Women in Horror Month: Why It Matters

You may be asking yourself why Women in Horror Month matters.

In the entertainment industry, just like any other, women struggle for equal wage, equal screen time, equal advertising, and equal treatment.  If you don’t swim in the (optimistically) ever dwindling pool of people who don’t attempt to understand feminism, or believe that sexual harassment is something that is “just how it’s always been” in Hollywood, you realize that the key word here is equal.

The question is…if you’re not in the industry, why should these things matter?

To answer this question, I’d like to start with some information from a research study provided by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.  In this study, they partnered with Google.org and Mount Saint Mary’s University to use computer analysis to examine the top grossing films from 2015-2017.  The computer analyzed the films and determined how often men were on-screen versus women, and also the time women spent speaking on screen versus men.

The results should be shocking.  And to some, they will be.

In Oscar-winning films, women had only 32% of the screen time.  Perhaps worse, they only spoke 27% of the time.  The study further broke down the films by genre.  Can you guess the only genre of film in which women had equal screen time to men?

That’s right: horror.  According to the study, 53% of horror screen time featured women, with 47% speaking time.  The lowest categories were action and crime movies, with both categories in the 20s.

The MPAA reported that audiences in 2017 were split; 50% of movie goers were female.  According to the numbers in the study, this means that half of the audience who saw the Academy Award winners in 2017 saw a representation of their own gender less than one-third of the time.

Not only should studios take note that they are missing an opportunity to reach half of their audience, but this stance has actually proven to be lucrative.  Further data compiled in this study shows that “films led by women grossed 15.8% more on average than films led by men.  Films featuring male and female co-leads earned $108,317,073 – 23.5% more on average than films with male or female leads alone.”  Female driven horror films are definitely seeing box office success, such as Hereditary, The VVitch, The Babadook, and even Happy Death Day.

While horror is doing a good job at showcasing women on-screen, off-screen it still struggles.  According to a study done by The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film in 2018, females made up just 8% of directors in the top 250 movies of the year.  There is also clear evidence that because men hold so many of these top jobs in the industry, it can be a hinderance to the employment of women in other aspects of filmmaking as well:

“…analysis of the top 500 films revealed women directors were often a key to progress because features with at least one woman director employed higher percentages of women writers, editors, cinematographers and composers than did films with exclusively male directors. For example, on films with female directors, women comprised 64 percent of writers. On films with exclusively male directors, women accounted for just 9 percent of writers.” (Hollywood Reporter)

These statistics suggest that the stories of women are being told almost exclusively through the male gaze.  While there are many talented male directors, having female driven stories told almost entirely by males means that half of the population will see themselves misrepresented on-screen a good portion of the time.  Women are often portrayed the way that men would like them to be, rather than how they are.  It is not like it is even always an intentionally sexist thing; it is simply a lack of understanding because they have not lived that experience.

This came to light recently for horror, when producer Jason Blum came under fire for saying that there were no female directors to hire.  A deluge of women came forward, volunteering their services and proving him wrong.  The resulting debate has actually opened up a great discussion about acknowledging that this hiring disparity exists.  The question now is to examine why it is that studios assume that women won’t be interested in certain kinds of film, such as horror or action.  He claimed that Blumhouse has been seeking female directors, but had not yet found any.  He later apologized for how he phrased this, saying that he is very interested in working with female directors and that it is an area in which they need to improve.  Blumhouse has now hired their first female director.  Sophia Takal has taken on their latest series release on Hulu, Into the Dark.  Blumhouse is a continually rising star and has completed many unique, low-budget, and diverse films that have achieved box office success.  If they can continue with this attitude, I believe that they have the power to help move the dial.

Horror in recent years has been making some efforts to change things.   Overall, the final girl in horror films has also been evolving.  Accusations of sexism that were rampant in the 70s and 80s are being pushed aside to make room for the new horror rules.  Slashers that glorified killing teenaged girls who had sex and spared the virgins have made way for ass kicking ladies who sleep with as many or as few people as their character would like.  The women in modern horror can be whoever the story allows: good, bad, survivor, monster.

So you may still ask: why does it matter?  It matters because the human experience is being told through the voice of only one small, specific subset of the population instead of through the lens of a variety of experiences.  It matters because girls need onscreen role models that they can look up to, just like boys.  It matters because women are tired of being seen a certain way for liking horror movies.  And it matters because the more diverse voices that we have telling stories, the more understanding that we can have of each other, and maybe we can make our daily lives and struggles just a little bit easier for each other.  IT MATTERS.

Horror is a category that has made quiet progress over the years, and has the biggest chance to affect change in this regard.  Horror also has an amazing community of supporters, who are accustomed to seeing women on-screen and want more.  It is the underdog genre of movies, and I can’t wait for it to rise up and crush it.

Women in Horror Month is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.  I hope that in years to come, these women that we celebrate for one month every year will be held up as the pioneers that started it all.

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