BY LELA NESHEIM, CONTRIBUTING WRITER
This year’s “It,” directed by Andy Muschietti and based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name was a box office hit and is the surest blockbuster of the summer. Anticipated by devoted fans of the novel and general horror-lovers alike, the film also managed to please critics, receiving four- to five-star reviews across the board.
That being said, the film is not perfect nor did it please everyone — namely, the aforementioned devoted fans of the novel. Besides the whitewashing of a major character (Mike’s role as historian in the book was given to the white character Ben) and the erasure of racism within the diegesis of the film (Mike, the black character, is bullied for being homeschooled rather than black), there was also sexism. Blatant sexism.
Horror movies are known for their misogynistic portrayals of women and violence against them. While a 2003 study of the slasher genre from the 1980s to the 1990s done by Sapolsky, Molitor, and Luque found that deaths between men and women were equal, they also found that the proportion of time spent watching young women cower, scream, run in terror or be graphically brutalized/tortured by a male assailant was far higher than that of men. Men, on the other hand, die fairly quickly and less graphically. Even with the gutsy, heroic “final girl” trope on the rise, evident in films such as “Alien,” “Scream” and “Halloween” movies still portray women as frightened and terrified victims way more often. Thus cowering is seen as a female act.
That study does not even touch on the eroticization of horror movie sexism. Not only are women far more often the victims of sexual violence and abuse in horror movies, but they are the most sexualized in general. There’s the familiar “sex equals death” trope made popular by films like “Friday the 13th” where men and women who have sex will immediately become the killer’s targets. The man will likely die quickly while the girl gets away and engages in another trope called “the chase” where her male assailant will pursue her, while she is naked or scantily-clad. Not only are women punished much more severely for their sexuality, they get much more heavily sexualized in the process — the chase often parallels with scenes of eroticism.
While “It” does not subject its heroine to these egregiously violent situations, the male gaze is certainly present. The term “male gaze” was coined by Laura Mulvey in her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” and she uses it to describe the function of women in narrative films, writing, “Traditionally, the woman displayed has functioned on two levels: as erotic object for characters within the screen story, and as erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium, with a shifting tension between the looks on either side.” Never is this concept more evident than in the “It” quarry scene. The Loser’s Club goes swimming in the quarry clad in their underwear, and they are accompanied by a similarly undressed Beverly. The scene is sweet, showing the kids playing, but it is quite jarringly interrupted by the following scene where camera glides over Beverly’s scantily-clad body, and the audience is forced to sexualize this thirteen-year-old girl along with the movie’s protagonists who are then shown to be gawking.
Beverly is a victim of the male gaze again when she is taken by Pennywise the Dancing Clown and turned into a damsel in distress who must be rescued by her male counterparts and gets awakened by true love’s kiss in a bizarre scene. At best, this turn of events is cringey. At worst, it perpetuates patriarchal and degrading representations of women in media in general.
This article first appeared in the Friday, October 20, 2017, Edition of The Echo.