What is it about women’s sexuality – particularly queer women’s sexuality – that’s so frightening for mainstream audiences? Unless it’s expressed exactly as it’s meant to be, in utter subservience and service to patriarchal desire, feminine sexuality can become one of the most panic-inducing concepts known to man.
There are some noted exceptions to this phenomenon, however. The films Jennifer’s Body, Ginger Snaps, and Tragedy Girls, all feature a story where the sexuality of the leading ladies is foregrounded like a breath of fresh air. But is the sexuality of these women monstrous, uncontrollable, or empowering?
Or perhaps the most terrifying possibility of all: their sexuality has the potential to be all three.
In Diablo Cody’s 2009 comedy-horror Jennifer’s Body the relationship between Anita “Needy” Lesinski (Amanda Seyfried) and Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) is brought to the forefront and serves as the central relationship of the movie. Their high school classmates are quick to label their relationship as gay, and even if Needy denies it, the queer subtext hardly remains “sub” at all against the backdrop of hyper-sexualized demonic possession.
While they only nominally identify as “best friends” over the course of the movie, it’s inarguable that there’s sexual attraction between the two; wiht the obvious being the electrifying kiss that the pair share (under Needy’s Evil Dead poster no less). Even beyond that, however, there’s clearly a queer undercurrent: Jennifer even explicitly states that she “goes both ways” during the climactic showdown between the two star-crossed BFFs.
For some of us who were older teens in the late 2000s, the “friendship-so-close-it-might-be-more” dynamic represents a relationship that’s heart-achingly familiar, particularly during a period where explicit queer relationships were less commonly depicted then they are now. And in an equally relatable turn, Jennifer and Needy’s inability to honestly communicate with one another about their respective feelings means that their emotional battleground soon becomes littered with the men who have become romantically involved with either of them.
In fact, while Jennifer states in dialogue that she goes both ways, her relationship with men is depicted very differently than the way she relates to Needy, even if both dynamics seem to be founded in sexual attraction.
When it comes to men, Jennifer’s sexuality is expressed as an exertion of power: whether it’s the football captain or an emo kid, Jennifer is in complete control, literally consuming them and leaving whatever remains in her wake.
This embodies an inversion of the relationship that is established between Jennifer and Low Shoulder —the alternative band whose botched attempt to sacrifice Jennifer is the catalyst for both her transformation and the plot of the film.
Before Jennifer was consuming men, Low Shoulder “consumed” Jennifer. After literal penetration with the Bowie knife, the band discards what they believe to be her corpse, with the intention that her sacrifice fuel their rise to stardom. However, essentially, the subversion of the band’s intention occurs because Jennifer is not a virgin; in fact, had she been, she would have been a demure sacrifice — her lifeless corpse vanishing down the Devil’s Kettle whirlpool forever. It is Jennifer’s failure to comply with the expected sexual role of a woman – to be a passive, virginal object for the consumption of men – that causes her to gain the supernatural abilities afforded by her rebirth.
Critically, when Jennifer propositions Needy during the scene in her room, she proposes not the use-them-then-leave-them model she’s applied to her male classmates. Instead, she offers Needy a more sustainable arrangement, proposing that she fill the role vacated by the men she consumes: “We can play girlfriend-boyfriend like we used to.”
All evidence suggests this is a genuine offer. Although Jennifer’s first impulse after being left for dead by Low Shoulder is to seek out her friend, when she arrives at Needy’s house, Jennifer nevertheless directs her insatiable hunger towards the refrigerator. In the memorable “spikey vomit” scene, we see that these culinary offerings won’t suffice for Jennifer’s insatiable lusts… but while it does seem for a moment that she might turn her appetite on Needy, she flees.
We later learn that she encountered one of the classmates thought to have perished in the bar fire; however, he survived that only to be consumed by the newly reawakened Jennifer.
