“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.


Callout for the Carnival of Radical Feminists!

Hello, this is your host for the March Carnival of Radical Feminists.

You can submit old, new, newish, etc. writings. Poems, reviews, short stories, essays, free thoughts, rants, songs, drawings, etc are all welcome. Your own or someone else’s. Collaborations are welcome too.

You can send your subs to the carni page or email them to me directly at demonista at gmail dot com with the necessary info included. (I still haven’t figured the carni page doohickey out yet–does the page send subs to me?)

I haven’t decided on one theme, so here are some suggestions:

-cuntspeak (what a shocker choice for me! for an explication see this and/or that)

-feminist erotic fanfiction and slash: an oxymoron?

-radical feminism and animal rights/veganism/animal liberation

-radical feminism and anarchism: similarities, diffs, failures of anarchism

– radical feminist music

-can a trans woman be a radical feminist?

-radical feminism and womanism/indigenous solidarity/antiracism/analysing white privilege

-first person political: the personal is political, consciousness-raising

-activism tales (eg taking on pornographers, leaving abusive men, anti-Israeli war protest…)

Hmm…maybe there is a theme: intersections?

I look forward to all the amazing submissions!

Peace in! 😀

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Published in: on November 24, 2008 at 3:39 am  Enter your password to view comments.