Friday, December 24, 2010

Thoughts on the film “TEETH” and a world where women don’t have to fear rape

I recently watched the campy horror/comedy film TEETH, which has been on my list of films to see ever since I read about it in feminist magazines and blogs. I knew the basic premise of the story was a female character with a toothed vagina, and that was enough to entice me into finding out more. But what I didn’t expect was to enjoy the movie so much: both because it was a hilarious spoof on horror films, and also because as a feminist, it left me with a lot to think about. Some of those thoughts I’ll share here, after a brief synopsis of the film for those who haven’t seen it.

*Spoiler Alert!* Some of the plot is revealed here.

TEETH is the story of Dawn, a high school girl who discovers her vagina has teeth inside it. The first time she becomes fully aware of this is when she’s on a date with a boy from high school and he attempts to rape her. Dawn fights back but he eventually forces himself upon her. As he enters her, the teeth go into attack mode and needless to say, the boy loses his “manhood.”

Dawn is both horrified and terrified by what her vagina has done, so she visits a doctor to seek information about her unique anatomy. The male doctor asks her, “Have you ever had an internal exam before?” and when she replies no, a creepy grin spreads across his face. “So I imagine you have no idea what to expect” he says, as he lubes up his hand. He then proceeds to molest Dawn, violently fisting her while telling her, “I’m just testing your flexibility.” When Dawn realizes she’s being molested, once again the teeth go into attack mode, and the creepy doctor loses his hand.

Similar situations to the ones just described unfold throughout the film. At first it seems that Dawn has no control over the teeth inside her - they seem to bite everything that ventures into her vagina. But she eventually discovers that the teeth do not bite when she’s with a man who’s treating her respectfully; the teeth only bite men who violently force their way into her vagina.

Dawn comes to realize the power she holds within herself: touch me without my consent and you’ll pay. By the end of the film, Dawn’s character has changed from a timid, fearful girl who doesn’t understand her body to a strong, powerful woman who has no fear. She understands her body and how it will react when she becomes an object of violence.

One of the only things that I didn’t like about this film was that almost every man who came into Dawn’s life was a “bad guy.” All the guys she dated, the doctor, her brother, and others throughout the film, all were intent on raping, molesting or otherwise abusing her. I do realize that for some women, that is their reality: rape and abuse is all around them. But most women do not experience such a string of abuse in a short period of time. If I were to re-make this movie, I would introduce more male characters that were not out to harm Dawn, because the ratio of asshole rapists to regular nice guys was way out of proportion. In that way, I felt that this film misrepresents men.

But the movie definitely left me with a lot to think about. What if women never had to fear rape? Imagine how that would feel. Imagine what we could do without having to worry. We could walk home alone in the dark without fear. We could wear whatever we wanted without fearing that we’re “asking for it.” We could hitchhike without fear. I realize that bad things other than rape can happen to women in these situations; we could get robbed or beaten or any number of other horrible things. But being able to remove one of our greatest fears, sexual violence, would be quite a relief.

Now this brings me to Rapex: the internal anti-rape device that was invented for use by women in South Africa, which has the world's highest rate of sexual assault. Dubbed the “rape trap,” Rapex is a product worn internally by women. The hollow inside is lined with rows of razor-sharp hooks, which are designed to latch on to a rapist's penis during penetration. They can only be removed by a doctor. Apparently, the words of a rape victim - "If only I had teeth down there" - inspired the design of Rapex.

I’m not convinced that a device like Rapex is the solution to rape. As feminist organizations in South Africa have pointed out, women shouldn’t have to adapt to rape, and there are also fears that once a man’s penis is “bitten,” the pain may cause him to incite greater violence upon the woman.

Anyway, the film left me questioning how the world would be different if women had the physical power to fight back against rape. Most women are no match, physically, for a man intent on raping. We are powerless as someone forces their way inside us with violence and intimidation. What if no man ever dared to do that, because if he did, he’d pay with the loss of his most valuable possession? How different the world would be.

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