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Women in Horror Films: Unveiling the Complexities of Gender Representation in the Genre

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at NCSU chapter.

Horror films have been a staple of cinema for generations, telling tales of terror and suspense that captivate audiences and leave them on the edge of their seats. While these films often serve as an exploration of our deepest fears and anxieties, they can also give a unique lens through which to analyze the representation of gender, particularly women. 

The depiction of women in horror films has been a topic of discussion for a long time, with critics and researchers noting several recurring themes within them. Among these are graphically shown violence, erotic and unsettling situations and a focus on harm or killing to female characters. Many horror films portray violence, particularly towards women, in a manner that can be disturbing. This is often accompanied by an underlying sexual subtext, playing on the idea that female characters are punished for expressing their sexuality. Such portrayals have led to concerns about the potential reinforcement of harmful stereotypes.

It is also evident in the horror genre that roles of antagonists or monstrous figures are predominantly played by males, or, less commonly, women who embody a masculinized persona. They dominate the narrative, often holding power, control, and an imposing presence that instills fear in the audience. In contrast, female characters most often find themselves playing the role of victims and being subject to acts of violence.

As the horror genre continues to evolve, there has been an apparent shift towards more empowered and resilient female characters. These portrayals break women away from victimization and allow them to take on more active roles, moving society and the horror genre toward the reevaluation of its gender dynamics. 

the final girl trope

One of the most iconic tropes in horror cinema is the “final girl.” This trope refers to the last girl or woman alive who confronts the killer and is often the one left to tell the story. The concept of the final girl was coined by Carol J. Clover in her groundbreaking book “Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film” in 1992. The final girl trope has appeared in numerous horror films. 

Over the years, the idea of the final girl character has evolved. In early horror films, these women were often portrayed as “damsels in distress,” relying on a strong male figure to save them. However, as horror films have progressed, final girls have become more self-reliant and resourceful, no longer solely depending on male saviors. This evolution is likely reflective of the changing societal attitudes toward gender roles.

The portrayal of women in horror films is still seen as an evolving topic, with discussions centered around violence, sexualization, and the emergence of the final girl trope. While it is important to acknowledge problematic aspects of gender within this genre, it is also clear how much progress has been made in recent years.

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STYLISTS: Cameron Crews, Paige Hill, and Ava Stewart

PHOTOGRAPHERS: Grace Rodrigues, Meadow Pacheco, Natasha Cuestas, Bridget Plouff, and Cameron Crews

MODELS: Shaniya Woolridge, Isabelle Huller, Ishita Rao, Nimet Betul Karatas, Kelsey Bohn, Jai-Li Powell, Jada Strickland, Savannah Jenkins, and Genesis Ramirez

LOCATION: NC State University

CLOTHES PROVIDED BY: Paige Hill, Cameron Crews, and Ava Stewart

My name is Katie Barrows and I am a writer with a passion for all things related to lifestyle, wellness, relationships, and more. My goal as a Her Campus member is to create content that inspires readers on various aspects of life, from health and well-being to personal growth, while also writing on intriguing, enjoyable topics. I especially love the aspect of community and connections that I have built through HC. Currently, I am a senior at North Carolina State University, pursuing degrees in communications/public relations and business administration. I also have a minor in social work, and actively work with many nonprofit organizations. Outside of my academic and writing pursuits, I love fitness and the outdoors, as well as beauty, makeup, and skincare. I'm also an avid fan of the TV show "Love Island." Looking ahead to life after graduation, I hope to work in the field of public relations and marketing, using my education and writing skills to help organizations effectively convey their messages, build strong brand identities, and connect with their target audiences.