The Fem Spot

Chew on this

Posted in Feminist Theory, Film and Television by femspotter on July 17, 2008

July 17, 2008

Teeth is a movie about a teenage girl who, while desperately trying to maintain her “purity,” discovers that she has some special anatomy beyond her chaste cherry. Let’s just say that the title of the movie doesn’t beat around the bush (no pun intended).

I feel justified in calling this film a comedy. My husband laughed uncontrollably during all four of the movie’s “vagina-bites-off-something-phallic” scenes. I too giggled, but I also crossed my legs. I don’t have a penis and I wasn’t reacting squeamishly to the idea of having one severed, but I tensed up nonetheless.

Why? Here’s what I think: not only is the vagina a mystery to men (the vagina dentata myth has infected many cultures over the past two to three thousand years), but the vagina – my vagina – is also a mystery to me. A man’s sexual anatomy is external; and until the clitoris was “discovered” in or around 1559 and even after that, doctors thought that female genitalia was either less productive than the visible male genitalia, or simply inverted male genitalia. And as we well know, human beings tend to fear what they don’t understand.

That’s not to say that I have feared my vagina. But until I discovered my clitoris, I too thought it useless. (And I do know for sure that I don’t have any teeth down there.)

What is perhaps the funniest element of Teeth is that it depicts a scenario wherein a seemingly problematic condition is desirable. In other words, I should want a toothed vagina because it would give me a position of power: the power to castrate. What the heroine discovers about her carnivorous cunt is that she can control it; she can chew at will. And that makes her a kind of superhero. Rapists and even less physically offensive misogynists beware: you don’t want to make it angry!

Now here’s the really funny part: men are actually offended by this movie. It seems that some men find the idea that multiple characters abuse our heroine and put her in the defensive position of having – or just wanting – to use her special gift offensive. They think the movie hates men.

To be fair, Dawn goes through a difficult sexual awakening. She’s date raped. Then, her gynecologist fondles her without rubber gloves. She finds out the sensitive boy is really an asshole with a bet that he could bed her. Finally, she castrates her insensitive stepbrother for ignoring her dying mother’s calls for help while, yes, he was fucking his girlfriend du jour. Oh…and the movie is a cliffhanger: Dawn hitches a ride with a dirty old man who makes sexually suggestive face and tongue movements. She smirks at the camera. Cut to credits.

This is obviously satire, and the entire film is done with a wink and a smile. But some have taken it seriously as if it’s a condemnation of men as a whole. Here are a couple quotes from the film’s forum on the Internet Movie Database:

According to this movie every single guy is either a rapist/molester or is a weakling. Only self-loathing men could possibly like this movie. My beef is with the way ALL men are portrayed in this film. Again, nearly every single one was a rapist. The lone man who wasn’t portrayed as such was so ridiculously weak that he couldn’t even handle his own son.

If a movie was made about a man killing women and he was the hero for doing it, I guarantee you feminists would explode like the next atomic bomb. This movie is garbage.

So let’s talk about the film as if it were serious. I’ll address these concerns. Yes, it seems Dawn knows very few strong, yet decent, men. A teenage couple who are abstaining from sex offers up one example of a nice, well-adjusted male. He doesn’t follow his dick around with a voracious appetite for abusing or demeaning women. And the film does not present him as a weak character.

Yes, Dawn’s stepfather has not disciplined his son effectively. When the father tries to evict the young man at the end of the film, the son commands his Rottweiler to attack. But let’s face it: the son was a nightmare from day one. And the father was a compassionate man struggling with a sick wife. Since when do love and compassion signal weakness of character? According to these writers, men can either be good or bad with strength but not without. Deemed weakness doesn’t compute. It is unacceptable.

Some men are weak, as are some women…it’s a relative assessment in each case. The same goes for cruel and inhumane behavior: it’s performed by both sexes.

As to the assertion that cinema has never glorified male killers of women, I give you The Manchurian Candidate, Misery and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (a partial kill). Each film contains a loathsome female whose downfall comes from a man’s hand, a downfall which is anxiously and resoundingly applauded by men and women alike. We justify the violence against women because the victims have hurt or killed people.

Come to think of it, women have been routinely victimized in horror movies for our relaxation and enjoyment. Many feminist thinkers believe that the slasher genre of motion pictures is a direct rebuttal to the feminist movement. Many of the ways women die in these movies are sexual (a phallic weapon through the mouth or abdomen, a simultaneous rape and act of cannibalism, etc.). And many of the villains represent sexual or reproductive power (the mother in Psycho, the queen/mother alien from the Alien franchise, and of course the cast-off concubine in Fatal Attraction).

