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Why Do Women Survive Horror Films, but Men Don’t?

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Why Do Women Survive Horror Films, but Men Don’t?

March 25, 2013
By Matt Molgaard - Staff Writer

Laurie Strode

From time to time horror discussions with the wife prove enlightening. Note that I said from time to time. The typical exchange leads to frustration and drastically opposed viewpoints. That’s okay, that’s a part of life and the luxury of opinions. However, in those rare moments when the convo turns compelling, you’ve got to sit back and soak up the moment. Hell, even the most educated horror buffs out there stand to learn a lesson or two.

As you probably guessed, some recent banter between the wife and I yielded some thought provoking words.

Our topic of debate? The all-but-guaranteed survival girl. Why have men been pushed to the side in favor of the heroine? Why are the most iconic survivors in horror history (Laurie Strode, Nancy Thompson, Alice Hardy, Sidney Prescott, Suzy Bannion, etc., etc.) women? Sure we stumble upon our occasional Ash Williams, but let’s be honest: 90 percent of the time someone survives a horror film, that survivor sports perky breasts and feminine ferocity.

Am I opposed to this typical approach? Not in the slightest. I’m all for the final girl overcoming the odds – in Alice Hardy’s case, lopping off the head of Pamela Voorhees, or in Sidney Precott’s case, gunning down the overconfident Billy Loomis – and succeeding where naïve viewers expect them to fail. Triumph is a pretty crucial piece to cinema in general, let alone horror exclusively.

I’ve always considered the final girl, or survivor girl, if you prefer, to be a representation of innocence shattered and strength refined. The hapless, destined to be victim who evolves with the moment, discovers the inner courage and unwavering will to defy the odds and survive that which – by all accounts – should not be survivable. The final girl marks the true beginning of hope; the closing moments of a terror ridden piece of film in which the antagonist has finally been disposed of, and something better rises with the sun as it washes away the blackness our characters have been enveloped in since the beginning of the third… that’s the final girl. She is hope. She’s perseverance and humility, she’s resilience and thankfulness. Everything that the evil forces bring to the picture are negated by her presence.

That’s always been my firm stance on the final girl. It’s always been her definition, in my mind.

Now I’m forced to examine another angle – brought to light by the attentive wife – that does undeniably make a wealth of sense.

Are you ready?

Sidney Prescott in Scream

What if the survivor girl isn’t a representation of hope, but a statement of misandry and a counter to testosterone driven ignorance? Not so much the positively perceived symbol of accomplishment, purity and adaptation, but a narcissistic poke at the machismo of man. A poke typically delivered in awareness to man, by man (of course there are female filmmakers out there who love to flirt with the genre, but this is a branch of cinema predominately decorated by “man leaves”), as not only a simple slap in the face for assuming we’re the big bad tough guy destined to survive a trip into Hades, but also as a quasi-satirical jab at man’s overall self-induced ineffectualness.

Think about it: our own gall gets in the way of our brain all the time, and our attempts at heroism are often thwarted by misdirected confidence. For some strange reason, we believe we’re always going to be the one to save the day. The first one to shove the ladies aside and tackle the boogeyman head on. We do have the big muscles after all, right? Is it admirable to be willing to go out on your shield? Perhaps. Is it more admirable to stop and think; know when to fight, when to flee and when to make your final stand, subsequently improving everyone’s chances of survival? Absolutely.  

Could the survivor girl really be a craftily presented mark of manipulation and superior intelligence? Maybe as men it’s time we asked ourselves, are we heroic, or the butt of a very well aligned joke?

That kind of maneuver certainly doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. I know countless filmmakers, and let’s just say a whole hell of a lot more than just one fancy themselves certified creative geniuses. To send that kind of a message, using such a cryptic device seems highly pretentious, but there are a lot of highly pretentious filmmakers out there.

