Horror and Feminism: It’s not what you think

On Monday Night, Harrison Hall hosted a visiting scholar, Dr. Bernadette Marie Calafell from the University of Denver who discussed “Monstrous Possibilities: Feminist Potentialities of Contemporary Horror”.

  • Note 1: I define feminism as the belief that all genders should have equality
  • Note 2: My interpretations of Dr. Calafell’s discussion may differ from their beliefs


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Photo of Dr. Calafell’s presentation by BreakingLinea

Now I bet you’re wondering, how could the Horror genre relate to feminism? 

Unlearn what the public education system in the USA forced down your throat: popular culture can grant insight into what values a culture holds dear, and can provide commentary on politics, race/ethnicity/identity, socio-economic status, age, ability, gender, sexuality, and more. This means that TV shows and movies are cultural artifacts which are overflowing with insights into a culture (and the beliefs behind those values they hold dear).


Photo by CollegeDegrees360 on Flickr,CC


In case I wasn’t clear, the Horror genre is packed full of the values and beliefs of our culture.

I know, you get it. But still, the question begs, how does horror relate to feminism? Isn’t horror just fiction?

For the most part, yes. But fiction is just the alteration of a reality that we already know. Tropes and stereotypes in the horror genre contribute to the perpetuation of  ideas and values, then solidify them in our culture. When you pay to watch a film, or TV show, you are participating in the perpetuation and acceptance of those values and beliefs. Crazy, right?


Photo by Moyan Brenn on Flickr, CC

Well, let’s get to it already. Here are some examples for how the Horror genre relates to feminism.

1. Objectification of bodies

The contemporary horror genre often portrays characters with feminine characteristics  who succumb to the “dark” side. One way or another, they are “weak” for succumbing, and often need to be saved by others. Such characters might serve as a vessel of the devil, through demonic possession, or through carrying a demon child to term. These feminine characters are stripped away of their rights and bodies, through the manipulation of masculine demons.

2. Hypersexualization of bodies

In one example Dr. Calafell presents, the film American Mary (2012) includes instances of characters who alter their body with surgery to defy the sexual classifications that their society limits them to. Only through these acts of defiance can these characters find freedom in the culture they live in – making a commentary on how society confines and limits identity-minorities into fight or flight situations of reality.

3. Masculine role behind anger/weakness/possession

Many characters in the horror genre start their story with the abuse of their body and purity: sexual assault, divorce, a cheating lover, being ignored or stood up, losing a loved one. Whatever the trope, these masculine-roled situations (mostly heteronormative,  between binary male and female characters) lead to the monstrous transformation of the feminine characters.

Now, not every artifact of the horror genre expresses these forementioned tropes, but many of them do. Some even make moves to fight back and comment on the detrimental nature of these tropes.

Next time you watch a a TV show or film that falls into the horror genre, keep in mind what values and social realities are either being put into play, reshaped, or destroyed. You might just learn something new about your culture.

Do you agree that these messages are perpetuated through the horror genre, or do you disagree? Comment below!


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