Can men and women of equal talent and similar style write about the same subject matter and be reviewed and, subsequently, received differently? The propensity for women to assume male pen names when they write in so-called stronger categories/genres begs the question. Are women relegated, in large part, to what has been termed chit lit or beach books (lighter material designed for fanciful escapism) if they are to be successful? Either that, or mask their work as that of a male? Finally, for the female author, is the horror genre too commercially unrewarding to claim? Many female authors who have written horror fiction merely dabble in it, coming to visit for a time, then moving on to greener pastures. Mary Shelley did the same as many contemporary female authors, offering a fantastic piece of work in Frankenstein and moving on to write in other genres. While a woman is not credited as the original practitioner of Gothic horror (Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto is widely considered to be the first Gothic horror novel), Ann Radcliffe has been said to have legitimized the sub-genre with works such as The Mysteries of Udolpho and A Sicilian Romance. Why, then, is any reference to her name relatively obscure, yet Bram Stoker’s can be met with nods of recognition? Does society think that males write horror fiction better than women? Do they believe that women are too fragile to imagine unsettling horrors? If dark thoughts lurk in a woman’s mind, is it somehow improper (unladylike?) for them to be entertained and transposed onto a page for all to read? Is this mindset a socialized gender bias?
What do you think?
No, really, why?
When I was conducting research for my dissertation, I was faced with this very question. As a person who creates horror fiction, I had never really considered the reasons why horror fiction was popular. I just knew I liked writing it and people liked reading it. But when you stop and think about it, the idea of willingly buying material that will, in the end, have you looking over your shoulder for next few days is kinda, well, weird.
Or is it?
Here’s what I came up with (enjoy a bit of my dissertation – I promise, it won’t bore you to tears.. at least not this part! LOL!):
Why do people want to be frightened? Why do they want the adrenaline rush or a good fright to course through their veins?
Because fear of what will happen to someone else is provides a sense of escapism. The person engaging in the act of reading, watching, or attending a frightening event knows they are experiencing something fictitious that won’t affect them in any way after it is finished. This provides a sense of adventure that people have always and will continue to crave.
Some researchers think that people like creatures such as werewolves, zombies and vampires because they embody the primeval threats that our ancestors encountered. Reliving such events and relating with our ancestors in that way is, on some levels, appealing and considered a challenge, even if we don’t readily realize it as such. The lack of understanding of what our ancestors endured creates a sense of fear that is base and pure. It is the horror author’s singular responsibility to determine how to tap into that fear – that desire for a shock to the system – and cultivate it as an ongoing interest.