I went to my first horror convention in 2007, covering it for a French magazine that I freelanced for at the time, and the event they really wanted me to focus on was a horror indie that would show in the evening. I was at the con the entire day, and though it was male dominated, I didn’t feel uncomfortable until it came time for me to do my job and watch the film. Right then, just as the lights went out, a guy who had been roving up and down the aisles with a walkie-talkie took a seat next to me, saying, “I’ve seen you sitting here all day, and you’re kind of cute.”
He was so close that I could smell the peanut butter on his breath, but I didn’t respond. I stared straight ahead, trying to get the gist of the story line and take notes, which miffed him, making him say next, “Now, I just want to fuck with you.”
I had to get up and move away from him, but the harassment threw me, and I was off my game for the rest of the night. This con introduction came to color my experiences in the horror industry, where I wasn’t taken as seriously as my male colleagues. Once I piped up during a convention panel on horror comics, wanting to talk about Alan Moore and his revolutionary work on Swamp Thing and then perhaps segue to the wonderful work being done by horror manga writers and artists, but I was shut down and told to “go read his work and then report back.” I’ve been reading his work since I was twelve.
I struggled as the only woman in a theater full of men viewing Gary Sherman’s 39: A Film by Carroll McKane (2006) movie and had to leave the Q-and-A afterward, as serial killer specialists argued about how there had never been a female serial killer and Aileen Wuornos didn’t count.
So I was thrilled when Women in Horror Month began, where the entire month of February celebrates females working in the horror industry. To me, it’s obvious that there’s a problem—so often I open a horror short story collection and there are only men listed in the table of contents, or maybe a token woman. Caitlín R. Kiernan has shared, “It is genuinely frustrating—and somewhat bizarre and also embarrassing—how often I’ve found myself the only female author in a collection. (Note: Once would have been too often.)”
With my writers’ group and others, though, I’ve heard the argument, “I don’t think we should have to divide things according to gender.” And in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to, but the division is going on now, and I so want to be represented by fair numbers and stories. I want everybody to be represented in horror, to be able to find that one spooky story that speaks to them and scares the daylights out of them. But until that happens, we need to put in the hard work to get there, and part of that is reminding people that women write horror, very good horror.
I was part of New York Comic Con last year, after a several-year absence, and right before the attendees came in, I immediately got anxious, ready to be challenged on my horror cred. But things had loosened up since my last con. While behind the table for the Horror Writers Association, I saw both female and male faces, in pretty equal proportions, looking for a good scary story. But unfortunately most of what was represented on the table were male stories. When women and girls turned away, not inspired by the choices, I tried to give them recommendations of other authors that they could try. But what I really wished for was that I had those stories to give them, stories about girls who look like them and are totally badass, slaying the monsters or even being them. The audience is definitely there; now we need to give them the books.
Listen to Fareena Samad tell you about the stories she cares about, and let’s try and get some more into her hands.