Pretty Bloody: Women and Stereotypes in Horror Movies

By Maggie Freleng

February is Women in Horror Month, which is dedicated to recognizing women in the horror film industry. As with all film, women behind- and on-screen are woefully under-represented. This is probably because, according to a recent report, women are less likely to work in the action, horror, and sci-fi genres. This may be a no-brainer, considering the poor and stereotypical representations of women in the horror genre - there is no way women from diverse perspectives can be making these movies. 

On that note, any other race other than white people are also under-represented in horror movies. According to a recent study, white women are killed 52 percent more of the time than other races/ethnicities. The likeliness of this obviously seems to be that horror films feature white people significantly more - and we know how much viewers love watching a blonde woman in her bra and underwear run from a villain.

So this month, we take a look at some of your favorite horror movies and the tropes the women who do make it into these films play.

Damsel in Distress

This one may be the most obvious in horror films, and the most commonly used. Women are the weaker sex and in need of rescue by a man. This trope traces back to some of the first horror movies like "King Kong" and "Creature From the Black Lagoon."  In modern movies, these women are tortured, ostracized, and victimized - often running around vulnerable and half naked.  

Jealous, Vengeful Lover

It seems that in horror movies, women always have a reason to kill. Most often, it is because of passion, anger, or jealousy - usually involving a man. Women rarely snap and kill for the sake of killing. The idea that women kill because they are scorned lovers is a huge boost to the male ego.

Evil Demon Seductress

Just as titillating as the Jealous, Vengeful Lover is the idea of the Evil Demon Seductress. Anita Sarkeesian, media critic and author of the video blog, "Feminist Frequency", stated in one of her “Tropes vs. Women” videos: "When an evil-demon-seductress is on screen, men get to objectify her while having these sexist, preconceived notions reaffirmed that women are indeed manipulative and deceitful.” Evil Demon Seductresses use their sexuality to deceive a man, and then naturally uses violence to get what they want. The recent film, “Jennifer’s Body,” features Megan Fox in this exact role.

Demon Host

During the same time, women were also victims, but a different kind of victim - they were victims of their own bodies. In movies like, “The Omen” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” the female body was a host for evil. "The Exorcist" and "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" are other examples. As women of the time tried to portray their bodies as a source of power and beauty, horror movies showed they were still a source of guilt, shame, and evil. (Did we mention in "The Exorcist," the obsessed girl actually proceeds to stab her vagina with a crucifix? If that's not symbolism...)

Overly Liberated Woman

During the second wave of feminism, it scared many men that women were gaining power, liberating themselves and their bodies. During this time, movies depicting the idea of a liberated woman and what could happen if women had too much power were common. Movies like “Carrie” showed the fear and dread of a powerful women and what happens when she gives her body a choice.

Sexually Promiscuous Women and The Saved Virgin

During the height of the sexual revolution, particularly in the late 70s, horror movies punished sexually liberated and “promiscuous” women. In movies like “Halloween”, all the teens who were sexually experienced were killed. The lone survivor, Jamie Lee Curtis, was the only “pure” one. The "Friday the 13" series particularly punishes those teens who drink, smoke, and have sex.

Maggie Freleng is a Brooklyn-based writer and photographer focusing on social justice, gender, and sexuality. Follow her on Twitter @dixiy89.