Why Put the "Whore" in Horror?

Why Put the "Whore" in Horror?

Female sexuality suffers in slasher films.
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I love horror films. Forget comedy romps or romance sagas; I’ll take the occult, some demonic activity, and household hauntings filmed through a shaky camera lens over a “feel-good” flick any day. However, my affinity for the macabre movie genre ends at slasher films. I prefer Shyamalan twists and James Wan scream sequences to gory deaths and Jason Voorhees.

Besides the bloodiness of slasher movies, I take issue with the treatment of female sexuality that seems to be ingrained into every film’s plot. When people define classic elements of slasher films, they usually mention either the weapon choices (knife, chainsaw, axe, etc.) or the fact that the movie features a lot of scantily clad women. Think on this-when women die in these types of movies, what are they doing right before they are killed, or as they are being killed? Often times, the first murders of the movie occur as a young, sexually promiscuous woman is engaging in sexual activity and ends up dead because of her “deviant behavior.”

For the sake of a popular example-Lynda Van Der Klok, from Halloween. Lynda has sex with her boyfriend Bob and is immediately punished for her actions. She is lying in bed naked, filing her nails, when Michael appears in the bedroom doorway. The scene is drawn out so that Lynda can ask stupid questions and flirt with Michael, who is standing beneath a sheet and who she thinks is her boyfriend, and so that the audience can occasionally catch a glimpse of her bare breasts. When she’s had enough of Michael’s silence, Lynda gets up and throws a teeny-tiny shirt over her torso (doesn’t button it up so we can still see her chest) and Michael proceeds to strangle her with a telephone cord. Her death takes about 30 seconds, in which time she gasps sexily and arches her back like she’s experiencing sexual pleasure instead of being murdered. Michael is behind her, grunting, and overall the death scene seems more like a grisly porno than a terrifying murder.

But where are the men? As they say, it takes two to tango; what punishment do men receive for their sexual dalliances? In most cases, they end up dead, just as the women do, but it is the differences in their death scenes that promote the desire for purity of women. Bob, Lynda’s boyfriend, is stabbed quickly after sex and is left alone downstairs as Michael slowly makes his way to Lynda. The scene is quick and unfocused, and Bob is quickly forgotten.

The final trope of importance is the “final girl.” In Halloween, the final girl is Laurie Strode, the girl who survives and defeats the monster in the end. The final girl is usually androgynous in the sense that she has characteristics of both masculine and feminine gender stereotypes. Laurie outsmarts and overpowers Michael, both of which are masculine stereotypes, and still remains pretty and pure, which are feminine stereotypes. Another critical characteristic of the “final girls” is that she must be a virgin. The final girl must be untouched by “bad behavior” such as sex, drinking, and drugs; any character to engage in such activities almost always perishes before the movie ends. Remember when Lynda calls Laurie right before she is strangled to death? Laurie gets up off of the couch to answer the phone and throws her knitting onto the couch cushions. It’s Halloween night and Laurie is sitting alone in her living room, knitting.

So, what do these cinematic tropes convey to the audience? First off, the murder of “promiscuous women” sends a message that condemns women who are sexually liberated; if you have sex, you will die. Female sexuality has been limited, confined, and forcibly subdued over the past centuries, and the use of negative imagery alongside sexually active women in popular horror movies perpetrates the idea that female sexuality is something monstrous and must be destroyed. It also strengthens the power of rape culture when we watch and normalize the scene because many of these deaths that involve “the slut” are essentially rape scenes. As I previously mentioned, Lynda sounds like she’s being sexually pleasured rather than dying and her breasts are exposed as she is strangled. And if these women are not being strangled, they’re usually being slashed apart by knives, which are traditionally phallic images in film and literature. The women of slasher films have sex and are raped as punishment, but are remembered throughout popular culture as being part of a “sexy death scene.” Secondly, Bob’s quick demise in comparison to Lynda’s long, drawn out rape/murder scene suggests that male sexuality is not really that bad of a thing; Lynda’s death was obviously punishment for her behavior, but Bob’s was very fast and quickly forgotten, which represents literally all of history in relation to male sexuality. Men are not sexually oppressed like women are. And finally, the final girl. Carol J. Clover coined the term “final girl,” and although some have tried to turn this trope into a feminist icon, the final girl is far from liberating. The final girl caters to male desire in the sense that she is chaste, but embodies masculine traits to the extent that male viewers are able to not only sexualize her, but root for her as well. Halloween is not an isolated incident; Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, these tropes repeat through movies and across plot lines.

Sexuality isn’t the only characteristic of femininity that is attacked in slasher films, and unfortunately it isn’t just slasher films that promote misogynistic ideals. Women are oftentimes the host for evil, and while possessed are not in control of their bodies. They become damsels in distress, in need of rescuing by a priest who, by job description requirements, can only be a man. Other than the misogynistic “final girl,” women are never a source of power or goodness, but instead conduits for evil, shame, and death. Think of Rosemary’s Baby or The Rite or The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The women in these movies are possessed through a violation of the female body and turn the women into vessels of destruction. And when I say destruction, I don’t refer just to the violence that they bring to others. Remember in The Exorcist when Regan, in mid-possession, stabs her vagina with a crucifix which promotes the idea that the feminine body, and (shockingly) sexuality is monstrous. Regan also begs men to “fuck her” several times throughout her possession, suggesting that female sexuality is evil.

