Fight Back: The Hills Have Eyes
Hello, reader. If you’re here now, months after I posted this initially, it means you found this post via search engine. I see the terms that lead here, and one I see more and more often is “Hills Have Eyes sex scene.” If that’s how you found this post, know that there ARE no sex scenes in that film. There is a rape scene. Rape is not sex. It is violence. It’s not consensual. It’s a violation. Read on, but perhaps question your definition of sex and why you would apply a benign word to a horrific act. You’ll find no glorification of rape here.
This month, Spouse and I are watching a horror movie a day (or he is, and I join in when I can). Last night was Hocus Pocus, and tonight we watched The Hills Have Eyes.
I can handle a lot of gore and violence in movies. I grew up on R.L. Stine and his descriptions of purple rotting flesh and bodies swinging like pendulums from ceilings. All the decaying cheerleaders and crazed sisters poisoning each other. I can take a lot of it before it gives me a wiggins.
But there is one thing that got old long ago, and that’s seeing women in horror movies get raped.
A lot of films do it for shock value. I suspect most of the world’s sane people don’t wake up in the morning and think, “Gee, you know what my life is missing? Victimised women.”
(Short disclaimer, anyone to leave an insensitive comment like, “Oh, I sure do!” even in jest will have their comment deleted and will lose 10,000 points of my esteem. These things aren’t funny, and I’ve heard a couple lately. This is not the forum for rape jokes of any kind. ANY AND ALL rape jokes or insensitive comments on this particular subject are not welcome out of respect for my readers, who trust me not to get more triggery than necessary.)
Wes Craven films, as my friend the Mad Gay Man pointed out, often do show women fighting back. In the Scream franchise, Sidney has some badassery skills to be sure, and there are counterexamples to this trope.
Counterexamples do not lessen the effects, the severity, or the wrongness of this trope’s prevalence in the horror genre, even if they aren’t propagating it themselves.
The Hills Have Eyes had one of the most protracted and disturbing rape scenes that I’ve come across in a film. If you don’t want to read the next paragraph, skip it. It triggered me a bit writing it. Be warned.
The youngest female character, Brenda, is sleeping in the family’s stranded trailer when a mutant comes in. Her entire family is watching her father burn to death while the mutant wakes her, terrorises her, and tries to rape her until another mutant arrives. This whole scene seemed to take ten minutes, and it very well might have. The other mutant proceeds to rape Brenda himself. Her sister comes in (FINALLY), only to have her sister’s rapist point a gun at her baby to coerce her into holding still for him while he fondles her and his friend fondles Brenda.
What was worst about all of it was the way Brenda was ignored after what happened to her.
Her mother and sister and father are dead, but her brother and brother-in-law completely ignore Brenda’s existence as she sobs, traumatised in the trailer. Then she’s treated as hysterical by the men.
I’m not sure the last time I was so disgusted by the portrayal of women in film. At one point I yelled at the screen, “Every single woman so far is a fucking victim! Fight back already!”
The reason things like this bother me so much has less to do with my own experience with sexual violence and more with the continuing acceptance of images like this in pop culture. What was shocking wasn’t necessarily that Brenda was brutalised — though I found it intensely disturbing throughout the entire, drawn-out ordeal — but the way her ordeal was subsequently minimised.
As long as Hollywood continues to perpetuate these images, people will be used to seeing women as victims. As a rape survivor, I take that to heart.
Seanan McGuire wrote a very poignant post last week after a commenter had the gall to ask when (not if, mind you, note the definitive certainty) her characters would be raped.
That anyone would even ask that question phrased that way only illustrates what I’m saying: we’re so used to seeing women victimised, abused, sexually assaulted, and violated, that it has become an inevitability. An expectation.
This is why I’ve been hosting the #SuperWomen Live Chats. Because what the world needs isn’t more damseling, and I could do without seeing another Brenda scene as long as I live. What the world needs to see is women being women.
Women are not spineless weaklings incapable of defending ourselves. We’re not hysterical shrews. The kitchen is not our natural habitat, and we don’t have to have children if we don’t want them. Women are capable of extraordinary things. Women are strong. Women are powerful. Women overcome — and not only after being victimised.
Our insecurities aren’t always about our looks or our weight, and being sexually attractive does not indicate a desire to be groped, grabbed, or hit on.
If we’re going to see less Brenda situations and more SuperWomen, it starts with the creatives. It starts with you, and it starts with me. It starts with people like Joss Whedon and Marti Noxon and Jane Espenson, and it starts with all of us who create media making a conscious effort to build exceptional stories with women and men portrayed as equals.
If you think media can’t have an effect, look at how Will and Grace and Ellen DeGeneres started shifting the cultural attitudes of an entire generation. Seeing gay people, both fictional and in real life, and putting faces in the place of labels — it has a far-reaching and powerful effect.
By creating culture that doesn’t victimise women, by showing the strength and ingenuity of women in film, art, literature, and music — we can change the way the world sees women.
This is my challenge to every creative to stop by this blog entry: look critically at your own work. Ask yourself how you have portrayed women, even subconsciously, throughout your stories.
I will admit, when I first read Seanan McGuire’s post, I felt tremendously guilty for a scene involving attempted rape in my novel. I’ve been contemplating its worthiness ever since. The rapist doesn’t succeed because my female superhero stops him, but even so — I have wondered if I could have developed this another way. I’m not exempt from my own admonition, and this topic has caused me to change WIPs because of certain themes in the adult dystopian I had planned to write this autumn.
After watching The Hills Have Eyes tonight, I have bitterness in my throat. Creatives, we’re better than that. Our characters deserve better than that. Challenge them, push them, conflict them — but it’s not always necessary to violate them.
What are your thoughts on this subject?
Read these. I’m apparently not the only one who feels this way.
- Seanan McGuire explains why you shouldn’t expect every fantasy heroine to be raped [Quote Of The Day] (io9.com)
- 7 Rules For A Good Horror Movie (thoughtcatalog.com)
- The Seanan McGuire thing and the subtler misogyny it implies (piratesobg.wordpress.com)
Posted on October 6, 2012, in Film Reviews and tagged Ellen DeGeneres, feminism, Hill Have Eyes, Jane Espenson, Joss Whedon, Marti Noxon, rape scenes, Scream, Seanan McGuire, Wes Craven, women, women's rights. Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.