In this essay I will be exploring the representation of womenin both the horror and sci-fi genres. With close reference to A Texas Chainsaw Massacreand Alien. The aim of this essay is to deconstruct the conventions of bothgenres to show the way they prescribe such roles.Both films that I have decided to explore represent strongfemale leading roles. Thus, allowing me to investigate the representation ofwomen from a wide spectrum of theory’s and angles. Therefore, enabling a variedargument where I will be able to create a persuasive text, but also allowingroom for counter arguments and reflective thought.
Firstly, I will start with the representation of women inhorror. The basic narrative to a horror story is that its themes are firmlyplanted in the premise of: good vs evil. With the usual narrative being thatyou have an innocent pitted against a villainous monster. What I will beconsidering throughout the first part of the text are two main concepts in thehorror genre which are, “male gaze” and “the final girl”. This will help me todiscover the rationale behind their structures, target audience and mostimportantly the ideologies behind representing women this way.”The final girl” is a theory introduced by Carol J. Clover inher book Men Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film.
This theoryand the particular use of it, has had a great impact upon the history of horrorin film. Typically, “the final girl” is the last one standing. She has defiedall odds and made it to the end of the film, overcoming her pursuer. However,this is not before she has witnessed brutal, mindless killings of her friendsand endured terrifying events. Although “the final girl” survives, the audienceare still witnesses to the usually horrendous deaths of the other females inthe film, quelling the appetite of the audience in being passive spectators. Incontrast, “the final girl” empowers the female spectators with their ability totriumph over the monstrous male villain.When divulging the ideas behind “the final girl” in films,the best example of this I believe is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This storybegins with five American teenagers heading out on a quest to find as they putit, an “idyllic day out”.
The tone of the film begins with a carefree attitudebetween the adolescents, this is established through the frequent use of a hand-heldcamera shots and upbeat dialogue used. This in turn creates a relaxedatmosphere for the audience, which is short lived. Through this seeminglycasual tone it is all the more surprising when the horror does begin. When thegroup come across a home that looks derelict, along their journey, one of themale characters is quickly dispatched when investigating. As soon as he iskilled, he is out of the shot, his body quickly being dragged away. As a viewerthis scene startles you, in contrast though it is vastly different to how thefirst female character is killed.
The female character receives a far more gruesome death bybeing planted onto a meat hook. “the murders of women on the other hand arefilmed at closer range, in more graphic detail, and at a greater length”1.The scene runs parallel to the earlier conversation that the teen had, whenmocking the animals in the slaughter house being butchered. This draws you tothe notion that in horror films the women are usually punished for their lewd,sexual or inappropriate behaviour. This function echoes the ideology of thetimes from when the film was made.
(which was 1975) In this era you only juststarted to see progress for women with how they were viewed in society. As inthis scene the woman is punished for what was deemed un woman like behaviour.In contrast to this particular ideology the only characterthat survives leather faces terror is “the final girl”. This is reflective tothe changing social climates of that decade, with women becoming more empoweredand gaining a more influential outlook on the world. There is still a lot ofthe film though that still goes along with the age-old conventions of horrorand its convictions of women being seen as merely sexual objects thereforebeing “rightfully” punished for their “sins”. Though the woman survives hertruly terrifying ordeal, she is till shown to rely on a male right at the endof the film, when getting away on the back of that male’s truck. What thisparticular scene reminds me of is when in old fairy tales you would have theprince saving the damsel in distress, hinting at the male’s dominance in theworld. The second concept that I would like to explore so to gain abetter understanding of the way women are represented in horror, is the “malegaze”.
This theory regarding gender spectatorship and how women are portrayedin horror films by the way the audience views it. ” There are circumstances inwhich looking itself is a source of pleasure”2.Thisquote briefly explains the idea of watching a film as it is a simple affair ofa person engaging with a visual entertainment in the purpose of escapism, and away to enjoy themselves in a relaxed environment. It is the next stage wherethings become a little bit more complex, as we ask.
Who is the viewer?Why is the film viewed that way?The purpose for what I am about to discuss is to figure outwhy the female is viewed in a particular way by an onlooking spectator. I willthen go further to discover the answers behind these ideologies, arguing thatin cinema, film is directed with the notion of a male audience i.e. “male gaze”in mind, striving to know why this is such a popular and effective way ofviewing a film in correlation of female representation.”The male gaze” you would like to think would now be an out-datedtheory. That many films are viewed with the sole purpose of looking througheyes of a male protagonist.
