There’s a regular debate that happens whenever a “special” month or celebration comes up: Black History,
Women’s History, Native American…
Women’s History, Native American…
“Why do we need a special month for…?”
There are plenty of studies and statistics. Take some initiative and Google them. I’ll summarize: Even with the extra attention on these histories, these stories, these people, these authors—even during these “special” months—these voices of the non-dominant culture are STILL outnumbered and overshadowed by the voices of the dominant culture: white, male, cis-gendered, able-bodied, heterosexual…
Since I write for both grown-ups and children, I have been able to work with the We Need Diverse Books organization. One of the frequently given answers to “Why DO we need diverse books?” is to explain that we need both mirrors and windows. Readers need to be able to see themselves in fiction and they need to be able to see others besides themselves.
With horror, in particular, we need this. The point of horror is to face the things that frighten us in a “save” environment of a book. Horror also develops empathy as we care about characters going through the dangers and fear in the pages. In this case, people in the non-dominant cultures need to see themselves; they deserve to have that ability to face fears safely in the pages, to have that catharsis, to feel empowered. And those reading already in the dominant culture need to share the fears of people different from themselves, to learn about horrifying things they may not have realized are horrifying.
Looking at women in particular, since I’m writing for the “Women in Horror” aspect of February, I often share this story with people.
In an old writers group I used to belong to, I shared a story where a key plot point was where a mother and daughter were approaching the car and the mother avoids an immediate attack by checking the back seat before she got to the car.
The usually-first-to-comment gentleman in the group asked, “How did she know to look in the back seat? Was something off? You need to show that.”
I, and every other woman in the group, responded, “You mean you don’t naturally check the back seat when you approach your car?”
That threw him off. “No, why would I?”
You see, if you’re a guy reading this who may not have had a lot of interaction with women or has not had regular discussions with women about how safe we feel in the world, you might not realize that just about all of us have been taught by our mothers, from a very young age, that you always, always, ALWAYS, check the back seat of any car you are approaching.
And that’s without—at least in the case of my mom—having seen an abundance of horror films where the killer rises ominously out of the back seat. You just check.
Just like you always de-escalate any confrontation with men, you always go to the bathroom with friends, you take extra care if you walk out to your car alone, you wait till your girlfriends get safely into their houses after you drop them off, you watch your drinks—and your friends’ drinks, you are prepared to be abused for dressing too sexy or not sexy enough or not smiling—because everyone else knows better about what you should be doing with your body. Women live being prepared for more frightening things than most men realize. My list is incomplete, so take a few minutes to check out a more complete one here.
And that’s just regular, everyday horror preventative planning. There is also regular, everyday actual horror, like this.
How women deal with threats and violence, how they are taught to protect themselves, and how their brain chemistry drives them are all different—and we know when a portrayal of these things is inauthentic. We get frustrated when women do stupid things in horror novels and horror novels that we know women just wouldn’t do. Without women writing these things accurately, misinformation given in literature and pop culture gets accepted as reality—we already see that with our existing rape culture.
And then we are further isolated, our real-world issues continue unabated and unaided and unknown to the people who actually have power to make laws and decide court verdicts. That’s another level of horror: A system we cannot count on. After all, in 2005, it was mandated by the Supreme Court that the police don’t have to protect you. Even if you’ve got a restraining order. Against someone who’s violently attacked you before.
We won’t even get into how fucking hard it is to prosecute rapists. Even with DNA evidence. Just Google it; there are far more links than you want me to post in a single blog.
And then, of course, when women take matters into their own hands to protect themselves, they face even more horror stories. Beyond being called bitches, saying we should be punished for being “uppity,” we also get hit with the arguments—often from other women—that “we shouldn’t have to teach women to protect themselves from rape; we need to teach men not to rape.” And then we get assaulted with memes that blame us for letting other women get raped whenever we teach preventative measures.
To which I have a longer blog post brewing that I can quickly sum up, now, with a “teaching people to not murder, since the first recorded, codified laws, carved in stone, from Ancient Sumeria, has TOTALLY stopped people from being murdered.”
But yeah, if a woman hasn’t got one end of culture blaming her for getting raped, she’s got another group of people vilifying her for not getting raped. That’s not a horror story at all.
Basically, there is a lot of horror in a regular woman’s life. Besides just violent assaults, rape culture, passive sexism—there’s also how difficult it is for women to get medical attention for serious issues (that don’t involve removing “ta-tas” because we should all keep our sexy ta-tas for the pleasure of those gazing upon them). But really, how many advertisements do we see on television for erectile dysfunction? How many have you seen for the extremely common issue of dysmenorrhea, or severe menstrual cramps that have one in five or more women in incapacitating pain? Every. Single. Month. What, you haven’t seen those ads? Oh, right, there isn’t one. Because there isn’t research going into that and there isn’t treatment beyond birth control or some sort of surgery (all of which actually require serious hoop-jumping for women to get, particularly the latter two because it could, possibly, interfere with a woman’s baby-making capabilities. Regardless of if she already knows she doesn’t want children.)
Women have a lot of stories to tell. A lot of horror stories. These stories should be out there, informing our culture and giving comfort, catharsis, and “no, you’re not alone in this” assurances, to women who deal with their already regularly-scheduled, everyday horror.
The way we tell these stories, with our voices filled with our pain… The way we market them, the way we want to be marketed to, the way we feel comfortable marketing, in our voices and our styles... All of that so very often is, at best, ignored, and at worst, openly mocked or considered an excuse for some man to tell us we deserve to get raped for such crimes against “real” horror or literature.
And no, I’m not exaggerating that last point either. Hell… look at any feminist post on anything and you can write a horror story from the comments section.
Really. Google it.
So, taking a month to try and have these voices less ignored, less mocked—and maybe, just maybe, taken seriously, supported, shared with people who need to read them—that’s why this month is important. Would I like to see a day when we don’t need to take this extra effort? Of course I would. When will that be? Well, to paraphrase the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsberg when she’s asked when there will be enough women Justices on the Supreme Court… We won’t need a Women in Horror month when all-women anthologies aren’t “something special,” when award dockets are just as likely to be all women as all men, when publishing houses release a month or more of titles that just happen to be women, when a year goes by where all titles happen to be ones written by women, when I can mention that I write horror and not get incredulous looks, when stating “I don’t read horror by women” becomes an embarrassing phrase people are ashamed to utter in any company.
Until then, we need our special month. And so do you. And so does everyone who reads horror and claims they appreciate horror.
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