Sexism in the Slasher Subgenre

If you’re not a horror fanatic, such as myself, it may come as a surprise to you that horror movies (in particular, the slasher subgenre) have rules. And simply put, if you break those rules you will die. If you’re unfamiliar with these rules, Randy Meeks the local horror movie expert in Scream organizes them into a shortlist:

  1. You can never have sex
  2. You can never drink or do drugs
  3. Never, under any circumstances, say I’ll be right back  

These rules are the core features of any classic horror movie, however, this is also where sexism begins to arise. While rule number three is more arbitrary, rules one and two make clear commentary on what women should and should not do, as most of the victims of the genre are women. Most classic horror movies, such as Halloween, punish women who have sex or drink alcohol by showing them violently murdered shortly after such acts. This in itself makes a big statement on how we believe women should behave. However, the surviving protagonists like Laurie Strode in Halloween, usually exemplify society’s expectations of what women should be: pious, submissive, domestic and pure. When we see the protagonist with these traits survive and those who don’t fit society’s mold of what a woman should die, this sends a strong message that breaking societal expectations is costly to women. 

Halloween is hailed as a classic in the horror genre — and for good reason. Halloween introduces the concept of a final girl. A final girl is the last standing female character whose task is to come face to face with the killer in a final dramatic scene. She must either survive long enough for help to arrive or take matters into her own hands. Sounds kind of empowering, right? Well, upon digging deeper, it really isn’t. When we consider the contrast between victims and survivors that I mentioned previously, we can begin to see how the role of the final girl has some issues. In addition to needing to fit society's expectations of women, the final girl is usually rather helpless and overly trusting. We see this in moments where the final girl seems unaware that the killer is standing directly behind her or when she relaxes, assuming the killer is dead before he really is. These instances, while can be suspenseful and sometimes comical, can also downplay women’s intelligence. When talking on the phone with Ghostface, Sidney Prescott in Scream summarizes the issue with how final girls are usually portrayed, “Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act who’s always running up the stairs when she should be going out the front door. It’s insulting.” Sidney seems to perfectly sum up what is wrong with the way women are portrayed in this genre. 

Slasher films are not without their problems, that should be clear, however, does that mean we should avoid the genre this October? No! It’s okay to enjoy watching slasher films, but what’s important is being aware of how they perpetuate stereotypes and enforce antiquated gender roles. So, if you do find yourself watching some horror classics like Halloween, Sleepaway Camp or My Bloody Valentine, keep in mind how misogyny might play a role, but don’t let it stop you from enjoying the film. Even better is to seek out films that portray women in a more positive light. The Scream Trilogy, The Silence of the Lambs, and A Nightmare on Elm Street are some classics in the horror genre that toy with the tropes of the genre.