dear Alexandra

This blog post began as a reply to a comment made by horror writer and screenwriter, Alexandra Sokoloff, on my last blog entry, but got too long. It’s probably best if you read that first before continuing with this entry.

I’ll wait.

Back? Great. Here’s what my couple of lines morphed into:

Dear Alexandra,

Thank you for your note, and I appreciate your kind comments. I’m currently reading your novel The Price, as I’m engaged in a drive to read as much horror by women as possible before World Horror Convention. That means getting books from a lot of different sources, especially since women’s horror isn’t easy to come by where I live in Ireland – although the paranormal romance/urban fantasy section is very well stocked, and I’ve read from that area too.

I know you’re a screenwriter and have been very involved in the WGA in the USA. As it happens I’m trained as a screenwriter (not much joy there, but I’m plugging away), I’ve a background in student politics, and I work as a newsletter editor/blogger for the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild. I was the blogger for the World Conference of Screenwriters in Athens last November, and during the event I met some of your colleagues from the WGA.

That’s a preamble to explain that advocacy is something that’s dear to my heart. I love the horror genre, but I’m acutely aware of a power imbalance in it that is contributing to the “invisibiling” of women to the industry. I’m constantly being told by people a variation of “there aren’t many women in horror”, but when I do my research I discover the field is stuffed with them. It makes me want to belt out a Jamie Lee Curtis-style scream of frustration! Where does this perception come from?

Well, the lack of attention in the media is partly responsible. I was furious when I read the SFX horror magazine. The patent indifference and ignorance of women’s work in the field is shocking.

Sure, we can all say it’s an unconscious bias, but I’m at the point now where I find it inexcusable. Too many people have pointed it out. There have been conferences, essays, articles, and events about this. Too often we pat people on the back and say a variation on “It’s not your fault, it’s society’s conditioning”, and then nothing changes because they go away thinking “well, that’s just how it is”. Both the anonymous women Ian Berriman quoted to support the SFX horror edition said “it’s not your fault,” and one said “you’re just reflecting the industry”.

One thing can change: women must stop accepting the situation. I know from my student politics days and my work with the Guild that it’s hard to motivate people to take action on issues like this. People let things like this slide all the time (if they notice it at all). They think it’s not that important, someone else will do something, they’re afraid it will damage their career, or they feel they’re not qualified to speak up. But, nothing changes until people take a stand – for instance, the WGA’s Writers Strike in 2007/2008.

The situation is not acceptable. It’s really not. Women, and men who wish to support women, need to tell these publications that they are damaging the industry with this one-sided view.

I get distressed when I see fine, talented women writers being overlooked in genre media, because this leads to a terrible cycle of their work not getting sales, not getting re-published, not being nominated for awards, etc. And I know from my work in the Guild that women in theatre and film continue to face massive struggles to get their work produced. It’s hugely disheartening to read the industry research on this matter, in fact.

I’m delighted Women in Horror Recognition Month was launched, because it’s needed. I love seeing women standing up for themselves and promoting each other’s work. If the genre media won’t do it then women must start supporting each other. That’s why women-focused horror web sites like Pretty-Scary.net and ZombieGrrlz are so fantastic.

At least the Internet allows this discussion to get attention, and it’s a brilliant avenue for women horror writers to have their say. But still, the mainstream media leads the way, and the horror genre has been ignoring women for far too long. We need to correct them when they get it wrong, because otherwise it will never change.

Well, that’s my philosophy anyway!

By the way, I loved your interview in the latest issue of Black Static. It was full of intelligent observation. That’s the kind of positive attention more women in horror deserve to receive.