A Response to The Power of Possession
By Stephanie Delph
In “The Power of Possession,” Virginia Warner poses an interesting analysis of the teen-girl-possessed-by-a-demon trope, which leads to further questioning of the “Damsel in distress” archetype. She criticizes the portrayal and sexualizing of teenage girls in horror films such as The Exorcist and Carrie.
Warner opens with a seemingly accurate summary of how a typical horror film unfolds. “A young girl begins exhibiting unusual behavior and physical ailments… The girl becomes bed ridden and for some reason only wears nightgowns… Finally, with nowhere to turn, her parent(s) will admit that it could be demonic possession and find a priest. The girl will be bound to the bed and the priest will begin the exorcism. It will get messy but ultimately the demon is expelled and she’s back to her normal life.” This type of plot has been reiterated in film and a pattern has been created.
It is a common representation for young girls in horror films to exhibit unusual behavior once possessed by a demon. The girls’ body contorts, her youthful appearance disappears, her body begins to decay and she displays a sexualized behavior. These young girls lose control over their own bodies. They cannot control their maturation and they cannot control their possession let alone their own salvation. “A girl reaches sexual maturity, and a demon takes her body by force, makes her do heinous and disturbing things and the only way she can be saved is in a nightgown, in her room, chained to her, while two grown men physically and verbally assault her.” Men chaining young girls to their beds to expel demons seems to be a metaphor for women not having control over what happens to their bodies. It is very unsettling and shocking to see a pre-pubescent girl engaging in foul language and sexual acts when she was originally depicted as virginal and innocent. There is an appeal to this female child’s behavior, a morbid curiosity to watch her behave in every way a young woman should not. Would viewers have the same appalled reaction if the victim were a male child?
There is shock and appeal in seeing a girl writhe, twist and misbehave that audiences continue to indulge in. This leaves me believing that women will never own their sexuality without someone watching or commentating. Sexual freedom does not exist for women, and if they thought it did, then there are movies like The Exorcist that exist to reinforce an idea that women don’t. There is always an underlying sexual motif. Why is she in a nightgown? Why is she chained to a bed? These types of film portrayals make womanhood look shameful, and their maturity to be a negative consequence.
In horror films especially, there is this idea that women need to be taken care of or rescued in some type of way. This reoccurring theme in horror films says that women do not have power when it comes to demons and men. These films are perpetuating a “damsel in distress” trope reinforcing the idea that women need to be saved. These gender roles are unbalanced and support an idea that says women do not have power when it comes to men. This perspective is disturbing. Women are just as capable of being the hero of their own story. Women are not fragile, helpless victims the way films portray them to be, and to keep reinforcing this idea that women are helpless victims is misogynistic. Masculinity can be fragile and femininity can be strong. Just as the idea of women always needing saving is damaging to females, so is the concept that men always need to be the hero. Media brainwashes people into thinking they must behave in a certain way in order to be more of a man or more of a woman. Men can save men, women can save men and women can save themselves. These are the types of portrayals is would like to see more of. Men chaining young girls to their beds to expel demons seems to be a metaphor for women not having control over what happens to their bodies.