Why Women in Horror Month Is Important

Did you know that February is Women in Horror Month (WiHM)? Unless you’re in the industry, the answer to that is probably no, although awareness and participation is spreading every year. The reaction people have when they hear this is often one of confusion, amusement, or scorn.

How many female horror writers could there be? they ask. More than you think, although many of them don’t like to call themselves that. Who cares about horror? Well, I do, for one. As do thousands of other horror fans and creators — not to mention consumers who don’t even realize some of their favorite works are horror. And the one that really indicates the state of things: Why should women get special treatment? Well, they shouldn’t. They should get equal treatment, but that’s not happening yet. I look forward to the day when WiHM isn’t necessary, and instead when female horror artists are duly recognized year-round.

Of course, being a woman in the horror industry, I have opinions on these things. In this post, I use the word “feminism,” and I feel the need to clarify that feminism is not about favoring women or hating men, nor about being a certain “type” of woman. Those are unfortunate misconceptions and stereotypes. Feminists are people who support equality between the sexes. Men can be feminists too. So why is it called feminism instead of humanism? Because right now, women are the ones not being treated as equals. It really is that simple. Do I call myself a feminist? You bet your ass I do.

My Women in Horror Manifesto

We need horror in books because fear, as one of the two most primal emotions, is worthy of artistic exploration. Indeed, it is an inescapable factor of the human condition.

We need horror in books because the more we run from things we fear, the more they lay chase. We need horror in books to face our fears head-on and defeat them.

We need feminism in books because novels about boyhood are considered noble and nostalgic while novels about girlhood are considered frivolous and shallow.

We need feminism in books because teenage girls are the most scoffed at demographic of our society, and because this attitude of derision is tossed about like it’s actually acceptable.

We need feminism in books because so many people still think “strong female character” means “one of the guys,” “kicks a lot of ass,” or “has no faults.”

We need feminism in books because “strong female characters” are still a topic of discussion rather than an actual wide-spread practice of writing women and writing them well.

We need feminism in horror because women can and do triumph over evil, conquer our fears, and save those who need saving.

We need feminism in books because real issues that affect real women are relegated to the genre “women’s fiction” while issues that affect men are labeled by genre irrespective of their sex.

We need feminism in horror because the same book, written by a man is called “horror,” written by a woman is called “gothic.”

We need feminism in books because, unfortunately, we still need things like Women in Horror Month for equally talented authors to get the same recognition as their male counterparts.

We need feminism in books because people are still afraid to call themselves feminists in public – even women. Our misogyny is so widespread that it’s internalized.

We need feminism in horror because women can be the bad guys too.

We need feminism in horror because women have their own unique fears that add value to the genre, both artistically and for entertainment value.

We need feminism in books because women writers are choosing male or gender-neutral pen names to avoid discrimination.

We need feminism in books because women writers are still facing discrimination in large and small ways on a daily basis – from book covers to genres to who does their reviews and what those reviews choose to comment on.

We need feminism in horror because women are more than a goal, a victim, or a prize.

We need feminism because we need women, and women need equality.

We need books because art reflects life, but art also changes life.

And more than anything, we need change.


Convinced? You can read more about Women in Horror Month and how to get involved on the official webpage, follow the conversation on Twitter at the hashtag #WiHM, and read guest posts on the topic all month long at the Horror Writers Association blog.

I know you all have something to add! Why do you think we need feminism and/or horror in books?

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  • Eloquently and passionately stated. Maybe I should write my depression themed stories as horror. You make a strong case for it.

    • Thank you, Missy! You never know until you try; it might turn out to be just the thing you/your stories need.

  • Regina

    Wow! Wow! Wow! I’m a Title IX “Let Me Play!” gal. Title IX changed everything. I lived the before and after. So I am definitely a feminist and will not allow anyone to disrespect that term unchallenged or diminish it for me.
    I’ll add one more to your absolutely awesome list. We need feminism in books because although women writers out number men by a mile, they are unbelievably under-represented when the big prizes are handed out in the book world.

    • Yes! That’s a great one! I’m sure there are some great articles with those stats, so if you happen to come across any I’d love to read them!

