Today marks the start of Women in Horror Month.
I hate Women in Horror.
Wait, let me explain…
I love women in horror: whether they’re writing, acting, directing, editing, publishing, part of the fandom, or anything else. Women in horror is nothing but a good thing.
What I mean is, I hate Women in Horror Month.
Dammit, that came out wrong too…
Women in Horror Month – as an event – is good. Any opportunity to turn the spotlight on the genre is a good thing, especially if it highlights a subsection of the scene that has traditionally been under-represented. Women in horror, people of colour in horror, LGBT in horror – I will support and promote each and every one of them, plus any others that come down the pike. More eyes on the genre means more interest. More interest means more fans. More fans means more (and better) content. It’s a win-win situation.
We need that diversity in horror, or we threaten to stagnate as an art form. Every writer in the genre is trying to get their own vision of horror down on the page, but every writer’s vision is different. The problem for most of us, fallible bags of sentient meat that we are, is that what we set down on paper rarely catches the intensity of what’s in our heads. The path between brainspace and pagespace is a crooked one, with many a twist and turn to hamper the unwary. What we produce is but eldritch shadows on the wall, cast by the burning fire of our mind’s flaming eye.
That is why the best writers are constantly honing their craft, refining and distilling their wordage, striving to make each story better than the last. They may not always succeed, but they always strive to do so. Each iteration of their storytelling brings them closer to answering that age-old question: what is fear?
What has this to do with women in horror? Because it’s all about perception and perspective. Fear is the one of the most fundamental emotions, and one that unites us as human beings. There is not a person alive on the planet who has not experienced that twisted knot in the stomach that denotes fear, that creeping prickle along the nape of the neck that begs for reassurance. Yet, as universal as it is, horror is also unique. What scares me, might not scare you and vice versa. Even wide-scale fears like loss, death, abandonment and the unknown make themselves known to different people in different ways. For every person who wants to destroy the monster, there is another who wants to invite it in, to see what makes it tick.
I know what horror means to me. I will try, in the years to come, to express that to others through my stories, but I already know what it is: the rest is a matter of translation. I want to know what it means to other people. I want the female perpective on horror, the black perspective, the gay perspective, the Muslim perspective, the trans perspective. I’m never going to have the same fears as those people; I will only ever be able to experience them through proxy. Or will I? Maybe there is, after all, a common thread of fear that stitches each of us to one another – something that goes deeper than skin, or creed, or gender, or upbringing.
I want women in horror, because I want to see what they bring to the table. I want women to feel welcome in the genre because I want the horror scene to blossom and bloom, and it cannot do that without a diverse clamour of voices. Horror has always been the red-headed stepchild of speculative fiction, looked down upon by fantasy and science fiction, by steampunk and magical realism. Hell, even paranormal romance has been compelled to pull away from our dirty, blood-soaked section of the bookstore.
I’m a selfish man, I admit. I want more women in horror so that we can push back the limitations of the genre, so that I have more great books to read, more great authors to interact with, and more work to recommend to any newbies entering the fandom.
So, yes – women in horror, as an abstract concept, is something I can get behind 100%.
Women in Horror Month causes me some problems, chief among them being that we need to have one in the first place.
Do we need to have one?
Well, yeah. Try this little test: go to a friend who maybe has a passing interest in horror, but is not totally immersed in the field and ask him or her to name ten horror writers. If the names you get back include more than two female writers, I’ll be surprised. In fact, I can probably guess that the two women who might make the list will be Anne Rice and Shirley Jackson. The rest will be made up of King, Koontz, Campbell, Barker, Herbert, Laymon, Poe, Lovecraft, Masterton… you get the idea – a total sausage party.
Here, in 2017, there are still people who think that women can’t write horror at all, or that they can’t write it as well as men. I’ve seen it on Facebook, on Twitter and on internet forums: female horror writers being told to fuck off and find someone else to read their Twilight shit. I’ve seen a particularly charming poster tell a female writer that he’d read her book if she posted a picture of her tits. I’ve seen another state, quite catergorically, that horror fans aren’t interested in strong female protagonists.
Horror belongs to everyone.
So, while I begrudge the existence of Women in Horror Month, you’re damn right I will support it and promote it – this year, next year, and for as look as I have too before it is no longer necessary to do so.
At which point I’ll just sit back, and enjoy what the women have to offer by way of literary dread, as Nature intended.