Vagina Dentata: The Subtle Reality of Teeth

This past Friday night, I was introduced to the film, Teeth (thanks, Tyler). Over the past year or so, I’ve seen clips and segments of it, so I knew at least a small part of its general premise, but after finally watching it, my mind was completely fucking blown.

Like, holy shit.

To some people (men) horrified at the thought of seeing a severed penis, this movie may seem like a gratuitous horror film about a woman with teeth in her vagina. Yet, it really is so much more complex than that. It’s a rape-revenge film that exposes the realities of rape culture; and, despite the seemingly fantastical nature of the film, it is actually far closer to the horrors that so many women face every day. 

The film begins on a scene introducing the protagonist, Dawn O’Keefe, and the primary antagonist, her step-brother, Brad. In this scene, they are young children in a kiddie pool on the front yard of their home. This film never shies away from jumping right into its most important scenes, so after a brief “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” sequence initiated by Brad, he sticks his finger into Dawn’s vagina, and her vagina's teeth bite the tip of his finger almost clean off. 

Fast forward to the present, and Dawn is now an abstinence advocate giving out promise rings, t-shirts, and chastity pledges to a room full of fellow young people, some of them even younger than her. Watching this scene—and how so many of the people in the room were so entrenched in the idea of anything sexual being totally impure that they literally chanted in reply to any of the pro-absitence speakers—it showed just how ridiculously pervasive such ideas are. That connects further to the scene in the biology class when the male teacher couldn’t even utter the word “vagina." When students finally got to the page in their textbook where it should have been depicted, there was a large golden sticker blocking it out. Of course, though, there was nothing blocking the depiction of the penis. “That’s different!” the teacher exclaimed when asked why the penis was visible when the vagina wasn’t. In all honesty, it's scenes like this that first made me realize that this movie wasn't as campy as it may have seemed from the snippets I had seen in the past. In its apparent ridiculousness, it is subtly sending a far more sinister, yet important message—this is not a fantasy, but a reality.

Each of the major plot points center around four men who violate Dawn. However, it is not them specifically, but rather their abuse toward her and subsequent loss of their penises or fingers that serve as catalysts for Dawn's forced and turbulent sexual awakening. Also, as an aside, to any readers who happen to have a penis, feel free to, er, empathize with the severance, though I certainly wouldn't sympathize with these fuckers.

The first guy Dawn started to hang out with, Tobey, seemed nice. He was relatively cute, charming, and seemed to be interested in Dawn. During that same biology class where we first encountered the golden sticker over the vagina, she defended the idea of abstinence. Tobey spoke up to defend her, shouting "it is!" in response to people laughing at Dawn claiming abstinence was important. It seemed as if he was trying to know her and support her. He joined her and her two friends on outings to the movies and to the secluded lake, and he even appeared to buy into her idea of abstinence. However, Dawn's fervor over abstinence extended even all the way to masturbation, so having sexual thoughts about Tobey, let alone experiences, absolutely terrified her. But, then, just a few more scenes into their encounters, Tobey raped her. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t come prepared with a steel dick to fend off the defensive ferocity of Dawn's vagina dentata. 

The second man to violate Dawn was a doctor she went to for help after she bit off Tobey's dick. Dawn sought him out because, after her experience with Tobey, she was absolutely petrified of her own body. But really, her whole life was oriented around connecting sex with feelings of shame—she was never even told what a "normalvagina was supposed to look like. Her parents, her teachers, and society in general had failed at educating her about her own body—it wasn't until she removed the sticker from her biology textbook that she discovered the truth. In any case, the gynecologist who decided to glove-lessly rape her with his fingers was certainly dealt the hand he deserved.

The third man to violate Dawn was another generic nice boy from her school—Ryan. While perhaps, he was a little less "conventionally attractive" (I almost puked in my mouth typing that phrase) than Tobey, he still managed to have almost the exact same reaction to Dawn. In fact, I believe that by intentionally making Ryan seem "less attractive," or even less of a threat, the film's writers were trying to make more obvious the sense of "competition" that exists between men surrounding the women they sleep with—in this case, consensual or otherwise. At the beginning of the sequences with Ryan, Dawn ran to him after discovering that her vagina dentata had killed Tobey, feeling what I could only presume was a huge mess of emotions, considering her complete unawareness of her body. And, it goes without saying that by not knowing what a vagina was supposed to look like, she was completely unaware that she, herself, had a very unique biology; this very realization in itself was incredibly traumatic. Dawn and Ryan then had debatably consensual sex (he had given her a sedative beforehand to "calm her nerves"), but it was during the morning-after sex that he sealed his fate. He revealed to Dawn that he and a friend of his had placed bets on whether or not he could fuck her. This time, and finally, finally, with some agency, she bit off his dick in her utter disgust. Even though they showed him having his penis re-attached later on, I truly do wonder if he thought his bet was worth it. 

What do all three of these men have in common? They're all completely and totally normal. Tobey and Ryan were both walking stereotypes, and the fact that both ended up sexually abusing Dawn is a testament to just how utterly common such vile behavior is. As for the doctor, I need only mention Larry Nassar to point out just how horrifically relevant his role in the film was. In many ways, these three's combined presence on Dawn's list of abusers is testament that men don't need to seem as weird and terrible as her step-brother, Brad, to be guilty of horrific acts of sexual violence and misconduct. Brad simply represented the end of Dawn's journey of awakening; she had gone from an overly sheltered abstinence advocate to a righteously vengeful woman who fought to protect herself, and, in the case of Brad, get justice for her mother. Dawn's mother had died because Brad decided he'd rather keep having sex with his girlfriend (whom he also treated horrifically) than save his dying step-mother. Knowing he was such an incredible piece of shit made it all the more worth it to watch Dawn trick him into having vaginal sex with her (he seemed to have only ever had anal sex as a result of his encounter with Dawn's vagina dentata in the kiddie pool) so she could bite off his penis. Adding insult to this particularly deserved injury, Brad's dog proceeded to pick up his severed penis and eat it. 

In the end, this film may be very keen on portraying the violence inflicted on Dawn's abusers. However, and perhaps most importantly, it is the knowledge that these men would have done the same things whether they had known she had vagina dentata or not that is the most poignantly subtle message of this film. The fact that her vagina dentata were all that protected her (and even they couldn't stop the emotional trauma of being raped and abused) is representative of the fact that men like the ones in this film have all of the power. While there are a whole host of ways in which this film can be discussed, in the end, it was the accurate and subtle portrayal of toxic masculinity and rape culture as insidious, yet omnipresent, that was the brilliance of this film