Welcome our guest blogger, Naamah Darling of livejournal. She writes porn, erotica, pulp adventure, and fantasy. Her works have been featured in The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 4 and The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 6, edited by Maxim Jakubowski; also at http://www.scarletletters.com and at The Edge of Propinquity. She is also an Arts & Culture Editor at Weird Tales. In her spare time, she writes uniquely biting commentary and makes beautiful art. It is a pleasure to include her talent here.
This is an edited, much better version of the entry I posted at my journal early this year.
The first thing I want to say about Ginger Snaps, almost as a disclaimer, is that I really liked it. It was sharply-scripted and incredibly funny. It hit dark notes without losing its deft touch. It was not trying to be fine art, it was trying to be snarky schlock that at once indulged in and poked loving fun at the genre, and I think it accomplished that admirably.
That said, the people who have claimed that it is a masterpiece of feminist awesomeness are wrong.
This was the same nonsense we always see: sex used as a metaphor for degeneration and moral decay. The end result was more of the same body-fearing, sexuality-fearing bullshit that I’m accustomed to seeing in horror movies, and despite the sharp writing, really excellent acting, and a genuinely interesting exploration of what happens when one of a pair of friends (in this case, sisters) begins spiraling into self-destructive behavior, it brought nothing new to the table. Hey, why break with tradition now?
Coming-of-age stories for women are pretty limited. Many are cautionary tales warning of the dangers of sex and sexuality. This kind of story at least hints at pleasure-driven sexuality, which a lot of surviving women’s stories do not. I’m much more likely to give a thumbs-up to a story that has the character suffer horribly for fucking than I am to give a thumbs-up to a story that shows the character being rewarded for settling down with a husband and popping out a litter after a brief excursion into adventure and free will. To my mind, better fucking and dead than live and enslaved. Make of that what you will. At least you get that moment of freedom before you go to the bitch-whore’s culturally-mandated demise.
Anyway. The good things about the movie were very good.
Both lead actresses were fabulous. Ginger (played by Katharine Isabelle) was a complete bitch in a really fun way. Katharine effectively conveyed the allure that often comes with people who are slowly losing their self-control – they may not be likeable, but they have a kind of charisma, personal force, that is incredibly hard to deny. The movie didn’t lean on it, but the few scenes where Ginger was wracked with horror over what she was becoming were truly pitiable. She managed to convey the awful vulnerability of a wounded thing that is still dangerous. She did sexy very well, too. In one of the most unexpectedly erotic yet disturbing moments I’ve seen in a long time, she is coming on to the young man who has been working on a cure. She pulls her shirt up to show her belly, and we see the extra wolf-nipples among the fur that is growing there. It’s disturbing because it was not played for horror, as a turnoff, but was intended to be sexy . . . and it was.
Emily Perkins was great as Brigitte, too. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an actress exude that much discomfort from every pore. She embodied teenage dork awkwardness with a perfection that was both funny and sad. Her eyes were amazing. Incredibly expressive. Her love for her sister was obvious, and equally obvious was that it wasn’t stupid or thoughtless. Brigitte knew what Ginger was, and loved her anyway. She was slow to give up hope for her sister, she held on right to the end, and I like, too, that the script made it obvious that this wasn’t because Brigitte had any illusions about Ginger’s nature.
What annoys me about movies like this is that they conflate the bestial and sexual in us with what is most damaging and dangerous. That isn’t right or accurate or fair. Never mind the negative press that gives to wild animals, the negative press it gives to women is enough. It’s not that our bestial side cannot destroy us, it’s that those tropes are so often used against women attempting to grow up that employing them even in the service of a structurally sound tale is morally problematic, and calls the ethical underpinnings of the entire tale into question. In these tales, no alternative is presented beyond “don’t be sexual, don’t do these forbidden things,” and because these forbidden things are not, in themselves, harmful, this “lesson” is something that we are culturally going to have to stop reinforcing, or we are at least going to have to examine how we reinforce it, and who truly needs it enforced.
It’s easy to call up the image of the beast in a woman, to tell a story about a girl-child finding her teeth, and it is easy to find power in those stories. It’s also easy to endow the beast-woman with the most alluring womanly features and the most terrifying features of the animal/monster. It’s not so easy to resolve the questions that doing so raises, because it’s very hard not to bow to the cultural training that says that female sexuality is horrifying and dangerous. From a narrative standpoint, it’s not easy to resolve those questions without taking that power away again and pulling the wolf’s teeth. We aren’t told how else the story might end, so we are left repeating the same ending over and over.
I’ve read people defending this as feminist art, but I have to put a bullet in that one. If it was meant as parody, it is such a close reproduction that it fails to subvert. It lays the whole concept of destructive female sexuality bare in its stark ridiculousness, but it does not turn that on its ear. It shows us how silly it is, but offers no alternative, only the same old end.
