Hell is a Teenage Girl

Oct 3, 2018 by Contributing Writer on The Nickelodeon Blog

In partnership with Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of South Carolina, The Nickelodeon is proud to present Medusa’s Gaze, a three-part series exploring the feminine in horror film.

This series is conducted in collaboration with Unsweetened Magazine and Dr. Julia Elliott’s class, “Monstrous Mothers and Femme Fatales: Gender and Monstrosity in Horror Film.” Here, one of Dr. Elliot’s students, Victoria VanZomeren, discusses Jennifer’s Body.

“Hell is a teenage girl,” the opening lines of Jennifer’s Body proclaim, and in patriarchal societies, this stands as a scarily accurate perception of young women. Prepubescent girls are considered cute and controllable by those above them (see: everyone). When a young woman reaches puberty, however, society imagines that she suddenly becomes unmanageable, uncontrollable, and almost monstrous. The innocence of young girls is suddenly contradicted with the continued objectification of women and creates a storm of confusion for both the young woman and those viewing her. We can see this in Jennifer’s Body and in other high school horror films such as Carrie and Ginger Snaps. These movies address the societal horror towards young women when they reach puberty by physically manifesting terror through the main character’s monstrosity. Young women are continually objectified and sexualized by society, but the moment they act sexual, they are demonized. According to The New York Times, “Jennifer’s Body goes further, taking the complication and confusion of being a young woman as its central problem and operating principle, the soil from which it harvests a tangle of unruly metaphors, mixed emotions, crazy jokes, and ambivalent insights.”

Teenage Jennifer’s active sexual life is what makes her into a monster. Subjected to a virgin sacrifice despite not being a virgin since eighth grade, Jennifer survives a brutal knife attack by a fame-hungry indie band and transforms into a succubus. Jennifer is completely aware of her sexuality, as seen by her flirtation with men throughout the film, and uses this to her advantage as she seduces and devours her victims. Jennifer hypersexualizes herself to tempt, first for sexual pleasure and then to lure victims, and thus, the embrace of her sexuality is what makes Jennifer a monster.

Further, her power that stems from her sexuality becomes the power she has as a monster. Teen female sexuality is monstrous to society, but Jennifer’s Body, as a female written and directed film, satirizes this idea. Jennifer is monstrous, for sure, but she also has a power that few teen females can gain. Jennifer, as a popular, attractive, and sexually active high schooler, would be slut-shamed for her sexuality but writer Diablo Cody and director Karyn Kusama make Jennifer powerful without a sense of shame. This movie stands in opposition to the attempt to control and manipulate sexually active young women by making Jennifer so wholly uncontrollable.

Young women are often the center of discussion in our society as everyone, from older men to other young women, criticizes the choices they make. These critics often strip young women of their own agency in an attempt to revert them to the moldable, manageable state of young girls. Fear of young women’s sexuality make them the center of criticism. Society wants young women to be sexualized but not sexual, a dichotomy that makes little sense but has persisted through the ages. Most mainstream films, both horror and not, have this view; wanting young women to be sexy but not sexual and shaming them when they are. Jennifer’s Body, in Jennifer’s acceptance of both her sexuality and her monstrousness, returns some agency to young women through that very monstrousness with which their sexuality has been demonized. In a world where one has little control over any aspect of their life, being a powerful monster doesn’t sound so bad anymore, does it?

Special thanks to our series curators, Alice Lilitu, Dr. Julia Elliot, and Meeghan Kane.