  • Patrick Ross

    Well, Annie, you’ve opened my eyes to a month that I didn’t know existed and a debate I didn’t know of, either. Your manifesto seems, to an outsider, unnecessary in 2014–haven’t we all figured this out already?–but I trust you when you say it is needed, and that is too bad.

    Some great storytellers have figured out that female protagonists can make excellent heroes without them having to act like men. I am thinking of the movies by Hayao Miyazaki, in which his protagonists are almost always women (and almost always minors). Not a horror genre, I know, but I think a lot of male fiction writers could learn how to write about women by watching movies made by this male director.

    • Mission accomplished, then! Unfortunately, it is absolutely still a problem. For me, one of the best visual representations of the problem of gender inequality in books was the cover flip (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/07/coverflip-maureen-johnson_n_3231935.html). It’s really a staggering side-by-side view of the unfairness I’ve always innately sensed. Also, every time a woman makes a splash by winning a prestigious award, it’s a harsh reminder that that’s an event worth noting rather than commonplace.

      I’m not familiar with Hayao Miyazaki, but I will definitely check him out! Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Cynthia Robertson

    Well said, Annie! I totally agree with all your points.

  • Russell Linton

    I agree with the sentiment. Certain groups have historically and continue to be marginalized by society at large, no doubt and recognition is crucial. Though, I am curious at what point people will be able to say we’re done labeling artistic merit with gender, race, sexual preference, etc. tags. Is it a scientific measurement that signals we’re in the clear? A general cultural “feeling” that “okay, we’re ready”? Or do people with the old attitudes simply need to die off first? It is necessary now, sure, but my fear is that in this country especially we have a fetish for these labels that eventually overrides common sense and becomes a notion that transforms into self-segregation and divisiveness. Already, the rampant labeling turns me off a little bit, though as a white guy that has traded career for family, is supported in my writing endeavors by my amazing wife, my perspective is quite skewed from the norm. I at once see the problem and don’t, if that makes any sense. Sub calls and publications that request/tout race, gender, and sexual preference are a turn off to me cause I see myself as a writer, first and foremost. Just impatiently waiting for everyone else to feel the same about their fellow humans I suppose.

    • Russ, I think I know exactly what you mean. “Where will it end?” is something I’ve thought about before as well. Morgan Freeman has spoken quite eloquently about that concept in reference to Black History Month, and he has a good point. I also sometimes get fatigued with the constant labeling, the constant campaigning, the constant check of society’s morality. I do think there’s a line between truly attempting to promote a cause and using the cause as a personal advantage, and I hope to never cross that line. Said line is, of course, subjective AND individual, but I think a good point of reference in this instance is: the art always comes first.

      The problem with using “where will it end” as a dismissal of such movements is that, in many of them, we’re nowhere close to equality. Pondering future problems caused by potential success is a luxury the marginalized people themselves don’t have – only those already in the seat of privilege. It would be wonderful to have to figure out when to stop promoting a cause, but that possibility isn’t a good enough reason, for me, to not promote the cause to begin with.

      I also don’t think “labeling artistic merit with gender, etc.” is really fair, as that label is present regardless of the marginalized population’s wish for it to be so. If we have to be burdened with a label anyway, using it in a positive light in the effort of change toward equality is much preferable than quietly suffering through prejudice until the rest of society accepts us as equals. I, too, am impatient for everyone else to respect their fellow humans, but I’m not content to simply wait.

      • Russell Linton

        Just to be clear, I never dismissed the ideas with “where will it end” however, I simply feel there is real danger in not being able to recognize where and when it does finally end. The media, for instance, as sensationalist as they love to be, enjoy obfuscating facts with triggers that will prompt emotional responses from people. They will milk these triggers long as they can and, IMO, sow division in pursuit of ratings which in turn obfuscates the real problems which never get solved. For example, is racism really the same problem it was fifty years ago or can we boil this down to a disenfranchised minority never given the right means to recover and a firmly entrenched economic class warfare that affects all people, sucking more into its morass every day?

