women in horror: a summary of recent posts

It’s time for a summary of the reaction across the Internet to my recent posts about the lack of representation of women in the SFX horror edition.

As I mentioned last week David Barnett at the The Guardian blog brought up the issue immediately, and by the end of the week UK Feminist web site The F Word was running with the story.

Once I posted editor Ian Berriman’s reply to my query, the response in the comments, on Internet articles and to me personally has been anger and frustration at the lack of knowledge displayed about women’s participation in the horror industry.

As Cheryl Morgan put it, it was a classic case of “How Not to Apologize”. Of course, to apologise is to admit fault, and Ian made it clear that he didn’t think he did anything wrong. In an blog post called “Sticking My Nose In”, Nicholas Whyte also neatly dissected the excuses Ian offered. And author Tansy Rayner Roberts also criticises SFX for making us the “(Invisible) Women of Horror”.

Update: To get an idea of what women are faced with, check out the comments on Horror Squad’s ‘SFX’ Magazine’s Omission of Women in Horror post. They range from the typical “PC brigade” remarks, and the classic taunt that women are “whining” about being left out. Alison Nastasi shows commendable restraint in how she deals with these accusations. I’m constantly baffled why women are expected to stay silent about being ignored (which continues the problem), or are expected to resolve the problem quietly without any fuss? Both indicate that it is not right for us to object to an obvious oversight that isn’t acknowledged by the magazine, and is refuted with the poorest of excuses.

Today director, journalist and editor-in-chief of Pretty/Scary, Heidi Martinuzzi, wrote the blog post “Did SFX Magazine Leave Out Women?”, which is being picked up by news agencies.

Heidi is particularly well-informed about the horror film industry, and the huge number of women working in the field. I’m going to include an extensive quote from Heidi as she addresses the idea that there aren’t that many female horror directors:

I want to point out that Berriman’s journalist friend is wrong. There are over 600 – 1000 female horror directors, about 200 of whom have had horror films screened in theaters in the last 40 years and who have distributed their films on either VHS or DVD. There are dozens living and working in Los Angeles today, in NYC, and more located around the world including the UK, Australia, and in Asia. We just tend not to hear about them very much in any magazines or online, and when we do, they don’t seem to be promoted to the same extant as male directors.

There is a reason that female filmmakers do not get the attention that male filmmakers in the horror genre get; because only actresses in horror are given any fan status by horror fans. I am not sure why this is. Actresses are invited to conventions, asked to appear in documentaries about women in horror, and in general are very well covered by horror magazines everywhere.

But it is the female directors like Mary Lambert, Katt Shea, Rachel Talalay, Sue Montford, Amanda Gusack, Anya Camilleri, Lola Wallace, Devi Snively, Gloria Katz, Jackie Kong, Barbara Peters, Stephanie Rothman, Roberta Findlay, Mary Harron, Marian Dora, Marina de Van, Jennifer Lynch, Claire Denis, and about 60-100 more I could rattle off the top of my head, who are not given the same respect by horror fans as their male counterparts.

You can attend any horror convention or read any horror magazine, and chances are you’ll hear about George Romero, Wes Craven, Sean Cunningham, John Carpenter, and dozens more. But when was the last time you saw a female horror director invited to a convention as an official guest? Chances are you haven’t. I’ve only seen one; Jennifer Lynch at the 2009 Fangoria Weekend of Horrors in Los Angeles.

Needless to say, it is clearly an issue of women in front of the camera being made out to be more important than the women behind the camera; even though the women do the same jobs the men do as directors and writers.

People might argue that this is because most horror fans are male and males enjoy looking at beautiful women while aspiring to be important men. But that doesn’t gel when you see how many fans actually are women. Graze any horror web site’s forums and you’ll see that women enjoy horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and action films just as much as men do. Recent articles, like this one by Phil Boatwright, show that statistically, women are now leading over men in attendance in theaters for horror films.

So, if there ARE many female horror directors out there, (roughly 500 living and available today), and females ARE horror fans (as we define horror by Berriman’s standards) then what is the issue? Are women who work behind the scenes in horror films just largely ignored because horror’s subculture values physical visual performances from beautiful women on camera more than it values directorial or writing jobs by women? Yes. Horror also values the work men do as directors far more than women.

Magazines and websites that choose not to cover horror films directed by women in favor of equally-budgeted, equally-enjoyable horror films by men are making an editorial choice to shape not only their audience’s beliefs about how many women direct horror films, but the overall persistent theory that women exist in horror only as actresses, and then, usually only as sexualized scream queens. Which simply isn’t true, and frankly, is more than a little cheesy and juvenile.

How is it that no one on the SFX staff has Heidi’s phone number or email address? After all, as horror author Alexandra Sokoloff said in a comment on my blog, all anyone has to do is to go to the web site of a female horror writer/director and submit a query via the contact form. Some of us do this regularly. As I pointed out in a previous entry, all you have to do is want to find them.

Alexandra also said: “We’re all dying to talk about our genre with people who care about it.”

Horror director Mary Lambert (Pet Semetery, Dark Path Chronicles) concurs. She emailed me once this story took off and said she would have been “happy” to offer a suggestion for the “Horror’s Hidden Treasures” article.

There are no excuses for the omission of women.

The media needs to admit that, and do something to address the imbalance.

[Note: this blog is cross-posted to LiveJournal due to its large sf/horror community, and that journal also has a great deal of comments on it.]