Teeth – My Introduction to Feminist Horror
I am looking at the sticky notes I have little ideas about this movie written on. Never in my life have I written notes about a movie. I’m a social justice educator not a film critic. That being said Teeth gave me so many things to think about that I found myself taking notes anyway. After the movie I was pleasantly surprised to find that the movie that had got me thinking had gotten decent reviews from critics.
So what is Teeth? Well, Teeth is the story of the heroine, Dawn, who has Vagina Denetata. In other words teeth in her vagina. I won’t go into the whole movie here, suffice it to say that it’s a horror movie, and let your imagination wander. The real reason that I wanted to write about it was its label as “Feminist Horror.” After having written an article on sexism in movies I was curious as to what feminist horror was. After watching Teeth I got a good idea. Feminist Horror is empowering.
That being said it’s not your mom’s feminism. There are really, historically speaking, three waves of feminism. First wave was the Cady Stanton’s and the Susan B. Anthony’s who fought for women’s right to vote and such. The second wave is the Gloria Steinem’s and Gloria Alreds, who made huge strides in equality for women, albeit some will say at the cost of their own femininity. The third wave, or as some call it post feminism, is women who ascribe to the ideal of equal rights, but don’t necessarily want to give up their femininity to get there. Teeth falls solidly in the third wave. The main character Dawn is perky and cute. Part of a an abstinence movement among some of her fellow students. She is seen as a role model by those who ascribe to her ideology.
At the surface this movie is just a campy horror flick, but beneath the surface is something much more provocative. Dawn in her own way is the classic “Final Girl”, while being the one that everyone fears at the same time; heroine or villainess depending on your view. If you are a guy, no matter how open you may be, this movie will make you cringe at one point or another. Despite our outward appearances we men still have ingrained messages about what a man’s role in society is. That doesn’t mean we embrace them, but they are there none the less.
The best part for me of the movie was Dawn’s internal struggle with her own identity. She asks aloud, “What’s wrong with me.” She has the ingrained messages about how women are supposed to behave. Even as a woman who is trying to save her virginity until her wedding night and not give in to the pressure of men she had the internalized ideal of being submissive. How can she be submissive to her husband if she castrates him. The idea makes her the ultimate monster. Dawn reads about the mythology of Vagina Denetata in which the hero is the one that breaks the teeth in the vagina of the monstrous women. By breaking the teeth to allow penetration the hero is reclaiming his manhood and power over the women who dared to have power over him. I also read up on the mythology, and without exception all of the women with the teeth were evil. The all important penetration of a woman as being a manhood rite is stripped when the women in question can take that which defines a mans manhood. In a patriarchal society this would have been the ultimate sin.
The men in the movie that encounter Dawn really get what is coming to them. The empowerment piece is when Dawn overcomes her initial disgust about her condition when she realizes that she can control it. Having had consensual sex with a teen boy in the movie she is overjoyed when he doesn’t die. She buys into the hero myth that this young man is the hero who helps defeat her unfortunate condition. That is until during their next encounter she finds out that she was all part of a bet while in bed with the boy. When she finds out that he was just trying to score and didn’t care about her at all, well…..snip. It brings to mind the story of Lorena Bobbit, who after putting up with years of abuse from her husband, castrates him. America was outraged, how dare she? That was his manhood for god sakes. Never mind that in that same year thousands of women were raped and sexually abused every where. We focused our anger on the one woman who went to extremes to fight back. I am not condoning castration, I just find it peculiar that we were all so shocked that a woman eventually had enough and took matters into her own hands so to speak. John Wayne Bobbit became a D list celebrity and even made money by making his own adult film. Lorena was vilified and held up as everything that was wrong with women in society.
By the end of the movie Dawn is fed up and leaves town. The end of the movie is perfect in that it sums up the frustration of all women toward men that just don’t get it. I won’t give it away just go rent the movie. If you have Netflix it is available on their watch instantly section. While as a man I definitely squirmed a bit during this one I also, as a man who is trying to be a better feminist, enjoyed a horror flick that drove its point home with a sledge hammer. Cheeky and campy in parts, Teeth isn’t going to win any major awards. However, if it starts the kind of conversation I think it will then the movie has already done its job.