Some girls are more lethal than others: that deadly ‘vagina dentata’ grin.

The wonderful closing shot of an empowered Dawn from Mitchell Lichtenstein's "Teeth." Incidentally, Mitchell is the son of famed American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.

The vagina dentata is the myth of a woman that possesses a castrating ‘toothed vagina‘. This myth exists across many different cultures and seems to address a global anxiety amongst men over the ‘otherness’ of women’s bodies and sexuality. In the Freudian psychoanalytic model, the vagina dentata is emblematic of castration anxiety amongst very young boys who, upon their awareness of the biological difference between male and female genitalia, develop an unconscious and irrational fear that their own penis will be ‘removed.’ Of course, Freud’s theories have fallen out of favour in therapeutic practice over the past decades, owing to the fact that his views of both women and homosexuality are antiquated and obviously problematic. And yet, the myth of the vagina dentata continues to be pervasive in contemporary culture, albeit in a much more symbolic manner.

Mitchell Lichtenstein’s 2007 horror-comedy film Teeth employs the vagina dentata myth as a mischievously playful plot device. The main character Dawn unknowingly possesses a ‘toothed vagina.’ The reason for her biological abnormality is never explicitly given, although several panning camera shots of a power plant looming in the distance behind Dawn’s house — not to mention the cancer that plagues her sick mother —  suggest a mutation due to environmental pollutants. An unfortunate succession of events, including date rape and sexual abuse by a gynaecologist, transform the teenage Dawn from a virginal spokesperson for Christian abstinence to a sexual vigilante who wields her vagina dentata as a weapon of revenge. Although the premise feels a bit weak to carry a feature-length film, there’s still gory-fun to be had as the number of severed body parts predictably rise. Men will find this film squirm-inducing, for obvious reasons. Cross your legs and enjoy.

Kate Kretz. "Vagina Dentata Purse", 2002, hand sewn, hand dyed velvet, wire, thread, shaped shells, purse frame, 10 x 14 x 7".

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