Story by Erica Hobbs

Professor Laura Williams sits at her computer. The picture on the computer is a prom Scene from Steven King's "Carrie," while the picture on the book cover shows Carrie after pig's blood has been poured on her. (Photo by Erica Hobbs)

While some classes are just plain scary, the Women’s Studies 450 class, Gender and Horror, provides texts that theorize about why it is hearts of viewers and readers begin racing when subjected to scary situations, on film or in stories.

The class also gives students a chance to see how gender roles function in the horror genre and how those roles affect the audience.

Gender and Horror is an online class taught by professor Laura Williams, who teaches classes in the English department and with the Women’s Studies program. Spring 2011 is the first semester Williams has offered the Gender and Horror course.

When she initially planned on having the class, she planned on having an enrollment amount of about 25, Williams said. With an online class, space limitations are not an issue, and Williams said she continued to allow people to enroll. The course topic must have been appealing, she said, because at one point 35 people were enrolled.

Lasting academic skills

“This course examines how gender and fear have intersected in contemporary horror films and other popular culture,” the course description in the syllabus for Gender and Horror states. And one of the objectives key to the Gender and Horror course is to: “Examine how the horror genre often articulates cultural anxieties and crises during specific historical moments. The course will explore these anxieties and crises as they relate to issues of gender, sexuality, feminism and race.”

Gender and Horror is a class that provides students the needed materials to develop critical thinking.

“It gives students a chance to really closely examine a particular genre of pop culture, of horror movies, short stories and to look at ways that they might be progressive, ways they might be conservative,“ Williams said.

She said many people already enjoy the horror genre for entertainment purposes, and the class will add academic discourses to that enjoyment.

“It gives people a chance to combine their taste of movies with their academic interests,” Williams added.

The Gender and Horror class uses excerpts from various texts about gender in the horror genre. Pictured are Skin Shows by Judith Halberstam, Daphne Gottlieb's Final Girl and The Dread of Difference by Barry Keith Grant.

The Gender and Horror class uses excerpts from various texts about gender in the horror genre. (Photo by Erica Hobbs)

Students who are currently enrolled in the class said they have enjoyed this chance to connect this genre of popular culture with the academic theories and interpretations from readings. Though many of them including Miguel Viscarra, an undergraduate studying sociology, said they were unsure of what to expect from the course topic, they also said the class has been beneficial.

“I really didn’t know what to expect when it started, but I think the materials and films assigned have been exceedingly thought-provoking,” Viscarra said.

Williams said when critical thinking tools are developed in a class, students cannot turn that thinking off when they go to see movies on their own. “And I think it adds to our enjoyment. I don’t think it takes away,” she observed.

Many Gender and Horror students confessed they will, indeed, be taking those enjoyable critical thinking skills with them after this class. They said they will also be taking a more appreciated understanding of the horror genre and gendered discourses from this class. One student – a graduate striving for a master’s degree in sociology, Sasha Richardson – is even considering applying gender in horror to her thesis.

“That decision’s not been definitively made yet, but I’m encouraged by this class that it can be, if I really want it to,” Richardson said.

A positive future for the Gender and Horror class

Williams said she would definitely consider offering this class again. If she does, she may already have some prospective students. Martyna Radek, a sophomore studying finance and business, said she would be interested in the Gender and Horror class even though she is not really a horror fan.

Many of the assigned readings are on the Gender and Horror Blackboard and are listed by the week's theme. (Photo by Erica Hobbs)

Many of the assigned readings are on the Gender and Horror Blackboard and are listed by the week’s theme with pictures of some of the class’s assigned viewings and other famous horror movies.

Alex Salazar, a freshman studying hotel, restaurant and tourism management, said her interest in the class would depend on if watching horror movies is an assignment.

Watching movies is assigned; however, Williams said she is not, necessarily, a horror fan and understands that not everyone taking the class is a fan either, so she tries to assign films that are lower on the scare scale.