Today I welcome a guest post by Hillary Monahan, author of the new YA horror Mary: The Summoning, talking about a horror trope that needs to die as part of the Halloween 2014 series.
Our scene is a party, possibly in a frat house but more likely in a cabin in the middle of the woods. Loud music, alcohol, possibly drugs. In one corner is Girl A, a quiet girl who refuses to partake in any of the excess, afraid her parents will find out where she is and be angry with her. Maybe she’s the designated driver. Or maybe she was dragged to the festivities against her will by a friend. This girl makes sure you know she is out of place—she says she needs to be studying or doing homework because she’s a good student and good students don’t party. She’s conservatively dressed, young, and fresh-faced. If she’s wearing makeup, it’s subtle enough you can’t tell she’s wearing it.
In the other corner is Girl B. She shamelessly drinks beer. She dances with the boys. Maybe she dances with other girls and grinds against them. She’s wearing heavy makeup and revealing clothing. If cleavage is not shown, it’s hinted at with a clingy shirt. She’s an openly sexual creature, Girl B. When she’s asked about school, she’s disdainful of it. She likes to party, and partying is clearly more important than her future. At some point during the party, Girl B will inevitably be mean to Girl A, telling her to lighten up. Mocking Girl A for her sheltered lifestyle and unwillingness to participate in the fun.
Eventually, Girl B will find a boy she likes. She will go to a dark, secluded place with him. There will be kissing and groping. Girl B’s shirt will be removed, her breasts exposed. Sex happens, and it includes a lot of bouncing as sex is wont to do. There’s groaning and gasping and dirty words. Right before Murder McMurdypants shows up to hack Girl B to pieces.
Enter the slutty girl gets murdered trope in horror.
We know the scenario outlined above because it’s prevalent in horror culture, especially in slasher films. Girl A is the survivor girl who will, at some point late in the story, claim victory over Murder McMurdypants due to pure spirit. But before we can hand victory to this female paragon of virtue, we must sexualize and in turn butcher her opposite. We must kill the slut. I’ve heard some people say that Girl A is empowered, that she wins the day and that’s a win for women as a whole. No, not really, because Girl A doesn’t exist. She’s a caricature of my gender, but not really my gender. She’s an unrealistic ideal.
Thoughts. I have them.
A) Girl A is pretty, but not too pretty. At the very least she’s not aware of her pretty because women who acknowledge their prettiness are vain and vanity is bad.
B) Anything that calls attention to Girl A’s pretty, meaning makeup or revealing clothing, detracts from her worth. It’s medieval times all over again! A girl’s worthiness (and in this case worthiness of life) directly correlates to her purity.
C) Girls aren’t supposed to have fun! Dancing is bad. Drinking is bad. Parties are bad. Girls are supposed to want to go to the library or church all the time. Or stay home alone on a Friday hoping the perfect dude (Girl A’s writer/creator?) asks her out.
D) Girl A definitely won’t have sex with anyone until she’s in love. Because sex before you have selected a proper long-term partner is bad. (Which is hysterical since there’s a prevalent mindset in our society that men are owed sex after they’ve invested X amount of energy into a woman, wherein X is a variable that includes approximately three dinners.)
E) Girls who have sex ARE DUMB. According to this trope, virginity is tied to intelligence. Only stupid girls take off their clothes for a boy. Sluts don’t care about school or their futures.
F) Also worth noting–everything Girl B does is never for her. It’s never a self-empowering “I’m a sexual creature and I want to look good tonight” thing. Girl B dresses and acts the way she does TO GET A MAN.
G) Because Girl B wants to trap you with her lady parts, and if you succumb, you, too, will be butchered by Murder McMurdypants.
H) Which I guess teaches girls not to get with men. Because the moment our boobs are shown, Murder McMurdypants appears to do his murder thing. Three bounces and he’s summoned from the ether.
I) Sure, the body count in the slasher film usually slants more towards guy bodies over girl bodies, but how many dudes are sexualized before they go to the chopping block? (The answer is none, by the way.)
J) So you’re going to kill the girl who does all of these bad girl behaviors, but not until she’s given you a pants tingle?
K) DO YOU NOT SEE HOW SCREWED UP THAT IS? To want that moment of leering bliss before watching Girl B get hacked into fifteen trillion pieces?
There is nothing wrong with virginity or virginal behavior. There is, however, plenty wrong with shaming (McMurdifying) women who choose another path. Loving yourself, your body—loving fun and letting go every once in a while?—these are not punishable offenses. These are not things that deserve a gruesome end. While heaps of male bodies is exploitive in its own way, the problem slants towards a female-centric issue the moment the woman’s sexuality is invoked and the male’s is not. And in horror, the female’s sexuality is almost always invoked before her demise.
I’m begging future writers to consider what you’re saying when you punish Girl B. There is more at play here than a few seconds of bouncing boobs for fun and laughs. There’s a baseline misogyny that screams of slut-shaming. As a horror fan who just so happens to also be a feminist, I cannot in good conscience include this trope in my work without feeling like I need a delousing afterward.
At night, when the lights are dim and the creepy crawlies scuttle around in the dark, Hillary Monahan throws words at a computer. Sometimes they’re even good words. A denizen of Massachusetts and an avid gamer dork, she’s most often found locked in a dark room killing internet zombies or raging about social injustice.