At the LOHF we are all about promoting women horror authors. When we were offered a blog tour space for The Dead Girls Club we felt extremely honored. As part of the blog tour Damien wrote an amazing guest post about women horror authors and we are so here for it.
The Power of Women Writing Horror
By Damien Angelica Walters
The default is male. Always. From crash test dummies to superheroes to medical research subjects, half the population is regularly shunted to the back burner. Boys grow up seeing themselves on movie screens, on television, in the pages of books. They’re heroes, chosen ones, valiant knights, and warriors. They save the day. They save everyone. So it’s not surprising that the boys who grew into men who wrote horror would put themselves in the starring roles. It’s also not surprising that horror’s reputation has been one of men who are heroes or villains and women who are victims. Even the famed final girls live at the expense of other girls, often the bad girls, who meet their ends by violent means.
But no woman is a stranger to the threat of violence. Our lives are shaped by it, from the time we’re girls. We’re given rules to follow and while they change a bit as we grow older, the underlying reasons are the same. As adults, we don’t walk alone late at night. We don’t jog with headphones on and music blaring. We mind our drinks at the bar, never leaving them unattended. Nearly every episode of Cold Case Files is about a woman who left work and didn’t come home, who took the shortcut and didn’t come home, who smiled—or didn’t smile—at a man in a parking lot and didn’t come home. We know we could easily become those women in the blink of an eye. It’s why we slide a key through our fisted fingers to use as weapons, why we constantly look over our shoulders when we’re walking pretty much anywhere, why we lock our doors as soon as we get in our cars. Our hypervigilance is exhausting, but if we let down our guards, we might become one of those victims.
Who better to write about monsters and fear and blood than women who spend a significant amount of emotional energy on the prevention of such things. A woman writing horror takes this undercurrent of darkness in our lives and uses it to change the narrative.
In horror, women historically were victims or final girls, bad girls or good girls. We were the girlfriend or the wife. But most of all, we were expendable. Even better if our assaults or deaths were the reason for a man’s call to action. We died so he could take on the bad guys and end up the hero in the end. The last brave man standing for everyone to cheer and applaud. Never mind the terror and pain that his wife or girlfriend or daughter had to suffer to get him to that place. As I said, expendable.
But we don’t see ourselves that way.
We’re strong. We’re weak. We’re your best friend. We’re unlikeable. We’re good, bad, and in between. We fight. We run. We’ve broken out of the boxes horror kept us in for years and we have new roles now. We get the spotlight. We get to control our fates and own our traumas. We get to break the expected boundaries and rewrite the victim narrative.
We get to rewrite our story.
And the genre is better for it. It’s bigger and more inclusive. It’s not the same story told and retold. We’ve shifted the boundaries, helping to create a healthier genre with stories appealing to a broader audience. Jac Jemc’s The Grip of It can be read as a straightforward haunted house story, but it’s also a powerful exploration into the disintegration of a marriage. The Hunger by Alma Katsu takes the well-known, fateful history of the Donner Party and imbues it with terrifying new life. The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley is a strange short novel of the environment and patriarchy. And in The Dead Girls Club I took horror and suspense and combined it with a girls’ coming of age story.
These new stories can help rewrite perceptions and possibilities. It’s better for readers, men and women both, to see fictional women as more than victims. Red in The Girl in Red by Christina Henry is a woman alone in the woods, with all the fear and anxiety that situation brings, but she’s not about to let that make her weak. It also translates into better books written by men, with women written as real people instead of disposable or cookie cutter characters.
Let’s be clear. I’m not saying the women writing horror fiction are going to save the world, but if we help improve a small corner of it, that’s not a bad thing at all. Even so, there are still improvements to be made. We need more diversity in the genre, we definitely need more visibility for queer writers and writers of color, but I feel like we’re on the right track, making forward progress.
More recommended reading:
Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
Beneath by Kristi DeMeester
Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez
Experimental Film by Gemma Files
The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste
I Wish I Was Like You by S.P. Miskowski
White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
The Babadook, written and directed by Jennifer Kent
Damien Angelica Walters is the author of The Dead Girls Club, forthcoming in December 2019, Cry Your Way Home, Paper Tigers, and Sing Me Your Scars. Her short fiction has been nominated twice for a Bram Stoker Award, reprinted in Best Horror of the Year, The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, and The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, and published in various anthologies and magazines, including the Shirley Jackson Award Finalists Autumn Cthulhu and The Madness of Dr. Caligari, World Fantasy Award Finalist Cassilda’s Song, Nightmare Magazine, and Black Static. She lives in Maryland with her husband and two rescued pit bulls. Find her on Twitter @DamienAWalters or on the web at http://damienangelicawalters.com.