Year of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Other Degree Name/Area of Focus
Rhetoric & Public Discourse
Department or School/College
Department of Communication Studies
Dr. Sara Hayden
Dr. Betsy Bach, Dr. Katie Kane
feminism, vagina dentata, #MeToo, abstinence-only education, purity, sex
University of Montana
Critical and Cultural Studies | Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in Communication | Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Social Influence and Political Communication | Speech and Rhetorical Studies | Women's Studies
Vagina dentata is the myth of the toothed vagina; in most iterations, it serves as a warning to men that women’s vaginas must be conquered to be safe for a man’s sexual pleasure (Koehler, 2017). The vagina dentata myth has been carried forth from ancient ancestors in numerous cultures all over the world (Koehler). It is one of many destructive cultural myths that guides discourses about sex and women’s bodies. In this paper, I explore a recent articulation of the myth, the 2007 film Teeth, and I argue that in this film, the vagina dentata is made more complicated. While some audience members might read the film as a warning to men about women’s potential destructiveness, to others, the film represents the vagina dentata as a means for a young woman to fight back against rape culture while also offering a scathing critique of the purity movement prevalent throughout the early 2000s.
In the early 2000s, the purity movement swept across the nation; one of its goals was to address the oversaturation of sex in the media (Strange, 2007). The purity movement was based on the rejection of the sex-obsessed culture in the US and its influence became so vast that public schools across the country began to teach abstinence-only sexual education (Strange). As of March 1, 2016, only twenty-four states and the District of Columbia are required at the state level to teach sexual education (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2016).
While the purity movement dominated much discourse around sexuality in the 2000s, in 2018, a new movement developed and thrust sex back into the social spotlight. The #MeToo movement spread across the US in a matter of hours; it provided victims of sexual assault and rape a public platform to clearly illustrate the damages rape culture bring about (Garcia, 2017).
Rape culture is not the fault of any one person, but it is the product of repeated engagement in rhetoric which propagates myths about sex, consent, and women’s bodies. Destructive myths about rape and the ownership of women’s bodies, such as the vagina dentata myth, underpin the ways in which we understand and think about sex and sex-related topics (Beard, 2017). Teeth (2007) is a film which addresses the purity movement and abstinence-only education in a blunt, tongue-in-cheek fashion which alludes to their influence on cultural perceptions of sex, consent, and the ownership of women’s bodies. Teeth (2007) uses the myth, vagina dentata, to illustrate these concepts. While Teeth (2007) is now over one decade old, US culture’s current discourses toward sex remain critique-able and relevant to the film.
Hockenbroch, Olivia, "Fear, Power, & Teeth (2007)" (2019). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 11326.
Critical and Cultural Studies Commons, Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in Communication Commons, Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Commons, Social Influence and Political Communication Commons, Speech and Rhetorical Studies Commons, Women's Studies Commons
© Copyright 2019 Olivia Hockenbroch