We are honored to be able to share an original essay from Hailey Piper this month. We’ve made it no secret that Hailey is a favorite author of all of us here at Dead Headspace, but her non-fiction pulls no punches and begs for thoughtful engagement. Without further ado…
February’s Pesky Psychological Entrails: Why Women, Why Horror
By Hailey Piper
Another February arrives, which among many things means it’s Women in Horror Month. By now, reviewers and Bookstagrammers have tossed together generous, colorful stacks of horror books and stories written by women ranging from decades ago and yesteryear to today (and maybe the future if they’re lucky to have advance review copies). We carry a long lineage of ghost stories, mad scientists, and brooding threats in the dark. So many that you would think surely by now a woman’s presence in dark fiction would be normal.
Not everyone sees the genre that way. I’m certainly not the only woman who’s had this kind of conversation when speaking to a friend, family member, colleague, therapist, or even a stranger:
Them: “Oh, I didn’t know you were a writer. What do you write?”
Their eyes widen, or roll, or they grimace or give an uncomfortable giggle: “Oh.”
We might deflect this kind of reaction by saying thriller or mystery or ghost stories, because horror seems a loaded word, but deep down, it’s horror.
And we get asked the big Why? Why horror? Why you? Why, women, why?
Women in Horror Month answers these questions with a single extended forefinger, its nail maybe caked with blood, pointed to our books with a singular message: Look upon our works and despair (or delight). Look at the troubles we write about, the senses and experiences we emphasize. Go read Gemma Amor’s foreword to We Are Wolves, an anthology of women’s horror, and then read the work inside.
It’s not unfair to say we’re inherently equipped for horror, though there’s unfairness in that fact. We experience it as a matter of the world we live in. Even the women who might scoff at other women writing horror are familiar with our living, breathing horror movie, and we’re advised to keep a horror movie’s rules in mind at so many moments because a grim list of instructions might keep us alive. They’re very different rules from those outlined in Scream, and if someone hasn’t lived them, they may not think about them at all. There is inherent dread in so many interactions and possible avenues that our unfortunate response to many situations is: “We’re used to it.” And there’s a horror in that normalcy as well.
And yet it isn’t seen as normal that women write horror? How can we not?
Horror fiction is a place where we can work through the anxieties and realities of the worst in life. Sometimes we’re subtle about it, sometimes not. It’s certainly laced in our work, and what better genre to invite anxiety and evil memories than horror? Horror encourages the breaking of boundaries and taboos. Body horror, domestic horror, the ends of feeling, the beginnings of an empowerment that might be seen as horrific, and yet we cheer for it. We can talk this shit out through monsters, and ourselves, and our monstrous selves.
Women in Horror Month signifies how and where we choose to spill those pesky psychological entrails. We’ve been doing it for some time, yes, but women’s presence in horror hasn’t ended with Shirley Jackson and Daphne du Maurier. Those recommendations stacks that drop around each February show the work that’s been done, is being done, and there’s always more to do. Women in Horror Month is a flashing, blood-soaked sign that asks readers to come and see, and it comes about early in year, usually on the heels of many of the previous year’s “Best of” lists being bereft of women’s work.
It shouldn’t go unnoted that February is also Black History Month, another reason to pick up work by Eden Royce, Tananarive Due, Linda Addison, and that’s just getting started.
Any list of recommendations is only just getting started, because Women in Horror Month’s purpose is not to grant a holiday. Halloween books in October, Christmas horror in December, fine, but February isn’t our holiday. It’s a chance to inject a few options into readers’ eyes. The hope is not for readers to cram as many women’s horror books into their schedules as possible during the shortest month of the year and then read no more women in horror for the next eleven month. Women in Horror Month will hopefully help readers see the rich vastness in these corpse-sprinkled fields and realize this: there’s no shortage of wonderful horror written by women.
When February ends, read us in March, too. Read us in April and May, through summer, spring, and winter. No reader will run out, I promise. The hope is to not only read women during Women in Horror Month, but to incorporate us into each reader’s general reading life.
One of the many cool things about Women in Horror Month is that it spreads. For each person who’s only this February sifting through murderous recommendations lists and finding things that sound interesting, things they gave a chance and didn’t like, things they gave a chance and loved, discovering new favorites, there’s someone who’s first time was last year. Now they’re the one making lists. The hope is that next year, that reader for whom this is their first Women in Horror month will join others who sling endless recommendations before the next Groundhog’s Day rolls around.
And when someone else asks them “Why Women in Horror Month?” that February, they’ll answer with a stack of incredible, horrifying books by women.
Twitter page: https://twitter.com/HaileyPiperSays
Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/author/haileypiper