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“Teeth” takes a bite into horror feminae

Someone on the bus the other day was talking very loudly about a film where the main character had teeth…

By Miné Salkin , in Blogs Feminist Film Reel , on January 19, 2009 Tags: , , , , ,

Someone on the bus the other day was talking very loudly about a film where the main character had teeth in her vagina. Intrigued, I later discovered on an IMDB search that he was referencing Mitchell Lichtenstein‘s (son of Pop-Artist Roy) 2007 film Teeth. After watching the disturbing movie, it had an interesting effect of combining classic mythology with the modern woman becoming empowered by self-acceptance.

The film blurs the lines between the power of female revenge, the idea of women as objects of violence, retribution, and the age-old phenomenon of gynophobia. Toting the tag line that “Every rose has its thorns,” Lichtenstein shows how women can be very scary things indeed.

The story is centered around Dawn O’Keefe (Jess Weixler), who is going through the normal growing pains of adolescence. Like her name, she represents the promise of a new day, remaining abstinent despite the increasingly inappropriate sexual encounters she is subjected to by her stepbrother, stepfather, and her brutally intrusive gynecologist. Caught somewhere between a horror and a comedy, the hybrid genre adds a surrealistic tone to the realities of rape in America, and modern misogyny.

Sex changes everything
Sex changes everything

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 60% of sexual assaults in America are not reported to the police, and neither does our protagonist. She does, however, take matters into her own hands by using her new found sexuality to punish those who deserve it. Maybe movies like this will deflate that horrifying statistic, or at least give sexually abused women the power they need to speak out.

The bildungsroman of the film is when Dawn realizes that she has power over the men in her life because she is a potential object for violence. Enshrouded by the veil of “the other,” she is able to retaliate because men just don’t understand her, and are too ignorant to ask. Not only that, she has incisors in her vagina that grind mechanically, involuntarily, any time that she is penetrated.

As Hélène Cixous wrote in the Laugh of the Medusa (1976), it is the riveting story of two horrifying myths: the Medusa and the abyss. The woman and her mystery. Instead of trying to understand it, men fear it.

“The toothed vagina appears in the mythology of many and diverse cultures all over the world. In these myths, the story is always the same. The hero must do battle with the woman. The toothed creature can break her power,” Dawn explains.

So it seems like the best thing for a man to do is to try to get to know a girl first. If it’s fear of the unknown, the incalculable, or the general mysterious aura of a woman, it’s a good idea to say “please.” The film shows how the dogma of castration prevents the normal course of ‘teenage dating’ in the traditional sense, and suggests a deep-rooted fear of female sexuality through the mythical undertones of the vagina dentata. It also suggests that idea that violence towards women isn’t always based on pure conceptions of mysogyny, but rather a plain old fear of the unknown. In this case, the fear of castration seems to conquer all.