Jungian Psychology (if you’re into that junk) defines an archetype as “a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image… universally present in individual psyches.” When I write fiction – be it a play, a screenplay, a novel, or a good blog post – I can’t help but write from a subconscious knowledge of those archetypes my culture has made predominant in my everyday experience. The Hero. The Lover. Witch. Disney Princess.
Yeah, I know, they don’t put Disney Princesses on tarot cards (yet). But I’m getting at something important here, and that’s this imaginary line we’ve drawn, where fictional archetypes end and real life stereotypes begin. For a long time running now, I’ve been pretty sure that it doesn’t actually exist. How?
The Final Girl. If you watch horror movies the way I do (you probably don’t, but stay with me), you know she’s like the “Disney Princess” of the slasher genre. In Jungian terms, she’s The Hero. In my eyes, she’s an incredibly problematic stereotype.
The archetypal horror heroine is more masculine than feminine. She is fearful of sex, heteronormative and knows more than the others around her but not enough to incriminate her. She survives the film and becomes the “Final Girl” by way of her modesty, an uncanny ability to run faster than all the other kids and the way she can hang on to that girlish innocence; even in the face of chainsaws, butcher knives, and forty gallons of blood.
When I began writing horror criticism eight years ago, this discovery really got under my skin. I love Halloween. I love A Nightmare on Elm Street. I love Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter, Alfred Hitchcock, Dario Argento, Rob Zombie – I love a classic horror movie with lots of gore, very little logic, scary guys behind every corner, and… stories that are really terrible to women?
As a feminist and a woman myself, I felt like my own artistic tastes had backed me into a corner. I mean, I liked some really seedy, sexist stuff. Dead Ringers’ twin gynecologists doing experimental reproductive surgery, anyone? I felt oddly motivated by B-movie material like I Spit on Your Grave and the way it fearlessly, and shamelessly, presented its monster as a naked woman who had just been gang-raped in the woods. How could I defend myself here? How could I find merit in these genuinely despicable images? Dangerous ideas, made by men, perpetuated by all of us who watch them, accept them, and do nothing.
I guess I decided that I could continue my fascination with these terrible things, so long as I made a promise to myself: I would talk about them. Non-stop. To anyone that would listen. I would write about them until I figured them out. When I had learned everything I could from them, I would change them. I would change the Final Girl, myself.
So I got my degree in film theory and then I got another degree in film writing. I made my own student horror film (complete with such B-movie signatures as “the out-of-focus shot” and “is that a boom mic up there?”) and I got all ready to write a feature film that would just tear the roof off the place, with a bad man, devils, demons and giant bugs nesting under toe-nails, and Hell, even a woman that cooked and cleaned and rarely left the house and then…
I never finished it. I left it sixty pages in, all alone and vulnerable, to the forces that be in the real world: outside opinions, men that wanted to write it differently, women that wanted to write it differently, and ultimately, my own decision that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. How was Evelyn, my little “housewife” going to save the world? She could barely even save herself.
I sat back and watched for a few years. There were enough remakes, adaptations, and reiterations of horror classics out there, I thought for sure adaptation theory would win out – something would change. They’d write the women better, the characters would make smarter decisions. Men would cease to dominate the industry and those still there would naturally have a better understanding of women, because there they are, writing and directing right alongside them.
But of course, that’s not the case. Women still make up a tiny percentage of writers and directors in Hollywood and an even smaller percentage of the horror market. The genre is considered the domain of teenage and young adult males. Truly original work is lacking, from women or men. I’m drawn back into the land of Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and Leatherface and I know that a character like Evelyn needs to exist. She has a right to.
Doesn’t matter whether you’re real or imaginary, you grow. Fictional characters are just as likely to become boxed in by their existing cultural archetypes as society is to tire of stereotypes about race, gender, and appearance. I flipped back the pages to the “housewife” archetype I had drawn: conventionally pretty, kempt, most comfortable with a vacuum cleaner and a romance novel, dependent on her husband, and knew that I had only one thing left to do.
Flip her on her head. Turn that Caregiver persona inside out and set the lady free. The woman of the horror-fantasy was going to have to grow alright. She was going to have to grow out of it right in front of the world, becoming something else entirely, all while you sit back and…
Read. I was going to turn Housewife in Hell into a book. A “hero’s journey,” for the millennial generation. For women. For us.
I’ll start with a stereotype that I hate and I’ll write it into the archetype that it emulates. I’ll take that witch, that bitch, that Disney Princess, and I’ll put her through so much terrible, unthinkable, unimaginable shit, that she can’t possibly come out the other end with her head on straight. She’ll be a different person.
And you. You will respect her. You will want to be her. You will want to tell your children her story, and they’ll want to tell it to theirs, and it will haunt us all so deeply. It will be the stuff of collective unconsciousness that somebody puts on tarot cards. And then you will be a different person, too.
Because the characters we create, can change the world. Even if it starts in the tiniest of places – in our own homes, in our own backyards, with the kind of woman everyone thinks they already know.
“Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.” -Picasso.
Alex Landers is a writer and artist working in New London, Connecticut. You can read and support her latest effort, “Housewife in Hell” on Inkshares.