It’s a new year and while I haven’t actually made any resolutions, I have been meaning to write more blog posts instead of relying solely on Facebook for getting my face/writing out there. Honestly, Facebook makes me lazy. By posting the following article, I’m still being a bit lazy since this is an article I wrote last year for Horror Talk when promoting Plague Town. Thing is, I can’t find a link for the published article so I’m not sure if it ever went out or not. So… by way of starting off my blog with something substantial (instead of, say, a cute kitty picture), I’m gonna post it here. If you have already read it and saw the original article… er… send me a link? Thanks!
I was asked to write an article about my experiences as a female in a male-dominated genre (i.e. horror) and my perspectives on females in the horror genre, both as a novelist and as someone who has worked in the film industry. My initial reaction was pretty much “huh?” because over the last year or so working on Plague Town with my awesome-with-awesome-sauce editor at Titan, Steve Saffel, I have received nothing but support for my kick-ass female protagonist, Ashley Parker. The marketing/publicity team at Titan only confirmed the warm fuzzy glow of acceptance, not to mention (but I have to mention it) established horror authors such as Ray Garton and Jonathan Maberry endorsing the book and treating me like a peer instead of a female trying to storm their sacred man-cave (a quintessential men’s club with lots of dark wood, leather and copious decanters of booze scattered about) of horror writing’
I have been lucky enough so far not to have gotten an avuncular pat on the shoulder accompanied by “Don’t you worry your purty little head about trying to write scary stuff, ma’am. Leave that up to us brave menfolk!” Just because I haven’t experienced it, however, doesn’t mean it didn’t – and doesn’t – exist. Although I’m a long time horror addict, having become addicted to scary movies, books and stories at a very young age, I did not try to write seriously in the genre until the last couple of years. There are many awesome female horror authors who’ve paved the way before me who could probably tell you some horrific tales of their own experiences trying to break into horror and not being taken seriously. And my book straddles the genre world between urban fantasy and horror, the former which has seen a hell of a lot of strong female protagonists and authors.
The mystery genre has certainly favored men over the years, to the point where a group of female authors, sick of not being taken seriously in their genre, started Sisters in Crime as an alternative to the Mystery Writers of America after feeling MWA dismissed their concerns. SinC’s original mission statement was: “To combat discrimination against women in the mystery field, educate publishers and the general public as to inequities in the treatment of female authors, raise the level of awareness of their contributions to the field, and promote the professional advancement of women who write mysteries.” Their revised mission statement as of 2008 is: “The mission of Sisters in Crime is to promote the professional development and advancement of women crime writers to achieve equality in the industry.” A slightly more optimistic statement, but it does still reflect a need to help women achieve equality. I imagine it’s much the same in the world of horror publishing.
And certainly male authors get taken a lot more seriously, regardless of genre, when it comes to attention and reviews. Just some of the stats (these taken from a Feb. 2011 article from the Guardian in the U.K.): “In the US, The New York Review of Books shows a stronger bias. Among authors reviewed, 83% are men (306 compared to 59 women and 306 men), and the same statistic is true of reviewers (200 men, 39 women). The New York Times Book Review fares better, with only 60% of reviewers men (438 compared to 295 women). Of the authors with books reviewed, 65% were by men (524 compared to 283 by women).”
But enough of the literary world. Let’s talk about the film industry and fandom for a bit.
As a young female horror/sci-fi/fantasy fan who attended conventions, I definitely fit into the stereotype of “sexy warrior woman.” I was a fantasy goddess for the geek world, prancing around in my thigh high boots and Buffy the Barbarian leather warrior gal outfit (my character was named well before that vampire slayer was created, btw. We’re talking in the days when ComicCon was small). I sword-fought, I was pretty (although you couldn’t have told me that back in the day), and I rocked those thigh-high boots. I was happy to play my role because that was who I was at the time. After all, it was a pretty fun role to play. My saving grace was being a nice person who genuinely liked people, as much as I enjoyed the whole Red Sonja-esque identity
When I got into the film industry, I discovered looks definitely played a bigger role than talent in the low-budget sector. Boob size had started to become more important , and more and more actresses were getting their A and B cups blown up to C’s and D’s. And can I just point out the irony that when we’re measuring intelligence and academic accomplishment, A’s and B’s are a good thing? Just sayin’…
The most blatant stereotype I personally encountered was the notion that somehow blond equals good while brunette equals bad. This particular stereotype actually goes back centuries; it’s something that always bugged me in the Grimm Fairy Tales. I starred in a remarkably bad low-budget film called Princess Warrior as the evil princess Curette, warring for the Ring of Power with my blond and good sister Ovule (I did not write the script and am therefore not responsible for the names). If you were a blond in this film and playing a bad guy, the hair had to be teased into evil secretary hair to differentiate between the smooth haired good girls. Good girls wore pink lipstick. Bad girls wore red. Ovule was a pure virgin, with an honest-to-goodness “Kiss? What is this kiss you speak of?” moment written into the movie. Curette was an ass-kicking slut who liked to sleep with blue-lipped slave boys and then send them off to the mines when they failed to satisfy her. In other words, female characters penned with broad and unimaginative strokes.
When I watch films, I get sick of women being relegated to the roles of supportive spouse/girlfriend, nurturing mother, bitchy ex or someone for the hero to rescue. Yes, I’m thinking of INDEPENDENCE DAY, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW and 2012 while I write this. If you can think of one female character in those movies that actually plays a vital and important role in saving the world, I’d like to hear about it because I sure can’t. I once got in an argument with a co-worker who insisted that Vivica Fox’s character in INDEPENDENCE DAY had to be a stripper because it meant she had “really strong leg muscles so she could kick open that door at the underpass and save her son and the family dog.” My suggestion that she be a runner or ballet dancer did not compute.
From a marketing perspective, this seems pretty stupid. There are tons of women who would love to see more strong female protagonists in books and films. The fact that Ripley is such a popular character in the ALIEN movies, along with the growing number of urban fantasies with kick-ass female characters, should give producers and publishers a hint. And consider the fact that the character of Ripley was originally written as a man, which explains why there were no hints of broad-stroke feminine stereotyping there. Sigourney Weaver took that part and made it her own (I was gonna say “made it her bitch,” but considering the topic of this post it seemed inappropriate), creating one of the best female protagonists to date. James Cameron kept Ripley strong in ALIENS, adding enough of the Momma Lion element to give Ripley yet another facet to her character yet without making her into the nurturing mother stereotype. I like Cameron for this, as well as Sarah Connor’s transformation from demure frightened heroine in TERMINATOR to the force of nature she became in TERMINATOR 2. And while yes, she was out to protect her son, by doing so she would be saving the human race, which is a much larger scope of motivation.
Not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with saving a child (I’d be right there doing my best to save cats, dogs, and kids alike), but that’s not the only thing women care about. We are capable of flying alien spacecrafts to deliver computer viruses into a mothership while smoking cigars (although I’d rather eat a chocolate bar) and exchanging pithy dialogue. We don’t always have to – or want to – be the ones dispensing hugs and kisses and “Be careful while you’re saving the world, baby,” dialogue. We can brave frozen wastelands and hungry wolves to find medicine to save our boyfriends or husbands who have an infected leg wound. Not every woman may want to be the hero of the piece, but I guarantee not every woman wants to be a man’s support system 24/7, or validate his every word/move/thought/fart (although I am a sucker for the old “pull my finger” routine).
I like to think things are improving, but films and literature tend to reflect the attitudes of society, and given the current obsession with women’s reproductive rights going on here in the States, who knows what will happen next. I’m voting for more Ripleys!