If you look at horror films specifically, for themajority of the time you are actually looking through the eyes of the malekiller and not from any of the female characters. This male character is theperson that the plot actually evolves around, as it is almost like watching hisjourney, pursuing whichever characters it may be in that film. This is thedriving force behind the movie going forward. In this context the theory evokesthe notion of sexual politics and the way the women are seen, helping tocontrol a hierarchal society in where men are the superior force and the womenlooked upon as merely objects therefore dehumanised.The fact that women are dehumanized in this way allows her tobe seen through “the male gaze” simply as a sexual entity and whatever happensto the female character onscreen doesn’t register with the emotions, as theobjectification results in the theory of scopophilia in where one takespleasure in viewing.Following on from the discussion of why the “male gaze” is usedin visual entertainment. I will now be looking at this theory within horror andin particular The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
If we look back at the history of the horror film, theprincipal point and when cinema was at its most fruitful, was in a period whenmen and women lived in a time, constricted through set social codes regardingrelationships.”The clichéd idea of horror films was being scripted andedited to fulfil the role of the dating couple on a Saturday night”.3During this time, the cinema was a place for young couples togo as a form of escapism on a date.
Men were expected to be chivalrous and actout the role of the protector for the female that they were with. Through thehorror that unfolded onscreen, the male would get the opportunity to be aprotector or form of support as the woman felt vulnerable to the torment herfemale counterpart onscreen would receive. Thus, allowing him the opportunityto become closer with his date.From these series of events you can conclude that the femalebecoming the victim was allowed to evolve. As a connection occurred between thefemale watching and her onscreen counterpart. The female could only watch on inhorror to the suffering the female counterpart endured. In the majority ofhorror films and in particular The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it was a random manat the very end of the film that comes to her rescue, when she flees on theback of his truck.
Once again highlighting the social codes and conventions ofsociety during those times. However still empowering the female audience as shemade it through all the trials she came across.You could say that the deaths of the male characters in thefilm again establish a fear of vulnerability as the male protagonist deathsserve as another factor, in the ideology of the female not having a male protector,that society was enforcing on the social senses.In conclusion horror films seem to represent women as beinginferior to men.
This I believe has improved since the time of the The Texas ChainsawMassacre being made. You only have to look at the sequels and the remake todiscover that film is evolving in conjunction with political and socialconstructs. Another argument to be had over what I have previously discussed isthat, visual entertainment was simply following the attitudes that evolvedaround cinema at that time. A female who was going to the cinema with her date,is going to feel a slight bit of terror when her onscreen counterpart losesthat male protagonists protection.
Coincidentally if we were to watch a scenewhere a monster or killer was trying to hunt down a male character, who wasbetter equipped in defending himself, would we be as scared? If you considerthis question, it underlines the consensus view of women in horrorentertainment and more painstakingly highlights a worrying view of women insociety as a whole.In the second part of my essay I will be looking at genderrepresentation in sci fi and how I believe, in the more modern films genderrepresentation is evolving with a specific look at the film Alien. Sci firepresents women in a totally different way then that of horror. Especially inAlien where the film at times looks to deconstruct the social restraints ofpast films and in particular the horror genre, showing a female lead becomingthe dominant force and going as far as destroying the “male gaze”.Alien is one of the first films to revolutionise the femalerole within cinema, the film helped to broaden the scope of what a woman couldbe in a film and how she could be viewed.
This film told classic Hollywood tolisten up. When taking a closer look at Alien and not simply excepting theentertainment but to divulge the themes and concepts that are paramountthroughout, you start to get a feeling that the films conscious, is that to usethe film as a metaphor for social gender constraints. A prime example for thisis the imagery that is used during the film of genitalia and wombs which allbecome central themes for Ripley. Placing Ripley in the middle of a male drivenworld with nightmarish consequences.I have deconstructed the film into three possible scenariosfor how the Director Ridley Scott was able to develop a feminist visual: Theuse of a female protagonist that is not sexualised for the audience but ishowever very independent and self-sufficient. By changing the way that theaudience views cinema itself, doing this by subtlety shifting a male viewpointto female therefore halting the concept of “the male gaze”, allowing her theability to overcome her antagonists be that male or female without the help ofa male character.
