When you think of the 1940s it’s an obvious reaction to presume that the era was full of misogyny towards women because it was a time when women were expected to be domesticated goddesses. In some respects you would be correct, however, it seems that when it came to cinema and the viewing experience things were very different and this came from the war period where women became liberated.
The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies are currently hosting a series of masterclasses at the beginning of every month focusing on different topics with horror that explore the history, development and their influence on modern films of the same nature. The first masterclass, Horror and Hilarity: Grand Guignol, was hosted by Richard J. Hand and looked at the famous horror theatre that helped to shape gory and nasty films that we see today. The second masterclass, The Paranoid Women’s Film, was hosted by lecturer and professor of Film and Television Studies at the East Anglia University, Mark Jancovich. Once again hosted at the atmospheric The Horse Hospital in Holborn, London, the event focused on how the war shaped gothic cinema for the woman viewer.
Jancovich gave an in-depth detailing on women were always seen as the homemakers; there to provide men with the services they needed by cooking, cleaning and raising the children, which in tandem left no time for partaking in leisurely activities such as attending the cinema. However, when WWI came into play, everything changed for the filmmakers trying to make horror films. As all the men had been shipped off to the war, women’s roles drastically turned and they were now expected to run the household but more importantly find a job that would contribute to the society around them; they were the ones bringing home the bacon. Due to this shift in nature, it meant that women became more empowered and were looking for another type of entertainment that could satisfy their needs; and that came in the form of horror cinema.
The cinemas were full of women viewers and therefore the content that was displayed had to reflect this change in target audience, which can be seen when studying the films produced during the 40s. Jancovich mentioned how many film historians skip past the 40s and label it as an era that disregarded the horror genre, but he proved otherwise with a series of films that truly depicted how horror films were targeted at women. He focused heavily on films such as Hitchcock’s Rebecca, Joan Fontaine’s Jane Eyre, Val Lewton’s Cat People and many others that saw how women were the sole focus of these films and always the most powerful character in the entirety of the play.
After Jancovich’s highly informative masterclass about The Paranoid Women’s Film, he took the time to answer the audience’s probing questions. I was interested in his standpoint on whether or not these films could still be seen as misogynistic and sexist; after all they do portray the women as always led down a dangerous path by their emotions and love. His response was outstanding and he spoke about how you could agree that point, although he believes that when you dissect these films and look at them that they are completely the opposite and really helped to empower the women of those times. Although they initially had the emotional connection, they soon disregarded it to investigate a man that they believed was not who he said he was.
The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies are truly delivering audiences something that hasn’t been offered before; they are delivering fans and academics of the genre with valuable information delivered by those who have a real authority in it. Not only this but the setting is perfect for a late Thursday evening, along with a well-priced bar (something always appreciated in London), and a place to meet like-minded horror fans and open up discussions.
If you’re looking for something to do for the next coming months I would urge you to ensure you have tickets to the upcoming masterclasses, which you can find more details on here.