Decoding The Relationship Between Womanhood & The Horror Genre

The horror genre has had a long-lasting relationship with women. Most horror films of today are rooted in the late 18th - early 19th Century gothic genre, which was very popular with women readers of that time period. It is no coincidence that women such as Mary Shelley wrote a story such as Frankenstein, which is about a monster deemed ugly in society and rejected due to that status. The horror of the novel comes from the feeling of alienation and not belonging, a common feeling many women have, even in 2019. 


Horror films in the late 1960s began to feature women in leading roles. Not every lead role was a win for feminism, however. The concept of the “Final Girl” would become more prominent entering the 1980’s with films like Carrie, Alien and even The Shining. Sadly the Final Girls in the 1980s slasher were made to be the purest or virginal to villainize the immoral sexuality of young people. Worse, the women were subjected to torture which made the films more exploitive than liberating. The constant fear of being cornered still spoke to more women than men. 

With this new century, films such as Jennifer’s Body, Ginger Snaps and The VVitch explore how powerful it can be for women coming to terms with their sexuality, and how that sexuality presents a danger to a society in which men dominate. This is reflected in all three of these films with wicked transformations of the heroines. Each lead woman character endures the rough patch that is puberty, and these films illuminate the alienation of the body that many women confront in adolescence. Films such as Hereditary and The Babadook illustrate how horrific motherhood can be when most films depict motherhood the best way women to live their lives. These female characters reclaim themselves in these narratives through the lens of a horror film, where being themselves also meant exercising power in monstrous ways.

Being a woman comes with the inherent trauma and alienation of our bodies arising from a patriarchal society. This may be why many women have become attracted to the more recent horror films, especially ones that depict unhinged women who are bloody and acting primal within their grief. It may be almost as cathartic for women to see themselves in a horror film setting as it is to watch a comforting romantic comedy. New films in the horror genre are carrying the pain and suffering for women who can’t scream without being called hysterical. The horror genre allows women to connect to characters who fear walking alone or in a small group at night - just as we do every night.