        To be completely fair, my work and the product of my work is invisibly labeled as “white hetero male” under these same ideals. I hear the violin music now 🙂 however, as the debate wears on, it is equally frustrating to have implied that because of my label, I haven’t had to work for the things I have accomplished nor make sacrifices. And using that label in a positive light is nigh impossible. I have in fact, done my best to establish statistical equality I suppose by eschewing well-paying careers for artistic ones. But none of that matters, I’m lumped in a group like you or anyone else for sake of convenience and it is irritating.

        I don’t advocate waiting either and don’t fault this movement where it stands now. As I mentioned, the recognition of any marginalized group is necessary to empowerment. But it seems too easy for people to lose sight of the goal of a cohesive society when the very thing that causes the divisions (labeling) is used to erase them without a clear endgame in mind.

        • I really do understand what you’re saying about the danger of not knowing when to stop, but I still feel it’s a rather luxurious side-topic. I can’t possibly agree that racial or gender equality has been reached yet, so my focus is getting there and then dealing with new problems as and if they arise. I do agree that talking about issues like this runs the risk of furthering the divide. (I don’t think it has to, though. If the privileged populations listen and embrace instead of resisting, there could be a melding rather than a stand-off. Of course that’d be a freaking miracle, because no one wants to share their power.) But at the same time, there’s still a large portion of the population who isn’t even aware of the issues, much less educated on them, so I don’t think it’s time to stop bringing it up. I think you make a good case for losing the rhetoric; we just see differently on *when* that should happen.

          Yes, absolutely everyone has labels whether we want them or not, and at some point almost all of us have to fight against their stigmas. But the fact remains that right now, white, male, and hetero are three of the most powerful, beneficial labels to have – so much so that they don’t even *have* to be spoken to carry weight. It’s possible that someday the rally for equality of the marginalized will end up reversing and making white, male, and hetero the marginalized, but we aren’t anywhere near that, in my opinion. That being said, although you make light of it because you’re a good sport, I know your labels come with struggles too.

          In a perfect world, as you said, none of these labels would matter, so none of them would need to be brought up. But in the world we actually live in, they do matter, and not bringing them up ends up perpetuating a continuation of the problem. None of these issues are simple or comfortable, but as always, I very much appreciate your time and perspective.

  • We need feminism in books because positive relationships between women and girls are still rarely depicted in the media, and in genre books in particular.

    We need feminism in horror (and other genres) because women aren’t just victims.

    Great list! Here’s hoping someday we no longer need WiHM.

    • Yes and double yes! That first one is fantastic because I don’t think I’ve heard it before. We definitely don’t see that enough. Thanks Lura!

  • @Diann_D

    Annie, what an amazing manifesto. So many true parts but I think this gets to the heart: We need feminism in books because so many people still think “strong
    female character” means “one of the guys,” “kicks a lot of ass,” or “has
    no faults.”

    Bottom line, “male” fiction is more likely to be respected even when it’s formulaic or clearly commercial, whereas those traits almost always relegate books written by women to a lesser category. (I do think the issue is more complicated than that, but still.)

    • Thank you so much, Diann! I 100% agree that male fiction is still taken much more seriously as a whole. Yes, it’s a complicated issue, but that truth is still there, unfortunately.

  • I’m convinced! What an awesome manifesto. Yes!

  • I love horror for all the reasons you named, and although I may not pick up a book especially because it’s by a woman author, I definitely want there to be strong female characters in there. Great post! 🙂

    • That’s all that’s needed! Supporting women writers is great, but representing women well is a building block of equality, I think. Thanks Lexa.

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  • Hannah Neurotica

    This is wonderful. I would love to repost this on the official website. Is that okay?
    send me an email 😉


    This is great! I just posted a link on our FB page but I wanna publish the manifesto on the site 😉

    • Hi Hannah! Yes, of course that’s okay! I’d be honored. Thank you so much. I’m going to send you an email right now in case you don’t see this. I really appreciate it!

  • Peggy

    Good stuff, Annie!!! Let em have it:)

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  • Dotti Juckes

    Hey Annie, great piece. Do you have some good “feminist” horror you can suggest? I’m having a TERRIBLE time finding accurate female characters in horror novels.

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