Jennifer's Body, Ginger Snaps and the feminine transformation of monstrosity
By Lucy Ryan
“I have used the term ‘monstrous-feminine’ as the term ‘female monster’ implies a simple reversal of ‘male monster’. The reasons why the monstrous-feminine horrifies her audience are quite different from the reasons why the male monster horrifies his audience. A new term is needed to specify these differences. as with all other stereotypes of the feminine, from virgin to whore, she is defined in terms of her sexuality. The phrase ‘monstrous-feminine’ emphasizes the importance of gender in the construction of her monstrosity.” — Barbara Creed, The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis
Sometimes, just sometimes, when mists are rolling through suburbia, when a fire, a scratch, or a darkly enthralling song have burned up the last of what you were - soft teenage girl - you start to get hungry. You want to spill a little blood.
(And girls, as we know, are intimately acquainted with blood.)
When I was in my early teens - let’s say thirteen, up to my ankles in an embarrassingly rising tide of emo and drawn to that thread of darkness that runs through girlhood making the mystical so alluring, I devoured everything I could find that featured girls going dark. Clutching crystals in my carefully manicured hands I poured through books where girls transformed into something powerful and let their darkness overspill. And I was far from the only one. Many towns, cities, suburbs and solitary bedrooms have been taken over by tarot cards, incense sticks, black velvets and lace. Glamourising the gothic, the outsider-ness subculture became more interesting than the pallid day-to-day. Why? Because we felt trapped in ourselves, mind body and soul - and girls, much like the wolves we relate to so intimately, when cornered, run.
An escapism can be found by completely possessing your own style, your attitude, your space. Transformation comes from a desire for control. We want to show the world a carefully constructed face. We want to craft an image we can control because inside us, hormones and anxieties and change are filling us to the brim with chaos.
And as Sady Doyle beautifully expresses in her article The Season Of The Witch, as much as we are afraid of our changing selves, the outside is far more frightened:
People are convinced that something spooky is going on with girls; that, once they reach a certain age, they lose their adorable innocence and start tapping into something powerful and forbidden. Little girls are sugar and spice, but women are just plain scary. And the moment a girl becomes a woman is the moment you fear her most.
The world is terrified of the teenage girl, the last vestige of innocent beauty before the beast of womanhood takes over. But girls are drawn into this darkness too - we still want power, and we still want control. We want something beautiful that we can sink our teeth in to.
So there I am, thirteen years old, obsessed with girls and obsessed with power and having no idea what to do with either of these huge, consuming concepts, and Megan Fox struts into my life, spilling dialogue no person outside of Diablo Cody’s fantasies have ever spoken (“You’re my biff”), and eats a boy whole.
Immediately, I am intoxicated. I am enthralled. I am in love.
My love for Jennifer’s Body is unironic and unabashed. Sure, the movie is ridiculous and camp and swimming in fanservice of all kinds, but God is it fun. So fun that I watch it twice a year, without fail.
It was almost as though someone (thank you Karyn Kusama) had made this film for me. Jennifer and Needy’s intimate relationship, the painfully noughties soundtrack, Jennifer’s Fall Out Boy poster and Mean Girls parallels (“I’m crossing you out,” / “Boo, you whore,”) the blood and the guts and the lipgloss. All of it was so nichely tailored to my interests, a divinely made so-bad-it’s-good classic as formative as The Lost Boys and The Rocky Horror Picture Show on my goth-kitsch tendencies.
But no piece of media, no matter how beloved is without its vicious, black-gummed maw of issues. Jennifer does not go out seeking her power. Her girlhood is stolen from her as a sacrifice by selfish men seeking their own success. The transformation into monstrous is involuntary and brutal - a rape allegory (with implications, regarding Needy and Jennifer’s endless fascination with her, of the rape and switch trope.)
This forced change will also be familiar to anyone who saw Ginger Snaps, where late bloomer Ginger is attacked by a werewolf after her first period and begins her transformation into a beast as a kind of frightening, intoxicating puberty. The implication is that growing pains are terrifying things, new urges feel like a mystical compulsion, that you can feel like a completely different creature when these things take hold. The changes are intimate, sexual, an internal dominance over confusing internal sensations, and isn't that what everyone is terrified of? A former ingénue growing into her prowess and strength that can no longer be subdued.
Intentionally or not, the endings of these movies make the moral clear: the beast must be slain. This metaphoric rape has irreparably damaged poor Jennifer, and Ginger’s traumatic coming-of-age has rendered her unable to be saved. The girls are no longer girls, and something must be done about it.
Upon Ginger's murder of her sister Brigitte's love interest and thus ensuring all they have left is each other, Brigitte is forced to put a now entirely beastly Ginger out of her misery. Similarly, after the murder of her boyfriend, Needy is pushed over the edge and snuffs out Jennifer, straddling her on her bed and driving an X-Acto knife into her former best friend’s chest. In Stephen King’s Carrie, everyone’s favourite murderous telekinetic becomes overwhelmed and overcome by her psychic powers, dying after her rampage takes its toll on her waifish body. In The Craft, head witch Nancy is overpowered by Sarah and ends her days in a mental institution. The girls are handed underwhelming ends not nearly up to par with their capabilities and this, seemingly, is the lesson to be learned: power uses you up, and after, the thing that's left isn't capable of salvation. This is the darkest of power fantasies written in reverse.
But here's the thing - girls have never been interested in the outcome. They don’t want the hero or the care about the ill-effects. They want the power.
By the end of Ginger Snaps, Ginger has infected a horrified and alienated Brigitte so the curse will live on. In Jennifer’s Body Needy is imbued with some of Jennifer’s powers after an innocent moment of bloodletting in their childhood. But there is a difference - Brigitte spends her sequel fighting a losing battle against the beast inside until it kills her, but Needy? Needy embraces what she has to take revenge. She continues to harness the dark powers within to get back at the world that has destroyed her and those she loves. We only have a short five minutes to savour her rampage, but it’s certainly sweet.
Perhaps that’s why I love it so. Because deep down, we all want a touch of that strength. Because we all have our darker impulses and we want something a little bad to live on in us after all our changing and growing is long finished.
Because baby, sometimes it’s just so good to be bad.