I still hold firm to my belief that the final girl is an uplifting figure meant to instill optimism. However, after running the opposing point of view through my head countless times in just 12 hours, I cannot completely refute its possibility. I don’t necessarily think it’s plausible, but there are some colorful minds at work in this industry. If we as men have been unknowingly duped for years, it wouldn’t come as the world’s greatest shock. It may however qualify as the finest “troll” movement ever launched.

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Comments

March 25, 2013
Interesting stuff
By: John Strand
I love articles like this that make us think about the deeper stuff imbued in horror archetypes. Great thoughts.
March 26, 2013
horror is not about misandry
By: Jessica Greenman
Misandry is hatred of men and masculinity. What is overturned in the horror movie is not masculinity and men\, just very stupid\, selfish people\, anagrams of humanity; this misandry idea is almost the same argument that used to come up (but in reverse) back in the eighties\, seeing these films as misogynistic because so many women died in them\, and died on grounds of their youth\, beauty and sexuality\, 'because they were women'\, up against the idea that men in those very same movies died by accident\, because they 'got in the way'. And in far smaller numbers. I agree that generally these pictures do fall in favour of a more imaginative and wily approach which values brain over brawn - they are the antidote to action movie heroes - but that again\, is not misandry. Sam Loomis\, the psychiatrist in Halloween (your pictured movie and primary reference)\, survives over a hapless intern and the blundering Bob\, as does Annie's father\, the policeman\, who’s by no means inept or callous. So it's only certain men who die: the unimportant ones: not the ones we like and respect\, those whose fate or influence we most desperately care about. It does the genre down somewhat to suggest that it's not really on some level about passion\, that terror and love are very close\, that individuals are being picked out as victims\, regardless of gender\, on grounds of lack of depth\, that they are punished for their banality. These films are mystical. They gesture far more to a removal of gender based roles altogether\, and I am sure has been oft-pointed out\, the killers in these films are frequently effeminate; the women who survive\, tomboyish. It's actually anything straightforward that gets the chop: the vapid blonde\, the jock male - the trite stereotypes. But mainly women die. So to say 'women survive horror films but men don't' is wrong\, not if you tot up the actual body count\, male on female; more men survive; more women die. Mainly the attack is on women\, and it's successful; it would be fair that the lone female triumphs simply to create 'artistic unity'. That doesn't seem misandric to me\, particularly when she represents to a large extent an androgynous character; the male who can't be seen as this victimised\, the male who cannot express this level of emotion; the male who by necessity can't be killed\, and isn't (certainly not very often); thus we have horror. We have horror for psychological reasons. This is all a bit obvious. Carol Clover was writing about the female victim/hero (in Men\, Women and Chainsaws) twenty years ago; she it was who coined the term 'final girl' (but one does need to remember she is final because she is the last and only girl who survives; men busily survive throughout)\, and long before that\, patriarchy - any representative of white\, male\, oppressive\, organised social power - characterised 'the enemy' in the horror movie\, from Night of The Living Dead (1968) onwards and I think before that\, too. So what are you saying that is new here\, or even relevant? Aside from doing a quick bit of catching up and just swapping the baddie for the sake of a story\, as well as telling porkies. If I have to I'll do all your references but it's a 3:2 ratio of dead women to dead men in Halloween\, which is pictured in your article and your primary reference: Judith\, Annie\, Lynda (these deaths are graphic and prolonged\, plus there’s an attack on a nurse)\, versus Bob the boyfriend\, and someone we see only as a corpse\, killed for his uniform. That's not a higher rate of survival\, and it’s not a good example of man-hating\, not in any visceral\, deliberate\, pointed way. If you want to confuse the notion of the last man standing versus the murders gone before\, that's fine\, but don't write articles titled\, 'why do women survive horror films but men don't' when the opposite is true. Not only are female deaths the focus of the movie\, the