Research by the Geena Davis Institute has found that positive representations of women on screen buoy female ambition, and some of the latest horror offerings are excelling in that field.
Horror films are not really the typical port of call when looking for positive female role models – and for good reason.
The horror genre has been (deservingly) dogged with accusations of misogyny, especially with regard to the pervasive ‘final girl’ slasher film trope, which often sees the only women who are spared from killers being the ones who maintain a degree of moral purity by abstaining from sex or drugs, with ‘slutty’ female characters in turn being the first to die a bloody and Oedipal death by stabbing.
It may come as a surprise therefore to hear that the horror genre could actually be the key to buoying female ambition, thus helping women to excel in the workplace.
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media annually publishes research on how imbalances in gender representation on screen affect women and girls. It has concluded that positive female role models in film “motivate women to be more ambitious”, both professionally and personally.
Teaming up with Google, the institute recently developed ‘the GD-IQ’ (Geena Davis Inclusion Quotient), which leverages machine-learning technology to reveal patterns in gender, screen time and speaking time, which viewers are being unwittingly exposed to every day.
Generally, men are seen and heard twice as often as women. Yet there is one genre in which women are taking on increasingly prominent roles of late: horror.
Even though horror does have a sexist legacy that hasn’t been entirely eradicated – scream queens still reign, and female violence is still sometimes sold as the main point of appeal in films – the horror genre has often been an unsung hero in portraying complicated female characters.
The classic Stephen King heroine Carrie embodies the kind of female agency (albeit couched in a type of menstrual monstrosity) with which female viewers and feminist critics alike can often identify.
More recently, films such as It Follows have done a lot to turn prevalent themes of female sexuality punishable by death on their head, and utilising the metaphor in a way that successfully gives voice to female suffering.
We are fortunate to be in an age in which the issue of female representation on screen is beginning to take a turn for the better, especially in light of new research, which makes it apparent that having on-screen idols is vital for helping to dispel pervasive gender stereotypes that contribute to the lack of diversity in leadership in today’s working world.
Even those who still maintain scepticism of society’s cultural porousness, Star Wars heroine Rey is already inspiring the next generation of engineers by demonstrating competency, independence and a refusal to conform to conventions of romance, which often serve to flatten female characters and supplant genuine developments in their personalities.
The success of characters such as Rey will hopefully herald in a period in which she is the rule, not the exception. For now, perhaps, hedge your bets with Suspiria, The Witch, famed Hitchcock feature Psycho and (a personal favourite) the cult ’90s classic The Craft.