Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Feminists have Teeth - the movie

Now on DVD, Teeth is a movie about a high school girl who finds out she has vagina dentata - teeth in her vag. The synopsis on the website says:
High school student Dawn works hard at suppressing her budding sexuality by being the local chastity group's most active participant. Her task is made even more difficult by her bad boy stepbrother Brad's increasingly provocative behavior at home. A stranger to her own body, innocent Dawn discovers she has a toothed vagina when she becomes the object of violence. As she struggles to comprehend her anatomical uniqueness, Dawn experiences both the pitfalls and the power of being a living example of the vagina dentata myth.
This movie is so fascinating because it exposes a cultural, rarely spoken but widely known, fear of vaginas and subverts that to give power to vaginas and women, as possessors of vaginas. Toothed vaginas are sometimes "subtly" hidden in films (Pirates of the Caribbean 2, anybody? That Kraken is a huuuuge toothed vagina), but this might be the first time anyone's addressed vagina dentata directly in a film.

I'm going to talk about different aspects of the plot now, so if you plan on seeing it and don't want it to be ruined, stop reading.

The film makes it clear that Dawn has never explored her own sexuality, much less seen what her own vag looks like. As a vocal member of her local chastity group, she rails against sex before marriage and wears a promise ring for her future husband. When she fantasizes about the boy she likes, it's in wedding gear - don't worry, no masturbation for her, though.

The cultural fear of vaginas is so widespread and intrenched that none of the high school health textbooks show vaginas - they just have big stickers over those pages, while the male reproductive system is clearly displayed. Students question it and try tearing the stickers off (hoorah!), but this scene points to a larger issue of women not knowing fundamental facts about their bodies - a point Cara neatly touched on recently over at The Curvature.

When Dawn is sexually assaulted, it's by a fellow member of the chastity group who "fell" once before. His reasoning for raping her? "I haven't jerked off since Easter!" and "You're still pure!" However, his lame excuses for rape are no match for her vagina teeth, and we get a nice genital shot - post attack. Not for those who don't like gore, I must say.

The vagina dentata doesn't attack anything that enters her vagina, only non-consensual and harmful entry - it, at first, is a knee-jerk reflex, although she does seem to be able to attack at will later on in the movie. The mythology presented in the movie says that a hero must do battle with the woman to break her power. After the rape and gyno visit (both which end in bloodshed), Dawn goes to Ryan's house (a boy who likes her) because she has no idea where to go. She is obviously shaken and unnerved, and he takes her presences as an opportunity for sex. Dawn takes a bath and when she comes out, he has candles lit and music playing. At some point, he gives her some sort of pill and wine and she ends up passing out. When she comes to, Ryan's playing with her breast and they end up having sex. Here's a bit of their conversation:
Dawn: You can't.
Ryan: Do you want me to stop?
Dawn: No.
Good. (whatthefuck?)
But they'll get you.
The teeth.
Come on.
No, no, look. I'm conquering them. See? Yeah, I'm the hero. (bullshit, bullshit bullshit!)
Can we point out the issues here? First off, since he drugged her, it's sexual assault. Second, there was no positive affirmation of consent, however, she does say she doesn't want him to stop. However, since she's been drugged, she can't legally give her consent. Third, can we stroke his male ego just a little more? Conquering? Hero? I just threw up in my mouth a little.

The conquering hero does meet the teeth, however. The next morning, they're having sex again (completely consensual this time!) and Ryan answers his phone during sex. He brags about sleeping with Dawn while he's inside of her - bad move on his part. Ryan loses his "conquering hero" status and his junk when Dawn's teeth take offense to the mid-sex phone call and bragging.

Here, the film subverts the myth and the need for a hero to conquer the vagina, because even the hero falls victim to the teeth. It's not that the vagina needs a hero to conquer it, it's that all sex needs to be consensual. Get that? CONSENSUAL. It's the literal actualization of my dad's favorite phrase for high school boyfriends - abuse it and you lose it. I'm glad the film blows apart the concept of a vag-conquering hero, since frankly, I don't need one and I doubt anyone else does either.

I won't ruin the whole movie for everyone, but let's just say that Dawn is baaaaadass and by the end of the film, she comes to fully embrace her vagina dentata and its abilities.