ones we brood over in distressing detail\, but they comprise the larger body count. The other films you suggest will prove my point only the more powerfully. So why lie. Are you ignoring the facts to argue misandry on the grounds that ONE girl\, who's a bit like a man\, because she’s courageous\, thoughtful\, responsible\, bookish\, observant\, mature\, rational\, doesn’t flap about with eyeliner\, isn’t superficial and designed solely for sexual interest\, doesn't die\, when all the rest do? This rather suggests that the girls who are ‘more like’ girls die\, and rather inefficient\, unintelligent\, unthinking boys who are also ‘more like’ girls\, also die\, when all the rest don’t? In short\, men who behave like men and not flappy girls\, and women who also behave like men and not like flappy girls\, live? That sounds a lot more like misogyny than misandry to me. Maybe talk to your wife about that one. Or yourself. Additional: I have just checked the meaning of misandry\, and it's not quite the same as 'the opposite of misogyny' (there is sadly\, but somewhat inevitably\, no ‘opposite of misogyny’): it also includes\, and often only means\, 'a hatred of patriarchy'. In that sense - in that one sense alone - all Horror movies are misandric\, even the most misogynistic ones\, though I don't think I've ever seen a misogynistic horror movie. But you've not been clear in your definition\, and your article leans towards the 'man-hating' sense in a way I find disingenuous. I think it's still too strong\, and amazingly facile\, to call them misandric in the 'man-hating' sense\, given that there's such a bias towards masculine elements in the heroine - these are so far from the giddy\, helpless female\, so close to the thoughtful\, resourceful male – and so far away from your childish and derisory template of ‘hope’ - that your entire argument dissolves. For\, if these films are bewitchingly based on the very eradication of binary definitions of gender or gender polarities\, then neither man-hating nor woman-hating can have a clutch on them. They are films that are inscrutable to the grid you place on them\, and you’ve failed both rationally and metaphysically to define them in any way they deserve.
March 26, 2013
Ranting feminist
By: Folly2234
I dont think the ranting feminist that commented appreciates you \"daring\" to mention the obvious misandry that is in horror films. Most horror films have both more men dying (or boys) and women surviving because they are viewed as \"more valuable\" then men and are viewed as meat shields for women. That may not be misandry (still not showing in spell checker) but it IS male disposability.
March 26, 2013
okay
By: Matt Molgaard
Well Jessica\, I'm kind of glad this article climbed under your skin. Not because I'm out to attack you - obviously I don't know you - but because (to answer a question) I wrote the article to invoke a little thought. For you\, it clearly worked. It was an interesting\, hypothetical debate the wife and I had\, and after thinking on it for awhile (I still think she's off base\, but then again I'm not certain she's really all that worried about it... at all) I realized\, this could spark some interesting debate. You just proved that theory correct\, whether I've \"failed both rationally and metaphysically\" or not.
March 26, 2013
well Folly....
By: Matt Molgaard
what can i say Folly? God bless opinions and the right to freely defecate all over them. I don't think I've ever been called a dumbass a good six different ways in SINGLE statement. I've got to admit\, that was pretty impressive :)
March 26, 2013
Good Article
By: Goreboy
Interesting article and thoughts\, I appreciate a few woman expressing their view points.
March 28, 2013
hating stupidity isn't misandry either
By: Jessica Greenman
I have a few comments to cover\, and it's annoying I can't cover each one separately\, attach each to each individual message\, as it's also annoying that not only I but everyone else is stuck with these weird '/' dash lines that demarcate their prose; perhaps best.horror.movies.com could attend to that\, alongside replicating my paragraph breaks\, which without might be a factor assisting Folly's definition of me as a 'ranting feminist'. I'll work from the bottom. Goreboy can just leave\, as his appreciation is of no concern\, being sexist. Is it not sexist? Or is he right\, that women never speak? I need to know more\, either on female muteness (at least on the subject of the horror movie) or his wonderful sense of generosity and largesse towards the very idea they finally break silence\, which I will of course be cruel about. It'll be one or the other\, but I don't like his tone\, and we have no time