Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tell Me I Can't

Part 4 of 4

Women in Horror Month: Tell Me I Can’t
By Stephanie M. Wytovich

My entire life—up until recently—has been about people telling me that I can’t do something. I can’t go to graduate school because I’m throwing my money away. I can’t be a writer because I should be having their babies and thinking about marriage. I shouldn’t be writing horror because I would be more attractive if I wasn’t killing people for a living. I can’t live on my own because I won’t be able to survive…

Damn! Talk about a lot of pressure on my vagina and who’s controlling it…

Needless to say, most—if not all—of those people have ‘ex’ attached to them now, whether they were friend, boyfriend, lover, etc. and oh my God did I just say lover?

Christ, maybe I am a whore?

Ladies don’t like sex!

But hey, maybe I’m not the world’s definition of a lady then? After all, ladies don’t curse and drink whiskey and speak their mind, and ask for equal pay. They don’t stand up for their beliefs, have sex because they want to, decide when they want to get married—IF they want to get married—when they want to have children--IF they want to have children—or do what makes them happy despite what society deems proper or not.

No, ladies don’t do that.

Women do that.

And strong women at that.

So I’d like to take this moment to write some notes to all the men who told me I can’t, because guess what? Despite all of you, I did.

To the man who told me I was throwing my life away on education: Hi. My name is Stephanie Wytovich and I have the initials MFA after my name now. I got my degree while simultaneously writing three books, all of which have been published, two which have been nominated for awards in my field. Also, funny story. Remember how you said I should be a nurse because then I’d actually be able to do something with my life? Well, I became one after all! Meet Hysteria. She’d like to have a word with you.

To the man who told me I should be having his children and taking his name: Hi. Remember me? Yeah, I’m certain that you do. First things first, the very fact that you said this to me despite knowing my dreams and aspirations is proof that you didn’t know my spirit or my soul, and therefore had no chance of  implanting your child in me or forcing your ring on my finger. If I want to get married, I will. If I want to have children, I will. You just won’t have a part in it.

To the man who told me he would find me more attractive if I didn’t write horror: Fuck you. You don’t even get a thoughtful response.

To the man who told me I couldn’t survive on my own: Hi. Remember me? See the one thing you underestimated about me when you called me damaged, was that damaged people know how to survive. I know this because I survived you. I may have done it while I was black and blue but I didn’t have to hit a girl to make myself feel like I was in control.

2015, people.

It’s 2015 and we’re still fucking dealing with this.

Being a woman does not in any way, shape, or form, lessen you or your ability to do something. Strong women are nothing less than who they are and who that is just so happens to intimidate weak men. I’m not going to change my life to fit some man’s misogynistic game plan for me, nor am I going to jump just because a man says jump. If I don’t want to do something, I’m not going to do it, but for some reason, men have felt, and continue to feel, that they can do or say whatever they want in an effort to control me. This very matter has become a joke between my father and me because every time I tell him these stories, he looks at me, laughs, and goes, “What idiots. No one tells my baby girl what to do.”

And they don’t. Well, except for my Dad, but even he’ll tell you that more often than not, it doesn’t work for him either. And that’s the thing about my dad. He said he knew I was a fireball the first second he saw me and instead of trying to put out my flames, he encouraged me to use my voice and my words to empower myself and others. That’s why growing up, he taught me how to write, how to defend myself, how to push myself, and how to take no prisoners in anything and everything that I did.

He is the man that has always told me I could.

So now that we’re talking about men who I admire and respect, this is the moment in the month that I’ve been waiting for. I want to write notes to all the men who told me I could, and supported me when I did. 

To the man who took me out to dinner, gave me advice on writing and didn’t try to sleep with me after: Hi. Remember me? Of course you do because we’re still in touch and have acquired and maintained a beautiful and healthy friendship over the years. Thank you for believing in me, for encouraging me, and for not only treating me like a woman, but as a colleague as well.

To two of my convention roommates, both of who are men: Hey you guys! Ready for Atlanta? I can’t wait to see the two of you! Both you guys have seen me without makeup, have seen me full on sobbing, and have witnessed me laughing so hard that I couldn’t breathe and almost fell off a couch. You’ve shared the great moments with me, and helped me sort through the bad, whether that consisted of a trolley ride in NOLA to the middle of nowhere, or a late night cemetery walk with hard ciders and a lot of anger, you’ve both been there through the absinthe, through the awards, through graduation, and the breakups, and I love you both dearly for that.

To one of my best and dearest friends, who, yes, is a man and also an author: Hi! It seems like we just talked, but that’s probably because we just did. Thank you for always treating me with respect, love, and kindness. It’s a true comfort to know that no matter what is happening in my life, that you will always have my back, both in publishing, and outside of it. We might both be doing the same thing with our lives, but it’s beautiful that it never feels competitive and that we can go out and not talk shop and just be who we really are with each other. See you soon, and yes, I promise, I’ll read the Larson book, okay? Go drink your Gwar.

