Tuesday, May 27, 2014

WHAT SCARES ME: GENDER INEQUALITY AND THE VIOLENCE IT FEEDS IN AMERICAN SLASHER FILMS


-Elliot Rodger


On May 23rd, 2014 (my 24th birthday) I was reminded of why I started writing Day of the Woman in the first place.  After five years, Day of the Woman has matured to something a bit more refined than what I started when I was eighteen, but my message is still the same.  It's scary as hell to be a woman in today's society both on screen and off.  Six people were killed and thirteen were injured before the killer took his own life, and it was all because a man felt that women weren't doing what he wanted.  This was a blatant act of misogyny and it didn't harm only women, it killed four men who were caught in the cross-hairs.  A man was determined to kill women and attacked anyone that could have possibly stopped him.  Sounds a lot like someone else we know...
I need to kill Laurie Strode...and anyone that gets in my way.

Slasher films have come under fire for decades for its portrayals of female archetypes.  Obviously there are exceptions, but the overwhelming majority of these films show male characters attacking female victims, and if a female IS the villain, it's used as a "twist-ending" or isn't revealed until the end of the film.  Why?


Films are a reflection on the society they originate from, so in order to dissect the gender inequality of slasher films it's important to look at the way our society views violent men and women.  This is a PSA that shows what happens when a man abuses a woman in public vs. when a woman abuses a man in public.  If you didn't watch it, the results are exactly what you'd think.  When the man puts his hands on a woman, a gaggle of Good Samaritans immediately run to her aid.  When the roles are reversed, witnesses laugh at the man being beaten by his girlfriend, and no one intervenes.  Why?  It all goes back to the idea that women are the weaker sex.  When women are villains it’s used as a shock tactic because society thinks it's so ridiculous for a woman to be violent that it comes off as humor.  Witnessing the violence in action is laughable, but having the reveal after the violence has ended is horrifying not because it's a woman...but because your preconceived notions were wrong.  On the other hand, men are seen as monsters because they’re asserrting their dominance as the stronger sex and they’re punished for losing control. This isn't a "men's rights issue," this is a human issue.  If we truly saw women as equals to men, we would intervene when men are being abused and take it just as seriously as we do when women are abused.  Equality would help men’s issues just as much as it would help women’s issues.  So where does that leave horror?

What happens when a family lives without any female figureheads?

All of the major slasher killers, arguably the staples of American horror films, were all bred from complicated relationships with men that were violent to women.  Horror puts how screwed up society is under a microscope to show us how all these things (patriarchy, materialism, etc) birth the things of nightmares. Freddy Krueger was "the bastard son of 100 maniacs" when he was conceived from his mother, a nun, who was gang-raped.  Michael Myers (if we follow the Rob Zombie origin story and not the ridiculous cult nonsense of HALLOWEEN 6) was raised in a house with an abusive step-father and was brought to believe his mother was a bad person because of her profession.  Jason Voorhees was raised by a single-mother who was essentially punished for having a career and not living solely as a mother when those she elected to watch her son let him die.  Leatherface was raised in an environment where the patriarchy reigned supreme and his own femininity was the cause for much ridicule from his family.  Many people like to dismiss these slashers as just pure evil, but they're not.  If we focus on the initial introductions of these characters, (and not the one-liners or ridiculous mythos perpetuated in the sequels) it becomes horrifying to realize that any one of us could become a monster.  Forget about the movie magic of Freddy being able to kill us in our dreams, he's still an angry man hell bent on revenge.  They're all products of their environment, their mental state, and the societal experiences they were exposed to during the important stages of development.  These men were all brought out of a world coated with men showcasing violence towards women, and they continued a pattern.  But these horror icons came long before Elliot Rodgers...what does that say about society today?
Billy Loves Stu. Totally.
Elliot Rodger was a millennial, and a child born into the age of technology.  Elliot Rodger was misunderstood and extremely angry young man that found solace in those that agreed with him.  Even after killing six people and his 140 page "manifesto" hit the web, there are still men that completely sympathize with him.  20-30 years ago, Elliot Rodger would have been lucky to find someone that would agree with him but now he has an entire community of fellow angry white men at his finger tips that don't tell him "you're wrong," and instead, encourage "you're right, women suck."  SCREAM was a self-aware slasher film, and featured two killers instead of one.  These weren't mad-men, they were men who were mad.  Where Billy and Stu had similar interests and films, Elliot Rodger had the internet.  Finding someone that shares your love of destruction is a dangerous combination, and we all know nothing brings people together more than a mutual hatred.  People keep blaming Men's Rights Activists or the Pick-Up Artist community for Rodger's actions...but that's like saying Billy and Stu became killers because of horror movies.  Hell, Billy said it himself, "Now Sid, don't you blame the movies. Movies don't create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative!"  Billy was very, very angry about a woman "destroying" his parents' marriage.  Instead of feeling angry towards his own father for stepping out on his mother, he targeted "the other woman" and placed all the blame on her.  Elliot Rodger was mad that women wouldn't have sex with him and instead of trying to improve himself, he placed all the blame on other women.  Are we sensing a pattern here?  Blaming a woman and discovering a like-minded person was a recipe for disaster, and one we unfortunately became witness to happening offscreen and on the streets of Isla Vista, California. 

