“She would never be conquered:” Feminist Resistance in Teeth

this is a film review for a class, and could only be 3 pages, so i could only say 70% of what i wanted to say

Teeth: a comedy-horror film about vagina dentata? Certainly, it doesn’t sound feminist. The male myth of vagina dentata, as the film points out, has an illustrious, crosscultural, long, and misogynist history. It is an extreme version of the femme fatale—a devouring, destructive, strong, sexual woman who must be punished for her power and destruction of men. It even has symbolic past cellulite reference, such as Alien and Jaws. Another, the pornographic rape film Deep Throat, switches a toothed vagina for the central conceit of the protagonist’s clitoris being located in her throat. Horror is also notoriously woman-hating; a plethora of films have sexualized the ritualized raping, beating, hunting, kidnapping, eviscerating, and other torturing of women to appeal to their target and main audience—teenaged boys and young men.

The writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein explicitly wanted to transform this, believing myths about the toothed vagina to be not about women, but men, their fear of women and desire for control over them. Calling the protagonist Dawn’s journey one of a superhero’s, one who discovers a theoretically destructive force, but decides to use it for good, Lichtenstein and Jess Weixler (Dawn) portray a girl coming of age in a patriarchal, dangerous world.

Many viewers, especially female ones, have noticed this feminist text of the film. Not only is this a profeminist horror film, but the girl afflicted with vagina dentata—who would normally at best be a repeatedly beseiged, bloodied girl with perky, heaving breasts who doesnt kill any bad guys—turns it into a gift to mutilate and even kill rapists. The film’s few graphic mutilations of penises and fingers and depiction of men—the only consistently honourable man is Dawn’s father—has garnered criticism from many male viewers for its supposed “misandry” (a privileged, delusional phallacy in itself).

Often recognized is the misogyny of the abstinence cult (sorry, club—although in Dawn’s post-rape daymare, the group is eerily cult-like) and the role Dawn believes she needs to fit into. Although she gives talks to other children, explicitly encouraging abstinence for boys too, the abstinence agenda becomes clear when, after studying the penis in science class, the vulva has a giant sticker covering it to protect girls’ “natural modesty.”

Dawn doesn’t know what her or any women’s vulva looks like, unless they’re on her stepbrother’s bedroom wall. After discovering her teeth, she removes the sticker, and just looks between the diagram and her covered vulva, amazed that all that is there, hair, pink lips, protruding clitoris and all. Despite such ignorance, at the film’s beginning, Dawn develops a sexualized crush on a boy. Picturing them married to sanction it, she quickly shifts to them carressing each other, taking in his nakedness, touching herself, and him beginning to perform oral sex on her while working up the nerve to masturbate, only to be terrified when a movie pincered insect monster invades her consciousness in hilarious forshadowing that also evokes empathy. After making out with him in reality, they try to break off contact, only to agree to go swimming with each other.

Less often recognized is the exposire of the misogyny of pornography, represented by the stepbrother. Brad is emotionally and sexually abusive towards his sympathetically-portrayed girlfriend, at one point forcing her to eat a dog biscuit, many times deriding her intelligence and speech, and insistent on penis-in-anus intercourse with her, to her annoyance, anger, and as the audience learns during an argument between them, pain and clear lack of consent. Pornography is plastered all over his walls, and his objectification of and desire to possess women extends to his stepsister, who he believes is abstinent because she’s saving her “pussy” for him. Lichtenstein works to avoid having his film be pornographic in its use of nudity—male bodies and penises are shown openly but not excessively, and the only scene of female nudity is after learning she can control her vaginal teeth during what she thought was good sex, she examines her nude body in a mirror with slow pride.

After accidentally biting off her crush-turned-rapist’s penis in darkly comedic fashion, a terrified Dawn tries to learn what is wrong with her, doing internet research. (His body is later found by police.) She is only further traumatized when a clear digital rape by a male gynocologist results in him losing fingers. Another teenaged boy loses his penis when she learns that his creepily awkward sedatives, alcohol, and vibrator seduction of her was in fact rape to win a bet with his buddies. That moment marks her transformation from fearful to assurred, and she brings out the teeth, with a sarcastic “some hero,” mocking the male view of the man who conquers the vaginally toothed woman. When her mother is hospitalized because of Brad’s negligence (he’s raping his girlfriend, in spite of her pain), she gets even. Even then, he remains fixated on positioning women the way he wants. To add to the poetic justice, his severed penis is eaten by his dog. Going on the run, she is propositioned by her elderly male driver. Her panic quickly becomes self-possession and pride as she realizes what she will do to the rapist’s tongue.

After debating whether to show her toothed vulva, or even have the teeth be very audible, Lichtenstein decided not to in order to be clearer that whatever violence was involved, it lay not in Dawn, and the teeth weren’t a monstrousity, but an adaptation to protect women and girls. Dawn is a hero, not a monster. Weixler elaborates, arguing the film’s message is also of the importance of knowing one’s body for women, using that knowledge to put herself first in sex and elsewhere, and not allowing pain. Dawn knows she’s sexual, sexy, and never going to be taken advantage of again, and takes pleasure in that knowledge.

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  1. To be honest, I didn’t read the film in this way. I thought as far as horror movie goes it was boring and uninspired, I mean, I had some big hopes for this movie but I was so disappointed.

    To me, Teeth was more of a rehashing of the ridiculous ideological standpoint of the dangerous, uncontrollable sexual deviant in “all womyn” even if it is doing so in a “heroic” way.

    But I am also extrodinarily picky in my horror flick liking, I personally think the Descent is a much more pro-feminist horror movie than Teeth.