As I previously mentioned, powerful women are not commonplace characters in most horror movies. Instead, their power is punished by death or a manipulation of character into something evil. Carrie, for example, shows a powerful young woman with extremely unusual abilities who an opportunity to be good, but instead uses her power for mass destruction. The repetition of the fall of formidable heroines in horror films condemns strong women and seems to send a warning-the power of women is a monstrous thing.

It is easy to overlook subliminal messages in movies like horror films and slasher flicks, but the sexism that permeates the cinematic spooks is every bit as scary as the movie’s murderer. This may sound dramatic, but movies have the power to change the course of culture; we learn from movies, form attachments to characters and places, and these movies stay with us long after they’ve been made. It is absolutely okay to love these films and to continue to watch them, (anyone up for a scary movie marathon?) but it then becomes our responsibility to recognize the misogyny in these movies, how it affects our society, and us, and why it is wrong.

Cover Image Credit: Fan Pop

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An Open Letter to the Person Who Still Uses the "R Word"

Your negative associations are slowly poisoning the true meaning of an incredibly beautiful, exclusive word.
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What do you mean you didn't “mean it like that?" You said it.

People don't say things just for the hell of it. It has one definition. Merriam-Webster defines it as, "To be less advanced in mental, physical or social development than is usual for one's age."

So, when you were “retarded drunk" this past weekend, as you claim, were you diagnosed with a physical or mental disability?

When you called your friend “retarded," did you realize that you were actually falsely labeling them as handicapped?

Don't correct yourself with words like “stupid," “dumb," or “ignorant." when I call you out. Sharpen your vocabulary a little more and broaden your horizons, because I promise you that if people with disabilities could banish that word forever, they would.

Especially when people associate it with drunks, bad decisions, idiotic statements, their enemies and other meaningless issues. Oh trust me, they are way more than that.

I'm not quite sure if you have had your eyes opened as to what a disabled person is capable of, but let me go ahead and lay it out there for you. My best friend has Down Syndrome, and when I tell people that their initial reaction is, “Oh that is so nice of you! You are so selfless to hang out with her."

Well, thanks for the compliment, but she is a person. A living, breathing, normal girl who has feelings, friends, thousands of abilities, knowledge, and compassion out the wazoo.

She listens better than anyone I know, she gets more excited to see me than anyone I know, and she works harder at her hobbies, school, work, and sports than anyone I know. She attends a private school, is a member of the swim team, has won multiple events in the Special Olympics, is in the school choir, and could quite possibly be the most popular girl at her school!

So yes, I would love to take your compliment, but please realize that most people who are labeled as “disabled" are actually more “able" than normal people. I hang out with her because she is one of the people who has so effortlessly taught me simplicity, gratitude, strength, faith, passion, love, genuine happiness and so much more.

Speaking for the people who cannot defend themselves: choose a new word.

The trend has gone out of style, just like smoking cigarettes or not wearing your seat belt. It is poisonous, it is ignorant, and it is low class.

As I explained above, most people with disabilities are actually more capable than a normal human because of their advantageous ways of making peoples' days and unknowingly changing lives. Hang out with a handicapped person, even if it is just for a day. I can one hundred percent guarantee you will bite your tongue next time you go to use the term out of context.

Hopefully you at least think of my friend, who in my book is a hero, a champion and an overcomer. Don't use the “R Word". You are way too good for that. Stand up and correct someone today.

Cover Image Credit: Kaitlin Murray

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Sorry People, But #BelieveWomen Is #UnAmerican

Presumption of innocence is a core American value

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There's a saying: "Lack of faith and blind faith - both are equally dangerous". Believing sexual assault accusers who are women just because they are women besides being the very definition of sexist - prejudice based on sex - is setting a harmful precedent on the way justice is served in this country. See, what this movement has done is changed justice from "prove guilt" to "prove innocence", an important and incredibly dangerous difference. Where is the due process that our Founding Fathers envisioned, fought, and died for?

Due process is an integral part of the reason why we have the United States of America. It was so important to our Founding Fathers that they included it in the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eight (the Bill of Rights), and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. It galls me to see how privileged modern day feminists are - so privileged they seemingly forget the freedoms this country affords them, so they may live their life, expect liberty, and be unhindered in their pursuit of happiness.

#BelieveWomen is a vigilante movement - and with vigilante justice the innocent always hang with the guilty, one of the very reasons for due process. I've heard the argument it's better to let innocent men rot in jail than have rapist men walk free, an argument, despite being incredibly moronic and unAmerican, that would not be made if the accused was a man close to the woman's heart. Because with the change to "prove innocence", the assumption will be guilt, and a confirmation bias will be created. Whereas if the assumption is innocence, the jury must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime has occurred. I understand that a high percentage of rape accusations are truthful (I believe the number is in the high 90s), but the small percentage that are not means we cannot, in good conscience, assume guilt. To assume would damn some men to a fate they do not deserve, a fate they would have to endure simply because of their sex. Any real feminist should be appalled at how sexism is implicitly encouraged in this movement.

If you choose to #BelieveWomen in spite of everything I outlined, that is your prerogative, but you must #BelieveAllWomen. If your father, husband, boyfriend, or son gets accused, you must #BelieveWomen and stand with their accuser. Any less and your feminist privilege will show. Vocal #MeToo activist Lena Dunham has already shown her privilege - accusing actress Aurora Perrineau of lying about being assaulted by her friend Murray Miller. When the going gets hard, feminists rarely stick to their principles. And sadly, feminism - and the double standards it always brings - rears its ugly head once again.

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