But wait, women always survive in these horror movies!  Yeah, but...
Sweaters in summer? Get out of here.
Women survive in horror movies if they act in a very particular way.  Elliot Rodger was angry at "stuck-up, blonde sluts."  Who usually dies early in a slasher film?  The Lynda Van Der Klok types in HALLOWEEN, and the Tina Gray types of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET are always the first to go.  If you're blonde and sexually fluid, you're going to die.  What keeps you safe?  Being a virgin. The responsibility of survival is placed solely on the woman and her sexuality, which is exactly what we do to rape victims and what a lot of defenders of Elliot Rodger are trying to claim.  While #YesAllWomen gains momentum, there are still people saying that it's a woman's fault for not giving Rodger what he wanted...in the same way that we say "if you wouldn't have had sex, you would have survived" to women in slasher films.

One-liners aside, Freddy is a total creep.
Are slasher films responsible for mass murders and misogyny? Absolutely not.  Horror movies are not the problem, but they're a hell of a way to reflect the ideals of society on a more dramatic level.  Successful movies have attributes that audiences can relate to, and if we're accepting reality in films where men will kill everyone in their path to punish one woman...what does that say about our society? Even more terrifying, after a few installments in a slasher franchise, we're almost viewing these villains as an anti-hero and somewhat defending their actions.  Jason Voorhees is just listening to his mommy, Freddy is seeking revenge for his own death, Michael Myers had a rough childhood, Leatherface's family taught him violence at a very young age, and the Ghostface killers all really, really hate Sidney Prescott.  Instead of saying "kill these monsters," were asking for 10 sequels and the bloodshed of innocent victims. If films glorify killers and we want more of these films, does that mean we'll get more of these killers? No, not until we first address the culture and society that these films reflect.

8 comment(s):

dave s said...

Great post, as always, BJ. I love your thoughtful approach to horror, the way you dig into an underlying theme or issue. During "The Great Slasher Debates" (tm) of the 1980's, when I was your age, I was troubled by the way that women were targeted by killers in slasher flicks, but I came to a kind of peace with my love of the sub-genre (with some exceptions) by understanding that it was the final girl I was identifying with rather than the killer, despite all the heavy-breathing POV shots from the killer's perspective. She was my surrogate through which I did battle against Michael, Jason, Freddie, et al. Keep it up, BJ. You're a writer whom I'll always read.

Katie Huntington said...

This was really interesting, and something that's definitely important to discuss more. Fantastic post!

deadthyme said...

Good read as always- I agree with every word you've written here except the line "Elliot Rodger was mad that women wouldn't have sex with him and instead of trying to improve himself, he placed all the blame on other women.". Elliot had a disturbed mind, so we can't really take his 'manifesto' that seriously- he snapped and killed a bunch of people! You can't really take his justifications THAT seriously, any more than you can take the Son of Sam saying his dog told him to kill people that seriously. But if you read between the lines somewhat, Elliot seemed to want what any human being wants- what every human being wants more than anything else, and that is to feel important. I don't think he totally snapped and killed those girls (and guys) just because they wouldn't have sex with him. I think he did it because they (the girls and the guys) didn't show him the basic respect most humans deserve. Maybe he was ugly, or his hair was greasy, or he was creepy awkward (as opposed to cute awkward), or whatever, but just like with the Columbine incident we've found that if you fuck with some people (and his writing alludes to the fact that he was bullied both by boys and girls and wanted to kill them both) they're going to snap. It's not right, and no one who got killed or hurt deserved it, but I think people should still strive better to treat others, both men and woman, with respect, even if they are ugly or weird and don't bother 'improving themselves'.
Also, you forgot the father of all geeky slashers with major female issues, Norman Bates.

John Hitchcock said...


Elliot Rodger was insane. I can definitely agree on that one. The sad thing is that every time I hear one of his absurd quotes, it reminds me of the original James Bond (http://hitchcocksworld.blogspot.ca/2014/02/why-do-people-like-james-bond.html) and how fans continue to ignore the blatant sexism of the franchise and build up Bond as an awesome figure to the point of outright denying the existence of a glorified rape scene in Goldfinger (and yes, it is there).

As for the article itself, I certainly can't deny that films reflect the society the produce them (similar to how 1950's science alien invasion films often reflected Cold War Paranoia, while similarly themed movies in 70's and 80's reflected changes in society and a growing distrust in the government). That said, speaking as someone who has written multiple article on issues regarding how women are treated in film, I can't deny that something should be changed here.

After all the closest I can think of to a slasher film where women weren't the direct targets would be Alien (where all the men die first an one of the women survives) or The Thing. Maybe it would be interesting to see a slasher film with a female villain stalking men (perhaps she could even have a similar aim for vengeance to the male serial killers you listed).

Shane M said...

Elliot Rodger was a very disturbed young man. Reading some of his rantings he was so full of hate. To bad there was no way he could have been stopped sooner.

Manick Munjal said...

Disturbing

Anonymous said...

A Horrible Way to Die kind of addresses this as well, very interesting slasher movie and take on the serial killer. Spoiler: First repentant and guilt ridden serial killer I have ever seen who views the woman in his life (who blew the whistle on him) as the only good thing he had and that he f'd up, not her.

Party Slashers said...

You make a very valid point. I always thought the rules to survive a slasher film were ridiculous, and it's quite possible that the cultural attitude towards women during the time a lot of these iconic slasher films were made helped shape these "rules".
I really feel like we're in the process of destroying these classic archetypes though. The costs to make a film are now so low, and the playing field has really been leveled for filmmakers from all backgrounds. With that we're gonna see more films portraying more realistic people.

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