Archive for July, 2011

July 24, 2011

The Vagina Dentata Alive and Well in 2011!

by Kelly Clark

Saw the 4th installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies this week. As promised, it quenched my thirst for action and adventure beautifully shot in the most amazing wild places on earth.

But that is where my praise for this movie ends. Just watching the trailers for the movie I knew I would have some issue with the portrayal of man-eating mermaids, and I did.  Their portrayal plays on every female stereotype. They are young, beautifully made up, long haired, dewy (well actually wet), doe-eyed seducers of men. They approach the boat and bounce along side innocently starring at the male sailors nary saying a word.  Should a sailor draw near they instantly grow vampire like fangs, grab their pray and drag them to the bottom of the ocean – but not before having “their way” with them!  In one scene the mermaids consume an entire ship causing it to capsize and sink to the shrieking screams of the men on board.

It seems the myth of the vagina dentata is alive and well in 2011! Stories of the toothed vagina occur in many cultures.  Common themes include the Creation Mother being conquered by the male hero who successfully removes the teeth thus making her into a human woman.  Or the witch who with magic spells can cause teeth to grow in the vagina for her own devious purposes. (Find a larger exploration of these myths at Goddess Cafe.)  Barbara Walker in The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets suggests that the more patriarchal the culture the more fear seems to be expressed through these myths.  That Pirates 4 relied so heavily on this imagery would suggest that we are still living in a patriarchal society indeed!

Modern psychologists have tackled the why of these myths. From where in the human psyche did they evolve? Might it be an unconscious exploration of the cycle of male sexual dominance and impotence? An erect penis enters the vagina and orgasms only to exit the vagina in an impotent state. Not only is he deflated but he has also been forced to leave some of himself behind. Do these myths reflect an unconscious judgement that even though the male in general has physical prowess through the sex act it is the female who holds the power?

And yet sex is pleasurable. The man-eating mermaids of Pirates were so appealing to the sailors that at least one expressed his willingness to be overcome by a mermaid, in full understanding of the fate that would await him, just to experience such beauty and promise of overwhelming ecstasy. Might the myth of the vagina dentata also express something similar – an inescapable desire to enter into a foreign place knowing that it will consume you, if even just for a moment?

Might then the connection between misogyny as expressed through this myth and modern homophobia occur right here? If the male psyche, through unconscious socialization, has internalized the fear of female consumption through the sex act YET gives in to it precisely because of the desire to be consumed by female beauty, where does that leave a man who has sex with another man?  The sex act leaves him impotent without so much as an ability to at least claim female seduction as the lure – for why else would a man ever willing render himself impotent?

I don’t know?  Just something to ponder…

Oh, next week I’ll share the problem I have with the portrayal of the only other female in the film – the character played by Penélope Cruz.






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