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Do Horror Movies Objectify Women?

Herner Klenthur 34 Comments

Do Horror Movies Objectify Women?The horror genre is typically and incorrectly set forward as a genre for men alone and that women in the genre are nothing more then objects.

It is somehow thought that women tolerate the horror genre only because their male partners enjoys it and I would have to say that this couldnt be farther from the truth.

38% of our readers are female and that pretty much dismisses that thought completely.

Women clearly love the genre as much as men and are as equally important to the genre in their contributions. We have three strong female contributors to our site ( Mary, Jamie and Gwen ) who know as much if not more about the horror genre then their male counterparts.

The horror genre is dominated by strong women as well as men but it seems that only women are objectified by the horror genre. Or are they? I both agree and disagree when critics say that the horror genre does nothing but objectify and make victims of women both behind and in front of the camera.

Clearly I am not a woman so I do not speak for them but I think its unfair to women and men to say the genre objectifies part of its audience.

I recently read an excellent paper by Dr Jason Edwards written in 2007 where he makes a valid argument that the horror genre not only objectifies women but is a way for men to get off on it as well. In his paper he states that men prefer to watch horror movies where women are objectified and lack intelligence then films that feature strong characters.

I think he is probably right but that doesnt mean all horror fans think that way. I will admit that I watched and loved movies like I Spit On Your Grave, Last House on the Left and the truly shocking Dead Girl but not for the gore but rather for the outcome. I wanted to see where the films would take me knowing full well that filmmakers generally are using the victimization to build up to a vicious end game of retribution.

The moral message in these films is simple, you sow what you reap and it is not about victimizing women as much as it is about empowering them and driving home a message to the viewer.

I am a fan of horror movies that feature ‘revenge’ and when a filmmaker wraps it in a tightly woven and brutal horror movie whether the victims are female or male is irrelevant to me.

Related Reading: Violent Femmes the Place of Women in Horror

Films with a moral message that use their vicious outcome like MARTYRS, Dead Girl or Surveillance to tell a story of morality are some of my favorites. As much as I love looking at a pretty girl as much as the next guy I am not a fan of horror films that cast their female leads based on great breasts and perfect teeth and focus on nothing but TNA throughout.

The victimization or objectification of a beautiful woman in a horror movie much like intense gore does not make a good horror movie and filmmakers who do not understand this will find an audience, just  not with me.

Do Horror Movies Objectify Women?If you look back to the early genre classics like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Friday the 13th there is no question that women are being objectified. The remake of Friday the 13th got more buzz for the Jullianne Guill sex scene then anything else which really makes Dr Edwards point.

A really hot girl doing soft core who then finds herself impaled by the villain is without question objectification. But tell me that other movie genres don’t do this as well?

Although there is plenty of objectification of women in horror movies there are also a lot of very strong female characters  as well.

Probably one of the most obvious filmmakers who has taken a shine in recent years to strong female characters is Neil Marshall. He has done it twice now first with his cave dwelling film franchise The Descent and more recently with Doomsday starring Rhona Mitra.

We do not have to look to hard at past horror movies to find other strong female character. Sigourney Weaver in the ALIEN franchise is one of the strongest women ever portrayed in horror. She did what Space Marines could not when she vanquished the Alien Queen and transitioned from meek survivor to ass kicking saviour.

There is also nothing weak about Kathy Bates in the film adaptation of Stephen Kings MISERY and Aunt Ruth from The Girl Next Door is far from a withering flower as she invokes untold cruelty on the neighbourhood.

Related Reading: 10 Most Terrifying Women in Horror

Frankly for every movie that objectifies women I can find a movie which shows off the power of a woman. I think that Larry Darren said it best on our Facebook page when he wrote

‘ Ass kicking women make the world turn man. Beautiful, powerful what more could a man want’

The horror genre for me is not about objectifying women or torture porn its about delivering an adrenaline rush as horror directors cover topics that other genres are to afraid to.

Frankly those horror filmmakers who do make films that focus entirely on peek-a-boo nudity and cliche carnage are out there but are not on the top of any of my lists.

