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Posts tagged ‘film’

The Curse: Womanhood and Horror

While I wasted my obligatory horror film post back in May, I realised that I hadn’t really gone into depth about the underlying theme that links most (if not all) of the films on that list together – the way the horror genre exoticises and demonises puberty, sex and womanhood. Slasher films are particularly guilty of this. In many slasher films, especially in early examples, the “final girl” survives to the end of the film and defeats the killer. Usually, she survives because she is a virgin and the other female characters – normally sexually active women – are punished by the narrative for their promiscuity.

It’s true that women are often the victims in horror films that treat puberty as a cause for alarm, as a step into a world of violence and fear. However, there’s certainly no shortage of women who commit violence within the genre and, equally often, such violence is presented as a coming-of-age ritual for the female protagonist. Either as a victim or as a perpetrator, her experiences with fear and with conflict are integral to her “growing up”.

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“It’s corn syrup, Daddy. Want some?”

Themes that crop up a lot are menarche and menstruation; it’s easy to see why. It’s cyclical, linking it to curses and prophecies within horror – you know the one, “Every 20 years, the great god Cthulhu demands a virgin sacrifice.” It also appears predominantly in films that explore lycanthropy (werewolfism!), which in most myths is dependent on the lunar cycle. Furthermore, menstruation is the only entirely natural process in which blood is excreted from the body. Despite being an absolutely normal and non-threatening experience, it lends itself to narratives that treat menstrual bleeding as equivalent to violent injury like stabbing or mutilation. The point of the horror genre is to unsettle and unnerve us. What better way to scare us than to convince us (at least for roughly 90 minutes) that our own body might turn against us?

A good example is the film Ginger Snaps (2000). In the film, Ginger Fitzgerald, a 16-year-old girl, starts her period. On the same day that she receives “the curse”, as she refers to it, she is attacked and bitten by a werewolf. Her younger sister Brigitte must find a way to cure her before Ginger is completely transformed into a monstrous creature. There’s very much a conflict between the girls’ mother’s romanticised idea of menarche, the school nurse’s calm explanations and Ginger’s own experiences. Her transformation is marked by exaggerated indications of puberty – we see her struggling to shave off thick hair, her period seems to go on for weeks and her sexual awakening results in a near-death experience for her boyfriend, who contracts lycanthropy like an STD and has a period of his own. Of course, the film is hyperbolic, but when you go through menarche as a teenager, these new and often painful experiences can feel very much like a nightmare.

At its heart, Ginger Snaps is a film about sisterhood. It explores the complex bond between young women, related by blood or not, by candidly depicting internalised misogyny. The Fitzgerald sisters frequently denounce their arch-enemy Trina Sinclair as a “slut” and she responds in kind, but all the teenage girls in the film are a united front when it comes to boys and their tenuous, uncertain interactions with them. In fact, Trina’s death scene and her conversation with Brigitte prior to her death is particularly fascinating. In reference to seeing Brigitte hanging out with Trina’s ex-boyfriend, Sam (who helps Brigitte find the cure), Trina says to her: “If you’re so f*cking smart, you won’t give him the satisfaction. Somebody, just once, shouldn’t give that f*cker the satisfaction!” That doesn’t strike me as something a nemesis would say. To me, that sounds like Trina trying – if haphazardly – to protect Brigitte from earning a reputation like hers. The girls show awareness of the sexual double standard earlier in the film. Lamenting her bad experience with her boyfriend, Ginger remarks to Brigitte that “A girl can only be a slut, a bitch, a tease or the virgin next door.”

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Along those same lines, menarche is undoubtedly linked with the onset of fertility and sex. It’s fairly archaic symbolism and bears less relevance in the modern era, as obviously not all women want to or are able to have children. In addition, not everyone who experiences the menstrual cycle identifies as a woman and trans women may not experience it either.

