Teeth: my introduction to feminist terror
I’m looking at the sticky notes where I have little ideas written about this movie. Never in my life have I written notes about a movie. I am a social justice educator, not a film critic. That said, Teeth gave me so much to think about that I found myself taking notes anyway. After the movie, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the movie that had led me to think had received 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 your vagina. I’m not going to go into the whole movie here, suffice to say it’s a horror movie and let your imagination wander. The real reason I wanted to write about him was his label as “Feminist Horror”. Having written an article about sexism in movies, I was curious what feminist horror was. After watching Teeth I came up with a good idea. Feminist terror is empowering.
That said, it’s not your mother’s feminism. Actually, historically speaking, there are three waves of feminism. The first wave was that of Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who fought for the right to vote for women and so on. The second wave is that of Gloria Steinem and Gloria Alreds, who made great strides in the equality of women, although some will say at the cost of their own femininity. The third wave, or as some call it post-feminism, are women who adhere to the ideal of equal rights, but do not necessarily want to give up their femininity to get there. The teeth fall solidly in the third wave. The main character, Dawn, is cheerful and cute. Part of a withdrawal movement among some of his fellow students. She is seen as a role model by those who adhere to her ideology.
On the surface, this movie is just a cheesy horror movie, but beneath the surface there is something much more provocative. Dawn in her own way is the classic “Final Girl”, although she is the one that everyone dreads at the same time; heroine or villain depending on your point of view. If you’re a guy, no matter how open you are, this movie will make you cringe at one point or another. Despite our appearances, men still have ingrained messages about what is the role of men in society. That doesn’t mean we accept them, but they are there nonetheless.
For me, the best part of the movie was Dawn’s internal struggle with her own identity. She asks out loud, “What’s wrong with me?” It 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 pressure from men, she had the internalized ideal of being submissive. How can you be submissive to your husband if he castrates him? The idea makes her the ultimate monster. Dawn reads about the mythology of Vagina Denetata in which the hero is the one who breaks teeth in the vagina of monstrous women. By breaking his teeth to allow penetration, the hero is regaining his virility and power over women who dared to have power over him. I also read about mythology and, without exception, all women with teeth were evil. The all-important penetration of a woman as a rite of masculinity is stripped away when the women in question can take what defines a man’s masculinity. In a patriarchal society, this would have been the ultimate sin.
The men in the movie who meet Dawn really understand what awaits them. The empowerment piece is when Dawn overcomes her initial dislike of her condition when she realizes that she can control it. After having consensual sex with a teenager in the movie, she is very happy when he doesn’t die. She accepts the hero myth that this young man is the hero who helps overcome his sorry condition. That is until during their next encounter she discovers that she was part of a gamble 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. Remember the story of Lorena Bobbit, who after enduring years of abuse by her husband, castrates him. America was outraged, how dare she? That was his manhood for crying out loud. It does not matter that in that same year thousands of women were raped and sexually abused everywhere. We focused our anger on the one woman who did her best to defend herself. I’m not condoning castration, it just strikes me peculiar that we were all so shocked that one woman finally had enough and took matters into her own hands, so to speak. John Wayne Bobbit became a D-list celebrity and even made money making his own adult movie. Lorena was vilified and regarded as everything that was wrong with women in society.
At the end of the movie, Dawn is fed up and leaves town. The ending of the movie is perfect because it sums up the frustration of all women towards men who just don’t get it. I won’t give it away, just go rent the movie. If you have Netflix, it is available in your watch section instantly. While as a man I definitely squirmed a bit during this one, also as a man who is trying to be a better feminist, I did enjoy a horror movie that emphasized its goal with a sledgehammer. Cheeky and cheesy in parts, Teeth isn’t going to win any major awards. However, if it starts the kind of conversation that I think it will, then the movie has already done its job.