Why are ghosts and spirits in movies predominantly and fundamentally female? With an evil gaze, a pitched voice and long tresses, they haunt us. The popular imagination is littered with female ghosts and spirits who are out to seek vengeance and restitution. Why so?
In fact, the female ghost is the logical manifestation of gender inequalities, discrimination and violence against women. The person of the female ghost is the product of a patriarchal and misogynistic society that overtly sexualise and commodify women as objects instead of a human person.
Horror films are thus a logical site where resistance and dissent are expressed against men. Through the person of the female ghost, it seeks to redress the gender discrimination that is inherent and prevalent within and across different societies.
Thus, horror movies and the female spirit should be seen as a less of a device for instilling fear, discomfort and disdain in children and adults alike but more of an attempt to articulate and right the wrongs inherent within society, past and present. In fact, a horror film is the conscience of our contemporary modern society.
At the same time, through the appropriation of fear, a horror film is a conduit that lends a voice to men’s insecurities in an age where women have ambitions, crave independence, display anger and seek ownership over their own sexuality and lives.
Ghost stories and the female ghost reflect and inform society of its cultural and social values and bring gender politics – the anxieties, fears and imbalance – into stark relief. That further explains why the female ghost is both a victim and the villain.
As the better half that bears life to its full term, the woman is a symbol of unconditional love and selfless sacrifice, and when these attributes are betrayed and torn asunder – often by men, and the patriarchal society we live in – they liberate themselves of the traditional feminine roles ascribed by the patriarchy itself and transformed into evil spirits that continue to haunt the conscience of the society and culture that they came from.
In life, there is death. In death, women are no longer the weaker half. Death is a source of empowerment.
A horror film is scary precisely because human consciousness can be easily subjected to evil impulses which are subsequently translated into actions. As a human person, we are vulnerable and prone to misdeeds and evil, and a horror film pierces right through that, illuminating our unfulfilled desires, our inherent fears, the guilt and regrets that we carry with ourselves throughout our blighted lives.
A horror film is scary because we ourselves are the source of our own fears. We have more to fear about ourselves than the scripted ghosts and imagined spirits that we attempt to appease at every annual cycle of the Hungry Ghost Month.
We are the source of our own goosebumps and hauntings. As a society, we are complicit. Far too often, we have let our women down.
If we watched a horror film and fail to see the violence that we commit against women on a daily basis, we are dead and blind to the realities of the society that we live in and the attitudes that gave rise to such symbolic and physical violence in the first place. We are in fact, the walking dead.
We are continually fascinated by the horror and gothic genre. We are perpetually attracted to our own excesses, played out in front of us. Therein lie the gore and the horror.
We are nasty, brutish and short. We are the Pontianak of our lives!