To my first editor: Hi! As if you don’t already have enough literature and email from me to read—here’s some more! Thank you for taking a chance on me and believing in me right from the start. It’s an honor to have worked, and to be working with you, and your unwavering support in both my work and in myself as an author is exactly what I wish and hope for every woman in this business.

And finally…

To my mentor of eight years: Hi! What a wild and crazy few years it’s been, yeah? Thank you for everything, starting all the way back from day one when I thought I still wanted to become a lawyer. You’ve been my teacher, my mentor, my friend, and my colleague, and even when you’re not teaching me, you still are. I hope that one day I'll become half the teacher/writer that you were/are to me.

And that’s it folks! That’s my #WomenInHorrorMonth series. I hope that you’ve enjoyed it and that it touched on some topics that you either wanted to talk about but were too afraid to, or that quite frankly, just needed to be said in general. I had a blast doing this and I want to say thank you to everyone who’s commented and shared my words/pictures this month. Gender equality is a battle, but it helps when there are people like all of you who help fight for it.
  • As a female horror author, I stand by this because both sides of the story need to be shown. Feminism is not an attack on men; it’s a movement for gender equality across the board.
  • As a female author, I stand by this because I’m a professional and deserve to be treated and acknowledged as such.
  • As a female, I stand by this because I believe in gender equality.
--Stephanie M. Wytovich

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Take the Whore out of Horror

Part 3 of 4:
Women in Horror Month: Take the ‘Whore’ out of ‘Horror’

By Stephanie M. Wytovich

My rock n’ roll self was at a jazz concert the other night. I traded in my whiskey for a glass of Merlot and I sat there in my work clothes—I had a late night counseling and planning for residency—humming along to the soft, soothing voice of the bass as Imagine by The Beatles stroked the air. I was chatting with some people, making friends, networking in the city, and [insert random unnamed person here] asked me what I did for a living. As per usual, I told him/her that I’m a writer, all the while wincing at the inevitable response that I knew I would get in return.

Here’s the conversation, word for word—and it’s one of those conversations where if I had a nickel for every time I had it, well, let’s just say I could be in a flat in New Orleans writing for the summer.

Stranger: “Writer, huh. So what do you write?”

Me: “I write speculative fiction.”

Stranger: “What does that mean?”

Me: “Genre fiction. I’m a horror writer.”

Stranger: “A whore writer?” *immature giggles*

Me: “No, a horror writer? *death stare*

Stranger: “Same thing. So whore fiction, eh?

Now, because I’m a classy, well-mannered woman—and because I’ve spent too much money on my rings to see them broken—I didn’t, and don’t, hit these people, even though they’ve blatantly called me a whore straight to my face, and not only that, but they’ve laughed at me, as well. I have to sit here and wonder if something like this would ever be said to a man, and I’m willing to bet that it wouldn’t. For some reason, it seems like people have an easier time talking down to women because they think that we’re not strong enough to stand up for ourselves, or that we find it funny, and acceptable, to be spoken to as such. Well, guess what. We don’t. Say it to me again, and I’m going to very explicitly tell you where you can stick your opinion, because, guess what, I have standards and I take pride in what I do. This entire culture of slut shaming, and calling women names, i.e. bitches, whores, skanks, etc. is not only offensive, but a backwards step for gender equality and equality in general.

In addition to that, let’s talk age, because that’s the next thing that always gets brought up. I’m 25 years old yet people still call me “girl” or “kid.” So now, accordingly to the population, I’m not only a whore but a childish whore for writing what I write.

Let’s take a moment and look at the reality of this compared to the stereotypical picture that is portrayed by a young female writing horror.

The reality of this is that I’m a professional, I’m a woman, and I support myself by writing dark fiction and working in the writing industry. At 25, I have written five books, two of which have already been published, one of which is in its final editing stages, and the other two are set for  publication this year. I have two degrees, have been an editor at a small press for two years, and I’m working full-time in the fields that I received both my degrees in. Oh, and last time I checked, I pay my bills and live my life as an adult and--that's right!--without supervision.

 But yeah, I write horror so don’t take me seriously.

After all, I’m just a whore.

And apparently a childish one at that.

See the problem here?

This issue, beyond every issue that there is in publishing, and in horror, is what I have the biggest problem with. I’ve talked about stigmas and clichés a lot this month, but the notion that women in horror are nothing more than what their bodies portray them to be, is ridiculous. And it’s immature. And it’s offensive.

We are WOMEN working in HORROR and we are PROFESSIONALS.

