Scream is About Sex (And That’s Why Women Love it)

Written by LiverAlone for Scream-Trilogy

There are two specific things that slasher movies aren’t exactly noted for: biting social commentary and female fanbases. So it’s a testament to the phenomenon that is Scream that it manages to capture both, and I suspect that they’re not mutually exclusive.

Film scholars for the most part haven’t held slasher movies in high regard, but they have taken an interest to a peculiar trait they tend to share: the bad girls—the ones that drink, have sex, and do drugs—always die and the one good girl—the chaste and comparatively modest Final Girl, a term coined by author Carol J. Clover—gets to survive at the end.

In the near two decades between Halloween and Scream, horror flicks themselves had taken notice of this theme and sometimes winked at it, but what really set Scream apart was that it did something with it. You might even call Scream Kevin Williamson’s master’s thesis on the gender politics of the slasher film.

Sidney and the Slut Label
By now we all know that our heroine Sidney has sex in Scream and lives to see another three sequels, but there’s a lot more going on in here than that. Remember that the major background plot of the movie is Sidney’s steadfast belief that Cotton Weary raped and murdered her mother, despite reporter Gale Weather’s speculation to the contrary. The reason Sidney hangs on to her beliefs so strongly is because if her mother merely had sex with Cotton, Sidney feels that would confirm her mother’s reputation as being a “slut,” and deep down, it would mean she “deserved it.”

On the other hand, Sidney’s being pressured from boyfriend Billy into having sex, and her reluctance becomes a source of tension in their relationship. Finally, she gives in to Billy, and the resulting sex scene comes off cold, as if Sidney isn’t doing this so much for her own sake but as an appeasement offering for having accused him of being the killer earlier in the movie. Sidney is caught in the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation women often find themselves in: she could have sex and be a “slut,” or she could be a cockblocking ice queen.

It all comes to a head at the end, where Billy reveals that he indeed killed Sidney’s “slut” mother for sleeping with Billy’s father and ruining his parent’s marriage, and now that he’s taken Sidney’s virginity he’s going to kill her, too. The finale becomes Sidney’s fight for her right to fuck: she’s not a “slut” deserving of death for having sex, nor will she again give her body to a man simply because he demands it. Sex is Sidney’s own prerogative, which she will have on her own terms.

A Final Girl for the Female Persuasion
I haven’t done any scientific analysis or conducted any polls, but on my own anecdotal experience, I would say that the Scream movies defy conventional wisdom that a horror movie’s fanbase would be dominated by men. Scream, more so than any other horror franchise before it, seemed to bring in female audiences in droves.

I’d argue that the sexual themes present in Scream are largely why women like it. Although many slasher movies have had butt-kicking heroines with Laurie Strode and Nancy leading the way, Carol Clover noted that most Final Girls were designed, intentionally or not, so that male audiences could identify with them: the Final Girl is defined by “not being a slut” and would become take-charge and destroy the killer with a phallic weapon like a big knife, chainsaw, or machete. I imagine Clover would have a field day with Sidney’s momentary donning of the male Ghostface identity herself and her subsequent finger-raping of Billy’s wound at the climax. I submit, however, that because the context of the end is that Sidney does not deserve to die for having sex, she is claiming ownership of her sexuality and becomes a Final Girl that is meant predominantly for female audiences to identify with.

I don’t want to come off presumptuous, but I think a large part of the reason Scream’s themes on sex come together so successfully is Kevin Williamson’s being gay and the perspective that comes with it. While obviously Williamson’s a man, he doesn’t naturally view women as sex objects and I think that kind of removed perspective shaped Scream into something more female-friendly: despite swimming in babes, the Scream movies are rarely exploitive and to date, there hasn’t been any gratuitous nudity in the series.

This topic can go on and on—I haven’t touched on the significance that Sidney remains the center point of the whole series and not the killer, or what it means that the boyfriend that’s usually the protector in these movies turns out to be the monster—but I think I’ve made my case well enough: Scream attracts more women because it’s one of the few horror movies about the female experience.

LiverAlone is a freelance writer and runs the site Watch Night of the Living Dead

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11 Responses to “ Scream is About Sex (And That’s Why Women Love it) ”

Reader Advisory: Comments may contain SCREAM 4 SPOILERS
  1. YES, This is a brilliant article. LOVE it.

  2. Love it and all your posts on the forum. Good to see you contributing to the front page as well!

  3. Well written! And am I the only one who didn’t know Kevin was gay? Wow! Lol.

  4. I always love Liver’s posts. So insightful.

  5. Very nice. Did you write this for school? As someone with a BA in film studies it was nice to see someone mention Clover’s groundbreaking book!

  6. I think you really struck the right note here by mentioning Kevins’ homosexuality. I to, always thought that played a role in these films as well. Excellent article indeed.

  7. interesting little article, i like it

  8. Great article, I always thought this sexist view that we usually see in horror films. Scream shows female power by Sidney, breaking the stereotype that only virgins survive and doesn’t exploit women sexually. Maybe in Scream 4, we’ll see a reflection of gratuitous nudity in recent slasher films at Olivia’s scenes.

