Colleen Lutz Clemens
What’s in a Name: Anxiety About Violent Women in ‘Monster,’ ‘Teeth,’ and ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’
The first college course I ever developed focuses on women and violence. Stemming from my interest in women who enact violence on and off the page, I wanted to ask students to think about our perceptions of women as “naturally” peaceful.
I had never heard anything like this sketch; I was enthralled. The timing. The repetition. The silence. Such gorgeous pauses. In a world where it feels like we need to fill every space with some yammering, to hear someone on stage using silence–to be brave enough to use it–made me take notice of this person Tig. And not just me. ‘The New York Times’ ran a piece about her 13-minute paean to Taylor Dane.
Narrator Jackson Katz uses visuals and film clips to argue that such a view of masculinity is creating a crisis in young boys as they grow up being made to feel that violence=agency and that rape is just fine because you should get what you want—and if the answer is “no,” then you just take it.
However, just as with the rest of the movie, I also felt an anxiety about those scenes as I felt the weight of my daughter, sitting on my knee at this point in the movie. If the goal to be attained is the love of a wealthy man in just about every film marketed to her, and if her initiation into girlhood isn’t going to be completely mediated by me (though how I wish that were possible), what are my choices?
While my conversations with my friends’ 12-year-old daughters about the trilogy always began with “Team Peeta!” or “Team Gale!” our conversations in the classroom focused on the scholarship of female collectives and violent resistance; we didn’t need Gale and Peeta as fodder for conversation. But on the last day of class, I introduced Adrienne Rich’s idea of compulsory heterosexuality to complicate the larger conversation in which readers—and viewers—find themselves forced to choose a camp, just as Katniss is forced to do.
But when Dawn learns that Ryan has bedded her as part of a bet while he is still inside of her, Dawn’s evolutionary adaptation intercedes and Ryan is punished for his use and abuse of Dawn. So now two trusted boyfriends and a doctor have initiated Dawn into the world of oppressive sex and violence, and all three times her vagina—the thing that has left her most vulnerable—has acted as a protector.
When considering female agents of violence in a film, there is a troublesome tendency that plays to the audience’s anxiety about a women disrupting the essentialist notion that women are naturally gentle and nurturing: the tendency to have the woman acting in response to sexual violence, that only after a woman is overpowered and assaulted can she find a place of violence in her. Once the naturalness of a woman is disrupted by an outside force—a (usually male) perpetrator—she is no longer required to be viewed as “womanly.”
Early in the film, Dawn is a nymph-like virgin committed to “saving herself” until marriage. She is the poster child for the “good” girl: a loving daughter who obeys the doctrines of the church and spends her time spreading the gospel of virginity. Everything Dawn knows about the world and herself changes when her falsely pious boyfriend Tobey takes her to a far off swimming hole and tries to rape her. A confused and terrified Dawn reacts by screaming and then—much to everyone’s surprise—cutting off his penis to interrupt the rape. Little does Dawn know that her lessons about Darwin in her biology classes are taking hold in her own body.
Girl Rising (2013) This is a guest post written by Colleen Lutz Clemens. Girl Rising unites prominent female authors, such as Edwidge Danticat from Haiti or Aminatta Forna from Sierra Leone, with girls such as Wadley or Mariama from their respective countries. Together, Danticat and Wadley, Forna and Mariama, and seven other pairs have their […]