Being fairly new to the horror scene, I’m all-too aware of how some people respond to works by female horror writers. It was one of the reasons why I chose to use initials rather than my full name. Some readers have an automatic aversion to female horror writers, and aren’t afraid to shout about it. I wanted to explore this further, looking into the reasons why a number of readers, regardless of gender, feel this way about women horror writers.
Here’s a scenario. It’s actually something that happened to me earlier this year. Walking past the shadows of a dark alleyway, I quicken my step, on high alert. There’s nobody on the street ahead of me, and I’m hyper-aware that if a sudden hand were to reach out of the darkness and yank me into the black, nobody would know it had happened. My mind torments me by reminding me that there was an attack on the street a few blocks from here recently. I imagine the CCTV footage recently shown on the national news of a young woman who was dragged into an overgrown front garden and strangled. After a shot of fairly irrational panic when I drop my keys struggling to open the front door of my house in the moonlight, I feel a rush of relief to be home and safe. It’s 5.30pm on a winter’s afternoon, and I’ve just nipped to the shops for a pint of milk.
My point is; women know fear. We are taught to be immersed in it from a very young age. While I know that men aren’t immune to fear of dangers in the world, young girls are constantly reminded to be vigilant. To check your surroundings, your clothes, the volume of your headphones, your route, your back-up plan. To notify the people in your house what time you expect to be home…just in case. Coupled with an in-depth working knowledge of the core emotion that should run through every horror book and movie (underlying threat), women in horror have also immersed themselves in horror media. From falling in love with horror icons such as Freddy Krueger and Pinhead, to scouring Stephen King and Dean Koontz books, we know the world we have chosen to write in.
But a mistrust is often instinctive. Can a woman really scare us? You might automatically jump on the offensive at this question, but I put it to you that most people are conditioned to feel this way. Regardless of gender. It goes back to childhood. Think about it, toy shops were (and are often still) split into two distinctive areas: Boys and Girls. In the boys section you’ll find the action figures. The robots. The gross monsters and the spooky books. In the girls section the first thing you’ll probably see is pink. Teddies. Dolls. Nothing remotely scary. Incidentally, you’d always find me in the “boys” aisle when I was a kid, gawping at the Monsters in my Pockets, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figures, and pots of slime. But what was my take away? Girl’s stuff is lame, and therefore, by association, so are most girls.
I can forgive my 6-year-old self for having this impression. But mud can stick. Is there a part, even deep down inside myself, where I run the risk of choosing a book written by a male author over a female one? Jeez, I hope not. Have I been guilty of this in the past? Perhaps. Or maybe it was just that, when I was growing up, 90’s and 2000’s book shelves ONLY featured male contemporary horror authors. In the world of online shopping nowadays, this isn’t such an issue. But when a culture that was born of “only promote what’s likely to sell” tells you that the male authors are the ones to read, it sends a clear message to your subconscious. One that backs up a childhood that’s full of the message that girls have cute and frilly. Boys have badass and scary.
So, next time you’re contemplating which book to choose in the horror section, I encourage you to spend as much time considering the books by some of the outstanding women in this field. Candace Nola. Megan Stockton. Debra Casteneda. Elizabeth J. Brown. Jessica Johnson. Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Kiersten White. Alma Katsu. Gwendolyn Kiste. Ania Ahlborn. Tananarive Due. The list goes on and on.
Women know horror all too well. And I guarantee, we can scare you just as much as the boys can…
Find out for yourself! Grab your copy of The Suffering today.