down with gendered spaces

…in the ‘masculinization’ of the surviving female [Final Girl] lurks the specter of the lesbian. Lynda Hart argues in Fatal Women: Lesbian Sexuality and the Mark of Aggression that representations of violent women are steeped in anxieties about lesbians. Because violence is gendered male, the violent woman is defined as masculine… As a woman who usurps the masculine prerogatives of aggression and the gaze, the surviving female shares an affinity with the lesbian.

In a male-dominated social order only men do the violent things the surviving female does; therefore, within the terms of hegemonic discourse she is not really female. This is what compels [Carol] Clover (Men, Women, and Chainsaws) to read the Final Girl as a male in drag… Hart continues: “What is it that we are seeing when we see women who are not really women but are perhaps 'really men’? One answer,’ Clover’s answer, 'would be the projection of male fantasies,’ but another answer is that women who are 'really men’ are lesbians.

What is at stake when the femaleness of the survivor is reduced to her display of abject terror, and agency is relegated to masculinity? Nothing less than the impossibility of female agency within this formulation. Clover’s reading builds on the work of [Laura] Mulvey and others who ground their analysis of film on a psychoanalytical model of sexual difference that defines heterosexuality as the norm. Within the binary logic of this framework, active female desire can only be defined as a masculinized position. The upshot of this model is the erasure of the lesbian ('women who are not really women but who are perhaps "really men”’) or any active female subject.

Patricia White questions feminist film theory’s slavish devotion to the heterosexual binary and suggests at what price this allegiance is maintained. She notes with dismay that when theory is caught within the 'binary stranglehold of sexual difference’ the female subject of film is reduced to what Mulvey calls the 'masculinization of the spectator position.’ By describing the surviving female as masculine Clover capitulates to the 'binary stranglehold of sexual difference.’ But more importantly, by characterizing her as a boy in drag, Clover reinstates female viewers who identify with the (for once) female agent of violence as male-identified.

Although Clover acknowledges that women may read the films in a more female-empowering manner than her reading allows, she too uncritically accepts the literary model that 'those who save themselves are male, and those who are saved by others are female’. If a woman cannot be aggressive and still be a woman, then female agency is a pipe dream. But if the surviving female can be aggressive and be really a woman, then she subverts this binary notion of gender that buttresses male dominance.

What makes gender trouble so suitable for the horror genre is its commitment to transgressing boundaries. Horror blurs boundaries and mixes social categories that are usually regarded as discrete, including masculinity and femininity. Thus the surviving female is coded ambiguously, as 'feminine’ through her function as object of aggression and 'abject terror personified,’ and as 'masculine’ through her exercise of the controlling gaze and ability to use violence. Moreover, the slasher film breaks down binary notions of gender narratively and stylistically. Narratively, women use violence against men effectively; men are symbolically castrated. Stylistically, women exercise the controlling gaze; men function as objects of aggression. Furthermore, the shift in [point of view] shots from the killer to the surviving female promotes cross-gender identification in the audience.

By breaking down binary notions of gender, the horror genre opens up a space for feminist discourse and constructs a subject position for female viewers. What is at stake for the female audience of the slasher film? Consider how the genre violates the taboo against women wielding violence, supplies excessive narrative justification for the surviving female to commit and the audience to enjoy the violence, and puts it in the capable hands of the surviving female who becomes a powerful source of identification and pleasure for female viewers.

Isabel Cristina Pinedo, Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing

long but important read, one of the few opening toward a (trans)gendered analysis of the slasher film