I recently analysed the latest screen adaptation of Stephen King's novel It. I had previously seen parts of the TV mini-series from 1990, so I had some idea of what to expect even though I have not read the novel. I knew it was a deranged story about an evil force that goes around killing a town’s children—an evil force that often appears as a clown. In this version women and girls play a very small part. The only women are stay-at-home moms and a librarian. The only named girl who appears throughout is a 15-year-old who hangs out with a group of six boys. These seven kids are the lead characters. Other notable characters are the aforementioned clown, played by a man, three male teenage thugs and a couple of fathers. Not only is this girl continually surrounded by males but the only scene in which she appears with other girls her age has the girls interacting antagonistically. One calls her trash and a slut. Another girl dumps the contents of a garbage bag over her head in a girls’ lavatory. This is not the only verbal abuse hurled her way. A woman calls her a "dirty girl" and a teenage boy says to her, "F*ck you, b*tch." Moreover, verbal abuse is not all she suffers. She is also the victim of physical violence: she is grabbed by the neck by a man (twice); her father sexually abuses her (alluded to but not shown); an evil force pulls her head into her bathroom sink before projecting a stream of blood in her face; and she is abducted, assaulted and an attempt is made on her life (in at least two scenes). So females are barely present, and the one who is is continually disparaged or harmed.
Over and above the absence of voice and the inclusion of violence is the sexualization of women and girls. For starters, this teenage girl, a victim of incest, is the only character to appear in a bath—a Hollywood staple for women. She also strips down to her bra and panties in front of a group of boys and then sunbathes before them while they sit around watching her. I am told that in the book they all have sex with her in one scene, but this has mercifully been left out of the movie adaptation. Even a character who is barely present, one the moms, is sexualized: a boy says to another about an activity he wants to engage in over the summer, “Beats spending it inside your mother.” Later a boy asks another, “Do you use the same bathroom as your mother? […] Then you probably have crabs.”
Stephen King is hailed as the 'master of horror' and that may be fitting but what he also excels as is slighting women and girls and having men harm and terrorize them. The United Nations has declared a pandemic of violence against women. Filmmakers would do well to stop bringing King's deranged stories to the screen and instead make movies in which women and girls are respected and cherished.
© 2018 Alline Cormier