Date of this Version
Women’s Studies in Communication 39:1 (2016), pp. 86–106.
This essay argues that Mitchell Lichtenstein’s film Teeth (2007) is an exemplary appropriation of the femme castratrice, a sadistic and castrating female figure that subverts the patriarchal mythologies undergirding the gendered logics of both screen violence and cultural misogyny. The film chronicles Dawn’s post-sexual assault transformation from a passive defender of women’s purity to an avenging heroine with castrating genitals. First, I illustrate how Teeth intervenes in the gendered politics of spectatorship by cultivating identification with a violent heroine who refuses to abide by the stable binary between masculine violence/feminized victimhood. This subversive iteration of rape-revenge cinema is assisted by the filmmaker’s introduction of camp, a playful and self-conscious cinematic style that renders transparent the fantasies guiding the cinematic construction of violence and the male gaze. Second, I argue that this revision of the rape-revenge genre equips audiences with important symbolic resources for feminist critiques of cultural misogyny. Teeth’s avenging heroine updates the sexual politics of second-wave feminism to resist recent political efforts to regulate women’s bodies.