So here we are, Women in Horror Recognition Month, 2014… and what a sad state of affairs it’s been. Over the last few weeks I’ve read a plethora of posts and blogs and forums both for and a reasoned post against WiHM; some made me applaud while others made me want to gouge my eyes out with a spoon.
In part one of my WiHM post, I mentioned my support of the month (and for those women who write/read/film/act in this amazing genre), and my despair for its need. Yep, I said ‘need’, and that makes me sad. To my knowledge, I’ve not been the subject of gender-bias within the industry, but I’d be a fool to say it doesn’t happen. All one has to do is read a couple of comment threads to know that it is real and it’s out there, clubbing its Neanderthal way through the genre I love.
Some of the vitriol I’ve read is mind-blowing. I get mad. I get frustrated. And at times I’ve wanted to reach through my screen and throttle the ignorance right out of someone (now there’s a horror story in the making!). There have, however, been cheap shots thrown from both sides; reasoned debate fast falls away to slanging matches that put pre-schoolers to shame. A lot of these comments are made by authors, by those who understand the power of words, yet a ‘fuck you’ seems to be a go-to response.
I’m no stranger to swearing, and anyone who’s read my stories knows I can curse it up with the best of them, but when it comes to something as important as equality in the industry—‘cause really, folks, that’s what it boils down to—devolving into playground bullying doesn’t do anyone any favours, especially when some posts have gone viral, and damage the genre and those who like to play in it.
When I first decided to write a post on WiHM, I fully intended to go in all guns blazing – I’m a woman who writes horror, why shouldn’t I be taken seriously? I don’t write stories with my boobs, and my uterus doesn’t scream ‘don’t do it!’ every time I torture and/or kill a character. I’m just as sure that men who write horror don’t do so with their penis, and their balls don’t swell with ‘manly pride’ every time they torture and/or kill a character. So why the distinction between female horror writers and their male counterparts? It can’t be anatomical, surely.
Women can write the brutal stuff just as well as men (one story I wrote for ASIM offended a reader so much with its violence he cancelled his subscription – a proud moment for me, no doubt; something I’d written deeply touched another), we can write psychological horror, subtle horror, slasher and any other label you’d like to attach. So why is there a resistance to women putting horror to paper? Makes no sense to me.
I don’t care what gender the author of the book I’m reading is; for me, it’s all about the story. But here, we might be getting into tricky territory. With a perceived belief that women can’t or don’t write horror (or write it well), some authors choose to write under a male pseudonym and others choose to use their initials so it’s not readily apparent that they’re women. A sad indictment. I chose to write under my decidedly female name (this was a personal choice, and is no way a judgement on those who have selected not to). Could I have gone with my initials? Sure. But what does that tell my daughter? Hide who you are so you can be accepted in your chosen field? Being a woman can hold you back? Hell no. I’m not teaching her that, even subliminally. And I’m not teaching my son that either.
But instead of the ‘all guns blazing’ approach, what I’d like to talk about is art. The art of creating a world, characters, creatures, cultures from nothing but imagination. Forget about gender, forget about the politics, the naysayers; fuck those who say you couldn’t, you shouldn’t, and MAKE GOOD ART.
That’s what it comes down to. That’s all it comes down to. Immerse yourself in your worlds, sidle up to your characters and learn their secrets (share them if you must), give them loves, hates, give them lives – beautiful and horrible. MAKE GOOD ART. Everything else is secondary. The accolades, the recognition, the story acceptances and rejections, reviews (peer and otherwise), none of it matters when you’re knee-deep in your story, giving life to your imagination, creating something essentially out of nothing.
When you’re making your word-babies are you thinking about the Stokers, Aurealis, or Shadows awards? Are you tailoring your creations to market trends? Are you wondering whether readers will care what does or doesn’t swing between your legs? No? Then back to it, my friend, you’re doing it right – MAKE GOOD ART. If you are, then this may be the wrong gig for you. You’re missing out on the pure, unadulterated freedom of creating. Shed those self-imposed shackles and run naked through your imagination (I lost a shoe there once, so it’s best to go in unfettered), and see what happens. Enjoy it. Revel in it. Is it not the act of creating that draws you back time and again?
Let the anxiety, the fear, the ‘what ifs’ go. Hard though it may be (and that bout of writerimposteritis can be a bitch to shake), believe in your story and believe in yourself, it’s the least you can do. So you didn’t win an award this year, didn’t make a shortlist, didn’t get the recognition you thought would come… did you make good art? Yes? Then I take my hat off to you – you’re a writer, the best and sometimes worst gig in the world. But I can’t fathom doing anything else.
So, Women in Horror Recognition Month, I thank you for bringing attention to what can be a downright disgusting part of the industry; I thank you for giving voice to those who suffer under draconian beliefs of a woman’s ability to write in my favourite genre; I thank you for opening the eyes of readers who may not have picked up a horror tome penned by a woman. And to those who think women don’t or can’t write horror? I thank you, too. You’ve bolstered the drive and determination of those us who write this genre to prove you wrong. Bravo!
If there’s one thing I want you, dear reader, to take from this (no matter the genre you write) is: FUCK THE NAYSAYERS AND MAKE GOOD ART. Go on, I dare you…