Rape is a global epidemic, and has been for centuries. In the United States alone, 1 out of every 6 women has been the victim of a rape or attempted rape, and while men can and are victims of sexual violence as well, with 1 in 33 men being rape victims, rape is a very gender-specific crime, which explains why women are most vulnerable and why the epidemic is so concentrated in spaces where men do not have access to women and children, like prisons. It also explains why women are much more likely to be victims of rape when “free” and for men, incarceration is the only time when most even consider the possibility that such a crime could ever be visited upon them. Globally, 1 in every 3 women are victims of sexual violence.
Perhaps more alarming is the number of children who are victims of molestation and rape, many of whom never come forward, as the perpetrator is often a family member or friend of the family. Although rape is illegal in the U.S., rarely are rapists actually prosecuted and even more rarely are they convicted for their crimes. In this country, someone is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. And many women and children have little to no protections to prevent such a thing from happening in the first place. But what if we did?
This question is the premise of Teeth, the black comedy horror which asks, “What if the body did have ways of shutting it down?” The film is centered around the myth of vagina dentata, a set of vaginal teeth which will extract when a woman is sexually threatened . Dawn O’Keefe (Jess Weixler) is a virgin and a member of her school’s Christian abstinence club, The Promise. She is pretty, nice, and gets along with everyone except her cruel stepbrother, Brad (John Hensley). The film introduces us to Jess’ other set of teeth very early on, when (as children), her stepbrother tried to molest her and they bit his finger. But Jess has long forgotten about the incident and doesn’t know why Brad hates her so much. When a member of her purity club attempts to rape her, Dawn’s vaginal teeth bite off his penis, and Dawn realizes that she may not be like other girls. After researching vagina dentata, she goes to a gynecologist to get an examination and some answers, but when he attempts to molest her as well, her teeth bite off four of his fingers. In her journey to figuring out her body, Dawn learns some sobering truths about men in general, and the men in her life in particular.
Though Dawn’s teeth don’t actually prevent rape, they do bring it to a very sudden stop, and deliver some quick justice. Most importantly, they make sure that the perpetrators learn a lifelong lesson and are thus unwilling and for many, unable to sexually assault another person ever again. When she is engaged in consensual sexual activity, Dawn’s vaginal teeth retract and present absolutely no problem for her partners, and this is important to note, because everyone who fell victim to her teeth did so while engaged in trying to victimize her. In this way, Teeth also vividly highlights the prevalence of rape culture. Family members, trusted friends, and respected medical professions were all included in the group of people who felt entitled to this girl’s body. Teeth accurately depicts just how widespread misogyny is, and reminds us that rapists don’t fit into any particular “type”; anyone can be a predator. The audience reactions to this film, with most women viewing it as empowering and most men being absolutely horrified by it, are also quite telling. Though labeled a horror, Teeth is more of a fictionalized social justice story, the ultimate feminist dream.
I give this one 4.25 stars.