Yes, I capitalized/bolded those specific words for emphasis—almost like I’m screaming and throwing a tantrum--because that’s what ‘kids’ do when they want to make a point and be heard.

You know, the whole point of this series is to raise awareness for how women are treated in the horror industry. I’ve experienced the above confrontation countless times, and I’ve experienced other situations that are more extreme and that I don’t care to write about, because again, I’m a classy, well-mannered woman. But it happens, and it happened when I started in this industry and it’s still happening three years later. Thankfully, my mother and my mentors raised me/taught me/ and guided me to be a strong woman and I can look past it. What I can’t look past is the culture of the genre I love celebrating women as whores. Let’s drop the whore out of horror, let’s drop the objectification of females as victims, and for the great love of Cthulu, let’s all just realize that the label of female horror writer shouldn’t even exist.

We’re all writers.

We’re all professionals.

It’s as simple and true as that.


I do, however, want to say that most of my experiences with this have come outside of the publishing industry. Sure, there have been a few bumps along the way, but I feel that's it's important for me to say that the men I know in the industry are some of the kindest, most caring gentleman that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. They’ve been wonderfully supportive to me as a writer, and as a friend, and I can guarantee you that if a conversation like the above happened in front of them that I wouldn’t be the only one clenching my fists. How do I know this? Because I've seen it happen. I've had men defend me at horror conferences, and I've had men stand up for me in academia. Case in point, this isn't some feminist rant. It may be a male-dominated field, but the men I work, teach, read, and write with are wonderful, and my life is better for knowing them. Truly. I raise my glass to these men in love and in thanks for always being there for me--and I feel confident that they all know who they are.
  • As a female horror author, I stand by this because there needs to be awareness for the fact that this stereotyping and prejudice is still happening both inside the genre, and outside of it.
  • As a female author, I stand by this because I’m a professional and deserve to be treated and acknowledged as such.
  • As a female, I stand by this because I believe in gender equality.

--Stephanie M. Wytovich

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

I Am Not a Victim

Part 2 of 4

Women in Horror Month: I Am Not a Victim

By Stephanie M. Wytovich

My nails are broken, my fingers are bleeding, my arms are covered with the welts left by the paws of your guards—but I am a queen!”- Antigone, Sophocles

I’m currently private tutoring Greek Drama—Antigone, in particular—and one of the issues that we’ve been talking about is how the play is structured around the notion that women are weak and therefore should not be looked at as a threat, not to man, and not to government. Interesting concept considering Antigone essentially throws up the middle finger and does what she believes is right, even if it means handing herself a conscious death sentence.

Antigone’s character—in particular—inspired me for this week’s portrait, “I Am Not a Victim.” I think so often in horror that we’re used to seeing the woman portrayed as the damsel in distress, and slasher movies hold a lot of responsibility for that. According to them, the female role is to have big boobs, to run away, and to get killed dramatically, and explicitly, and usually with little to no clothes on. Oh, and if we’re not being savagely murdered, then God knows we’re being sacrificed to Satan or forced to spawn the Devil himself. In that case, cue the angelic, white-dressed, virgin, and you’re good to go!

But if we look at this in a more academic sense, women take on the metaphorical (and okay, sometimes physical) representation of the womb. We are portrayed as creatures of sexual representation because we have the ability to give life, i.e. woman/womb. To some degrees, I love this, and I don’t mind the representation. As a woman, and as a horror writer, I’ll attest to the fact that birth is one of the scariest things I’ve ever witnessed—and I play with concepts of sexuality and birth in my own writing all the time. The woman as vessel is a beautiful and horrific concept…when it’s done correctly.

Note: We are a vessel for life. We are not strictly a hole for male genitalia.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that I love slasher movies. They are my absolute favorite, and growing up, I thought being a scream queen would be one of the coolest jobs ever—in fact, part of me still thinks that. However, the stigma that’s attached to females in the horror genre is simply that: we’re victims. Now, I don’t know about you ladies, but when I’m writing a kill scene, I’m not sitting at my computer desk in a push-up bra, half-naked and making bad decisions. I’m not running around my office in stilettos drafting an alibi and I’m certainly not answering emails and phone calls from creeps with an Oedipus complex who are probably wearing their grandmother’s nightgowns. Why? Because I’m smarter than that. I’m not a victim. Not in my stories and not in real life.

I think it’s important to have balance in this genre and I don’t feel like that’s quite the case, at least, not yet, but we are moving in the right direction. Having said that, I would be heartbroken if slasher movies/fiction disappeared because they are a staple and a genre all in themselves. I just don’t think that we have enough female-positive horror to combat them. Buffy was a great step in the right direction, and so was Lost Girl, but even still, these lean more towards paranormal romance than they do horror. What I want to see is more women like Nancy from Nightmare on Elm Street, like Sidney Prescott from Scream. I want my women with some fight in them and I want to see them conquer and I want to see them survive.

