Category: Discussion

you-re-next-poster04Home invasion movies are an old and popular genre in horror, and it is possibly the only horror genre that is targeted more towards women. This may be because in the real world, women are taught to fear strangers and the dangers they represent on a greater scale than men. The home has also historically been portrayed as a woman’s place, one of the few in which a woman was expected to take charge. In a society where men are viewed as the physical protectors of the home, having a solitary woman pursued and under attack by an ill-intentioned invader is a popular narrative tool used to inspire terror.

The problem this presents is that it implies women without men are more vulnerable and less able to defend themselves. It also often places men in a predatory role. This involves a certain amount of sexism in both directions, indicating a woman’s weakness and a man’s supposedly aggressive nature. These movies tend to show women as terrified and helpless, being stalked by the big bad wolf in the form of an unknown assailant. Both an outdated stereotype and a harmful one, this sub-genre of horror can have real world negative effects as it reinforces insulting ideas about women’s strength. Even when the woman escapes, the implication remains that they survived against the odds rather than as a matter of course.

panic-room-posterFor example, in Panic Room (2002) the female protagonist feared danger so greatly that she literally hides in a panic room with her sick child (not a feature that most homes contain), though ironically a working cell phone was not something she thought to store there.

Her eventual bid to escape is not due to inherent bravery, but in order to get treatment for her daughter. In Funny Games (1997), both a husband and wife are attacked, but the implication exists that it is the man’s job to fend off the attackers while the women, his wife, is only expected to escape at best. Instead, they both die. In The Strangers (2008), a more modern film, a similar setup occurs through one of the three assailants is actually a woman. The female half of the attacked duo in this case survives, satisfying the “final girl” trope popular in all genres of horror.

Though this final girl trope of having one surviving woman at the end of a horror film tends to play out more often in scenarios where there are groups under attack, such as slasher films, there are examples found in the home invasion category as well. The film You’re Next (2013) is another such example, where Erin is the last woman standing after killing four attackers and then, accidentally, one police officer. She survives but is on the hook for the deaths even though they were in self-defense or accidental. This movie is a bit of an exception in the genre in general anyway, due to Erin’s ability to physically fight back.

 In fact, often women in these movies use their wits rather than their strength to fend off attackers. Wait Until Dark (1967) stars Audrey Hepburn as a woman being terrorized by three men searching for drugs in her home. To emphasize her vulnerability even further she is blind in the film, but there the convention is turned on its head. Hepburn’s character uses her blindness as an advantage, plunging the robbers into the dark and setting traps they cannot see to avoid. She likely would have had an easier time had this movie been set more recently, as a security system would have done her job for her.

single-white-female-movie-poster-1992-1020233026Women are sometimes the attackers as well. 1992’s Single White Female is a perfect example. Hedy is the murderous assailant – though that is not apparent at first – and she manages to kill two men and severely injure a third in her pursuit of Ally, the “victim.” In the end, Ally is able to outwit her, once again relying on the positive brains over brawn narrative. Though the women here are not portrayed as weak in the same way as other movies in this genre, there are nevertheless negative stereotypes at play. One is of women as constantly being in competition with and jealous of each other. After all, there is no better way of portraying jealousy than literally trying to take over someone’s life. Another is of the crazy or unstable woman, an extremely damaging stereotype of its own. Those same stereotypes are at play in 2007’s Inside, where a woman stalks and eventually kills a mother-to-be in order to claim her child as her own.

In all these films, the sanctity of the home – an historically female sphere – is disturbed and a woman is shown as the main or ultimate victim. Most show women being forced to rely on their cleverness to protect them rather than a direct physical defense. The home becomes a trap that must be escaped, in fact an apt allegory for repressive sexism in general.

 However, there are differences as well, and signs of change in more recent movies. This genre sometimes has a woman as the attacker as well as the victim. There is even the occasional physical battle in which the woman triumphs. This is a sign of progress both in fiction and hopefully in how women are viewed in real life. Though the genre has historically relied on incorrect and offensive stereotypes of the weak and frightened female victims, if it continues to show women in the stronger role of successful defender and even sometimes attacker, the genre may be able to successfully evolve with the times.

 

scorch trials-maze_runner_2_concept_art_1What YA dystopian fiction doesn’t portray…

Dystopian fiction is designed to highlight societal and political shortcomings that could, if not corrected, lead to a less than ideal future. Historically aimed at a more mature audience, authors and filmmakers in recent years have nonetheless produced a number of books and film adaptations that target a young adult audience. These resulting materials have proven to show large profits and popularity at both book stores and box office.

jennifer-lawrence-katniss-everdeenWhile traditional dystopian fiction wouldn’t seem to appeal to the young adult demographic, many of the currently popular works, such as The Hunger Games trilogy, the Divergent series, the Maze Runner series, and others, utilize a protagonist who is close in age to the targeted audience in order to make him or her easier to relate to. Katniss, Tris, and Thomas are all described as being in the range of 16 or 17 years old, allowing an audience of similar age to, hopefully, feel a connection to them and to their challenges and struggles.

Unfortunately, while these novels contain plenty of references to what can happen when politics goes bad, there is a glaring hole in their reference to some of the very real problems in existence today, problems such as racism and sexism. I mean, these issues are not likely to miraculously disappear when some bigger global crisis comes along. And yet, that seems to be exactly what we’re expected to believe when either reading or watching these dystopian stories.

