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'ghost in asian movie v sexc'

TIFFANY FONG | FEATURES



Although a very catchy and clickbait title, it is not entirely true. Horror movies provide a stage for social and cultural anxieties to be played out and explored, and what better taboo is there to explore than female sexuality?

The portrayal of female sexuality in horror and society by extension is paradoxical. On the one hand it is something desired, while on the other it is something shamed. On the big screen female sexuality is performed for the patriarchy, but Asian Horror transforms women who have claimed and embraced their sexuality into monstrous ghouls.


Even in western horror female sexuality is portrayed as something forbidden, regardless of whether it is their physical sexuality, sexual attraction or interest in sex. Similarly, Asian horror undermines societal expectations that women are innocent, modest and submissive. Once they have embraced their sexuality — even at the price of death, they can no longer be controlled through shame. Sexuality is embraced by the monstrous female as power they wield over the patriarchy, if women are able to take ownership of the very thing society tells them to hide, it can no longer be used to force them into submission.

It is no coincidence that Asian horror's growth and popularity occurred during the late 1990s to early 2000s, corresponding with Asia's economic growth. Immediately following the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, this rapid economic growth was fronted by Japan's technological advancement and South Korea's successful Hallyu wave. These developments led to a perceived breakdown of the traditional family structure where men were the breadwinners and women stayed at home to take care of the house and the children. With a growing economy there were more opportunities for women to further their studies and venture into their careers.

Thus, Asian horror movies provided the perfect site to play out cultural anxieties regarding the opportunities economic growth presented to women, challenging patriarchal values. Barry Keith Grant claims that cinematic horror provides a stage for conflicts between pre-Oedipal desire and post-Oedipal order to play out. In horror the pre-Oedipal desire is repressed, only to emerge stronger and more forceful, presenting a threat to the societal norms of symbolic male power.


The vengeful female ghoul is a warning of the consequences of societal expectations being forced onto women from a young age.


Despite horror being a genre that has more female protagonists and equal speaking lines for female characters, it is one whose directors are still primarily male — thus leading to the tension. On the one hand, horror appears to be a progressive genre, providing female characters with agency and placing them in lead roles. Yet depictions of female sexuality either emphasise the need for it to be suppressed or depicts it as monstrous. This has led to many Feminist theorists to describe horror as misogynistic due to the way it punishes women who embrace their sexuality. Women are repeatedly punished in Asian horror for prioritising their careers, embracing their independence, accepting their sexuality and neglecting their domestic duties in this process.


Where western horrors usually have both male and female monsters, Asian horror is mostly preoccupied with female monsters. Unlike western horrors which often feature a 'final girl' where a shy female character transforms into someone sharp and intelligent, facing the killer wielding some kind of phallic weapon. Asian horror movies rarely have phallic symbols, instead they are abundant in yonic motifs. Sadako's emergence from the well and through the television in Ringu can be read as a passage through a birth canal — the birth of a monster.

Many of the women in Asian horror who become ghosts are sexually deviant, either single mothers or working as a prostitute, falling outside the norm of what society expects from women. Quite often, their circumstances are a result of trusted males — usually romantic partners or father figures betraying them or preying on their vulnerability, whether this be through abandonment or sexual violence. Yet despite this, women are the ones who bear the punishment, transforming into a vengeful ghoul, challenging society's expectation of feminine modesty and subservience. These female ghouls are firstly portrayed as victims of society and the patriarchy, but their act of revenge transforms them into violent antagonists. It is a depiction of what happens once a woman finally cracks from years of repression and concealed rage and how it drives them into becoming monsters. Thus, demonstrating the tension between women as both victims of the patriarchy and their ability to invoke fear in the patriarchy through embracing their sexuality and transforming literally into monsters.

Decades of suppressed sexuality implodes, transforming a once submissive and innocent woman into a vengeful ghost wielding her sexuality as power. The female body, once a site of male desire and female shame, becomes something unrecognisable and untameable by the patriarchy.

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