When I was asked to write a piece detailing my feelings on writing horror as a woman, my initial reaction was one of weird, icky feelings that were admittedly difficult to interpret. My knee-jerk reaction was to wonder why it was necessary to separate myself so blatantly from the experience of a male horror author. If we want to be seen as equal, should we not ‘walk the walk’ together, so to speak? Can we not just force things a bit by insisting, loudly, over and over again, that we are just as good, just as imaginative, just as visceral in our execution of horror storytelling?
Feminism can be tricky in that way, I think. It’s sometimes hard to know if what you’re feeling is true to your feminist soul, or if it’s been tainted by layers of internalized misogyny and/or wishful thinking. And when I took a moment to pick apart my thoughts and question myself on these feelings, I realized that no, it is not as easy as ‘walking the walk’ or forcibly projecting myself to be on equal ground with male horror authors (no matter how much I wish I was.) Then, new feelings started to flood in. Confusion. Sadness.
A recent (and wonderful) New Yorker article entitled “The Haunted Mind of Shirley Jackson” said it best with its zinger of an opening line: “Here’s how not to be taken seriously as a woman writer: Use demons and ghosts and other gothic paraphernalia in your fiction.” I take this to heart. Shirley Jackson is, without a doubt, one of my greatest influences, and one of my most admired writers of all time. I also realize that I am not even close to being the only one who feels that way about her. So when I think about that, and remember that Jackson died with the knowledge that both she and her stories were never taken seriously, the anger bubbles up again. It just isn’t fair.
Gender aside, horror fiction has always faced an onslaught of criticisms anyway, from genre snobs who dub it as not as important or influential as, say, literary contemporary fiction. So to combine that with the knowledge that a female horror author could be taken even less seriously is…frustrating, to say the least. It can be hard not to give in to the notion that it’s all just a massive, never-ending, uphill battle.
However, with all of that being said, I do not feel that it’s hopeless by any means, or that there isn’t a chance for women to be as publicly recognized and applauded for their contributions to horror in the same way that artists like Stephen King, Peter Straub, Clive Barker, and Joe Hill are. While I realize that the playing field may not be totally equal yet, I do strongly believe that it’s still possible to find our way to that level. How?
By rising to the occasion. By working extra hard to do so. Just because that isn’t fair, doesn’t mean it isn’t doable. Continue to write horror, unapologetically, in the way that only you can. Demand their attention with your work and your refusal to bend to preconceived notions about women horror authors—you are just as legit, period. Never lose sight of why you do this in the first place. Never stop challenging yourself to create the best art you can.