Posted on October 4, 2023

Feminine or Feminist? Abortion, Motherhood, and the Traditional Final Girl

Guest Post

It is generally accepted that the final girl in late-twentieth-century slashers evidences a “moral integrity mark[ing] [her] as special” (Gill 19). Less discussed, however, has been the final girl as a mother figure who, in contrast with her peers, shows traditional maternal values (Christensen 40). These maternal qualities include “female self-sacrifice and motherly love” (Nickerson 14). Traditionalists often emphasized motherhood as the most fulfilling outlet for women’s special qualities as “life-bearers” (Jepson 340). The final girl in slasher horror films exhibits many of the traditional womanly qualities of caretaker and comforter.

Maternal final girls abound in 1970’s and 1980’s slashers. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre final girl Sally takes care of her wheelchair-bound brother Franklin, albeit begrudgingly. Nightmare on Elm Street’s Nancy watches out for best friend Tina instead of making out with boyfriend Glen, reminding him “we are here for Tina now, not ourselves.” She later gently tucks her mother into bed as she gets ready to face child killer and pedophilic Freddy. Laurie in Halloween is a protective babysitter who looks after her young charges with improvised ingenious weaponry such as a knitting needle and a wire clothes hanger and later reassures them that she “killed the boogeyman.” Big sister and final girl Kim looks out for and protects her little brother Alex in Prom Night, desperately trying to prevent him from being shot by the police. Kind and concerned Rochelle, camp counselor and final girl in The Burning, comforts her young charges and gently wakes them up in the mornings. And pensive Katie, final girl in The House on Sorority Row, shows concern for cranky housemother Mrs. Slater as the other girls make fun of her when she actively discourages the other girls’ revenge plans. The final girl, continually “the nurturer” and “the protector,” thus routinely takes on traditional maternal qualities (Gill 23).

Debates over the place of motherhood in US society led to abortion rights becoming a central issue in the late twentieth century (Schreiber 5). Both the pro-choice and the pro-life movements evinced a particular view of both women and motherhood. The pro-life movement viewed abortion as an attack on the “traditional family” and on motherhood, arguing that “raising children was the most fulfilling thing a woman could do” (Davis 182). Pro-life activists further viewed sex and reproduction as linked with life as “sacred.” In contrast, pro-choice activists sought to sever that connection, arguing that sex was about enjoying oneself and not reproduction, and often saw fertility as an obstacle “to women reaching their true potential” (Davis 243). Slashers provide a view into these debates, generally skewing more pro-life than pro-choice, demonstrating more conservative attitudes toward motherhood.

During the late twentieth century, “anti-abortion groups succeeded in personifying the fetus for many Americans who had never before thought of it as an unborn baby” (Davis 243). Throughout A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (Stephen Hopkins, 1989), for example, pregnant teenaged final girl Alice constantly interacts in her dreams with a mysterious boy named Jacob, who is eventually revealed to be an older version of her unborn baby. It becomes apparent that Alice is in a battle with killer Freddy for Jacob’s already present soul. While Freddy tries to convince Jacob that Alice does not want him, Alice tells her friends she will not save herself or her friends by aborting the baby as she “saw [Jacob] inside me growing.” The audience see Jacob as well, because Alice’s sonogram clearly shows the quite early-term fetus with fully formed features. After her doctor agrees that “unborn babies dream,” a first trimester pregnant Alice centers her entire existence around protecting her unborn baby, who is presented continually as a grade-school-aged child, arguably at the expense of her friends’ lives.

Eventually, the unborn Jacob tricks Freddy and saves his mother’s life. The movie ends with Alice shown as a happy mother, playing with her beautiful baby boy while being feted by her supportive father and surviving friend Yvonne. Alice is never shown seriously considering an abortion, and her fetus is clearly portrayed as a baby and a child. Alice will not suffer the “violence to her soul” described by pro-life leaders as the result for young women who – through abortion – defy a woman’s “basic instinct…to protect her young” (Jepson 340). The message of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child is clearly pro-life and conservative.

In contrast, the earlier slasher, Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974), contains a more complex debate regarding abortion, but abortion’s destructive impact eventually becomes clear. After steady and practical final girl Jess tells her boyfriend Peter she is pregnant, she immediately rejects his offer of marriage and announces she is having an abortion. While a clearly unhappy Peter labels her “selfish” and accusingly asks her, “Don’t you ever think of anyone but yourself?,” Jess makes it clear that only she gets to make the decision. Because Peter is upset and continually refers to Jess’s unborn child as “the baby,” Jess and the police seemingly decide he must be the menacing killer stalking her and her sorority house sisters. Peter later comes into the basement to help a terrified Jess who then murders him. Heightening and underscoring Jess’s decision is the killer, who demands “where did you put the baby?” during his constant menacing and obscene phone calls. Although Jess seemed self-assured about her decision to abort, the movie’s ending leaves her shocked and traumatized (and the murderer of her innocent boyfriend), while the killer is still free. Jess is now hurt, endangered, and alone. Alice, in contrast, is happily holding her beautiful baby boy, bathed in sunlight, at the end of The Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child. While they do so in different ways, then, slasher horror films often convey a strong pro-life message with final girls experiencing happiness or trauma based on their maternal, or unmaternal, choices.


Heather Lea Koller teaches history at a small community college in Tennessee. Her love of horror movies is rooted in her childhood, when bonding with her dad and sister largely included watching 1980’s slashers together. Combining that experience and love with historical analysis in her current History PhD program has been the best of all worlds.


For other essays that consider ways in which horror film tackles abortion, see “James Wan’s The Conjuring and Abortion” and “Red Christmas: A Disturbing New Holiday Horror Classic.”

Works Cited

Black Christmas. Directed by Bob Clark. Warner Brothers, 1974.

The Burning. Directed by Tony Maylem. Miramax Films, 1981.

Christensen, Kyle. “The Final Girl versus Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street: Proposing a Stronger Model of Feminism in Slasher Horror Cinema.” Studies in Popular Culture, vol. 34, no. 1, 2011, pp. 23-47.

Davis, Flora. Moving the Mountain: The Women’s Movement in America Since 1960. University of Illinois Press, 1999.

Gill, Pat. “The Monstrous Years: Teens, Slasher Films, and the Family.” Journal of Film and Video, vol. 54, no. 4, Winter 2002, pp. 16-30.

A Nightmare on Elm Street. Directed by Wes Craven. New Line Cinema, 1984.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: Dream Child.  Directed by Stephen Hopkins. New Line, 1989.

Halloween. Directed by John Carpenter. Compass International, 1978.

The House on Sorority Row. Directed by Mark Rosman. VAE Productions, 1982.

Jepsen, Dee. “Women in Society: The Challenge and the Call.” Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Crossway Books, 2006, pp. 337-43.

Nickerson, Michelle. “Politically Desperate Housewives: Women and Conservatism in Postwar Los Angeles.” California History, vol. 86, no. 3, 2009, pp. 4–67.

Prom Night. Directed by Paul Lynch. Simcom, 1980.

Schreiber, Ronnee. Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics. Oxford University Press, 2008.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Directed by Tobe Hooper. Vortex, 1974.

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