After a rousing discussion with my fellow writers I decided I should -- no I had to-- write an article to vent my feelings over this season of American Horror on FX. I became addicted to this series last year. Although it was a bit depressing (no happy endings in horror y'all) I couldn't stop watching it. The combination of bloody violence, sexuality, plot twists and all-out mayhem was just too good to turn down.
This year...well let's just say I've noticed some trends that I find disturbing. Now I probably should preface this article with a little history on my background. I have a Psych MA and before I fell in love with SF/fantasy writing, I spent years researching the effects of popular media on our values and behavior. In the course of this research, I also spent some time researching the history of misogyny (hatred of women) and how it has been represented in films, movies and later music. A theme, really an archtype, that returns to American media aagain and again, is the virgin-whore. The theme of the wife and mother as virtuous, pure and non-sexual juxtaposed beside woman as sexual, dangerous, dirty etc.
This theme, this myth, of woman as a two-headed doppleganger is firmly entrenched in our media--in our films and TV. What is also entrenched is a theme of punishment. The bad woman must be punished. If not doom and destruction will befall the hero. There is a reason for this. Sexuality itself is the target. Sexuality is bad. Passion is evil. And so we must be protected from it...and from the whore who brings it. Now take note: the sinning woman, the proverbial Eve, this whore is not just sexual. Her sexuality is a metaphor for all her other flaws which are dangerous for us. Which are dangerous for the Patriarchy.
The whore is outspoken. She is agressive. She is defiant. She is in fact all of the things that a traditional woman is not. Over the past twenty years or so, we have seen a gradual erosion of the virgin-whore mythology. Today, it is more acceptable for a woman to be strong, outspoken and sexual both on-screen and off. Today, in films and TV, the punishment for strong women (if they're punished at all) is to leave them lonely. "You can have it all," these movies seem to say, "but you'll be sleeping alone" (e.g. Catwoman).
But we also have seen a conservative political backlash against women, against their reproductive rights-- which does effect their ability to work-- in our current era. This is not an anomaly. It's happened before. Whenever women achieve political and economic gains there is a backlash. During the 1930s, the 1980s and the early 1990s. And 2012.
So what's going on with American Horror? Well, to cut to the chase, everyone knows you can't be sexual in traditional horror movies. I mean it's the mainstay of the industry. Three things you don't do in horror movies: 1. Don't go down into the creepy basement alone 2. Don't go the creepy attic alone 3. And don't ever, ever have sex. Anywhere. That within itself says a great deal about the genre.
Only these rules usually apply to men and women? Don't they? And when women are singled out, my antenna goes up. Okay for those of you who haven't watched American Horror FX or plan to in the near future let me give you a *spoiler alert* for the next paragraph.
There's one character, the most sexual woman on the show, who is horribly disfigured and has both legs amputated...a second woman is given a lobotomy to make her a suitable wife... a third woman is abducted by aliens and then later found with blood pouring from her crotch. Sick. Horrfic. But most notably: it's not happening to men. The events, "normal" events in horror movies, are not happening to men and women. Only to the women. Oh and did I forget to mention, this season is set in the 1940s? Wow.
I firmly believe that if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck it's a duck.