However, I still find it interesting. Take the film  The Company of Wolves (1984), for example, based on the short story of the same name from the anthology The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. All the stories in the anthology deal with womanhood in some way – whether it’s through menarche, marriage or sex. The film is no different. While it is admittedly not an easy film to understand, due to heavy use of surrealism, ambiguous symbolism and a blurred boundary between the real world and the “dream” world, it is essentially a coming-of-age story. It’s a beautiful film, but it does take a few repeat viewings to take in everything. There’s so much symbolism in every frame and it can be a bit perplexing initially. The Company of Wolves also features werewolves, although they are portrayed differently to the lycanthropes of Ginger Snaps. Here, although the film makes it clear that anyone can become a wolf, the werewolves serve primarily as an allegory for men. This stems from the morals of early fairy tales, which Carter extrapolates in The Bloody Chamber. The original tale Red Riding Hood, which inspired several stories in the anthology and also the film, can be interpreted as a treatise on virginity. The wolf is a predator, out to steal away Red Riding Hood’s innocence and “devour” her, but she must be vigilant and stick to the path. Carter’s retelling is far more feminist. At the culmination of the short story and the film, the Red Riding Hood character – named Rosaleen in the film – chooses to stay with the wolf who has tricked her and eaten her grandmother. Leaving behind her parents, the village and the expectations that they had for her life, she transforms into a wolf herself and they flee into the forest together.

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“They say the Prince of Darkness is gentleman… they’re right, a fine gentleman.”

Perhaps that’s the secret to making a horror film that treats women’s experiences sensitively while still being, well, horrifying. Strip the protagonist of her autonomy, stop her from being the focus of her own narrative, and you’re guaranteed to make a shitty, sexist film. Giving agency and a voice to women in horror doesn’t reduce the terror, but it does stop the film from contributing to real life attitudes and stigma.

Please like and share if you enjoyed this article! This is a subject about which I’m passionate, and I’d really appreciate it.

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“Women Transform Into Their Idols” – BuzzFeed

I just watched this super cute video from Ladylike, a series by BuzzFeed. In this episode, the team get to dress up as their female role-models. It’s amazing. I loved all their reasons for choosing these women as their role-models, and their choices said a lot about what each Ladylike member finds important in their own identity.

 

#LoveForLeslieJ

Leslie Jones has been forced off Twitter, and the reason for it has made me – and will probably make you – very angry indeed.

As you may be aware, Leslie Jones has recently come to prominence since starring in the new all-female installment of the Ghostbusters franchise. You might recall the backlash after the film was announced, with most people arguing that the film would “ruin” the original for them and that it was a blatant attempt to pander to a more PC audience.

I’ve always supported the “girl Ghostbusters”, because I think the film is undoubtedly a force for good. It showcases the talents of four immensely funny actresses and it has the potential to inspire so many little girls. I love the whole concept of it. My best friend (who has ambitions of becoming a film director) went to see it and utterly adored it, which is saying something because she is incredibly picky about the media she’s willing to watch.

But since the film’s release, the abuse directed at the cast and crew has only intensified, mostly targeted at Leslie. Milo Yiannopoulos – a man notorious for inciting his mob of fans to hurl abuse at those who displease him – kickstarted a seemingly endless wave of trolling and racist harassment. People have photoshopped tweets, ostensibly from Leslie, with anti-Semitic slurs in them, in order to make it appear that she is abusing Yiannopoulos. When she reacted to such misrepresentation, she was condemned as “too sensitive”. It all became too much for Leslie, who has sadly left Twitter – possibly for good. It genuinely upset me; she tweeted that the onslaught of online abuse was a “personal nightmare”. I can’t imagine what it must feel like.

The bigotry directed at her was vile, but it is nothing compared to the surge of love and support that has emerged in its wake. I myself have used the hashtag #LoveForLeslieJ, and you’re welcome to do so as well if you want to show your support. A second hashtag, #BanNero, has also developed as an attempt to have Milo Yiannopoulos permanently banned from Twitter. He’s already had his blue tick, the mark of verification, taken from him, but it’s not enough. Yiannopoulos is a professional troll. That’s what he does, and we as Internet users shouldn’t put up with it.

Yiannopoulos often espouses his belief in a right to “free speech” – in his case, his right to spread bigotry and hatred. However, his actions and those of the people who take their inspiration from him have denied Leslie Jones her platform and her voice. It’s indicative of a growing online trend of attempts to silence women, especially women of colour.

The Guardian have already published an article about these events.

Much love to Leslie, a talented, funny, smart woman. And what’s more: she’s strong too. I have no doubt that she’ll beat the haters.