So yes I agree that many horror movies do objectify women in horror movies but not all of them do and to chalk up the fans of the genre as perverts for that reason is wrong…. especially considering 38% of our community ( and growing ) is female.

Do you feel that the horror genre objectifies women more so than any other genre? I would like to hear your stance especially if you are one of our many female readers.

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34 Comments

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      1. Richard Gibbs December 2, 2012 at 4:15 pm

        You mention two of your staff are female- but how many staff do you have overall?

        The horror genre in general has always objectified women- blame Hammer if you must, then the slasher genre. The worst thing now is the hideous trend for releasing the most awful movies with titles like Zombie Strippers and Nude Nuns with Big Guns that have no story or artistic merit, just gore and tits. What other genre is doing that?

        • HorrorMovies December 2, 2012 at 4:48 pm

          Richard great comments. I think the genre does objectify women but not entirely. There are lots of great horror films that do not. As for our team there are 10 of us roughly.

        • Richard Gibbs December 2, 2012 at 5:34 pm

          That’s an 80/20 split make to female, which I think speaks volumes about horror in general. I run a horror message board, and our admin/mod staff are split 13 men to 2 women.

          I wonder if this objectification is the cause.

          Oh, and just for the irony, I thought I’d point out that you’ve got a ‘Hottest Horror Movie Victims’ gallery on this very site!

        • HorrorMovies December 2, 2012 at 5:47 pm

          Hah the irony is not lost on me but saying a woman is hot is a tribute to me not objectification. Our readership is 38% female and when I noted our male/female split that was writers not forums which would change dramatically.

        • James Stanger December 4, 2012 at 8:21 pm

          I think it’s far too simple to say objectification is a main cause because from my group of friends the women tend to not use message boards as a way to communicate. The guys, almost all of them use or at least have used a movie message board. The other thing is many of the films that are accused of treating women as objects are among the favourites of many of my female friends and as I have seen through more casual female horror fans on their lists as well. I think you are putting too many eggs in one basket trying to find out why not as many women watch horror as men. I mean is the only reason why romance films are watched mostly by women because such films promote an unrealistic demand upon men and create a mythical male character that has never existed and may NEVER exist? Well in part it could but it’s not THE reason. A lot of the time men don’t want to think too deeply about relationships with women when watching a movie.

        • Richard Gibbs December 5, 2012 at 6:44 pm

          I think the objectification that is obvious in a large number of horror movies, both old and new, contributes to a social viewpoint of horror, a stereotype. It’s not an entirely fair stereotype, but its definitely there. There is an undeniable male bias amongst horror fans, and its not just one thing that causes that- but the perception of what a horror movie is, in my opinion, a major factor.

        • Ramsey Campbell December 3, 2012 at 9:48 pm

          When you say the “horror genre in general”, do you just mean films? Some have done what you say, of course, but do remember that the horror film preceded Hammer by more than half a century. And the modern horror tale goes back at least as far as Poe.

        • richardjgibbs December 3, 2012 at 10:30 pm

          I used Hammer as the example as they really embraced the objectification element. I would argue that women are objectified in a sense in Dracula.
          By horror in general I do include literature- though I really do mean it as a generalisation; there are of course exemptions and some of the early films and books were created at a time when the level of objectification wouldn’t be immediately obvious as the sensibilities of the day forbade anything too graphic. It’s far easier for me to point to the buxom beauties of Hammer, than to discuss Dracula’s feelings of ownership towards Mina Harker.

        • HorrorMovies December 3, 2012 at 11:02 pm

          very insightful comments Richard I enjoy reading your take on the genre even if I disagree with some of it :)

        • Ramsey Campbell December 4, 2012 at 10:05 am

          I think in literature the exceptions are very considerable. Poe? Le Fanu? Blackwood? M. R. James? Lovecraft? Leiber? De La Mare? Aickman? Klein? King? I think pretty well the entire great tradition of horror literature, in fact – Machen too, though you might object to “The Great God Pan”.