Ridley Scott used identification in allowing this change ofdominance in cinema. What filmgoers where used to before this, in classical Hollywood,was to watch a film through the eyes of a male protagonist therefore allowingthe viewer to identify with this charter over the females being shown. Thisestablished a clear dominance in male viewing and objectified the women in thefilm by simply using this technique because they are then made to become lessimportant.In Alien the changing of this usual practise is shown whenthe camera moves through the different compartments and hallways of theNostromo, before the crew have even got there. Following on from this, later onin the film this same shot is repeated, when it is given that Dallas has becomethe main protagonist in the film. Once again you are being shown the shipthrough the viewpoint of an outsider.
That is until Ripley appears onscreen indicatingthat it is her that the camera is following. Therefore, telling us as anaudience that we are looking through her gaze and that she is the mainprotagonist. This is a clever way to prelude that the dominance of the filmwill now be awarded to Ripley and foreshadows the events to happen.When watching the film, I found two key scenes that highlightsthrough the use of a sexual gaze; a metaphor for pre-historic views in cinema.
The first key scene is when Ash forcibly shoves a porn magazine down Ripley’s throat,the accompanying shot of his face filmed at close up, showing his pleasure inthe actions he is taking. In this scene the film condemns the ideology behindthe “male gaze” as Ripley is being abused we are forced to watch this from thisperspective and by doing so, associating the enjoyment the audience takes from viewinga film in this way, therefore making the audience guilty by association.From the scene that I have just discussed the next scene thatI will mention I believe uses this same technique but is a lot loss subtle inits delivery.
After an intense show down with the Alien by literally blowing upthe Nostromo with the Alien on board. Ripley begins a sequence of undress, inthis sequence she is left with nothing but a small white t shirt on and particularlysmall underwear, this happens whilst in a long shot making the viewer feel likea voyeur. Some people over time have stated that Alien doesn’t represent a feministbreakthrough because of this scene as it reasserts the female as an objectifiedentity and places her back as something of a spectacle to be viewed at from adistance. However, what I believe is that this sequence was shot purposely sothat the viewer can return to the standardized sexual gaze so that people wouldbe able to realise the way women are viewed in a social construct to be inappropriate.However upon viewing Ripley she is a not overtly sexualised and a realistic portraitof a woman, “Ripley’s body is pleasurable and reassuring to look at. Shesignifies the ‘acceptable’ form and shape of woman”4.
The viewer now looks on Ripley from the Aliens point of view and by doing sothe audience becomes the very monster Ripley is trying to destroy throughoutthe film, a metaphoric nod to the shameful way the audience has always viewedwomen in cinema. From this shot, Ripley subsequently quickly puts on a spacesuit, which works in connotating the opposite with her previous state of dress,only moments ago, where she finally launches the Alien off the spacecraft andfinally denounces the oppressive male sexual gaze.”Reaffirm her sexuality but instead of being detrimental toher character’s gender, it would appear, based on the relevance of narcissisticvisual pleasure, that this is actually a celebration of the strong female role,and an underlying of that fact”.5In conclusion Alien uses different camera shots to establisha dominant female character that needs no help from a male protagonist. Usingage old techniques in cinema, like the “male gaze” to denounce the very conceptitself and explores the concept of women in social structures, by imploring asense of freedom and self-sufficiency. Sci-fi films have not always been thisway and previously you would get films depicting the female to be someone whois in constant need of help from a monster of male villain, sci-fi has madesignificant strives to improve this, with films like Alien showing a strongfemale lead able to overpower her male antagonists.
Sci- fi is a brilliantmedium to establish the belief of women’s rights as most is shot in the future,tying in with the notion that as time progresses, people have become more awareof their social tendencies.1Carol J Clover, Men, Women And Chain Saws (Princeton (N.J.): PrincetonUniversity Press, 2015).2 LauraMulvey, Visual And Other Pleasures (Houndmills, Basingstoke, HampshireEngland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).3 MarkJancovich, Horror, The Film Reader (London u.a.: Routledge, 2009).4 BarbaraCreed, Media Matrix (Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2003).5 DanStephens and others, “Essay: Women In The Horror Film – Ripley, The Alien& The Monstrous Feminine – Top 10 Films”, Top10films.Co.Uk, 2018