Demonic Femininity: Understanding the Queer Feminist Conversation in Jennifer’s Body, 12 Years Later – Isabella Carver
NOVEMBER 19, 2021
In the spirit of the Halloween season and Megan Fox’s newfound relevance in pop culture, I have re-watched the still-topical—debatable cult-classic— horror film, Jennifer’s Body, written by Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama. Since the movie’s debut in 2009, Jennifer’s Body has continually been brought up in the feminist dialectical conversation. When released, the film was poorly received by the general public and seen as a trashy movie about hormonal teenage girls. The misconception is unsurprising, though disheartening: Society was simply too misogynistic to conceptualize its critiques in which Jennifer’s Body was so plainly trying to demonstrate.
The film exposes the destructive way women are represented through the male gaze by playing into Jennifer’s desirability, who is played by Megan Fox. At the debut, Megan Fox was Hollywood’s hot girl—known for being the object of desire in male-dominated movies. She was the “it” girl who was constantly introduced in the frame limb by limb performing something overtly masculine but in a posed, sexy way. Ultimately, her hyper-sexualization by society in the early 2000s led to the immediate assumption that her role in Jennifer’s Body would be one of seduction. But why would we assume this movie was made for the male gaze? Maybe it was meant for the masochists? Or could it be that a movie with a conventionally attractive woman as the protagonist was just not made for men?
It would be too simple for the director to subvert the patriarchal standards to get her point across completely. Instead, she deconstructs male desire by playing into it tritely. Jennifer is presented as a coy, flirty hyper-feminine girl who is obsessed with male validation. She is introduced exactly as she would have in her previous male-pleasing roles: the camera pans over her entire body, fragmenting and distorting her figure so the viewers can consume every inch of her before arriving at her face.
Dissimilar to the norm, however, Jennifer is introduced along with her female best friend, Needy, played by Amanda Seyfried, who she excitingly waves at. Jennifer provides Needy with more altruistic attention and affection than any other character in the film. From the beginning, the relationship between the two of them appears illimitable and, because it is a horror film, there is immediate tension. It would be crass to talk about the movie with bittersweet naivety— it becomes apparent quite quickly that Needy is a desperate victim of Jennifer’s toxic manipulation.
The film tackles femininity as demonic, literally in this sense. After a traumatic night of mistakenly being sacrificed by an indie band that fits perfectly with the male-manipulator archetype, Jennifer becomes a blood-thirsty demon that can only live by eating men. The undertones of the ‘man-hating lesbian’ trope are unavoidable. There are several moments where there are homophobic comments lazily passed off as jokes throughout the movie. But these comments serve as a satirical nod towards the movie’s elements of queerness.
Throughout the film, Jennifer maintains a coy and flirty personality around men, but only to emphasize how easy it is for her to trick men into doing what she wants. She is working into the role that men are drooling over her, she is not oblivious to this, and she wants them to know how stupid it makes them look. Ultimately, she transgresses the idea that she is a victim of her body and decides to control it and use it in her power.
To be clear, Jennifer’s flirtatious personality does not stop at men. Jennifer flirts and gazes at her best friend Needy; the obvious tension is palpable throughout the entire movie. Still, I argue that their relationship is not designed under the male gaze. Between repetitive gay panic from Needy when Jennifer stares at her for long periods, to the casual “I go both ways” comment made by Jennifer, the movie makes the straight men watching the movie question their viewership.
The brief but impactful makeout scene shared between Needy and Jennifer is utterly genuine and intimate. There is so much build-up to the scene: Needy is positioned as the object of pity in Jennifer’s eyes, who uses her sexuality to contribute to Needy’s confusion and suspicions that Jennifer is a man-eating demon. The viewer is positioned as a voyeur—there is no music to accompany us into a fetishistic satisfaction of girl-on-girl intimacy. Instead, the scene is sincere, reminiscent of the painting by Gustave Courbet from 1880, The Sleepers, which depicts two women in bed holding each other gently after a moment of intimacy. The viewer has walked in post-coital, and the women are unphased and uninterested, much like Jennifer and Needy. It does not look like they are performing intimacy for anyone else, it does not feel as though the director tried to subvert the male gaze nor play into it. Instead, the scene of Needy and Jennifer acts as an opportunity for a critical reading of the film wherein the director is more interested in the genuine portrayal of women rather than submitting to the male gaze.
The painting was received with a great deal of anxiety from men, and the women were pathologized for committing acts of lesbianism. The misogynistic tendencies still exist two centuries later—when will men understand that desirability is not handcrafted for their sultry desire? Although the movie still plays into problematic tropes of ideal femininity and is perhaps too subtle in its queerness, it subverted the norm for early 2000s Hollywood. Watching Jennifer have agency over her body and use it for her gain rather than subjecting herself to be consumed for male pleasure was critical representation.