        • Richard Gibbs December 5, 2012 at 7:01 pm

          Yes, but the majority you mention were writing before the 60’s, when it became more socially acceptable to objectify women in vibrant technicolor. It’s certainly less prevalent in literature, but its still there if you look for it.

      2. Marigen Beltran December 2, 2012 at 5:58 pm

        I am female and lover of horror movies. I do feel that in some movies women are only used as eye candy but not in all. Dont think the % of females here represent the % of females that love horror movies in general, I have friends that like this type of movies but dont hang around in horror movie forums.

        • HorrorMovies December 2, 2012 at 7:53 pm

          good to get a female perspective.

      3. John Wao December 2, 2012 at 7:24 pm

        Is this a trick question?

        • HorrorMovies December 2, 2012 at 7:53 pm

          no. is this a trick answer? :)

      4. DirtyGirl December 2, 2012 at 11:07 pm

        Do I think Horror films objectify women? Hmmm…maybe some of the older films would qualify. Especially the exploitation films of the 70s. That being said, some of those films are still interesting to watch even if they are objectifying women. I enjoy a good revenge film like I Spit on Your Grave, Thriller A Cruel Picture, or Ms. 45 even though the female lead spends most of the time naked, abused, and exploited.

        It’s interesting that Hammer Horror is mentioned as a contributing factor, when quite a few female horror fans love those movies! Older horror films tend to use the “damsel in distress” storyline quite often, which personally I don’t find degrading. If that type of storyline is degrading then Disney is the biggest offender when it comes to damsels in distress because they always seem to need a prince to come and save them.

        • Richard Gibbs December 3, 2012 at 10:44 pm

          It’s not so much Hammer’s damsel in distress story lines as it is their damsels in not-much-of-a-dress outfits, and the way they use women on their posters.

          I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say it’s degrading, but then I’m a big Hammer fan, with a Countess Dracula poster framed in my bedroom.

      5. James Stanger December 4, 2012 at 3:13 pm

        The whole tits and arse thing in horror annoys me because much of the time it is tact on and used as a marketing tool. It’s pretty cynical and when aimed at young men plays to a sterotype that does a disservice to everyone. You can have female sex appeal in horror that much is obvious but when it used as a device to sell a movie in lieu of a strong script or powerfull acting it’s not doing anything for anyone. However what you also have to examine is what makes a strong female lead? Is it being violent? Something that is seen as a repulsive trait among men…? Is it being a woman in a film yet not being “hollywood beautiful”? I am pretty sure that if you make a character three dimensional and not a slave to convention that would make a a strong female character. Let’s not forget Kathy Bates in Misrey was a horrible deranged character yet she was a strong character and that in essence is what film needs. So long as there is justification in the character you have created and they are not used to adhere to negative gender roles for the sake of it a woman can be anything a man can be in the horror genre. That would be positive and negative. I also have to add people will enjoy films that do objectify women BUT that does not mean that the viewer see women like this outside the realms of the fantasy of a movie because it is after all just a fantasy.

        • HorrorMovies December 8, 2012 at 2:10 pm

          I completely agree James with your comment on TNA for ‘appeal’. It is a common trend to cast people based on white teeth and great boobs. This have no merits to add to a horror movie.

      6. UltraViolent December 4, 2012 at 7:15 pm

        You can’t deny there is some exploitation of Women but as a woman I’m not offended in the least because there is an equally growing trend in strong female characters and leads. Like DG says, horror isn’t the only culprit and Disney princess stories have a lot to answer for giving the impression that women need men to save them all the time. I recently saw Brave with my daughter and it was refreshing to see two very strong female characters who defended and saved themselves. Women are still seen as a weaker sex but I think the exploitation isn’t just because we are “weaker” but because we are better to look at. Strong women were not as attractive to men in days gone by. These days now times have changed, men prefer to have a strong minded woman.

