Ladies, Embrace the Doom and Gloom of Horror
Women in horror: Damsels in distress. We are the gaping, wide-eyed head cheerleader standing motionless as an ax swings our way; the girl who runs up the stairs (what are you doing?!) rather than out of the house. We are the victims, chopped to bits by a vexed lover; the rage behind crimes of passion. But we’re also the housewives, the mothers, the caretakers and cooks…and if you stop to think about it, aren’t the ones you rely on most the ones who pose the greatest threat?
For as long as horror has been around, it’s been a male dominated field. But ever since the beginning, we girls have been bucking the trend. Mary Shelley is one of our pioneers. Deciding to have a horror story competition between herself, her husband Percy, Lord Byron, and John Polidori, Mary composed a tale that left her male counterparts reeling. She swept the competition, as we girls tend to do, and later adapted her short story into Frankenstein, one of the linchpin tales of the entire horror genre. Basically, Mary was a badass. So why, then, are women in this genre depicted as weak? Why are we the minority?
As a woman in horror myself, I’m frequently asked “what makes you write such terrible things?” Apparently my big brown eyes and innocent looks damn me to fanning myself with the pages of a romance novel like a proper lady. I do declare! This, of course, brings up the argument of gender identity, of the things expected of us because we grew up in pink ruffled rompers and bows in our hair. It’s true that I too was stuffed in a number of dresses that cut uncomfortably into my armpits. I wore pigtails so tight they gave me a perma-smile. But when my mother wasn’t looking, I wandered the neighboring cemetery…alone, I ghost hunted in my attic, poked at dead birds with sticks, and secret-watched horror movies much in the way a teenaged boy sneaks eyefuls of porn. Now older and wiser, when accosted with the fact that, my heavens, I’m a female writing stories of demonic possession, murder, and cannibalism, I smile because you bet your ass I am. And as far as I’m concerned, women in writing should stretch their arms out toward the darkness. Because, who better to drudge up your deepest, darkest fears than the delicate flower that is the cornerstone of polite society, darling?
That’s the thing about us girls. We care a lot and we love even more. We bear burdens that are buried deep beneath our skin. Picture a single mother of three, the rock of a household, pudgy because she eats a little too much ice cream after the kids have gone to bed, bearing the stigma of her late-night crimes because she’s expected to be rail-thin and lipstick hot or no raise for her. You think she’s weak? Hell, she’s got all the motivation she needs for murder. Snubbed. Objectified. Devalued. Horror isn’t about blood and gore, it’s about relationships and the rage that comes with being dismissed. A woman is the perfect villain, and the perfect gender to write up the world’s worst nightmares. It all circles back to that fragile blossom, that wispy waif, that do-good sweetheart living on Magnolia Lane.
Confession time: If I could go back in time and live in any decade, I’d pick the 1950’s, and I’d be a housewife. I keep a clean house, I bake a mean casserole, and when I make a cake it’s a layer cake, honey. I’m no slacker; I put in 110%. But weren’t the 50’s creepy? All of that perfection, all of that pink frosting, Stepford Wives smiling, just waiting for Mr. Right to come home? It makes me giddy with the possibility of chaos. The portrait-ready newlywed deciding to annul her marriage via rat poison, or maybe letting her baby carriage careen down a sloped sidewalk toward a busy intersection below…
Men dominate the horror genre, but women? Some of us positively thrive in the gloom. And that’s why, the next time you feel the itch to let your story spiral into that sweet and dismal night, don’t deny the tiny devil perched upon your shoulder. Follow in the footsteps of our foremother, Mary Shelley. Write dark, write gruesome, and show the boys just how deadly the delicate purple flowers of Nightshade can be.
Author bio: Ania Ahlborn is the bestselling author of horror thrillers Within These Walls, The Bird Eater, The Shuddering, The Neighbors, Seed, and the e-novella The Pretty Ones. Her latest acclaimed novel, Brother, is available now. Born in Ciechanow, Poland, she lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and their dog.