I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m a sucker for cheesy horror movies. I mean really terrible, poorly written, highly un-feminist movies that I know I shouldn’t like but do anyway, thus fueling the fire of my feminist guilt. For this simple reason [as well as the killer soundtrack boasting some of my (way un-cool) favorite bands], however, I was intrigued when I began reading early reviews of Diablo Cody’s newest flick, Jennifer’s Body. Cody promised to bring together two of my greatest passions – guts&gore and feminism – but as soon as the first trailers were released, feminist bloggers were already up in arms over the potential problems to be expected. Feministing questioned if Jennifer's Body could "cross the finish line in covert feminist style [or] ... resemble all the other horror flicks despite feminist intentions" while Bitch posted an online poll asking readers whether or not its "feminist" points ("grrrltastic songs in the trailer") outweighed its non-feminist ones ("makes light of bi-sexuality"). This is actually another entirely issue entirely, but I will address that later.
Needless to say, I was curious - and sold. As I sat with my little sister in the theatre on opening weekend, I was fully prepared to mentally take notes about the objectification of women/the reclamation of grrrl power/the struggle against patriarchy-influenced men/etc ... but I was not prepared for what was in store. I could write a thesis on how profoundly - and surprisingly - introspective the two main female characters' relationship was, but Feministing has already provided an excellent review. Besides, what really grabbed my attention was the positive portrayal of masculinity within the movie, and the lack of attention afforded to this in both popular and alternative reviews.
Often compared to the movie Teeth, in which a teenage girl uses her vagina dentata in order to exact revenge on the men who sexually abuse her, Jennifer's Body varies drastically from this comparison. The first main act of violence Jennifer commits is against a fellow classmate. As their high school is shown in mourning the following day, one of the most poignant moments of the film occurs when the deceased student's best friend - and male head of the football team - is shown crying. Although several audience members did chuckle, the scene is not played for laughs, and is followed by a tryst between Jennifer and him on the football field. As Jennifer approaches him, he is not afraid to open up to her emotionally and confide in her all of the grief he is feeling. Subverting the typical masculine "jock" stereotype, he is also very hesitant when Jennifer begins seducing him and continually asks for her consensus before engaging in any sexual activity with her. His willingness to discuss his feelings and his respect for Jennifer is extremely male-positive and a breath of fresh air for Hollywood, especially within the horror genre.
In much the same vein, Jennifer's victimization of Colin, an underground "punk" boi and classmate, debunks stereotypes that men are sex-crazed and will do anything to sleep with a beautiful woman. After arriving for a movie date at Jennifer's house, Colin is wary when Jennifer immediately begins removing her clothing. As she begins to seduce him, Colin stops Jennifer and asks "if she even knows his last name." This type of behavior, typically relegated to females in movies, is important in challenging the socially-constructed ideas of how men/women are "supposed" to act in sexual situations. Rather than showing the man as wanting nothing more than a one-night stand, Colin is shown as having actual feelings for Jennifer and wanting to be more than a random hook-up. He has self-worth and respect for himself, as well as for her, and this should be praised. This scene is not about judging people for their sexual choices to have sex or not to, but rather about acting based on how he feels as a person rather than a pre-determined prototype of what he "should" want as a male.
Continuing this theme, the character of Chip, the protagonist Needy's partner, deserves the title of "feminist-boyfriend-of-the-year." Not only does he actively talk about -and approach! - the topic of safe sex with his girlfriend, but when losing their virginity to each other continually asks if she is ok and makes sure that he isn't hurting her. After a rough patch in their relationship, he denies the come-ons of another girl because he still has feelings for Needy and respects her as a person.
There is much to be said about Jennifer's treatment of the male characters in the movie, but it is important in dissecting masculinity not to view them through their relation to her but rather based on their own merit and varying forms of masculinity. Yes, there are males in this movie who are evil (quite literally). They are violent, perpetuate the virgin/whore dichotomy in their treatment of Jennifer, and commit a heinous act of violence. It is difficult to watch their actions, but it is also relieving to see men - a football player, a punk, a sweet "boy next door" - portrayed as dimensional characters with emotions, sexual - and consensual - desires, and varying personalities. It is also important to note that Jennifer's Body does not use men as forces for destructing the girls' best-friendship, a tactic that is often employed in movies to explain why girls' friendships are often broken up.
If anyone could find any critiques of Jennifer's Body that center around masculinity, I would love to read them, because so far not one of my searches resulted in any luck. I feel that this is something that needs to be addressed, especially within the feminist movement, because if we leave men out of this discussion, there will never be an incentive for them to get involved. In feminist circles we often discuss the media's effect on women, but I believe it's time we begin to include men in these analyses as well. Not only that, but it's time for us, as consumers of mass media, to call attention to the portrayal of masculinity within popular culture. Men, too, are affected by the patriarchal systems of power which reinforce strict gender roles, and it's high time we begin to include them, as well as people of all gender-identities, within our discussions.
This is where I have to critique Bitch magazine for their pre-determined bias of the movie. By claiming Jennifer's Body looks feminist because "the main cheerleader appears to be using her powers to seek revenge against jerk-y guys," and because it's "directed and written by women," Bitch is, first of all, promoting violence against men as the answer to their behavior, and, secondly, assuming that women's work = feminist and men's does not.
It is with this in mind that I want to ask YOUR opinion on the movie if you've seen it, or what you felt about it based on the trailers, as well as your thoughts on the exclusion of discussion of masculinity from a feminist perspective on this film or any others. I look forward to hearing your thoughts :)