Women in Film: Why Dying Bloody Requires Immediate Sex Appeal | Teen Ink

Women in Film: Why Dying Bloody Requires Immediate Sex Appeal

June 18, 2016
By Allie Pitchon BRONZE, Buenos Aires, Other
Allie Pitchon BRONZE, Buenos Aires, Other
4 articles 0 photos 0 comments

 It always starts the same. The female character—a beautiful, twenty-something blond—is lounging about a dark, empty house in some see-through lingerie. It is most likely the middle of winter and there is possibly a thunderstorm outside, but this does not stop the lingerie from covering as little skin as possible. The camera zooms in on the blond, for much longer than is truly necessary, and the viewer begins to wonder exactly why they are staring at this poor, half-naked girl through the eyes of an overly imaginative twelve-year-old boy. But before they can dwell on this fact for too long, there is a creaking sound somewhere in the house. Our heroine jumps up, reaches for a hidden baseball bat or umbrella or rolled up newspaper, but not a phone—never a phone—when the deranged killer emerges from the shadows. He’s large, bulky, possibly disfigured or wearing the face of another beautiful, twenty-something blond. The blond screams, somehow still seductively, then tries to run but clumsily trips over her own feet. (Perhaps the hypothermia has led to a loss of feeling in her lower extremities.) The killer looms over her, brandishing a butcher’s knife or a machete or possibly an axe. The camera does one last pan over our heroine—her faze frozen in some confused state halfway between seduction and fear—almost forlorn to see her go. Then, the killer swings his butcher’s knife or machete or possibly his axe and her screams are abruptly cut short.

Throughout the history of film, movies have demonstrated a strong tendency to act as a metaphorical strainer of historical context, capturing certain important aspects of the time while letting others slip through the cracks all together. This includes the history of women, and is no exception for the horror genre, from the very first depiction of things that go bump in the night to the latest escapades of sparkly vampires with surprisingly well-defined abs.

While modern cinema has captured and reflected the slow but steady progress of the women’s rights movement across the world, it also reveals certain misogynistic aspects that have remained ingrained in our society. For instance, in film, women have tended to embody two contrasting binary roles—the docile, sexually passive “good girl,” or the deadly, morally flawed femme fatale. The mother, or the prostitute.  The doting housewife or the harlot. With no shades of grey between the clearly defined, black and white roles that have been assigned, the former group of women tends to be portrayed in a positive light, while the latter seem to be treated like free samples at Costco—convenient, consumable, and largely disposable.


This overall negative and confining role of women in film, especially in horror, can be seen in their deaths. Not simply in which type of women die (predominantly those who are sexualized in one way or another throughout the film), but specifically in the gory details of their deaths themselves. Let’s take a look at the infamous shower scene from Psycho, for instance. Not only is she nude when her murder takes place, but as the scene progresses, the camera only focuses on certain sections of her body at a time. Her arm, her leg, her face—never presenting her as a whole but instead cutting her up into consumable little pieces. In this way, the woman—notably a prostitute— is reduced to a mere sexual object intended for the visual pleasure of men. This “Male Gaze,” an idea first proposed by British female film theorist Laura Mulvey, depicts the female characters in ways that cater only to the heterosexual man throughout the movie, failing to include the female viewer. In turn, both the male and female spectators are encouraged to view the heroines through eyes tainted by ideals of a male patriarchy and gender binaries. This leads in large part to the sexual objectification and the overall suppression of women and women’s sexuality. After all, the fact that the murder of a sexually liberated woman in Psycho is carried out by a man with the phallic weapon of a knife is no small detail.

But what about the woman who survives until the end of the horror movie? The so-called “Final Girl,” as is proposed by Carol Clover in her book Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. After all, she is a strong, empowered female character that defeats the villain and saves the day. Surely this marks the strong progress that horror is making in tearing down the walls of gender bias. However, it is notable that the only way in which the Final Girl is able to defeat the villain is in taking on male characteristics. She tends to have an androgynous name, (Laurie, Sidney, Teddy, Billie, Georgie), and is generally devoid of any sexuality whatsoever. In fact, she tends to be either characterized as masculine, asexual, or a child. She is the one who rejects the vices that have managed to reel in the other characters, including sex, drugs and alcohol, and she is the one that escapes with her life. In fact, during the scene where the Final Girl defeats the killer, one could say that she partially becomes masculinized through a certain “phallic appropriation” when she uses the killer’s own weapon—a butcher’s knife or a machete or possibly an axe—against him.

Don’t get me wrong. Women have made leaps and bounds in terms of the roles they have been assigned in film. Yet, is this the case in horror? The idea of a strong female character as the last one standing is certainly evidence of this fact. However, we still have a long way to go. After all, as long as women are forced into gender binaries through the use of the “Male Gaze” and sexualized deaths, and as long as the masculinization of the “Final Girl” continues, there is still progress to be made.

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An analysis of women in horror movies, and the surprisingly key role that sex appeal often plays.

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