‘Slasher’ panel talks feminism, empowerment

By Tracey Hickey

Allison Moore’s “Slasher” asks a lot of questions about feminism, family, sex and the… Allison Moore’s “Slasher” asks a lot of questions about feminism, family, sex and the horror genre, but it does not provide easy answers — or any at all.

As deftly and outrageously as “Slasher” tackles clichés surrounding women in horror movies, it also exposes clichés concerning the way we think about female power and exploitation.

Nearly every character is an exaggeration of a stereotype that occurs in feminist discourse: The sleazy male horror movie director; the complicit male bystander; the raging second-wave feminist who believes all depictions of sex are misogynistic; the young, nubile “post-feminist” who doesn’t think pandering to male lust on camera is degrading if she negotiates a good price for it.

A panel of experts discussed the play’s themes immediately following its performance yesterday. Film studies graduate student Veronica Fitzpatrick, theater department professor Dr. Lisa Jackson-Schebetta, women’s studies professor Dr. Frayda Cohen and sociology professor Dr. Christine Whelan examined the show from several angles, but many of their best insights emerged as they looked at the play as an allegory for the tension between the second wave of feminism “and whatever comes after.”

The second wave of feminism, most active in the 1970s, was often criticized for being “anti-sex.” More moderate feminists were especially alienated when second-wave feminist leaders like Andrea Dworkin teamed up with Christian fundamentalists — not known for their progressive ideas about gender — to campaign for the banning of pornography.

This union is explicitly satirized in “Slasher” when Frances, the protagonist Sheena’s radical second-wave feminist mother who is confined to a wheelchair, teams up with the fundamentalists who bombed an abortion clinic to stop the production of a sexually degrading horror film, “Bloodbath,” by bombing the set. But, the play also alludes to the feminist debate about pornography and sex work in more subtle ways.

“It deals with the tension between choice and coercion,” Fitzpatrick said, describing the way the narrative framed Sheena’s decision to star in a violently misogynistic horror movie in order to make enough money to keep her family afloat.

Cohen agreed.

“Sheena says, ‘It cannot be exploitation when they’re paying me this much money.’ The play asks that question, and also the reverse side of it: Can women’s sexuality be empowering when women are constantly being exploited?” she said.

Sheena, the archetype of the modern woman who believes that sexual commodification is empowering as long as the price is right, is counterbalanced by her more traditional mother.

“At the end, Sheena says her mother saved her life [Frances shows up when the director of “Bloodbath” is about to assault Sheena], but only because she was trying to kill her in the first place! Isn’t that the quintessential mother-daughter relationship?” Whelan said. “Your mother is both your role model and the enemy.”

The panelists agreed that Sheena and Frances’s relationship is meant to function both as an illustration of typical coming-of-age tension that occurs when a daughter chooses to embrace her sexuality, and as an allegory for the conflicts between the puritanical second wave of feminism and the more “pro-sex” third wave.

Even Frances’s disability is symbolic, Cohen argued.

“One could say that since the failure to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, [the feminist movement] has been hobbled … and so we start out the play with this hobbled second-wave feminist,” she said.

Neither Sheena, who ends the play in a leg cast and a stiletto, limping off to a press conference to promote a film that led to her mother’s death, nor Frances, who is gored in the neck by a power drill while trying to protect her daughter from sexual assault, is a particularly inspiring vision of female power. But Jackson-Schebetta believes there may be hope for the future of the feminist movement in the character of Sheena’s sister, Hildy.

Hildy, who throughout all the narrative’s madness remains focused on soccer and SAT preparation, “is not on either track,” Jackson-Schebetta said. “She isn’t scripted completely — in a lot of scenes she’s just watching, she doesn’t say anything — but she’s taking care of herself, and there’s the suggestion that she maybe has other options. But for how long? Until she realizes that she can use her body for something?”