For what it’s worth, I don’t even like the word ‘victim’, so I certainly don’t want to see my gender being force-fed the concept that that’s who we are. And to further drive home my point and to emphasize why this is such an issue, I’ll share something personal with all of you. Technically, if we’re going to draw lines in the sand, I am a ‘victim.’ I’ve been through some stuff, I’ve seen some terrible things, and I had to grow up a hell of a lot faster than I probably should have. At 25, I’ve almost died twice, but much like our dear pal Jason, I keep coming back.  Why? Because I’m a final girl type of character. My life is in my hands—not in his, not in hers, and not in the hypothetical axe-wielding maniac’s. So as an artist, I want to send the message that no one gets to tell you that you’re a victim. You can overcome, and you can conquer. As women, we’re perceived as weak, as emotional, as the caregivers and the nurturers. Well, newsflash people. Just like men can be nurturing and caring, women can be strong, kickass, ballbusters who don’t take shit and know how to defend themselves. And you can be damn sure that none of the women in my poetry or my prose will ever go down without a fight.

  • As a female horror author, I stand by this because there needs to be awareness for the fact that this stereotyping and prejudice is still happening both inside the genre, and outside of it.
  • As a female author, I stand by this because men and women are both writers and people, and neither of us should be pigeonholed as predator or victim.
  • As a female, I stand by this because I believe in gender equality.
--Stephanie M. Wytovich

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

This is Not a Female Horror Writer

Part 1 of 4:
Women in Horror Month: This is Not a Female Horror Writer
By Stephanie M. Wytovich
 “If one looks at a thing with the intention of trying to discover what it means, one ends up no longer seeing the thing itself, but thinking of the question that has been raised. The mind sees in two different senses: (1) sees, as with the eyes; and (2) sees a question (no eyes).”- Rene Magritte

Belgian surrealist painter, Rene Magritte is known in the art world for the contradictory and highly philosophical pieces he started creating in the mid to late 1920s after moving to Paris and teaming up with Andre Breton, a major mover and proponent in the surrealist circles. After Breton turned his focus away from Dadaism, and Magritte abandoned his impressionistic style, Surrealism, a movement focusing on meta-messaging, subconscious thought, and paralanguage was not only born, but celebrated…and challenged.

Now some of you may be familiar with the series The Treachery of Images to which Magritte gives new meaning to an otherwise ordinary object and/or context, i.e. his piece, “Ceci n'est pas une pipe" ("This is not a pipe"). As a student of art history and theory, this particular notion of exhibiting an object, and then stripping it of its label was, and remains, a fascinating concept to me, and therefore, is one of the reasons why I decided to title my #WomenInHorrorMonth project “This is Not a Female Horror Writer.”

The picture to my left, that’s me. My name is Stephanie M. Wytovich, and yes, I am a female horror writer. But am I? No, of course not. I mean, if you want to bring my vagina into the conversation, then yes, I guess that’s technically true, but seeing that I don’t write with it, I’m not sure why that would be appropriate.

So let’s rephrase.

I, Stephanie M. Wytovich, am a writer.

I write stories, and novels, and poetry, and sometimes if people aren’t paying attention, I’ll write on the walls of restaurants and maybe even on some stop signs in the country. And again, and I can’t stress this enough, I’m not doing any of that with my vagina.

Having said that, when someone asks me what I do for a living, I tell them I’m a writer. I don’t say I’m a female writer, and I certainly don’t say I’m a female horror writer, because what does that honestly have to do with anything? The only part of that sentence that matters is that I write. Do you tell people that you’re a male banker or a female professor, or a trans-gender communication specialist?

See? It sounds silly, right?

Our physical gender, or the gender that we identify with, has no bearing on what we do for a living as artists. Maybe thematically it does, and sure, that’s bound to happen on occasion, but I’m not talking shop, and I’m certainly not commenting on craft. I’m talking gender as a pigeonhole for the profession and for the equality within it. Do I think that female horror writers need a month of promotion for their work? Yes, and not just because we’re part of a male-dominated genre. The hard truth is that most male readers only read male authors, and despite knowing that, I won’t write under a different name—not for my dark fiction, and certainly not for my erotica, because in a way, that’s just submitting to the gender issues that are at hand here.

·         As a female horror author, I stand by this because there needs to be awareness for the fact that this stereotyping and prejudice is still happening within the genre.
·         As a female author, I stand by this because men and women are both writers and neither of us should be classified as such strictly because of our genitals.
·         As a female, I stand by this because I believe in gender equality.
--Stephanie M. Wytovich