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Final girls: Women and horror

In honour of International Women's Day, I've released a new range of Final Girl t-shirts and merchandise over at the Vintage Horror Club.

I'll be donating all profits from these items to White Ribbon, an organisation committed to preventing violence against women.

It's no secret that I love horror films. Many people ask me why I watch them. My answer is always the same: Because horror films are about survival.

Horror is about facing a monster (someone - or something - stronger and more powerful than you) and using every resource, and every scrap of knowledge and faith you have, to defeat it. Kind of like 'David and Goliath'.

The term final girl is a horror-movie trope that refers to the last girl or woman alive to confront the killer, the one left to tell the story. She's the ultimate survivor.​

Now, it's not uncommon for anti-horror types to say, 'but, horror movies make people violent'. When I hear this, I feel compelled to share a different perspective.

Let's be clear, violence, and in particular, violence against women, has existed for centuries before horror movies came onto the scene.

Jack The Ripper was murdering women long before Michael Myers was chasing Laurie Strode around in John Carpenter's Halloween (1978).

How often do you read that a woman was killed by a random, crazed horror fan? Almost never. It's usually an ex, a current partner, or someone else she knew with much more of a personal motive.

We've all heard the words, "but her killer seemed like such a normal person," on the news. It's no wonder 'normal' people scare me!

I have to agree with Adam Rockoff in his book The Horror Of It All. Horror fans are some of the most kind, gentle and empathetic people I've ever met. In my experience, they're far less aggressive than the alpha male throwing his weight around at the other end of the bar, and far less vicious than the mean girls conspiring behind their so-called friends' backs.

As the great horror director Wes Craven once said, "Horror movie fans are smart and intelligent. They mainly know how to deal with their fears, something most people struggle to do."​

In his book, Danse Macabre, Stephen King said, "We take refuge in make-believe terrors so the real ones don't overwhelm us."

You see, horror stories are art, and like all art, they reflect our reality and our history. 

Often, they're a metaphor for the disturbing happenings in our society—happenings that the powerful and the privileged would prefer not to acknowledge.

Horror stories about women are not a modern creation. For centuries, people have huddled together around campfires, sharing cautionary tales about why women shouldn't venture out alone. 

Think about Little Red Riding Hood who wandered through the woods being hunted by a wolf. Of course, she ends up being saved by the woodsman, reinforcing the message that if a woman wants to stay alive, she'd better have a man close by.

As well meaning as these stories were, they never addressed the root of the problem. That is, while women appreciate men's protection, they should be able to leave home without a chaperone and without worrying that they'll be attacked.

Fast forward hundreds of years, and we've replaced the flicker of campfires with screens.

Those who are familiar with the modern horror genre (and take the time to study underlying meanings, themes and symbols) know that many horror films champion female empowerment.

These are my all-time favourites. You know, the ones where an unsuspecting predator fixates on a woman who's much stronger and smarter than she looks. But she turns the tables, fights back and eventually sends the villain to the mat.

Meir Zarchi's I Spit On Your Grave (1978) and Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof (2007) are perfect examples of this type of story. 

To the writers, directors and producers of such female survivalist films, I say thank you. In a way, they've shown women what they could do if they ever found themselves in a terrifying situation. You never know, that knowledge—and a little bit of self-defence training—could go a long way in today's world.

Horror stories that centre on women's plight and victory are becoming increasingly popular and celebrated. Why? Because they represent a dramatised version of half the population's experiences.

The only difference is, nowadays, horror is teaching women that they don't have to rely on a woodsman to save them. They're teaching them that they can personally fight back and survive, even if, like David, all they’re armed with is a staff and a sling.

That's why it's so important to get more females into film, and in particular, the horror genre. Women need to tell their stories first hand. When that happens, films will become more vivid, authentic and exciting than ever before. Because the creators will have actually lived through it.

Dare I say it, perhaps it's also time that the people profiteering from women's stories actually be the women themselves. Now, that would be a really good chapter in mankind's story.

One thing's for sure, storytelling from all perspectives is going nowhere. Whatever our backgrounds, we'll all keep telling our tales because they provide us with hope. Likewise, horror’s leading ladies will keep showing women that they can fight back and survive against the odds.

We’ve still got a long way to go, but society's views on women are changing. Real change takes courage. The courage to stand up for ourselves and the courage to stand up for others. So, keep standing up for what's right, even if initially you're standing alone. 

Remember, history is written by the survivors... and women are surely that.

Pick up a Final Girl design here. All proceeds go to White Ribbon.

Victoria x

Victoria Hall Author and Illustrator

Victoria Hall writes and illustrates spooky stories for kids and grown-ups. To stay up to date with Victoria's latest projects, subscribe to this blog, or follow her on Facebook or Instagram.

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