In her first life, Jennifer may have used the word “salty” to refer to the men who become her sexual conquests. However, in spite of the snack food association of the term, the methodology of Jennifer’s demonic consumption suggests that the men she devours offer her real sustenance: when fully fed on manflesh, she appears to be unkillable, with a healing factor that kicks in at the drop of a blade.
It looks like meat’s back on the menu, ladies…
By contrast, consider how women’s sexuality is presented in the 2000 movie Ginger Snaps when compared with Jennifer’s Body. In the latter, Jennifer’s sexuality becomes an avenue to exerting control around the masculine forces in her life; in Ginger Snaps sexuality is depicted as an insurmountable craving that becomes inextricably paired with lycanthropy.
The irresistible nature of the craving is especially obvious in the previous disinterest Ginger Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle) had in boys – not to mention her open scorn for those that did display interest in boys, as when her classmate Danielle’s (Trina Sinclair) crush on the local drug dealer. And there are concordant alterations in the way the Needy-comparable role of Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins) plays out in this shifted theme, as well.
This is likely due to the much different relationship between the main characters: unlike the leads of Jennifer’s Body with their sexually charged “friendship,” the two leads of Ginger Snaps are all sisters.
However, this alteration does not fully remove the element of jealousy that emerges between the two leads. While it may have none of the romance, the two characters are still envious of masculine third parties who manage to seize the others’ attention, even in a non-romantic context.
As the movie continues, Ginger becomes increasingly compromised by her lycanthropy. After passing the infection on to another classmate, Jason (Jesse Moss), during a tryst, Ginger continues to succumb to her ravenous sexual appetite, all the while becoming more monstrous in her appearance, growing a tail and unwanted hair – in other words, it’s the opposite effect as Jennifer’s transformation, which allows her to become hypnotically attractive as her power swells.
While Brigitte falls into a similar role as Jennifer’s Body’s Needy, working closely with Jason to determine how to stymie the lycanthropic transformation, Ginger becomes increasingly dangerous as the story proceeds and she continues to act like she’s undergoing her Pon Farr (an overwhelming state of arousal brought on by the biological need to mate, characterized by a propensity to run violently amok if one’s sexual needs are not satisfied).
Soon Ginger is shown to be deadly, not just to the boys unlucky enough to become the objects of her sexual fixation, but to any men at all. She even attacks the janitor with whom Brigette had a somewhat positive (and apparently not at all sexual) relationship. And finally, Ginger fatally attacks Sam, in spite of the fact that he was simply cooperating with Brigette in an attempt to cure Ginger of her condition.
At the conclusion of Ginger Snaps, it first seems unclear which path Bridgette will choose. With Sam lying incapacitated on the floor, Bridgette and Ginger stare each other down for a moment before Bridgette drops to all fours and attempts to adopt the same behavior as her lycanthrope sister, even consuming some of the boy’s blood. However, she is unable to follow her sister down the same path: her stomach rejects the blood, and as she retches, the Gingerwolf turns her aggression on her sister.
Ginger Snaps concludes with Bridgette seemingly “escaping” the same lycanthropic fate as Ginger – even if she has been infected, she and Sam have concocted what seems to be a “cure,” even going so far as to test it on hapless infected classmate Jason. However, Ginger is ultimately unable to be rescued from her lycanthropy, and instead is killed by Brigette in self-defense during the final scene.
As the credits roll, Brigette weeps over her sister’s wolf’d-up corpse as she cradles the body on the floor of their shared, photograph-filled bedroom. It seems as though in Ginger Snaps, women’s sexuality as conveyed through lycanthropy, has proven to be a more powerful thematic force than sisterly affection.
But must a rejection of traditionally-gendered sexual roles always lead to a tragic ending?
That isn’t the case in Tragedy Girls, which introduces us to another female-starring duo: McKayla Hooper (Alexandra Shipp) and Sadie Cunningham (Brianna Hidebrand)— two high schoolers who are hoping to make it big on social media by cashing in on the trending topic of serial killers.