5 Feminist Horror Films

The horror genre isn’t exactly renowned for its strong female characters. Generally, there’s a lot of running, screaming and dying involved – not exactly empowering.

However, the horror genre is renowned for being subversive, and that lends itself to feminist adaptations of literature, folklore and mythology. I know it’s not horror-movie season just yet, but I watched one earlier (Treehouse, and it was a bit disappointing) and I decided I should write this list now rather than wait for Halloween to roll around!

So here it is – five feminist horror films! (Plus some honourable mentions that only just missed the cut!) I’ve added links to their respective theatrical trailers, if you fancied having a look. Please be aware that the trailers may contain violence or scary scenes.

5. The Babadook (2014)

The Babadook is a unique psychological horror film. Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, it tells the story of Amelia and her six-year-old son Sam, who are tormented by an entity that enters their home through a children’s book. As the story progresses and Sam’s behaviour grows more erratic, Amelia finds it a struggle to love her son. I like it as a horror film because it relies on suspense and emotional tension, not on cheap jumpscares, but I also think it’s a beautiful piece of cinema overall. The real “monster” in the film is grief and insecurity. As Kent explained in an interview: “I’m not saying we all want to go and kill our kids, but a lot of women struggle. And it is a very taboo subject, to say that motherhood is anything but a perfect experience for women.”

4. Ginger Snaps (2000)

I luuuuurve this film. It follows two teenage sisters, Ginger and Brigitte, who are obsessed with death. In their town, neighbourhood dogs have been killed in a spate of brutal attacks. The girls decide to kidnap the school bully’s dog to scare her, but Ginger starts her period on the way, resulting in her being attacked and bitten by the creature responsible for the dogs’ deaths. As the plot thickens, Brigitte grows more and more concerned for her sister, as Ginger transforms into something otherworldly. Honestly, I adore literature and films that turn normal things – like the menstrual cycle – into something epic and mythical, and Ginger Snaps does it perfectly. It’s also a great teen drama as well, exploring the complex social microcosm in high school.

3. The Witch (2015)

I’ve written A LOT about this film – mostly because I was so excited to see it at the cinema! – and you can find those pieces here and here. However, it still deserves to be on this list, because I just can’t praise it enough. In the film, a Puritan family are excommunicated from the church and forced to leave the community, settling at the edge of a forest. As more and more unsettling phenomena takes place on their farm, often at the hands (hooves?) of their goat Black Phillip, it becomes clear that they are being plagued by a witch. At the centre of the supernatural goings-on is Thomasin, the eldest child, and the film acts as a beautiful (if eerie) allegory for her burgeoning womanhood and her fight for autonomy. The Witch has taught us all that thou canst live deliciously if thou wouldst like to.

2. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Roman Polanski is perhaps not the name that springs to mind when you think “feminism” (and for good reason), but Rosemary’s Baby becomes a surprisingly powerful film if you think about it in context. The first birth control pills became available in the US during the 60s, so women’s reproductive health was a hot topic at the time of the film’s release. The film still feels fresh and relevant, perhaps as a result of the prevalence of pro/anti abortion dialogue in the media recently. In the film, a young couple move into a new apartment, although they’re warned of their home’s unsavoury history. When Rosemary becomes pregnant, the peculiar behaviour of her husband and interfering neighbours makes her increasingly paranoid. Although Rosemary initially felt ready to have a child, she is unable to have the baby on her own terms, and this is a strikingly painful reality even in today’s society.

Honourable mentions:

The Wicker Man (1973) – not the most obvious choice, but hear me out. This film totally subverts the “A Man Is Not A Virgin” and “Virgin Power” tropes, which is brilliant. In the majority of horror films, it’s a pure maiden (sighhh) who is sacrificed; in this, it’s an adult man.

Red Riding Hood (2011) – not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but it is pretty cool with a great female protagonist. She kills werewolves, man. She’s a badass.

Teeth (2007) – this is more of a black comedy, but it’s still excellent. I won’t reveal too much about it; it sort of needs to be seen to be believed. It’s a weird one, yet it works.

