Confessions of a Woman in Horror
This February is the ninth annual Women in Horror Month, four weeks set aside to celebrate the female’s influence on horror media. I’ve been pleased to see many interviews, social media highlights, and particular focus on women of color in my favorite genre. But, what is it really like being a woman in this traditionally male dominated field?
When I was little, and hopelessly obsessed with Lizzie Borden and Vincent Price, it never occurred to me that horror wasn’t a place for me. My parents supported my strange interests. My mom, a talented artist, made a Lydia and Beetlejuice poster for my room. My dad, a lover of literature, read Emily Dickinson’s morbid poetry and Shakespeare’s dark monologues aloud.
I did know that people found me peculiar. My good friend admitted her mother worried about my influence on her when we were children. And there is the time I tried bringing a biography of Ed Gein, replete with gruesome photographs, to a babysitting job. My mom gently took it from my hand, suggesting this reading material would disturb the nice family I was working for.
Yet, it wasn’t until I transitioned from horror fan to horror author that I recognized the problematic landscape of gender in this genre. I have had the terrific luck to work with both men and women in this industry who have lifted me up, supported my writing, and have genuinely helped me along this frightening and exhilarating road. At the same time, I would be remiss not to share the discriminations. For both the women who will undoubtedly face similar moments, and for the men who are seeking reflection, and want to do better. These are only a few examples, as any woman will tell you, whether in horror or not, there are many more.
When a short story of mine was published in an anthology devoted to women in horror, I was thrilled. And then, at the celebration for this anthology, a man monopolized the speaking time. My eye twitched.
I work a lot of horror and fan conventions. A mutual friend introduced me to a horror film director at one of these.
“You must be an actress.” The male director said.
“Well, I’m a director, and I have lots of experience and here’s all my credits...”
He never asked me what I do. Or how I’d recently had a horror screenplay named an Official Selection at a film festival. I threw his business card in the trash, my eye twitching like crazy.
There was a zombie anthology seeking its thirteenth short story to accompany the already chosen twelve. These twelve were all written by men. I didn’t expect to win, but my jaw dropped when I saw, despite the many women who had submitted, they decided to pick yet another man. I unfollowed this publisher, my eye twinge at full blast.
“Did you actually write this whole book?” That’s been one of my most common questions from men. And this isn’t specific to horror, I’ve witnessed my fantasy and history writing female friends field this awkward, sexist query, too.
At one convention, an artist working next to me asked what the topic of my work was.
“Female driven horror. I like to write about complicated, strong women who save themselves.”
He laughed. And then he took all of his misogynistic work, of bound and gagged women being raped by demons, and purposely positioned them, so they were in my line of sight for the entire weekend.
Just like all the times before, my eye twitched. Yet, I stayed quiet. As a woman I’ve been programmed to be polite, sweet, and non-threatening.
These moments remind me of the time I went into a Noodles & Company for lunch. The man behind the counter glanced at my Johnny Cash t-shirt.
“What could you possibly know about Johnny Cash?” He asked.
Instead of saying, “a lot. He’s my favorite singer and I know every song.” I just laughed as though he’d made a joke, and shrugged.
Why? Well, here’s the irony; one of the primitive reasons women are drawn to horror is because we’re the victims. I’m five feet tall, and was the tiniest child in every class. My mom, and certainly the media, scared me into believing there was no escape from the serial killing boogeymen of the eighties and nineties. I was small and female. My way of processing this foreboding shadow was to create women, who, when faced with gnarling monsters or men with knives, fought back. Perhaps, because I’ve been uncertain if I’d be strong enough to do it myself.
So here’s my pledge. This year, as Women in Horror Month draws to a close, I vow to be more like my heroines. To lash out at the monsters. And I call every woman in our genre to do the same. Prepare your biting witticisms now, because I promise you, a man will ask how you managed to write a whole book, or produced a film, or created a horror business, all by your little self.
It’s almost like they forget we’re the final girls.
Let’s remind them.