It’s swiftly established that the pair has zero reservations about utilizing sexuality in order to control their masculine classmates; however, rather than literally consuming them in order to add to their power, they’re instead using handjobs to lure them into playing the role of unsuspecting serial killer bait. Though while they may engage in sexual trysts with masculine classmates in order to accomplish secondary goals, they only seem to be moved to jealousy over one another.
In other words, the pair of extremely close BBFs have a relationship dynamic which closely reflects the one between Jennifer and Needy, in that, McKayla and Sadie are similarly tempted to split in the third act, providing the opportunity to abandon their closest lady ally in favor of a compulsory masculine “partner.”
For McKayla, this partner takes the form of the sheriff’s son, Jordan Welch (Jack Quaid). While it does seem as though Sadie has some measure of attraction (or at least affection) for Jordan, much of the relationship between Jordan and Sadie seems to be defined by the open, scathing jealousy displayed by McKayala whenever Jordan threatens to compromise Sadie’s focus on her bestie.
In fact, McKayla’s own pairing with serial-killer “father figure” Lowell Orson Lehmann (Kevin Durand) is essentially borne out of her ire and jealousy at Sadie’s choice to attend prom with Jason. Lehmann, who has been extra-judicially imprisoned by the Tragedy Girls in a misguided attempt to extort him into becoming their “Yoda,” senses the growing unrest between the pair and exploits it.
Lehmann leverages an offer of cooperation that McKayla accepts, largely to even the score after Sadie chooses Jordan over her (McKayla’s dialogue makes it clear that she has no love lost for the serial killer, who she taunts for likely having incurred permanent brain damage as a result of the duo’s careless utilization of chloroform to keep him under control).
In a sense, this is the way that Tragedy Girls offers the possibility of a perverse fulfillment of the roles which girls are “supposed” to play— each one partnered off with a man, defusing the “threat” of their combined sexuality.
McKayla and Sadie subvert this “safe” outcome, however, by choosing each other over the men with whom they are “supposed to” pair off. In the climactic scene, they kill the two men, thus demonstrating that neither potential “beau” has any control over their autonomy/fate. They then murder all of their classmates in a scene that echoes the final shot of a couple sharing a romantic slow dance.
Further still, they are shown to get away with their behavior without incurring negative consequences: as the credits roll, McKayla and Sadie are happily sitting alongside one another as they make another social media post and drive off into the sunset, presumably to raise total hell while matriculating at university.
When compared with the conclusion of Ginger Snaps, which sees the two central characters torn asunder, Tragedy Girls offers a path for the duo to remain with one another as they move on to the next stage of their presumably blood-spattered lives.
The climax of Jennifer’s Bodyseems to split the difference between Ginger Snaps and Tragedy Girls. Needy kills Jennifer, taking advantage of the fact that it’s been so long since the succubus has fed on a man that her invulnerability has been compromised. However, some of Jennifer’s demonic abilities have been passed to Needy thanks to their experience together – specifically, we see her manifest levitation and super-strength.
These abilities allow Needy to resolve the unsettled situation created by Low Shoulder’s continued success: they have been profiting off of the sacrifice of Jennifer, and the false public perception that the band members were the heroes of the tragic event rather than the actual source of the disaster.
And in case you think this is an impersonal arrangement for the band, one not borne out of hatred but simply out of the necessity of success and the convenience of the virgin sacrifice, the lead singer of Low Shoulder scornfully declares that he “hates girls” during their attempt to sacrifice Jennifer. The consumption of a woman in the act of achieving their success isn’t a bug, it’s a feature; however, Needy’s newfound abilities afford her the agency to settle the score against those who cost her her best friend.
While there is no happy ending for Needy and Jennifer together, Jennifer was still an integral part of Needy’s journey to her ultimate destination as an empowered woman who brokers no mercy for those who would use her and her friends as objects for their consumption. Jennifer’s story may have ended, but Needy’s is just beginning… and she has at least some of the power possessed by the reborn Jennifer, but without the demonic strings attached.
Maybe that’s an ending that’s happy enough.