the often unwritten histories within history, women and their stories are out there. There are brilliant authors, directors, screen writers, actors, poets, painters, and any other artist you can think of out there creating amazing things. But too often they are still overlooked, under-appreciated, or even mocked (Curious how Stephanie Myers’ novels, which are hugely popular with young girls and women, draw such vigorous condemnation, and no more so from those in the horror community defending so-called “real” vampires). It’s always surprising and disheartening when one encounters the attitude that women just don’t “get” horror (or science fiction, or video games, or…). But as long as these attitudes prevail, there will be a need for “studies” fields and for Women in Horror. My dream? History does just become history and women in horror no longer need special recognition. Until then, this February take a closer look at the monsters in the shadows. They are not who you might imagine…
For more on February’s Women in Horror Month head to their website!