        • James Stanger December 4, 2012 at 7:57 pm

          Personally I resent the dynamic of “Beautiful woman only attract men” it’s just so utterly insulting. I am not sure if you have seen the Film The Miracle Mile (not horror I know) but the female lead is Mare Whttingham a great actress whom happens not to look like a “babe” the film revolves around he love for her man in the midst of an on coming nuclear attack on America from Russia. The relationship felt real, touching and heart breaking because you could relate to a couple that were not a typical hollywood couple. The female characters that I find unattractive are ones that are made supposedly strong and display nothing but negative and or damaging traits. This would be exactly the same for male characters as well. I do admit that if there is one thing I would like movies with strong female leads to stop doing and that is do not make such characters just to make men look stupid or at least don’t have a guy excessively stupid or negative just to make the woman appear more worthy. In some films I have seen this happen and it just creates more sexisim and resentment.

        • UltraViolent December 5, 2012 at 2:10 pm

          which is what I was saying. I like horror because I like the thrill of being terrified and I enjoy gore and violence on screen It has nothing to do with characters and actors appearance. I was mearly suggesting this could be the case in older horror movies where weak women who needed saving were more attractive to men who wanted to be masculine and dominant compared to today’s more liberal views and rightly so women having more presence in the modern world meaning they need more presence in the modern horror.

      7. Jessica Rae Richardson December 10, 2012 at 5:42 pm

        “Frankly for every movie that objectifies women I can find a movie
        which shows off the power of a woman. I think that Larry Darren said it
        best on our facebook page when he wrote ‘ Ass kicking women make the
        world turn man. Beautiful, powerful what more could a man want’”

        Don’t get me wrong, I love horror… *obviously I’m here*.. However, it does objectify women I don’t think the genre is unique in doing so, nor should it be singled out. Our culture objectifies women, and all media reflects that… But the above excerpt does little to empower and promote strong women… because although the beginning sounds good, the “what more could a man want”, articulates the real problem. Strong female characters in film should stand on their own, and not be mere reflections of male desire. A strong female character should exist because she DOES exist… and not because it’s what men value… The fact that is even noted, disenfranchises Strong female characters… :/

        • HorrorMovies December 11, 2012 at 3:09 pm

          GREAT comments Jessica. Its always a treat to get such a well thought out comment on a tough topic.

      8. Tiago February 16, 2014 at 8:08 pm

        This is a minority kind of speech (even tough women are not a minority, some insist to treat they like if they were).
        Men are equally represented as dumb, men–whore, jerks, drug addicted as well. Sometimes, it happens to be women represented like that.
        Movies that people often see as sexist, are nothing but it. If you take men characters from F13 movies, they are equally dumb, promiscuous as the girls, and they get killed just as often. Ok, I understand the killer is often male, representing men power, but the heroin is almost aways a girl. But a girl with virtue, cause that is basic drama, heroes got have virtue and morals.
        Seriously, this is just political correctness to me. In the 70’s women may be objectified in movies, but they were in society as well, so that was just a reflection.
        And nowadays, women are objectified in movies in the same amount that some of them behave like that in real life, and so is men.

      9. Tiago February 16, 2014 at 8:23 pm

        ** where i wrote “nothing but it”, I meant “nothing like it”.

      10. Kyle "vale" Brock February 16, 2014 at 9:04 pm

        Why do people forget the intention of a film is to objectify everything in the frame?

        And why is it forgotten that a script is not the film?

        We are talking about two different things here. The film has done nothing wrong it is the common “modern” scripting formulas we see in the “mainstream” that is worth the discussion.

        Just about everyone on the thread thus far has the right idea So I cant add much.

        A script of any genre is fated to a formulaic reflection of the world from which is was created.

        • Herner Klenthur
          Herner Klenthur February 16, 2014 at 9:18 pm

          well said Kyle.

        • Tiago February 16, 2014 at 9:55 pm

          Yes, it is basic semiotics. Everything on the screen is a semiotic sign. Characters represent ideas, and models, since classical greek theater (even before that, with mythology) this is the structure of every form of drama, not only movies, not only modern. The discussion, development and relations of those symbols are the objective of the story telling.