None of these examples do I take seriously. It doesn’t make me think that all women are as cruel and sterile as Nurse Ratched just because there’s no overpowering alternative in the film. And Teeth doesn’t make me think that all men are male chauvinists or rapists. I think that these horror motifs reflect not what exists in actuality, but what we fear. Amusement helps us divert our fears. If my husband hadn’t been laughing with Teeth, as I believe the filmmakers wanted him to, he would surely have screamed or cried. And rather than think about what the filmmakers might have been saying about mean mommies in Psycho, I get a good chuckle when I picture Anthony Perkins wearing that ridiculous wig. And that shower scene…guffaw, guffaw, guffaw!

Men who fear movies about having their balls cut off by a toothed vagina, really need to grow a pair first.

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The trouble with pronouns

Posted in queer theory by femspotter on May 30, 2008

May 30, 2008

The trouble with pronouns is that they carry a lot of baggage: not just anatomical baggage, but gender baggage too.

It’s not always easy for a person to know, really know deep down inside, which pronoun to use. As to sex, which is a constant, not everybody’s genitals distinctly reflect one or the other. In some cases, what could be a penis turns out to be a clitoris.

An intersex person may have one set of genitals on the outside, but a contrary set of anatomy on the inside. Often at birth, “normalizing” surgery is performed to correct this naturally occurring phenomenon.

As to gender, it is sometimes difficult to stay within the relative guidelines for feminine and masculine of the particular era in which you live. A young boy who’s a crybaby, for instance, suffers terrible indignities at the hands of his less emotive peers. A young woman who exhibits ambition and active aggression is often labeled “bitch” or “witch” because she doesn’t fit the socially acceptable feminine ideal.

If you are born with or evolve to have confusion in either of these areas, pronouns become a problem. After all, there are only two bathroom options at school: his and hers. You must conform to one or the other.

A pronoun, simply put, is a part of speech that substitutes for nouns. “He” therefore substitutes for John Doe. But when you read “he” your mind automatically assumes several things about John Doe, even if you don’t know his proper name. You assume that Mr. Doe has a penis. You assume that he exhibits masculine traits. Historically, those traits are active ones, those that inspire motion or change.

Those small assumptions lead to larger assumptions. He might be a leader of some sort, a rule maker. He is probably strong and confident. He fights battles and woos women. John Doe has gone from “identity unknown” to “He, the Conqueror” in two letters flat.

Jane Doe is not always this lucky. She might be a maid or a seamstress. She is probably maternal and naïve. She makes cookies and her marital bed.

I exaggerate of course, but I do so to prove that “he” and “she” do not lie flat on the table. They spring to life with meaning. If everything were “it” we’d be safe. We wouldn’t have sex. We wouldn’t have gender. (This would be a safe world, albeit dull.)

The same thing happens with other words in the English language. “Witch,” for instance, is used exclusively – and relentlessly – to describe a she that is less than cordial. “Bitch” is similarly used.

You’d never hear an abrasive man referred to as a “warlock.” And “stud,” the word traditionally employed to identify a male dog, connotes the antithesis of “bitch” with regard to humans. Studs are generally thought of as pleasing men, accommodating men. Bitches are a nasty sort.

So when MSNBC talk show host Chris Matthews reportedly called Hillary Clinton “witchy” and labeled her laugh “the cackle,” he was unwittingly perpetuating a long-standing sex inequality. For him, she is “She Devil,” “Nurse Ratched” or “Madame Defarge.” “He _____?” “Nurse _____?” “Monsieur _____?”

Then CBS radio and MSNBC television personality Don Imus had also reportedly called Clinton the Devil in 2006: “that buck-toothed witch, Satan.” He said that Clinton is Bill Clinton’s “fat ugly wife, Satan.” Does that make you want to take a shower?

Tennessee Representative Steve Cohen, a Barack Obama supporter, likened Clinton to Glen Close’s character in Fatal Attraction, a crazed woman who refused to end an affair with a married man. Now aside from the obvious offense at comparing a Presidential candidate with a mentally unstable rabbit killer, this comment forces us to consider another topic entirely: whose fault was the sex? While Alex Forrest did result to, shall I say “drastic?” measures to get Dan Gallagher back into the sack, he was the married sexual partner. He had made the promise never to cheat. He had committed sins against his wife in the first place…and yes, Forrest was a raving lunatic. But I digress…

The fact of the matter is that even Fatal Attraction came down to the basic dilemma: whom do you trust? “He” or “she?” Somebody should ask the bunny. But can we trust it? What do we know about it from “it?”

And that’s the trouble with pronouns.

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