Monday, June 20, 2011

Super 8 and the Monstrous Pussy

"Natalie Wilson is literature and women’s studies scholar and author of the blogs Professor, what if…? and Seduced by Twilight. She is currently writing a book examining the Twilight cultural phenomenon from a feminist perspective, forthcoming from McFarland in 2010. Her interest in vampires and werewolves dates back to her childhood fascination with all types of monsters."

As you can imagine, if you search the terms “pussy,” “monster pussy,” or “monstrous pussy” what comes up is links to porn sites.

In addition to its pornified status, the word pussy also has a well-worn meaning: coward. I.e., when someone says, “don’t be such a pussy” they usually mean, “don’t be such a coward.”

And who are the cowards of this world? Why, females of course! Or, men who “act like females” (either by loving other men or being “too feminine”).

I would bet I am not teaching you anything new about the word pussy here.

However, it seems that either Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams (makers of Super 8) are not aware of this terms virulent misogyny OR that they know of its misogyny but don’t care, choosing to go ahead and sprinkle its usage throughout their new film. My guess is the latter.

One would have to live on another planet to not recognize that the term “pussy,” in its common usage, is rabidly sexist. Of course, it has been reclaimed by some (as by Power Pussy Says). But, overall, it is still used pejoratively – a usage which has a long history.

As detailed in Hodge’s great post “P is for Pussy,” the word journeyed from meaning cat to meaning woman to meaning female genitals to meaning cowardly.

As with many terms meant to denigrate females, it also has a history of homophobic usage. As Hodge writes, “a pussy could, from its earliest beginnings, refer also to ‘a male homosexual’ (where it sits in parallel to pussy‘s final meaning as ‘the anus or mouth of a man as an object of sexual penetration’, connecting it to ‘weakling’ through the concomitant feminisation such penetration implies).” Here, when we think of the all-too-common “don’t be such a pussy” it thus means not only “don’t be such a coward” but also “be impenetrable.” This second meaning is particularly apt in relation to the term’s usage in Super 8, as the young males keep telling each other not to be “pussies” and, by implication, to be instead brave, impenetrable, phallic monster hunters.

This is not to say I didn’t enjoy Super 8. I did. Great monster movie. Great special effects. Strong characters.

And, admittedly, the word “pussy” seems to be used in the film in a somewhat knowing way to nod towards the past, as in, “now we know better than to use that word.”

In one scene, for example, the main character’s best friend uses the word and then realizes there is a female is in the room, looks sheepishly at her, and apologizes, as if he has just come to the realization that the word is an insult to her as a female – which indeed it is.

But using the sexism of the past to try and position the present as somehow better or more self-aware doesn’t really fly in a film that is far, far, far from being progressive in its representation of gender. The floppy-haired timid boy has to save the smart, brave, and defiant lead girl from the monster? Come on! And all while the pack of young males throw around the term “pussy” in that jocular, “come on, be a man” way that serves as a lynchpin of patriarchal homosocial bonding. Yawn.

Does this use of the word “pussy” dominate the film? No. But it does give it an underlying monstrously sexist taint. I mean, come on Mr. Speilberg and Mr. Abrams, we “pussies” are important creatures too – just like that monster of yours.