Horror Show: Faux-feminism and Horror Films
Seducing and then dispatching her rapists (I Spit on Your Grave), tempting horny teenage boys before killing them (Jennifer's Body), getting even with all the boys who ruined her life in high school by becoming sexy and then killing them (Tamara), having a real-life vagina dentate to defend against male rapists (Teeth), becoming sexy and sexual right before she starts killing men. (Ginger). What do all these storylines have in common? They've been touted as feminist because they star a woman who fights and kills her oppressors (see Carol J. Clover's interviewees in Men, Women, and Chainsaws). Personally though, women being depicted as so powerless that the only way they can fight against their oppressors is by using sex is not my idea of a feminist film.
Let's take Jennifer's Body, written by Diablo Cody, who seems to have an affinity with tacky dialogue but not with female camaraderie in her characters. This 2009 horror movie was directed by Karyn Kusama (Girl Fight) and starred Megan Fox as Jennifer, the poster child for 21st century female sexuality. And it sucked. Here's why: Jennifer gets killed and resurrected as a demon who then proceeds to seduce high school boys right before killing them. Because, you know, a demon, unleashed on the earth, has nothing better to do.
Writer Diablo Cody doesn't explore the strange relationship between the two best female friends Jennifer and Needy; she doesn't discuss Jennifer's trauma or teenage sexuality and relationships. We simply see 22-year old Megan Fox strutting around pretending to be 16 and using the promise of hot sex to lure innocent men into false senses of security before killing them. Yawn. Just like how Jess Weixler's character in Teeth finally learns how to control her vagina dentate and uses them… to kill men by cutting off their penises instead of to have sexual pleasure for herself. Yawn. Or just like how (another) Jennifer in I Spit on Your Grave seduces each of her former rapists before dispatching them in gruesome ways in the original 1978 film because, naturally, a woman would be able to stomach the thought of sleeping with her rapists. Can I yawn again?
Even though these are female characters often written by women (and in the case of Jennifer's Body, directed by a woman), each of these stories seems more like a teenage boy's nightmare than anything that would actually frighten a woman—I'm just not terrified at the thought that women are sexy or that I might be too dumb to notice they're about to stab me because I'm too busy thinking about their vaginas. And, despite the purposeful removal of Jennifer's seduction scenes, the recent remake of I Spit on your Grave makes an equally prolonged spectacle of gang rape and then not-so-subtly adds fun one-liners that dangerously blur the lines between rape and sex such as "It's date night!" before Jennifer uses intricate torture devices to kill her rapists.
So why are all these movies touted by fans and filmmakers as "feminist"? Because men are the victims in them. It's creepy when you think about it, isn't it? The norm in horror films, and in most cultures around the world, is that men are seen as the aggressors and women the subservient and the victims. But switching the dynamic and putting men suddenly at the (usually sexual) mercy of a woman with intent to harm does nothing but reinforce the mainstream ideology that women with control of their sexuality (and by default, their reproduction) are dangerous, intend harm, and will always turn on their male superiors. Movies in which teenage girls discover their sexuality and then use it solely to inflict harm on males for the sake of revenge is a guilty male fear if I've ever seen one. So next time you want to call a horror film "feminist", make sure it espouses gender equality—not the cutting-off of penises by horny, monstrous women who like sex.
Heidi Martinuzzi is the co-director of the Viscera Film Festival and the founder of FanGirlTastic.com, a site that aims to celebrate creative, innovative, and awesome images of women in horror, sci-fi, action, and fantasy films, literature, and art.
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