for even the remotest form of ambiguity. ('Viewpoints' is all one word; semicolon not comma after 'thoughts'.) To reply more plainly\, ‘I’d appreciate a few people expressing something intelligent’. That’s not happened yet. Then up\, towards Folly\, who is commenting on the inaccuracy of my assessment\, not the inaccuracy of yours\, Matt: rather unusually\, it’s my accuracy you appear to be defending. We'll get back to your pleasure in my destruction of you later\, and why you're so little fussed by it. So\, Folly: you're just thick. The article was wrong: it fraudulently claims a higher body count of men over women in horror movies\, a fraudulence that doesn’t change by being repeated or dumbly believed in. It also spoke of higher levels of hatred towards men then women\, but equally didn't prove that\, and we need a better definition of 'men' and 'women' if we are going to get rid of the idea of actual in favour of figurative\, which would at least attempt some form of reason. If you want to argue the figurative\, do so\, until then\, shut up. More on 'disposability' versus hunting down the hated prey later. Matt: dear oh dear oh dear. No\, we do not do things to 'spark debate' or 'invoke thought' (you mean 'stimulate' or ‘inspire’ anyway\, you 'invoke' a God - your language is dreadful; ghastly\, unreadable\, throughout) - oh 'attack' me all you like\, pretend you know me if that helps - we do things because they are RIGHT. Stop back-pedalling\, and stop going on about your wife\, I'd might as well bring in hopeless but charming conversations I have with Simon or Anthea that have no relevance and no amount of personal intimacy will make them so. You said\, 'more women survive horror movies than men\,' and that is not true. You've not bothered to go back and pick out all the examples that you yourself chose - you mean slashers not horror anyway - and check them for body count\, if you actually mean survival which you don't. I had to stay up till seven in the morning watching Halloween - I have all the wrong versions and various glitches in power etc - just to check\, exactly: 'was the nurse killed or just attacked?'\, 'was the dead body Loomis found that of a man or a woman?' etc. This 'disposable' idea (back to Folly) is kind of true\, but nothing on 'we must hound these people down and destroy them for their gender alone\, and take pleasure in their misery\, pain\, and expiry' - rather than\, 'oh I need a uniform'\, 'oh you wandered in at that wrong time and caught me\, woops' - the one is specific and loaded\, the other neutral\, accidental - so - well if we're making a comparison: 'women are Jews and men good Germans who just are in the wrong place at the wrong time'\, OR ‘we need to kill gay men’ (so heterosexual men might just die in the fallout)\, OR ‘we need to kill dogs’ (so the odd cat might not make it)\, OR ‘we need to kill peasants’ (so a random member of the aristocracy might get an arrow by chance) etc and so forth – so\, NOT misandry (violent desirous unilateral need to kill men and take pleasure in so doing\, and if a few chicks or even dogs blunder in (see: the death of the dog in Halloween - the movie doesn’t become ‘dog-hating’ just because an unfortunate pooch is throttled)\, well\, they get offed too\, but that's absolutely rescindable)\, very much not; let alone the complete lack of any preoccupation with the POETICS of the genre. GAWD. I also wondered about whether death itself was the point\, whether attack – which can be prolonged and torturous - and intent shouldn't be more carefully looked at - and also\, I do wonder why - oh how should I put it? You're published and I'm not. Now just consider that Matt\, because I can write you a lovely essay on all this\, and bring to light\, properly\, what the real concerns are here. Your willingness to take delight in being intellectually humiliated bodes well. That's the kind of man who survives a horror movie. But – oh dear – no – no – I see trouble ahead. Perhaps chat to your wife - it doesn't surprise me she's forgotten the conversation\, as it's just a fashion statement anyway - sorry\, but it is – and – well maybe - let me write an article on this. But: no. No. The smiley face dooms you. And don't use the word 'clearly'\, not in the sense of over-emphasising. 'I can see clearly now the rain is gone' is fine; 'it clearly worked' causes nausea and a need to go out and kill large numbers of people. You must learn to take horror seriously\, language seriously\, and human life seriously\, or all will die. On top: given how thick your commentators are\, yes\, I CAN see why you're published and I'm not. Do you have a comment to make about that one? I think it's relevant to the discussion. And if invoking ‘a little thought’ was your intent\, how about it? Let’s have a little thought\, Matt. Just a little. Go on\, it’s my birthday.
