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Thoughts about “Teeth”

April 6, 2009

Last night I finally watched the film “Teeth“. I was lucky to watch it in mixed company, because more interesting than the film itself were the strong reactions from both the male and female viewers.

I was surprised to find that I was one of only two people out of a group of ten who found the movie worthwhile. Though it did contain a few more scenes of severed penises than I would like in my movie experience (or really, any experience) I though the premise of movie was pretty interesting. A woman equipped with her own justice system: when using her voice, asserting herself, and physical resistance fail to protect her from male sexual aggression, her body turns to a last resort to defend itself: teeth in her vagina (the myth of vagina dentata) sever the invading enemy.

But it is not as though these teeth attack anything that comes its way. It is very clear that consent – enthusiastic participation on both halves – allows for her to have normal sex, pleasurable for both her and her partner.

While I can understand the horror that a severed penis holds, I cannot understand the lack of horror at the sexaul violence Dawn (the main character) had undergone. The scenes are disgusting : men she is supposed to be able to trust – a friend who preaches to teens about the importance of remaining “pure” until marriage, a doctor – disregard her as they force themselves on her, deaf to her screams, their advantage of strength making her struggling futile. They are taking her as if she is theirs to take, telling her “she will still be pure” or advising her to “breathe through the pain”. How is this clear violation of a person’s being not more horrifying than the fact that she has a way to make them stop their abuse? What does this say about our society? Is a man’s right to his penis more important than a woman’s right to her vagina? Is their violation of her body – and essentially her self – less severe than her defense against them?

The last scene of the movie is another point of outrage. She has just hitch -hiked, and rather than letting her out of the car, the elderly man locks her in, making vulgar and suggestive faces. She makes several attempts to get out of the car, but the man does not unlock the door, continuing to make faces. The movie ends with the clear suggestion that she will knowingly and willingly use her weapon against him.

One of my male friends (though almost all in the room agreed with him) voiced that that is “messed up. She should have used her voice”. My retaliation is why should a woman have to ask to not be sexually assaulted? Did he – or any of the other men, for that matter – use their voice to ask her permission? Why is it okay for that man to assume he can lock her in, refuse her leave, force himself upon her? She made several attempts to get out of the car, do you honestly believe a man who does not let her out after that will change his mind if she says asks him to? Asking, screaming, pleading, “using her voice” as he suggested, did nothing to stop those other men from continuing with their will. Is there any reason to believe that it would be any different with the man in the car? And does her lack of ability to prevent the violence against her make her responsible?

No, of course it does not. But why is that the instinct and natural reaction of some viewers?

While I don’t think it was Teeth’s intention to have such a feminist subtext, discomfort was definitely high up on the priorities list. And I think there is something to say for a movie that makes us uncomfortable, and forces us to examine the source of that discomfort.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jill permalink
    April 6, 2009 11:45 AM

    Have you read the book Guyland by Michael Kimmel? It came out maybe a year or two ago, and focuses on college-educated twentysomething men (mostly White and of high socioeconomic status in their natal family). From his interviews, Kimmel concludes that a lot of these men have had a kind of “failure to launch” issue–they’re still living with college roommates, going out to the bars every night, and hooking up with random women–because we refuse to ask anything more of them. Boys will be boys, after all.

    There is a chapter about sexual violence that was really eye-opening to me. The men Kimmel interviewed didn’t really get why it was wrong to, say, buy a girl five drinks to get her to sleep with you. And a few of the men talked about how, unless a girl stopped what she was doing, sat up straight and looked him in the eye and said, “I do not want to have sex. Stop now.” they continued to assume consent (or not particularly care about consent). They had a couple of different explanations for this: this is how you court women now, the women actually want to, and rape is basically just sex so what’s the big deal. There was this sense of the men he interviewed feeling really confused about what they were doing wrong.

    Why should a woman have to ask not to be sexually assaulted? is the perfect response to this, I think. And, why is it so troubling that a woman can inflict the same sexual pain and shame as a man who is assaulting her? Why is it her act of violence that disturbs us? Maybe Teeth gives us this space to say, Hey, you know how that really freaked you out? Imagine if it could actually happen to you. That’s how we walk in the world.

  2. chingona permalink
    April 6, 2009 11:39 PM

    There is a chapter about sexual violence that was really eye-opening to me. The men Kimmel interviewed didn’t really get why it was wrong to, say, buy a girl five drinks to get her to sleep with you. And a few of the men talked about how, unless a girl stopped what she was doing, sat up straight and looked him in the eye and said, “I do not want to have sex. Stop now.” they continued to assume consent (or not particularly care about consent).

    This reminds me of a rather disturbing conversation I had about a year ago with a co-worker, a guy who is married and settled now but would have fit the description of the men in Guyland a few years before. He’s a guy who would condemn “violent” rape as the worst crime you could possibly commit. But in this conversation, which somehow had got on the topic of false accusations, he said, to explain why a guy might worry about such a thing: “Sometimes girls need a little persuading.”

  3. Lyndsay permalink
    April 13, 2009 2:47 AM

    Interesting. I watched Teeth with my boyfriend. After reading how it was talked about on feminist blogs I think we expected more humourous parts and not as many horrific parts. Thankfully though, I think he was as horrified by the sexual assault as what came after it. I was pretty grossed out by what came after not because I felt bad for the guy but just because it was gross. I’d never seen a severed penis in a movie before…

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