Cinema / Creepy / Feminism / Occult

American Horror Story: A Feminist TV Show?

american-horror-story-covenI never used to watch television. If anything, I actively avoided it, being that I always felt it was merely a means to procrastination, a diversion from writing. In my world, writing comes first. However, I was hanging out with a friend one night & we watched the first episode of Coven. Needless to say, I have been hooked since. It’s the perfect, creepy mixture for me: witches, magic, occultism, women, & Charlie Clouser. (Who can resist a soundtrack made by the man who collaborated with Trent Reznor until 2002? Not me.) Besides the delicate mixture of the strange & the grotesque, whilst being delightfully entertaining, it is one of the rare television shows centered exclusively around women.

There are hardly any popular TV programs that focus on women building (or destroying) relationships with other women, that do not hinge on the attention of men–it actually passes the Bechdel test.

Themes of motherhood, specifically the relationship  between mothers & daughters, are at the forefront of the show–these are concerns hardly aired so explicitly before, especially when these concerns involve women who are not naturally “good” mothers. Fiona questions the role of women, particularly in her personal life, while her daughter Cordelia tends to air on the side of caution & submission.

Cordelia prefers the girls in her Academy to learn how to manage their powers, while Fiona feels they shouldn’t subdue themselves. Fiona, played by Jessica Lange, is a woman in charge of an entire coven of witches, who is not afraid of using her power, of dominating any arena. While Fiona’s morality is more than questionable, she is anything but submissive.

Oppression & marginalization are the primary focuses of the third season. The use of witches as being the targeted group, who also happen to be women, is a clever parallel to the ongoing battle for women’s equality. There are countless examples of the denouncement of gender stereotypes. For instance, Zoe & Madison bring Kyle back to  life, specifically choosing the best “boy” parts, thus turning the male gaze on its head. Then,  in a flashback episode set in 1919 with a loose retelling of the New Orleans Axeman murders, the coven of witches proclaim themselves feminists  & successfully plot the murder of the Axeman.

Thus far, the story has currently reached a pivotal point: Zoe has gradually become more confident, thus more willing to take control of her life & the safety of those around her. What I enjoy most about American Horror Story is the willingness for women to take control of their lives, not sitting back & waiting for a Prince Charming to make it better. I’m tired of watching television & film center around male heros & protagonists, where women are merely used as bait or fodder. I’m ready for women to take a stand & fight for themselves.


Joanna C. Valente
 currently lives in Brooklyn, where she is a part-time mermaid. She received her MFA in poetry writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Some of her words can be found in The Paris-American, The Atlas Review, El Aleph Press, decomP, Thrush Poetry Journal, La Fovea, The 22 Magazine, and other places. In 2010, she founded Yes, Poetry. Her ghost resides here@joannasaid

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4 thoughts on “American Horror Story: A Feminist TV Show?

  1. I’m so glad you wrote this! I’ve been a huge fan of the show since season 1 but the first episode this season really turned me off. Setting up a close to all-female cast of powerful witches is an awesome premise, so I was disappointed that they felt it necessary to throw in a gang rape in the first episode. I’m sticking with it, but it gives me pause. Great read!

    • I definitely paused with the gang rape scene as well, but I do feel they handled it decently by how Zoe and Kyle reacted. I liked that they had Kyle barge into the room and stop the attack, and how Zoe was extremely concerned by the incident. I also felt the way Madison reacted (suppression, a seemingly indifference) was also a great way to show how people react to trauma in different ways.

      While I agree that it was definitely a shock value tactic, I think it set up the season in some ways. It sets it up that it shows women (& witches) are marginalized, but that they won’t just lie down and take it.

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