Sunday, February 28

Women and Horror Movies

Through mere coincidence I stumbled over the site “Women in Horror Month” while browsing the blog at “The F-Word”, just as I usually do.

At first, I was quite surprised. Why would someone (officially or not) dedicate a whole month to the topic of women in horror? So I checked the site, read the manifest and soon realized they were actually right, for various reasons.

First of all, most horror stories (movies and otherwise) do not work completely without women. Horror is, to a certain degree at least, always about sex. (Just as it always is about death. According to Freud those two forces don’t exist without another – and at least for horror, this is true.) It’s about the monster (whatever the monster might be, take your pick) threatening the heroine and the hero coming in to rescue her (or not, horror movies don’t have to end happy). It threatens her with death, ultimately, but in the short run those threats usually have some sexual component as well. The vampire, of course, is seducer par excellence. He’s having sex with his (or her) victims without even opening the pants. He brings both, ecstasy and death. The werewolf has a more direct approach, not seducing, but simply taking (in other words: raping) the victims and then completing the act by tearing the flesh from their bones and devouring it. This might be the reason why female werewolves are so rare: our society can live with the female vampire as a seductress, but not with the female werewolf as a rapist (of men, possibly, as it would be far stronger than them). As Stephen King pointed out in “Danse Macabre”, most classical posters for horror movies feature a variety of a simple theme, presenting to us the monster holding an unconscious (and thus helpless) beauty in its arm. (Or threatening her in a way while she wears her time’s equivalent of the most revealing thing you can wear without being called a slut. Ripped dresses are always fashionable in such a situation, ripped night gowns are very popular, especially for vampire movies.)

The logical next step from this onwards is the fact that you only survive in a horror movie (especially as a women) if you are virtuous. That means no drugs, no alcohol and no sex – though Rock’n’Roll might just be allowed. (In slasher movies, which concentrate on teens, both as main characters and audience, the final girl usually is still a virgin.) Women in horror movies thus are portrayed as naive most of the time. They are innocent (whether they’re still helpless in the end, depends on the type of movie, the final girl in the slasher movies has to grow up and become self-dependent to survive), sweet and in need of a saviour. Women who are not virtuous, are either villains themselves (as Dracula’s brides) or get killed by the monster.

In addition, though, women and horror movies go together on another level. Most people (at least most people in the media) seem to think women are not interested in horror movies at all (except perhaps for “Twilight”, but I won’t go down this alley, not this time). I beg to differ, I was interested immensely in horror movies as a teenager and still like watching them every now and then today. I still read horror novels (and can’t even remember how often I’ve read “Dracula” by now). And from occasional talks to other people, I know I’m not the only one.

This idea (women don’t like horror movies) seems to be based on an old prejudice: women are helpless and fearful little things who would be scared to death by anything remotely like horror. Are we? No, certainly not.

Women do write, direct and act in horror movies. Without them, the industry would miss quite something. Women do write horror novels, too (and not just the “Twilight” variety). Yet, they are seldom reckoned as a force in the business, at least not by the media. And if they are, they are usually associated with ‘horror light’ or “Lifetime Horror” as they call it on the website mentioned above. Consider February as the “Women in Horror Month” from now onwards and remember that there’s no such thing as horror without them.

Saturday, February 20

Casual games as a chance

For years I’ve had a lot of fun misleading the shop assistants at my favourite electronic market, pretending I was just buying a game for a friend and had no idea whether it would run on his computer or what it was about. It’s been so easy to lead people astray if you were a woman and knew something about computer games.

The typical picture of a player of computer games has for a long time been the male geek: a guy around the age of 18 (something between 16 and 20), pale, wearing glasses, nervous whenever he has to deal with a real human being. Some of those geeks (like Bill Gates) actually got a fortune out of being a geek, but most didn’t even manage to get a date with their female counterpart (the female geek, though, is much rarer than the male variety).

Computer games usually demanded a lot of work first, to install them (20 floppy disks for one of my favourite games, a long time ago), then to learn about how to handle them. Therefore only the geeks actually had a chance to manage it. You had to spent a lot of time in front of a computer to have fun with a game. ‘Normal’ people and women didn’t have a chance.

In addition, of course, there’s the old-fashioned (and stupid) belief women can’t deal with technology. In fact, we only have female secretaries these days because of technology (because the male secretaries thought it beneath them to use a typewriter). But most girls get told from early childhood that technology isn’t for them – it’s for the boys.

But over the last couple of years, computer games have changed. Not so much the ‘real’ games for geeks, they got more male on the whole, if anything. But the whole new area of casual games – sneered upon by the male geek – has opened the field for women.