  1. The Company of Wolves (1984)

Based on the works of the undisputed queen of feminist folktales, Angela Carter, this is an intriguing film that perhaps doesn’t necessarily belong to the horror genre. Although it’s far closer to magical realism or a gothic drama, I’ve put it here nonetheless – it’s unsettling enough to qualify as at least fantasy-horror. It (loosely) follows the plot of her short story of the same name; however, it is also partially based on other stories from her anthology The Bloody Chamber. The protagonist, Rosaleen, learns about werewolves from her grandmother, who knits her a bright red shawl as a gift (no prizes for guessing the fairy tale the film is based on!). The red cloak becomes an important symbol towards the end of the film. When she accepts her desire for the huntsman she meets in the forest, she burns the cloak in her grandmother’s fireplace. The whole film serves as an allegory for Rosaleen’s first foray into her own sexuality. While she’s obviously confused and scared, the film clearly prioritises her experiences and there’s never a time when Rosaleen is denied autonomy or control.

Trigger warning for nudity and mild violence:

Here’s a clip of one of my favourite scenes in the film, in which Rosaleen tells the story of the Wolfgirl (copyright: Neil Jordan; Palace Productions. Distributed by ITC and Cannon).


So there you have it! There are plenty more I could mention, and feel free to comment with your own suggestions!

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“Let them eat cake (and hate me)”

I watched Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006) for the first time this month, and I thought it was excellent. Really, really beautiful film – go and watch it, now.

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It was, awesomely enough, a very feminist retelling of her story. I honestly got a real “girl power” vibe from it – not unusual for Sofia Coppola’s work – with its New Wave soundtrack and depictions of sisterly solidarity. The film particularly emphasises the relationships between mothers and daughters – between Marie and her mother and also between she and her own daughter, Maria-Therese. There’s a beautiful moment when Marie is playing with her daughter and she says: “A boy would be the son of France, but you, Maria-Therese, shall be mine.”

The majority of the soundtrack comprises of modern music, especially when she’s doing universal “teenage” things, like choosing clothes or dancing. Marie is a controversial figure, but the film took the time to humanise her, portraying her not as the infamously decadent Madame Déficit but as a teenage girl caught up in the turbulent political climate of the French court. It’s comparable to the demonisation of celebrity women today. Accusations of indulgence and luxurious living are rarely directed at men; it’s seen as a very feminine weakness.

The film shows the obsession of the French court with Marie’s every move, as she’s stripped of any agency and manipulated. There’s a really sad scene near the start when Marie first arrives in France. Princess Sophie (Shirley Henderson) remarks that Marie “looks like a child”. At this point in the film, Marie is a child – she married Louis XVI when she was just fourteen years old – but she isn’t treated with the kindness and support that a teenage girl deserves. This forced sexualisation is present throughout the film. The first thing the king, her father-in-law, asks her escort is what her “bosom” looks like and later on, it becomes clear that a childless marriage would be Marie’s fault. Her mother says to her in a letter: “Everything depends on the wife.” The French court consider her frigid, but even if she isn’t, her husband’s lack of attraction to her is perceived to be her fault. Marie is never treated in a way appropriate to her age – if she isn’t being objectified, she’s being infantilised and ignored. In one scene, other members of the nobility are talking about her over dinner… while she’s within earshot. They talk about her as though she isn’t there, saying she’s “delightful… like a little piece of cake…”. She’s very overtly something to be consumed, another cog in the well-oiled machine of the aristocracy.

Well, perhaps not well-oiled. It all went down the toilet between 1789 and 1799. To give you an indication of how passionately the lower classes of French society hated her, they nicknamed her “L’Autre-Chienne”. This is a play on words – the word “L’Autrichienne” means “the Austrian woman”, but “L’Autre-Chienne” means “the other bitch”.

All in all, Marie Antoinette is a fascinating – if somewhat embellished – insight into her life.

“The Witch”

I went to see The Witch yesterday with my stepdad and, holy hell, it was spectacular. Like, seriously, go and see it if you can. You won’t regret it. As a horror film, it worked brilliantly – I’m never going near a goat ever again! – but it worked even better as an exploration into the paranoid psyche of Puritans in the New World and as an allegory for burgeoning womanhood. Really powerful, really beautiful. But also f*cking scary.

La Brujería: Las Implicaciones Feministas

Este es una traducción (¡aproximadamente!) de un mensaje de blog anterior.