A dystopia is what occurs when the world falls to pieces and society’s very real problems are pushed to an extreme. This can be be portrayed in many ways: leading to some form of oppression such as mind control like that found in Divergent and Insurgent, which can both be streamed on Amazon or DTV, or through more direct and brutal means such as the yearly battle to the death in The Hunger Games. However, when society’s real world issues of racism and racial inequality are (at best) downplayed and (at worst) ignored, the risk is very real that entire segments of current society will ignore and/or condemn the books and films that Hollywood is hoping will draw them in.

insurgentFurther, while these novels and films are offering up more in the way of female protagonists, the girls in question more often than not succeed due to their ability to act more like their male counterparts rather than less. They compete on the same level and without any mention of historical inequalities that have beleaguered them i.e. their assumed inferiority, or their being supposedly the weaker sex.

In the Divergent series in particular, we’re led to believe that the powers that be following a catastrophic global event of some sort set up a system where human beings are segregated and identified by faction only. And yet, even recent history has repeatedly shown that we as a people tend to divide along lines of both race and gender when hit with a crisis situation.

On the positive side, some of these novels do a fairly decent job of describing what could happen if, for example, our current environmental issues are left unchecked. This is particularly true for a series such as The Maze Runner, and is especially emphasized in The Scorch Trials, the second film to be adapted from the second novel in the trilogy and in which the Earth has become a desert wasteland. However, leaving out other equally important issues leaves the entire genre feeling a little incomplete.

If this particular subgenre of young adult fiction wishes to continue drawing in the widest audience possible, it’s time that the writers and filmmakers alike consider embracing more diversity within the material they present. Otherwise, they may find that both their popularity and their profits are short lived.

 

Fear-the-Walking-Dead-poster (1)The Walking Dead has been a popular and well-known zombie phenomenon since its initial launch in 2011 and is still going strong with its sixth season set to premiere this fall. Its most known for its riveting and tough characters but the women of this hit show have long been a contentious subject among fans. Many have agreed that the female characters are often undermined by men and continuously step aside so that Rick or Daryl can have their time in the spotlight. But now that the show’s companion series Fear the Walking Dead has premiered, will it follow in its predecessor’s footsteps or take its female characters in a new direction?

Though women are prominent among the landscape of The Walking Dead, it has been often commented that their characters are one dimensional at best. Rick’s wife Lori was seen as a whiny, pushy, adulterous instigator who was as likely to cause trouble as help prevent it. Andrea was also argumentative and pushy, and, while she seemed to start off somewhat strong, lost most of her direction as her story progressed. Carol has been one of the few regular female characters on the show who has gone through a real period of growth and evolution. She started out a somewhat timid wife, married to an abusive man and desperate to keep her daughter safe. However, she ultimately lost both her husband and child. These losses changed her over time into a much darker, much sharper individual, until she became one of the most dangerous – and most interesting to watch – characters on the show.

 fear-the-walking-dead-posterSo far, Fear the Walking Dead has presented two possible female leads to rival those found on its parent series: Madison Clark and her daughter Alicia. Madison is a school counselor and administrator, a mother of two, a divorcee, and a girlfriend. Her actions show the caring and motherly aspects we expect but she comes across as a little unsure of her own feelings in regards to how she is doing as a parent. She also doesn’t necessarily listen when people tell her things she doesn’t want to hear, and doesn’t stay behind when people try to keep her safe. It looks like they’re setting her up to be something of a cross between Lori and Andrea from the original show, which might not be the best direction to take her, as they were not necessarily the most liked characters of The Walking Dead.

Her daughter Alicia isn’t as developed as she could be at this stage of the game. She has the makings of a bitter and angsty teenager who’s constantly disappointed in her family. In the first episode of the series, Alicia seems to spend half her dialogue reiterating how desperate she is to get away from home. Although it seems that she’s ultimately a smart kid and the “good” child of the family, it’s hard to find her likeable when she spends so much time hating everything that surrounds her.

While other female characters have made appearances in Fear the Walking Dead, only time will tell if they were important enough to the series to be brought back for more screentime – and if that screen time will show them to be more than one dimensional. Even Madison and Alicia still have that to prove after the first episode. Maddie has shown us little but her tough-as-nails, wanting-to-take-charge attitude (except for a brief show of insecurity over her missing drug-addicted son), and Alicia has predominantly just acted like a regular teenager. The show may seem to believe it is female character friendly, but it doesn’t even pass the Bechdel Test. It may
have two women characters talking to each other, but all of the interactions so far seem to have been centered around men, instead of focusing on any other issue.

fear of the walking dead 2Fear the Walking Dead may not have had the most promising start when it comes to female characters, but that doesn’t mean the potential isn’t there to see that change. Maddie could find her softer side, Alicia could drop the teen angst act, and the few other women introduced briefly could play a much bigger role in the story to come. Both shows are available on AMC through cable TV, so make sure you don’t miss any more of the zombie fun and character developments. Only time and more episodes will prove if this series will follow in The Walking Dead‘s footsteps or not.

 

Awards

davitt-award  aurealis-award   logo-curtin-university

Peacemaker - Aurealis Award
Best Science Fiction Novel 2014

Curtin University Distinguished Alumni Award 2014

Transformation Space - Aurealis Award
 Best Science Fiction Novel 2010

Sharp Shooter - Davitt Award
Best Crime Novel 2009 (Sisters in Crime Australia) 

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