By the way, does anyone else feel like this movie poster is too "teen-sex comedy" and less "get my consent or I'll chomp off whatever's inside me"?

Seriously, I wish I had teeth in my vagina. Soooo bad. Now I'm just waiting for a movie about menstruation saving the world.


Jen said...

I was totally skeptical about this movie, but now I have to rent it! Thanks for the post.

kelly g. said...

Great review! I borrowed Teeth from Netflix last month and *loved* it.

One aspect of the film bothered me, though: the interaction with Ryan, which you correctly describe as rape, wasn't really identified as such. Sure, Ryan got his the next morning, but he comes off as "the bad guy" because of the bet, not the rape. I guess it's understandable that Dawn's character didn't identify it as rape (ie, sexually naive member of the abstinence-only crowd), but I wish the filmmakers had been a bit more insistent about labeling it "rape" for the audience. Just to be clear that there's nothing "heroic" or even romantic about drugging a (possibly mentally ill, for all Ryan knew at the time) classmate up in order to "have sex" with her.

Otherwise, awesome movie. Going in, I knew there was at least one rape scene; I'm so glad that they made the rapist the, ahem, unusual suspect.

Did you happen to watch the extras? The filmmakers struck me as rather feminist in their intentions, but some of the interviews with the actors were baffling. For example, John Hensley (Brad the stepbrother) described his character as the source of the film's "sexual tension" and generally just seemed to romanticize the character...even though he enjoyed sexually degrading his girlfriend, was a misogynist douchebag, neglected his dying stepmother, and assaulted his father.

Lindsay said...

but I wish the filmmakers had been a bit more insistent about labeling it "rape" for the audience.

Yes, I am totally with you. That's my main critique of the movie too. No where do they call it rape - you'd like to think in a feminist movie about vagina teeth they could do that.

I didn't watch the extra features, but I didn't see him as a major character and definitely not the source of the sexual tension. His character was a totally douchebag, too.

Anonymous said...

It's a sick movie. The film portrays every single man as an evil rapist.

kelly g. said...

It's a sick movie. The film portrays every single man as an evil rapist.

Funny, but I thought Dawn's stepfather was a pretty nice guy.

And her fundie high school friend (Phil?) was kind of a judgmental dick, but I don't recall him raping anyone.

Oh, and the male gynecologist wasn't a rapist, either, come to think of it...

The X-Rated Grandma said...



Beth Bissmeyer said...

I really want to see this now. And I just saw on IMDB that the lead actress is from my hometown. right on.


Dawnlover said...

I loveloveloveLOVED teeth. It's one of my favourites already, and I so wish I had Vagina Dentata! To anyone who thinks this is 'a sick movie portraying all men as evil rapists', just how many movies, music videos, TV shows, etc., etc., portray all women as public property to be degraded and objectified? Hmm, pretty much all of them.

Anyway, I loved this film. It very sensitively portrays Dawn's naivete about her own body, and as the poster mentioned, its point is that sex must be consensual. I am so, so glad this film was made. Jess Weixler is PERFECT as Dawn.

Do you know that her name is highly significant? Dawn implies the birth of a new species, such as was mentioned in the 'rattlesnake' scene, and also the artist Georgia O'keefe is known for painting vaginas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgia_O'Keeffe

Also, did anyone else notice that there's the imagery of snakes throughout the movie? Brad has a snake on his chest, there's a picture of a snake in his room, Dawn sees a gorgon on TV and in a book she's reading, the class talk about rattlesnakes and the chastity group talk about Eve's 'Serpent'. In the scene before Dawn tricks Brad, you can hear a snake hissing in the incidental music.

UneFemmePlusCourageuse said...

Oh, and the male gynecologist wasn't a rapist, either, come to think of it...

Well, he didn't quite penis-in-vagina rape her, but he did sexually assault her with his hands...which in some states does count as rape...and he was a creepy dickhead.

But true, the dad was a good guy. Super Pastor Dude wasn't a rapist either, though he was a bit weird. I wish they had made Ryan a good guy though. I had hopes for him.

Affordable Dental Teeth Whitening said...

i was so so skeptical about this but this one night i was so so bored and went down to sit with my neighbour and i watched it and it was actually pretty good!

Great post!