Después del estreno de la película nueva La Bruja, una película de terror del director Robert Eggers, más y más gente está notando los matices feministas. Podría argumentar que sea una historia de hacerse maduro en vez de una película de terror.

Aunque durante la historia muchas de las víctimas inocentes que fueron acusados de la brujería han sido hombres, en las imágenes de cultura popular la mayoría de las brujas son mujeres.
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(Lisa: Cuando una mujer es segura de sí misma y poderosa, ¿por qué la llaman una bruja?)

La evolución de la bruja en mitología está conectado íntimamente con las percepciones sociales de las mujeres. Depende del tipo de cultura también. En el norte de España, en el País Vasco, la palabra para la bruja es sorgina (plural: sorginak). Sorginak son las sirvientas de la diosa principal, Mari, y las descripciones en la lectura y en el folclore normalmente fueron positivas – hasta el Cristianismo llegué. La religión vasca – y la primera sociedad – fue matriarcal, así que falta las figuras femeninas que son engañosas y manipuladoras. Encontramos estas figuras en la mitología cristiana y judía (mira a aquí, aquí y aquí). Las mujeres en las primeras comunidades vascas podían controlar sus propias propiedades y heredar la fortuna de la familia. Tenían más poder que las mujeres de otros países europeos.

En la mitología griega, había dos figuras muy famosas que eran brujas. La primera se llamaba Medea, la esposa de Jasón (Jasón y los Argonautas). En la obra Medea de Euripides, Medea mata a sus hijos después Jasón se casa con una otra mujer. En los mitos, Medea generalmente es una sacerdotisa de la diosa Hécate – una diosa que estaba asociada con temas oscuros tales como la muerte, las fantasmas, la necromancia y – ¡qué sorpresa! – la brujería. La segunda se llamaba Circe, una diosa y bruja que figuraba en La Odisea de Homero, la historia de la vuelta a casa del héroe griego Odiseo. En la epopeya, Circe transforma en animales a sus enemigos y intenta a seducir a Odiseo, aunque – con el ayudamiento del dios Hermes – la resiste. Aquí, tenemos una otra bruja mítica que controla a los hombres usando la manipulación y la sexualidad. Los griegos antiguos pensaban que las mujeres inteligentes fueron peligrosas. Las brujas en los mitos de Antigua Grecia representaban los temores que los hombres griegos tenían sobre sus esposas. Si piensas que aparece ridículo, hay un ejemplo interesante en un discurso del juzgado, que Antiphon escribío en 420a.C. En el discurso, un hombre acusó a su madrastra de matar a su padre. Se la llama “Clitemnestra”, que fue una reina mitologíca que mató a su esposo Agamenón. Hoy en día, no podría decirlo en un juzgado, pero en la sociedad patriarcal de Atenas, fue totalmente aceptable.

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Clitemnestra de John Collier

Es posible que la bruja es casi emblemática del feminismo. Las brujas de la mitología eran en contraste con los sistemas sociales patriarcales, subvirtiendo el concepto de la mujer ideal. No es un secreto que mujeres poderosas asustaron a las sociedades del mundo antiguo (y moderno) y los hombres trataron a la sexualidad femenina como un arma. Tal vez la brujería es una manera para manejar este arma.

¡Gracias para leer! Por favor, “like” y comparte si te gusta el artículo.

Debo decir:

No intentaría a sugerir que las brujas realmente existían en estas culturas. Habían indudablemente sacerdotisas paganas, pero no hay nada evidencia para una religión de brujas. Hay la tradición de Stregheria (strega es la palabra italiana para “bruja”), que está basado en el libro Aradia, o el Evangelio de Las Brujas. Quisiera a creer que había un culto matriarcal de brujas con una mesías femenina, sin embargo es improbable que el libro sea más que una ficción. La gente que sufría durante las cazas de brujas no realizó la brujería en realidad, y pienso que es insultante llamar a esa gente “brujas”.

Tenemos poca evidencia que las tradiciones de la religión moderna neopagana de Wicca tienen alguna conección con las curanderas del pasado. No es una crítica de Wicca. De hecho, creo que Wicca es tal vez la religión más emancipadora del mundo (¡una opinión polemica, lo sé!). Puede aprender más sobre Wicca aquí (el texto es en inglés).