  2. I think the all womyn are dangerous deviant monsters was avoided by the more varied portrayals of women (wayyy more varied than the film’s portrayal of males): her mother, melanie (brad’s girlfriend), dawn’s female friend (can’t remember her name), the female science teacher. melanie, altho she resists, is explicitly controlled sexually by brad. dawn’s parents relationship was the only decent (sexual) relationship in the film.

    i also love the ginger snaps trilogy and silent hill as feminist horror films, and i’ve read a lot of feminists who weren’t impressed by the ginger snaps movies. i should check out the descent tho 🙂

  3. I also got a lot of my interpretation from interivews with lichtenstein and weixler, and they are pretty explicit about how they wrote/directed the movie and performed the character

    • Ah true. To be honest I hadn’t read that many things from the people who made the film, so I hadn’t really taken that into consideration when I watched the film. I love ginger snaps! Werewolves are cooler than vampires, but nothing beats zombies. Also, i did really like how teeth had women and girl Characters that were in the film for more than just token breast shots.

      The descent is really good, no men in it what so ever, well there’s one, but he dies like two minutes in, which makes a change. And it’s got spelunking! I loooove the silent hill movies but the games leave a lot to be desired tbh. Resident evil trilogy is not bad either I guess. The second one even passes the bechedel test!

      The problem is I haven’t made any of the horror movies i really wanna make yet hahah

      • since when did this reply to comment directly exist? i need to be on my blog more often 😉

        i had only read a couple things about the writer/directer before seeing it, but had read a lot of reviews. so i think how others saw it shaped my viewing of it. watching it once with two radical profeminist boys also influenced it. (nice hearing guys go “awesome” in response to severed dicks, eh? 😉 ) it be interesting to see too if him wanting a female director had worked out.

        ginger snaps is fucking awesome. end of. i think the second one, then first, then third (the prequel of a past life) is my order of awesome. in the third, brigitte and ginger kill off a army camp of men because they want to kill ginger, and escape. the film implies that brigitte never kills ginger, and they stick together, even through her transformation.

        werewolves are cooler in general than vamps, whether we’re taking puke-and-burn worthy twilight or simpering anne rice vamps. altho i like christopher pike’s last vampire series books. and buffy is rather awesome. i like the new zombies (like 90s and 2000s). the seventies ones were so bad they were hilarious. have you seen 28 days later? fantastic film. the new zombies are petrifying! fast, smart, ridic strong instincts, etc.

        awesome! how horror films should be more often–boys being quickly dispatched of/present mainly as being tortured and killed fodder 😉 i remember reading your review. i’ll try and find in online to watch today 🙂

        yeah, the silent hill films are awesome feminist reworkings of the unimpressive, more male-centric, more-evil lady games. i saw the first res evil but not the rest *adds to my to watch list*

        you totes should go into horror films 😉 or at least write em (as scripts or short stories/novels).

        you might like the doc pretty bloody. trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdEXZGn1i1Q. in ways it’s really good, but i find it glosses over exploitation of female actors in malestream horror.

        • Oh sweet, I hadn’t heard of that movie, but it sounds pretty good. I liked factcheckme’s covering of the exploitation and hurt of the womyn hired in “Poltergeist”

          The second resident evil movie is pretty awesome, it even passes the mo movie measure. I liked the 30 days of night movie as well, not feminist at all, but the vampires are not all “oh i vant to suck your sexy blood” they’re all “we’re going to fuck your shit up and eat your mortal flesh” kind of vampires. Very cool.

          Hahah, I’m watching Buffy right now. I know a lot of rad-fems don’t like Buffy, but I figure it’s a hell of a lot better than nine tenths of other horror related things out there, and it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

          Good idea! I hadn’t even thought of writing it, I’ll have to work on that 😀

          • yeah, i remember reading femonade’s post on horror films (i’ve lurked her blog a long time). it was good. reading feminist takes on horror films and what the female actors endured really shifts one’s reference point.

            *adds more films to list*

            hush, buffy is good 😉 hugely problematic at times, even misogynist at times, but overall, it was feminist for pop culture, considering what passes as for/about women. it’s weird, i think buffy (and his work on roseanne) is an anomally to the rest of his work. (eg firefly, dollhouse)

            🙂 zombie-apocalypse would undoubtedly be awesome in your hands 😉

      • i saw the descent and descent part 2 last night. holy hell, the first was awesome. 😀 i like how sara and juno were both heroes, yet morally ambiguous. and their ninja/kick-ass/warrior awesome came from their own selves/bravery/strength, not through supernatural means. most all kick ass women and girls in media are only so through being the slayer, vampires, witches, werewolves, etc which isn’t necessarily bad, but men are shown as strong all the time, human and otherwise. and you cared what happened to the women. there were fleshed out characters. boob shots weren’t present (eg tight wet shirt showing heaving perky breasts). women did things that weren’t sexually objectified or domestic. women killed bad guys. they went on hero journeys. dealt with mental illness, and the psychological life of sara. film was scary. really great acting, costumes, atmosphere, plot. stuff was believable. end was bleak, but awesome.

        the second one, is a big disappointment. like 1st is a 9, the second a 4 or 5. it’s an average horror movie till the end. the last minute or so fucking SUCKS. and the whole premise is just made of absolute stupid, which a lot of half-decent horror films are, but as a sequel to the descent? fuck you, writers and director of the second. fuck you.

        • i know right! the first is awesome but the second you’re just sitting there going errrrrrr :S

  4. […] review of a feminist horror movie (or as close as horror movies can get to being feminist) named Teeth. She’s also got a brand spankin’ new post up about mosh pits and the ability to partake […]


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