When D suggested we blog about female tropes in sci fi and horror, I was excited to weigh in on this, but probably not for the reason you might think!
One of my favorite movies of all time is Halloween! What a classic! The deranged killer, the swirling leaves, the stupid, stupid victims and of course, the smart, nerdy female survivor! Smart, Nerdy and Female–hmmmm, I’m sensing a common bond here!
Let me just take a moment to go over the premise of the “last woman standing” trope. In a nutshell, it is the premise that a female character will survive whatever terror awaits her because she follows certain rules. She does not engage in immoral behavior and the work can define immoral behavior as whatever they want, including but not limited to sex.
When I researched horror movies I couldn’t even find one that was directed or produced by a woman. Not saying that doesn’t happen, but in the five minutes I spent on this I couldn’t find any. (Now you know how detailed I am, whoops!) So that got me thinking….is “last woman standing” not only some comment on a how a “virtuous” woman should act, but in some way also a back handed compliment to women?
“What! How could that be,” you ask with a shocked look on your face. “Aren’t they just trying to tell women they will be punished for behaving badly and by behaving badly, we mean being sexually free, i.e. acting like men!”
For the sake of all our sanity – I will now stop pretending I can really hear you and will stop the annoying use of quotes….ahhhh, that’s better.
Here is my take on it.
I think that most of the time our motives and thought processes are so intricate and complicated we can’t possibly sort them out. Remember it has taken us millions of years to get where we are and as much as we claim we are civilized, you can’t teach an old dog( or ancient cave dweller) too many new tricks.
Stay with me on this one! As I like to say to M and D, “Just get in the van and let me drive a minute!”
For a long time we were told that our civilization grew up being patriarchal, but many now believe that was not the norm, but we were in fact matriarchal and as much as the powers that be have tried to ram the idea that Father-always-knows-best myth down our throats, it’s just not true.
Years ago I read an essay by Carl Sagan who explored the idea of childhood monsters. His topic was why do children from every culture fear monsters at some point in their lives, even though they have never seen one because they don’t exist? His theory was because we all evolved from a culture who feared the dark especially when we were small because predators attacked in the dark and would hunt the smallest, easiest prey. So, that little bit of prehistory somehow survives in our brains even after millions of years of evolution.
Let’s build on that theory, class, so pay attention!
If the makers of horror fiction want us to feel like we are also in the situation either running or hiding or whatever they might also be tapping into this ancient fear SO who would be the most logical person to save the day?
Yes, class that’s right- the Matriarch who has been left behind in the cave with us while all the men are out hunting mammoth!
Because evidence now being gathered from several prehistory sites tells us that’s who was home at the time. The Women! And not because they couldn’t hunt, but because their job was to protect the offspring from attackers. Not to cower or hide, but to kick sabre tooth butt for Junior!
Looking at it this way, I don’t view “last woman standing” as a way to hold us women down, but as a way men still are crying out, “Save me, Mommy!”
It makes total sense to me that these male horror gurus are letting us know that the girl who would turn THEM down is the one they come running to when it’s time to slay the dragon.
So give me a “last woman standing” horror flick anytime, fellas! I’m not taking it as an insult because I know who was left behind to stand and defend instead of heading off into the sunset with some vague promise of bringing back trophies.
I find it much more believable than “A last man standing” scenario.