March 28, 2013
Jennifer
By: Best-Horror-Movies.com
We are working on the paragraph break issue and the \"/\" issue. Thanks for you comments. If you are ever interested in writing up a opinion piece on a horror film subject we would like to have you contribute. You can e-mail us at info @ Best-horror-moveis.com
March 28, 2013
Jessica
By: Matt Molgaard
Happy birthday. May you not run into any obnoxiously pretentious individuals disconcerted for no apparent reason.
March 29, 2013
Jennifer
By: Jessica Greenman
I was touched by your message\, partly because it's quite difficult to read my message as it stands (op. cit. paragraph breaks and\, er\, slashes)\, and you must have attended carefully\, for which I am grateful. I will write you something shortly. Cheers; and thanks also for not thinking I was just trying to have a fight and annoy people but saw through to my most passionate belief.
March 29, 2013
Matt
By: Jessica Greenman
Thanks\, and uhm\, thanks again? I had to think awhile about what you meant by that last one\, especially the 'no apparent reason' bit. There are worse things I might run into\, believe me. Or NOT. It's OK\, someone sent me flowers. But - the condition? One beheaded\, right at the throat\, just dangling there\, poor sad sliced thing\, and two of the leaves folded over and stapled down. With THREE staples. That's 'intent'\, full-scale. They went nuts on the binding - so many ropes and elastics I had to cut through\, and so tight - those stalks sprung to life as I released them - but the staples and decapitation were just one step too far. I'm going to ring the florist. Then I'll read Let's Go Play at The Adams' again. J.G.
March 31, 2013
Final Girl
By: Liz
How come, with all these deep thoughts I've been reading, about "misandry," \"mysogeny, " "hope," "stereotypes," etc., etc., no one is mentioning the need for audience empathy, or simply just dramatic concerns? It still remains more socially acceptable for women to scream and gasp in terror, and run around and fall down. If you want sympathy and/or identification from your audience (very important in making drama work), you're going to have better luck focusing on women emoting, than on men. Similarl, if the audience sees, and hears, more expressions of fear and horror, they're probably going to be more affected by "Final Girl's" ultimate victory. Right or wrong, most people are still going to feel more sympathetic towards a woman running and screaming than a man.
April 1, 2013
Final Girl
By: Jessica Greenman
Agree fully. But there is something a little weird about the final girl\, is there not? She is not classically feminine. She has profound masculine attributes\, ones that separate her from the other women\, alongside another quality that goes beyond gender. There's a sense in which her role could be taken by a man - sensitive\, socially tremulous\, pretty but unpopular - one who could inspire the singular romantic territory which I believe is the very seizure of the horror hero. Films\, art\, books: these create humanity\, so were someone to provide us with this kind of victim/hero in male form - it's been looked at in Chained\, and in The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (not a horror film\, but close) - these are male children\, so not quite the same - I don't think it would go amiss\, and I'm pretty sure there are a lot of men around desperate for a role model who symbolises suffering. I am not at all disagreeing with you\, but I think an emotional man\, drenched by the violent misery of circumstance\, and more aware than his dying peers would\, if pictured with sufficient solidarity - the final girl loses not her sexuality or erotic power by her ordeal or her bravery - nor need he - be the next step along in evolution. And I am right to suggest that this should come from Horror: the genre is streets ahead of any other. Point being the identification of the final girl isn't only an identification with bloodied abuse and terrorised vulnerability\, it is also an identification with power and integrity. Thus the role could be taken by a man\, and to a certain extent already is (figuratively). But: you're still right. So far. Well\, aside from Hamlet of course.
April 8, 2013
Final Girls once were masculine
By: VampChick26
There was a definite point in the evolution of the Final Girl where she was masculine but I think the times have changed somewhat. They are often older now\, occasionally mothers so they seem to be aligning more with feminine instead of masculine. The few horror films that have featured men create a very different hero than the final girls that are the norm so there is something unique to the female hero of horror even in her slightly more masculine guises.
