February is Women in Horror month. So, if you hop around the blogosphere, you're likely to see posts about women in horror as authors, as protagonists, and as villains. Now, I would be remiss to let the month go by without taking at least one post to acknowledge women in the Horror genre, so here we go.
I also may or may not be being threatened. (send help!)
One thing I've seen people lament leading up to this month, is that there aren't that many well-known women Horror authors, and that there seems to be a stigma against women that do write in the genre. Personally, I've never been one to care about the author I'm reading until after I've read their work. If I'm particularly impressed, I'll look them up to see what else they can offer. If I'm feeling insulted, I'll look them up to make sure not to make that mistake again. If it was just okay, I'm probably not going to note who the author was. But that's just me. Male, female, I don't care when I pick up a book.
To say there aren't that many female authors in Horror isn't exactly true either in my opinion. A short list includes Anne Rice (Interview with the Vampire, The Witching Hour), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), and Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House). That's some pretty esteemed colleagues if you ask me. (No, Stephanie Meyer is NOT a Horror author. Claim otherwise and I'm sending Annie to your house.).
I'm here to kick ass and put on mascara. And I'm all out of mascara.
We really don't have a lack of strong female leads either. Even if they don't exactly seem that when when you read them. Wendy Torrence in The Shining is written as a strong character (as opposed to the movie). There's the mother, Chris, in William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist. You also have Clarice Starling, from Silence of the Lambs. And how about Coraline from the book of the same name. That's just using examples I think most people will be familiar with.
I also want it to be said that I think female protagonists in Horror generally come off as even stronger than their male counterparts in other stories. It's stereotyping to a degree, but you expect between men and women, the women will have the stronger bonds with those around them, so when people start dropping like flies, it's generally that much harder for them to maintain their composure, face down the villains, and come out in one piece (usually with a few other people in tow).
Nurse Ratched, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Last of all, are the villains. Women as villains are every bit as terrifying as monsters and their male counterparts. This is due, in part, because people expect women to be nurturing and protective. When you have a character like the one in the picture above, it feels wrong on a much deeper level, it feels more like a betrayal. Even in the old fairy tales, they knew the power a female villain could wield. How many of them feature an evil queen or enchantress?
Of course, there's Nurse Ratched and Annie Wilkes to start. You've got the witches that curse people like in Stephen King's Thinner. And, of course, you've got the classic evil queen in Snow White. (Let's not kid ourselves here. The original fairy tales were NOTHING but horror stories designed to scare children into obedience.)
I'm sure there are tons more in every category that I'm not familiar with or remembering at the moment. Or, maybe I'm wrong and there aren't. At the very least, my examples show that women can excel in every one of these aspects. Women can be popular and respected authors of Horror. Women can be strong, intelligent protagonists. Women can be diabolic and overpowering villains.
So, in Horror, as in life, a woman can be anything she wants to be. And that's the way it should be.