The Halloween Issue

By Christine Cupaiuolo — October 31, 2006

According to the Boston Globe, a Hollywood studio survey found that two-thirds of teenage girls consider themselves fans of horror flicks. And it’s not just young girls. Taryn Plumb writes:

Women have swarmed to horror movies for the past five years, according to Ian Mohr, box office editor for Variety, a top entertainment industry publication. Generally, they make up slightly more than 50 percent of the audience, he said.

Thus, studios have tweaked their marketing and casting choices to entice them. They’re running advertisements for scary movies during popular television shows like “Laguna Beach” on MTV, and enlisting actresses such as Sarah Michelle Gellar to wrangle the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” crowd into line.

PG-13 releases draw the most gals, he said — such films are more plot heavy and don’t feature as much gratuitous gore or sex.

But a large number of females also are ravenous for gruesome, grisly, R-rated cinema, he noted.

Mohr’s take on the appeal? Today’s horror films feature “empowered” women who, in Nancy Drew fashion, solve perplexing mysteries.

“Audiences will follow a character in a film that they identify with,” he said.

The story also offers some strangely worded analysis about the influence of the feminism on movie-viewing habits: “It’s also a byproduct of the feminist movement, said Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University. Women, as a group, have grown and evolved — as has their taste in film, he said. Likewise, horror themes have broadened: It’s not all about snarling monsters chasing beauties in their underwear.”

Er, nice to know we’ve “grown and evolved.”

Columnist Ellen Goodman, meanwhile, asks, “Is there anything more depressing than the ‘Naughty Housewife’ ready to go trick-or-spanking? Sure. It’s the number of young women who will tell you fervently that as a post-feminist generation, they are liberated to make choices. And their choice for Halloween is ‘Alice in Pornland.'”

Goodman then switches to discussing the 24-year-old teaching assistant in London who was suspended recently for refusing to remove her veil, which hid all but her eyes. As she so often does, Goodman connects these issues seamlessly:

Have you noticed how much dress and undress matter? Even to prime ministers? Have you also noticed how many women believe they are making their own choices when they are actually caught in a cultural vise?

Here in America, our Halloween revelers have only the scantiest — and I do mean scantiest — idea of how the market has shaped the options that they regard as their own. Most women are only dimly aware of how we internalize the liposuctioned, breast-implanted, celebrity-shaped images that define the “right” female body. They are even less aware of a culture that defines sexy as something seen rather than felt.

There in London, a young teacher wearing the niqab seems equally unaware that the mask she dons as an act of self-expression aligns her with the mullahs of repression. After all, in today’s Iran the choices may be veil or jail. And in Afghanistan, women are choosing the burka to save their lives. As Deborah Tolman, who wrote “Dilemmas of Desire,” says, the stakes are astonishingly high: “If we can’t cover it, we can kill it. That’s the context.”

Mullahs and marketers are not the same. Nobody is forcing an American woman into the “Sultry Witch” costume. Nobody is forcing a British citizen into a full-face veil. But there is something, well, scary when women claim the “freedom” to fit into such narrow constraints of sexuality.

See also: “Woman Shopping For Halloween Costume Receives Memo From The Patriarchy” and “Halloween Costumes for Girls,” both from Feminist Law Professors.

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