      11. Chuck February 17, 2014 at 12:55 am

        I would dare say that the “rom-com” or “chick flick” objectifies women more than any other genre…but that is for another forum at another time.
        I think it depends on what part of any horror movie you are discussing. Are you talking about the countless “throwaway” victims that make up the body count? Or is it the inevitable female survivor? Define “objectify”. What about the shallow boyfriend that gets the shaft, both literally and figuratively? Is he being objectified any less than the “hot” female lead? He’s there as a sacrificial lamb to let the girl get just ahead of the bad guy.
        Not every female character, heck..any character, is going to have a compelling back story to add to the narrative. Does that mean they are being objectified because we might see boob.

      12. alisonmcdormand February 17, 2014 at 1:42 am

        I’m a girl and horror fanatic and I know more girls who like horror than dudes. I think the tide is changing for the genre. I can easily come up with a bunch of awesome female-dominated examples. The Descent is a great example, Lucky McKee has said that The Woman is a feminist movie, American Horror Story is thick with amazing female characters with Coven being almost fully female driven, American Mary is all about female empowerment, the list goes on… I actually wrote an article about this very topic on my blog. I think it’s a really exciting time to be a feminist and horror fan!

      13. Riley (@FlapjackRiley) February 17, 2014 at 8:01 am

        Exploitation and objectification are inevitable in this genre but (as a woman) I actually have always considered the horror genre to be a bit progressive in terms of female characters. Yes: sexual exploitation weighs down female characters as does idiocy because there are plenty of stupid women in these movies too. However the key horror films of any decade are a reflection of society in that era. So it does make sense that females were portrayed as damsels in distress or innocent and naive creatures led astray by sex, drugs, or whatever metaphor you want to represent evil. Going as far back as the Boris Karloff Frankenstein, there has been this paradigm of good vs. evil where women/girls represented the good: the little girl who gives the monster the flower and shows him kindness is in turn accidentally murdered.

        The most basic and prime example would be the slasher genre and your pick of Laurie Strode vs. Michael Myers, Nancy Thompson (or Alice or Kristen) vs. Freddy Krueger, or Kirsty Cotton vs. the Cenobites. Even the shittiest of slashers still usually rely on a female main character which is a lot more than I can say for a mainstream comedy that isn’t romantic.

        Now sure they may all cover the “virginal” innocent final girl but then you have Ellen Ripley or Veronica from The Fly, who are above that idealized young woman age but are none the less impressive characters.

        But on the other side you also have females portrayed as the villain: Regan from the Exorcist is one of THE most memorable villains in all of horror movie history. And she was a young teenage girl. Or alternatively you have Annie from Misery.

        Honestly my thoughts on this could go on forever but I personally have always appreciated the horror genre for giving me some of my favorite female characters that I try to emulate in my writings. So no, I actually really value the horror genre for its women characters.

      14. Goibster February 17, 2014 at 7:06 pm

        I would say that the horror genre does objectify women but not in all the movies. Like he says he can find a movie which shows the power of a woman even if she is a villain. I know a few examples which are remakes which proves that some movies that show the power of a woman are popular.
        Even though I’m fourteen I sometimes hate movies that show the female characters that have to have sex. Some movies go to the point of objectifying women to get a better age rating which sometimes makes it harder for younger horror fans to see it.
        In whole I think they do objectify women but not in all movies.

      15. taralundrigan April 17, 2014 at 9:53 pm

        I’d say it’s not just horror. It’s movies and television in general these days. I can’t seem to find a show that isn’t at least 20% soft core porn. It’s gotten to the point that a movie gets a better rating from me just because there is no sex. It may have started in the horror genre, with the damsel in distress but I think action, dramas and comedies have taken the cake for objectifying woman.

        I am a girl, and I am beyond obsessed with the horror genre. It’s the only genre of movie I even care to watch. The only reason it’s not the only thing I watch is because the majority of my friends and family don’t like the genre. Male and Female. My boyfriend for example, can’t handle gore and doesn’t understand why I want to watch horror movies all the time. =P I am also a photographer, and the majority of my portfolio leans towards the genre as well.