  9. Thanks so much for the feedback already, guys! Glad you enjoyed it.

    To Mel, I didn’t write this for school, though I did take a couple film classes in college. I just wrote this for fun. I guess I am just THAT big of a Scream nerd. Haha!

  10. I love the article but this idea that just because Kevin is gay means thats why Scream is what it is “female friendly” is unflattering. Not only do I know horror movies that are female friendly but I know that not all writers, producers, and or directors like showing girls in the way they do and that all horror movies are sexist is not true. I myself am a person that has hated the way horror and really any movie has treated women but I know that it’s more of a money driving force or a certain condition people are forced to insert in their movies. Virginity might play a role in a lot of horror films but not all and to make the point that only virgins survive because of sexism and this slut mentality is just wrong. No to mention Sidney is one of my idols because she staied virgin and then took control of her sexuality. I myself think anyone should be able to survive no matter the sexuality terms and I not only believe but know that the reason why horror made most virgins survive was not because sexism or mentality about girls being sluts but because most people today and in the past pressured people to be no longer virgins and just like the sex inducing pregnant crap we see in the tabloids is what makes people scream for a positive light view of viginity. Theres nothing wrong being either but most people love when women stand strong and don’t cave to men or at least do things in respectful ways. I always respect people no matter what they do but if your having sex just to have sex for fun I really don’t see that as productive or sain. I mean if you look at the disturbing evidence about whats going on in our culture sex and exposure is becoming more main stream. Girls are dressing in ways they shouldn’t sometimes because they want but other times because society and social conditions call for it. You have 12-16 year olds getting pregnant more often one reason being the popularity of covering pregnant people but also because kids don’t care as much about protection. You have people have so called “slut” walks where girls say “if I want to wear tites and a thong I can. or no underwear under a skirt”. You have the sextape idea being spread around everywhere, you have porn clips like 2 girls 1 cup and numorous others being a review norm for youtube. Girls admiting to having older men partners sugar daddies, and guys having sugar mommas, cougars, and people video taping their roomates having sex and showing it online, Porn and sex norms is more rapid and fast rather respectful and slow and kids learning about sex terms way before earlier generations. I even pose the telling Superbad line :”you know it’s so weird they get to flaughnt it wear I have to hide every boner I get” where girls can dress promiscous but guys can’t wear tank tops in school and they can’t be seen having a boner because people just make them feel embarresed. This is why a lot of people stronly push virginity and amstunence. Not because they’re extreme radical beliefs but because there is a social culture trying to push the envelope more and more and the others saying when the hell is enough enough. When is enough sex enough? I respect people doing what they want but you do have to ask where do you draw the line. I myself am a male virgin who in the past was pressured to have sex but I have always said no. And the idea of a male virgin just shocks people. They say oh well there must be something wrong with him. No there are people who just choose to be proud to be virgin who want to in the future have sex just want to do it with a person they know they love. I have and will never look down upon anyone who wants to have sex or wear whatever but do it respectfuly. I leave you with a true inspiring story. One day there was this girl sitting with her friend near the strage at a school even when the stage crew forgot to turn of the mic and the girls friend asked her “have you ever had sex?” the girl said “no” a popular girl in the upper audience herd this and stood up and in front of the crowd calld her a “slut!” the girl instead of backing down stood up and said “you know what I can be like you in 5 minutes but you can never be like me”. The popular girl quitly sat down in shame. You see you don’t have to be sexually active or explicit to be called a slut. Girls call each other sluts just because they hate each other. I in person witnessed exactly this in the hall in my highschool. We need to respect each other with respect and not see what peple believe as extreme or anything just try to understand were each other is coming from.

  11. Liveralone, this is a belated comment but I liked this article. However, I’d argue that Scream is appealling to women AND men because the character are treated as PEOPLE, some are partly or primarily er assholes others are basically good but with very human flaws, they aren’t objects merely there to be slain for the dubious edification of a cheering audience (Scream 3 notably falls down here at times). We care about them. Sidney has sex with a guy who is not only creepy enough as it is but turns out to be a misogynist asshole and psycho yet that doesn’t mean she deserves to die, she made a simple mistake and is able to fight back and defeat not only Billy but also the misogynist ideology that underlies some but not all slasher movies (Hallowe’en isn’t misogynist, Laurie survives because she is more alert NOT because she’s a virgin). In Scream Billy believes Maureen Prescott deserved to die because she was a “slut” but that is because of his twisted and pathetic mind, his is a classic case of psycho arrested development that is a more “realistic” version of Myers’s and Jason Voorhees’s. His sick determination to punish Sidney through sex and murder is skewered in Scream by Sidney’s strength she won’t be defined by that corruption. It is interesting that some fans put the blame on Maureen as a “whore” or “slut” as if her dubious liasons meant that the killers’ were justified; she betrayed Sidney and Neal which would have/does devastate them when they found/find out but the idea she was “asking for” murder is something the deranged killers think and not the film. Sidney is able to punish them rightfully for what they did to her mother and others and tried to do to her. Erm, drawn out comment ends!

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