New class discusses gender and horror

Gender in Horror, a class this Spring Semester, will examine how society has reflected its views toward gender through the genre of horror.

The class’s professor, Angela Smith, said that the class will examine the horror genre because of how it uniquely presents society’s concepts toward gender in a way that no other genre can.

“Our culture works out its uncertainties about gender in horror films,” she said. “Horror is testing the boundaries of normality in bodies and gender identities.”

The class will first read classic gothic romance and horror novels, including Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Smith says these novels provide an insight into the time during which they were written.

For example, the focus on the fainting maiden, a woman who is vulnerable and subject to the will of men, tells a lot about how women were viewed during the time, she said.

Smith said the gothic novels depict women in a more positive heroic fashion. She specifically referred to the story of Frankenstein, in which a man overlooks a woman’s part in the reproductive process and, in turn, suffers a backlash of negative consequences for it.

She also said that horror depicts women in a heroic fashion because, often, a strong powerful woman defeats the monster.

Smith used “The Silence of the Lambs,” as an example of a woman being able to outsmart the monstrous villain when no one else could.

Smith contended that there are many ways to look at horror films.

“You can look at the violence toward women as sexism, (as) satisfying for the male audience. You can look at the female who defeats the monster as a testament to the power of women. There are many different ways to analyze horror films, and we will be looking at many of them,” she said.

Regardless of what gender biases one finds in horror film, Smith says the class will change the way students look at the horror genre.

There is much to learn from horror films, she said. The cheap thrills are just a part of it. There is a deeper, more complex philosophical side to many horror films.

After taking the class, students will probably end up analyzing horror films rather than being scared by them, she said.

The class will be fun, but Smith said that it will also be a lot of work. She said students should be prepared to do plenty of reading and writing on top of watching the films.

Smith warns that students who are uncomfortable with R-rated or scary movies probably shouldn’t take the course because the focus will be on how violence and sexuality are presented in the genre.

Gerda Saunders, associate director of the gender studies program, said that students can contact the professor to make special accommodations, but due to the curriculum of the class, it may be difficult to avoid certain topics that might make some students uncomfortable. Students should consider the curriculum when deciding if the class is right for them.

Officially titled Gender and Horror 5745, the English and gender studies departments will offer the class this Spring Semester on Tuesdays from 4-6 p.m. There are technically no prerequisites for the class, but it is intended mainly for juniors and seniors, Saunders said. To get more specific information regarding the prerequisites, contact the departments directly.

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