April 10, 2013
final boy not possible; final girl dead
By: Jessica Greenman
I just had a thought. There's no point trying to create a male version of the final girl\, not because men can't be victimised and heroic or because they are stronger than women but because of human history. We'd have to have had thousands of years of abject matriarchal power - men spat on for daring to consider themselves intelligent\, refused education\, used as sex slaves - chattels - in the business of marriage - endless rape and coercion (I am rather enjoying this) - burnt at the stake for demonstrating irreverent sexuality\, told they are worthless unless they are pretty\, unless they can attract women\, and then only by meekness\, simpering and timid idolatry - it's almost like a fantasy\, this - and so on. THEN you could have a brutalised yet brilliant final boy. Until then\, just no\, show's over the moment a girl walks in because he could knock her out and rape her in a second and mortify her intellectually even if far less intelligent; he has no fear of her\, nor is there any cultural fear of her\, so it would be a film with no sexual element (crucial) unless it were gay. So that would work after a very serious\, very bloody feminist revolution in which we repeated the last 22 centuries in reverse and blindfolded. Page Break. What is Vamp Chick 26 saying? OK\, yeah\, yes. Yes\, the days of the final girl are gone\, she says\, in terms of the masculine heroic side. Well\, we need to bring them back. It's this lovely liminal ambiguity that created such a disturbance and such shocking empathy. Yes\, I agree with her final statement too\, though I think there may be a confusion here between what we mean by feminine and masculine. The impression I get is 'docile\, maternal\, stupid and conventional' equals feminine\, so we're going back in terms of 'evolution'. That won't do. We must not regress. Maybe some more films of girls chained up in cellars and gagged and so on. They've not made a film called Stockholm Syndrome\, have they. I can think of a number of ways to play that one out. And here the final boy might come into his own\, too. So: Deadgirl (2008)\, I think\, was the next step up on the final girl ladder. But we'll have to ask Matt if it's misandric\, and everyone else if it complies to the final girl mythos. I am voting it in as a final girl classic. And will fight to the death for it.
April 30, 2013
Excuse Me?
By: WatchHawk
Women die more than men all the time in horror movies\, and it's always beautiful and usually scantily-clad women\, and always graphic and mentally scarring and traumatizing. People who make horror movies are sick bastards.
September 1, 2013
Annoyed!
By: Sehena
I hate the fact that women always seem to save the day in horror movies. I'm a girl and I'm all for women power but I'd honestly like to see a man be the hero for once. To actually survive, not just as the significant other of the heroine but rather because of his own wits! I'm sure that men can think with something other than their little heads.
September 3, 2013
Really?
By: Marie
It's about time women had a corner in the market where they get to be the heroes\, where they get to battle the odds and survive. In the majority of other films outside the horror genre\, men are the heroes and women often function only as romantic interests. This may not be true for every film\, but there's a good many films out there like that. But oh! Poor men\, not getting to be the heroes for once!
November 5, 2013
This Is why
By: Nicole
Because we're better than men (I'm not a sexist) and people always want to see one woman still alive at the end. Also because we're better at saving the day on these films
January 15, 2014
Men do well in horror films
By: Stephen Cray
Despite the slasher imagery, men actually don't do so badly in horror films. A quick list of horror movies where the men are survivors and heros 1) Evil Dead II 2) Fright Night 3) The Howling 4) Wolfen 5) The Collection 6) The Conjuring 7) Insidious 2 8) Lost Boys 9) The Original Dawn of the Dead 10) The Original Day of the Dead 11) Most Dracula Movies 12) Land of the Dead 13) Vampires 14) The Ninth Gate 15) Seven 16) Species 17) Vamp 18) World War Z 19) Fulci's Zombie 20) 28 Days later This list was made without really trying. So simply and blindly suggest that men don't survive horror movies is terribly wrong. They might not survive slasher films too often, but that does not define the entire genre.

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