The Signal

Serving the College since 1885

Sunday November 28th

Violence against women in films keeps repeating from male directors

By Maia Venuti 
Staff Writer

Think of any violent slasher movie you have seen in your lifetime. They usually consist of a group of teenagers or young adults running for their lives from a scary evil killer hellbent on slaying every last one of them in the most brutal manner possible. No matter how fast and how far the main characters run, the killer will always find them, and always draw their life to a close. Now I want you to think of the women in these slasher situations: almost always they are attractive and skinny women, with very little to no variation on this physical description. 

Now imagine the situations these women are in when they encounter evil. A large amount of the time, they are alone, either stranded on the road after their car broke down, walking somewhere alone at night or, my favorite trope, home alone during a huge storm that knocks the power out. Usually, they are with their boyfriends in a parked car overlooking a scenic view of the town, surrounded by the dark and uninviting forest surrounding their car, engaging in sexual acts with their boyfriend when the killer comes out and kills her boyfriend, leaving her alone with the killer. 

Lastly, I want you to picture the personality of this girl, how she reacts when she is made to deal with a psycho serial killer. Almost always, to the point where it has become a trope when she hears a strange sound coming from a poorly lit, ominous room or hallway, she will go and investigate alone, not even considering the possibility of it being the killer. She will walk directly into her death alone and unarmed thinking there is a chance that a creepy sound that is obviously the killer might just be the wind. She rarely, if ever, uses critical thinking skills in these times of panic, and her fight or flight response to danger feels like it was switched off. If she is in a parked car with her boyfriend, she will sprint out of the car into the forest, naked and screaming, allowing the killer to easily follow her. 

The character I described is not one character, but many throughout the history of horror. Women have consistently been portrayed as stupid, naive and like they are nothing more than an object, which is driven home by these girls always being sexually active or seen in little to no clothing in scenes. These characters are not meant to be special or unique or have any emotional depth; their brutal slaying is more important than their life in these movies. The trope of a stupid girl running into a forest naked to run away from the killer, or a stupid girl is home alone and hears a strange sound during a power outage and decides to check it out, has existed since the conception of slasher films, and it was penned by the male directors who created these films. 

For decades, male directors have portrayed women in their films as nothing more than pretty airheads who blindly walk into their death in a sexy little outfit. While this itself is distressing, to me, I find their murders so much more invigorating. Male deaths in slasher films are quick and painless. Let’s think of the car trope: when the killer approaches the parked car and sees the man and woman, he goes after the man, kills him right away, and then all focus is on the half-naked woman screaming as she sprints through the forest. Compared to male death in horror, the deaths of these women last so long, the scenes showing their deaths last far longer than they should, showing every single injury inflicted upon these women.  Their deaths seem fetishized, especially since these women are always beautiful, and more often than not, wearing little to no clothing. 

There are countless films I can name that do this, mainly the cult classic slasher films from the 1970s and 1980s, but, unfortunately, this trend is passed down from male director to male director. Let me clear that I am not angry at these classics, like “Friday the Thirteenth” (1980), “A Nightmare on Elm Street'' (1984), or even “Scream” (1996) for creating this trope, horror was not nearly as diverse as it needed to be, which is why we have these tropes. My feelings of frustration come from the male directors who choose to keep these tropes alive and fetishize female torture and murder on screen in the present day. 

Due to the fact that there is an overabundance of male directors who have contributed to this sick murder fetish on screen and even attempting to discuss every single use of this trope would be a Herculean task on its own, let’s focus on just one director guilty of preserving the life of this trope: Lars Von Trier. 

For some background, Lars Von Trier is a Danish director who is best known for his films “Melancholia” (2011) and “Nymphomaniac” (2013). His most recent film “The House that Jack Built” (2018) will be the film of discussion. Jack (played by Matt Dillon) is a serial killer suffering from OCD as well as being a diagnosed psychopath, obsessed with killing as many people as possible. The film is loosely tied together by what Jack calls “incidents,” which are just different times and places where he has murdered someone. Every single one of these incidents involves him brutally murdering a woman by tricking his way into their lives and killing them in the most painful and cruel way imaginable. He uses different methods every time, but each one is equally brutal. Their deaths each take up a huge amount of time, and it feels like they die in real-time as opposed to making it a quick and painless death. Overall, the time taken to actually commit the murders and watch these mostly female victims die takes about forty minutes out of the entire two-and-a-half-hour ordeal. All of his victims are pretty and petite women, all with deaths that are extremely long and have bizarre sexual undertones. He sometimes stripped his victims, with them dying naked, screaming and horrified. 

The reason I am calling this trope into question and why it is still present in modern-day film is because of “The House that Jack Built” and the long-term impacts of this film. I watched this movie twice, and each time I left with nothing. There was absolutely nothing to take from a film like this, and personally, I don’t think there is anything to take away from any film that relies on unspeakable violence with sexual undertones like this. The story of an angry violent white man with a white-hot vendetta against women and sexual desire to kill and mutilate them is not a new story. 

Speaking as a woman, we are taught to never be alone at night, never to leave a drink unguarded, to carry pepper spray, never accept a ride from a stranger and especially to never be alone with a man we don’t know because of men like Jack. Female characters that follow the decades old horror trope of stupid sexy pretty girl are written like this so the male character can violate, kill and mutilate their bodies without the viewer feeling attached to them.

The male directors see female characters as expendable, as objects, stupid in nature and worth more for their murder than their life.


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