It has value, I think, for all that – this movie could easily be used as a very entertaining and watchable example of everything that is wrong with stories about girls gone wild. It didn’t work as feminist, though. Just because something is funny, fun, sharply-written, sexy, thoroughly enjoyable, and written by a woman does not mean it’s feminist.
Come on. It’s the oldest story in the book: Girl has sex for fun, girl is punished, girl dies. Nothing feminist about that.
Tellingly, Ginger does not choose to be what she is — not even by choosing poorly. It is thrust upon her as a very obvious metaphor for the horrors of puberty and the onset of sexual maturity and the dawn of sexual behavior. So now, we have changed the elements, and the naked bones of the story go like this: Girl becomes woman. Girl tries to enjoy being a woman. Girl cannot control herself. Girl becomes a monster and has to die.
In the original story, when Little Red Riding Hood is cornered by the wolf in the forest, he asks her “Which way are you going? By the path of pins or the path of needles?”
Red chooses the path of needles, and the wolf takes the path of pins, or vice versa. The symbolism of this passage is lost to us, but its significance is not: it is a choice bound up with womanhood and carnal love and knowledge of the flesh. If she chooses the longer way, the dawdling way, the wolf will go on ahead of her, impersonate her to gain entry to Grandmother’s house, and therein commit his murderous acts. If Red goes directly to her grandmother’s house, as she was told, we are given to understand that the wolf would not arrive in time to commit his deceit. In some versions, Red actually asks the wolf to choose the correct path for her. (Ironically, viewed outside the fairy-tale morality where all little girls are good and all big wolves are bad, this is actually not a foolish idea at all. Who knows the way through the woods better than a wolf?)
However it happens, Red takes one path and la Béte, the bzou, the man-wolf, takes the other. When she arrives at the cottage, he has made his entry and is already waiting for Red. He serves Red her own Grandmother’s flesh and seduces her out of her clothes and into bed, where he eats her right up.
Worth noting is that not every version punishes the wolf for this – the wolf is only being a wolf, after all; it’s the girl who shouldn’t have gone into the woods dressed like that, who should have known better – but most people are familiar with the huntsman and most people believe in the badness of wolves and little girls alike, and so in most modern tellings the wolf, too, must go to his fate and his belly full of rocks as punishment for being a carnivorous and sexual being, and for corrupting a little girl into the same.
But, you see, it does not really matter which path Red takes. No matter which version you read, the one where she chooses the path of pins, the one where she chooses the path of needles, the one where she lets the wolf choose for her, the end is the same: both paths condemn her. The quickest road takes her to her grandmother’s house, safely away from the wolf, safely within the narrow little world allowed to her; it is a shorter road to a death by inches, because the girl has turned her back on everything but what is asked and expected of her. She does not even learn the cruel lesson of the wolf’s seduction. She doesn’t taste even that much wildness.
The longer road dallies and dawdles and takes its pleasurable time, but in the end it leads to the darkened cottage, to the ritual cannibalism, the shining teeth and – only if Red is truly lucky – the cleaving axe offering rebirth from the belly of the beast and a second chance to choose the safer path.
Once Red has met the wolf, has experienced temptation, has been asked to come away into the woods, she is already damned. Damned just for meeting the wolf. She can’t make a right choice. Ginger, like Red herself, is only offered one choice: continue unchecked down the path which, we are given to understand, can only lead to murder, cannibalism, and lesbian incest . . . or cease to be what she is and go back to the powerlessness she had before. Be condemned for being an animal, or remain a child forever. Path of pins, path of needles. There is no third path of learning to deal with your beast responsibly, no third path of learning when to use wolf manners and when to speak like a human woman, no third path where knowing the wolf is the right, smart, safe thing to do. No, you turn your back on him, or you let him eat you alive.
It’s not much of a choice at all, really.
But so it is for women, so it always is. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Powerlessness or death. The end is always the same, no matter which path you choose . . . and one cannot choose not to meet the beast.
And now my fur has turned to skin
And I’ve been quickly ushered in
To a world that I confess I do not know,
But I still dream of running careless through the snow
And through the howlin’ winds that blow
Across the ancient distant flow,
It fills our bodies up like water till we know.
– Blitzen Trapper, Furr
From the dark into the black,
Throwbacks always have to go,
But now I know it’s painless.
– Tarot, Painless
I would recommend, if you want to see a very good movie that discusses these things in a more approachably female way, that you see A Company of Wolves, based on the peerless Angela Carter story of the same name. And while you’re at it, reading the rest of the book in which it appears, The Bloody Chamber, is probably a good idea.