The most important part about casual games is they’re not all that complex. Casual games are meant to be played whenever the player has five or so minutes left. They are easy to learn (but not always easy to master) and broken down into levels that are quick to finish. So you quickly get the hang of them and you can finish a level whenever you have some spare time.

And, even more important, casual games mostly don’t feature the traditional women in games: helpless victims to be saved or overly-sexual enemies to be vanquished. Instead, they present level-headed people (quite often women) who master their own life, even in difficult times.

Casual games are attractive to women on more than one level. They’re easier to play than the ‘real’ games. They do not show women as helpless victims. They usually don’t feature that much violence (although mystery games, such as the “Mystery Case Files” or the “Women’s Murder Club”, feature murders and thus some violence). They are broken down in small parts you can play whenever you have some time left.

Quite some games (especially the Time Management genre) usually are set in the environment the women know best. The “Diner Dash” series, for example, features Flo, a pragmatic and self-assured woman who manages her own diner – and is always ready to help her friends and neighbours. Other games are about building or rebuilding neighbourhoods (“Virtual City”, “Build-A-Lot” or “Plant It Green”, for example) and about managing a certain group of people (“Artist Colony” or “Virtual Families”, for example). Time Management games are all about getting a certain job done within a certain time frame. Therefore, they can actually get quite hectic.

Other genres include Hidden Object Games, Adventures (adventure light, as far as an old gamer like me is concerned), Word and Board Games (solitaire, scrabble and so on), Arcade Games, Puzzles and many more. Quite a lot of them concentrate on solving problems (with or without a give time frame).

The percentage of women playing games has risen in ‘real’ computer games, too. And that’s not just about “The Sims”, the computer game for women, it seems. There are clans in e-sports consisting only of women. There are a lot of women playing “World of Warcraft” or another MMORPG regularly. But for a lot more women, casual games are the first step into the world of gaming.

Sunday, February 7

Blaming the Victims

Even though this post was sparked by a post on “The F-Word”, it’s not just about rape victims, but about victims of crime. It’s a sentence towards the end of the post that actually sparked this one, because it’s true: Every kind of crime can be prevented simply by the perpetrator deciding not to do it.

In other words: The victim doesn’t really have the chance to stop a crime from happening, most of the times. Because you can be as careful, can train your body as much, there will always be a time at which you will be vulnerable and helpless. In sleep, when you’re attacked so suddenly you’re down even before you know what happened, when the attacker is armed (we’re not all the action hero of our choice – and real life is not the place where the good guys always win). There are many ways to make a person – female or male – helpless, provided the perpetrator plans in advance. What can you do against someone who comes to attack you while you sleep? Seriously? You can’t stop sleeping, your body needs the rest. How can you avoid a sudden attack? Never going anywhere? What about someone with a gun? Depending on where you are when he comes for you, how close he gets and whom he threatens (yourself or your loved ones), you might be virtually unable to fight back. (You can substitute ‘she’ for all male pronouns here as well, even though most violent crimes are committed by men.)

We are all trained, these days, to be prepared at all times. TV and newspapers report crimes every day, making us believe the world is a very dangerous place. And the most dangerous predator we have to fear is another human. As a result of this, most of us – and women even more so then men – have become very distrustful of people around us. We do not trust that easily, because we always get told to be careful. But crime does not stop, does it? It probably never will, because the necessary mind set for committing crime is part of human design.

Yet, in cases of rape, the victim often gets the blame. It starts with remarks like “she was asking for it, dressed like that” and ends with stuff like “she should not have gone out alone in the dark”.

Rape is not about sex, it’s about power. This is what people often seem to forget in such discussions. It’s not about the need to have sex – any man can go to a prostitute if he direly needs sex and doesn’t find someone else to have it with (and in Germany, where I live, that’s even legal). During rape, the sex is a way of keeping score, if you allow me to put it like that. It’s a way to prove “I’m stronger than you and can do to you whatever I want”. Because forced sex (really forced, not just part of a BDSM situation) is the most degrading and humiliating thing you can do to someone, no matter whether it’s a female or a male.

Apart from the simple fact that no kind of dress (even no dress at all) justifies forcing yourself on someone else, arguments like “she’s been rightfully raped, because she didn’t wear some sort of full-body veil” go amiss. A woman can be raped wearing any kind of clothes, even a full-body veil. A man can be raped (this is what most people seem to forget).

Rape has always been part of the arsenal of crimes one can commit during a war – raping the (usually civilian) women in the enemy country. As a man, you face the danger of being executed once the enemy soldiers arrive. As a woman, you can call yourself lucky if execution is all you have to face. It may or may not be the last thing you have to endure, but more often than not, rape comes first.

In the end, it boils down to that single sentence again: Only the perpetrator has a one hundred percent chance of preventing a crime. By simply not doing it.