I'd like to begin this article by making it clear that there is no agenda behind it. I am all in favour of equality and am very aware of over-sexualization in the media. I am, however, of the philosophy that a movie is a movie and if you are the kind of person who simply cannot divorce fiction from reality, you should probably close this tab right now.
For the past few years I've had an obsession with the exploitation film, or the "video nasty". The low-budget, sleazy and often gore splattered genre of film that exploded in the late 60s and left a crater large enough to spill over another two decades. It was dangerous, disgusting and the very definition of punk rock. Melodrama, sword/scandal and slapstick comedies were no longer enough to sate the appetite of a generation of libertines, rebels and drug-soaked teenagers and somewhere down the line, writers and directors caught wind of this. Out with the Marilyn Monroe, in with the Camille Keaton.
These movies were provocative, blasphemous and molested every taboo established in the minds of an older generation who simply didn't understand why their kids were still up past midnight.
Fanboy masturbation aside, the aim of this article is to address and highlight the role and dichotomous typology of women in these films. From the hard as nails heroine to the red riding hood stunner, were women used as simply props in these films? Can it be said that they merely existed to be fed to the villainous slasher antagonist? If so, then why women? Had society, at this time of free love and feminism, put women atop a pedestal, the model citizen? If all this is true, then the exploitation film, by its very nature, chose to defile women for its own ghastly agenda. Nothing is sacred in the world of the exploitation film and if there is anything sacred left to be exploited, the exploitation film seeks it out and plants a clenched fist right into its quivering anus.
The perfect prey
Socially constructed gender roles have it that women are less survivalist than men. Obviously this is simple patriarchal assumption and survivalism is completely individual. However, there are many more reasons as to why women were chosen as the "prey" for these films. Most exploitation films were aimed at a male audience, anywhere between the ages of 18-30, beyond or below. As such, the tropes and characters in the films were adjusted to appeal to a male audience seeking nothing more than instantly gratifying cinema. Blood, tits and action.
Women, throughout history, have been glamourized and thought of as precious stock, the helpless maiden. Again, a product of patriarchy. They were exalted for their beauty, grace and nothing much else. The work and war was left to the menfolk. So it is to say that women have been treated as precious, though condescended.
A male audience, perhaps, wouldn't give a rats if they saw one of their fellow menfolk having their intestines pulled at like ropes in a crimson game of tug-a-war. A woman, however, now that would incite the kind of repulsion that the exploitation film so hungrily demands. With historical, cultural and religious connotations taken into mind, it can then be said that women are considered the perfect prey for exploitation films in that they are precious, so let us defile them.
Last Orgy of the Third Reich is but an example of how extreme and demented these films had become by the late 70s. Writers and directors seemed to be engaged in an all-out arms race to produce film that would shock, offend and repulse. It wasn't enough for a woman to be chased through the woods by a masked mad man brandishing a butcher's knife, there had to be mutilation and agony. Action and suspense had been replaced by sheer sadism. The image of the perfect female form being torn apart was the most shocking and repulsive trope these directors could muster, and it worked.
Sexualization of the victim
Again, I stress that I'm not arguing against anything here, I'd just like to bring it to light. Maybe you'll take offense to it. Go write someone a letter or something.
Naivety and purity
The naivety or pure-mindedness of the female victim is plot device that, like the other characteristics mentioned above, is derived from a media representation of the woman. I don't need to highlight the differences between gender role assignment in television or film, though I can only assume that the media representation of women, during the late 60s and 70s, was very different then than it is now. During a time of radical feminism and sexual liberty, it isn't unreasonable to think that the media, as a deterrent this cultural shift, would paint the female as chaste and unassuming. A media desperately trying to revive the tender mother and housewife of the 1950s. That was, of course, until the media realized that "sex sells".
The blood-spattered protagonist
Perhaps at some point during the golden age of the exploitation film, the movement became aware of its use of the susceptible female as a driving force for the plot. I say this, because there are still many films produced at the time that saw the female character as the "action man".
To discuss the subject of femininity in horror and exploitation in detail could take an eleven volume series. There are many tropes, films, actresses and issues that I have left unaddressed. This article merely serves the purpose of introduction to a concept that has long been prevalent. I will probably return to the subject when I've studied more source material and have a fresher vision of the subject, but until then, I'm going to go watch a movie about some hippies that find themselves on the wrong side of town.