No Longer The Damsel in Distress

For teachers who are looking for open educational resources for a 100 level film introduction course with a theme about gender, the offerings are remarkably scarce. For upper-level and graduate level courses, on the other hand, faculty have it easier when trying to find theoretical essays and articles.

A great place to start is Wikipedia (source) which begins with defining the trope concept:

A common plot line in many horror films is one in which a series of victims is killed one-by-one by a killer amid increasing terror, culminating in a climax in which the last surviving member of the group, usually female, either vanquishes the killer or escapes. According to Clover, the final girl in many of these works shares common characteristics: she is typically sexually unavailable or virginal, and avoids the vices of the victims like illegal drug use. She sometimes has a unisex name (e.g., Laurie, Sidney).

Occasionally the final girl will have a shared history with the killer. The final girl is the “investigating consciousness” of the film, moving the narrative forward and, as such, she exhibits intelligence, curiosity, and vigilance.


Read this! (source)

One of the basic premises of Clover’s theory is that audience identification is unstable and fluid across gender lines, particularly in the case of the slasher film. The final girl is no longer the damsel in distress.

The trope of the “Final Girl” is taken up by Erik Piepenburg “In Horror Films, the ‘Final Girl’ Is a Survivor to the Core” (source). He writes:

Rooted in grindhouse cinema, the final girl, as she’s known to fans, is the feisty character who’s left to face the killer in a horror movie. To cheers from the audience, she usually wins the climactic combat with weapons and wit, providing a cathartic end to the gore and gloom.

Piepenburg cites a blogger, Stacie “Final Girl” Ponder, who has published an eBook on this genre which may be an enjoyable reprieve for students taking on a complex topic such as gender in film studies (source). Ponder gives her readers useful examples and a lot of film suggestions using a comic book sketch format. It’s interesting to note that Ponder’s text teaches her readers frame by frame much like film.

Another potential thematic discussion for this film course could be to examine gender stereotypes in film (source). Or perhaps students can take a more complex look at what Natalie Portman, the actress, said which may challenge the popularity of the “Final Girl.” Portman said in an interview:

The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you’re making a “feminist” story, the woman kicks ass and wins. That’s not feminist, that’s macho. A movie about a weak, vulnerable woman can be feminist if it shows a real person that we can empathize with (source). 

Like any introduction to film course, the avenues of inquiry with students are plenty. Open educational resources on this thematic film studies topic, however, are lacking in availability.

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