Constellation Week 4 with Cath Davies: Phallic Panic and The Vagina Dentata.

November 1st 2013

Phallic Panic and the Male Monster

What is Phallic Panic?

We started this weeks lecture with the study of Phallic Panic, using and extract from B. Creed’s Phallic Panic; film, Horror and the Primal Uncanny (2005). We summarised phallic panic as the following:
Civilisation tires to control nature, females are associated with nature in visual culture while male are associated with civilisation. Male monsters adapt female characteristics, they are affiliated with nature, not civilisation. For example, the werewolf is associated with and control by nature due to the full moon cycle bringing about it’s transformation.
Birth and reproduction are all part of the male monster and it is there female traits that make them monstrous. The source of monstrosity for the male is the female.

Phallic panic is the undermining of masculine order. It is cause by the fusion of masculine and feminine. Women are considered monstrous and otherworldly because they are not like men, masculinity is a construct and is unattainable.
The male viewer believes that if a males body can become monstrous (feminine) then so can his. He is castrated symbolically, this causes castration fear and anxiety and shows that masculinity is as vulnerable as femininity.

The Vagina Dentata

We moved on from phallic panic to study the theory of Vagina Dentata, while continuing to use extracts from the work of B. Creed, The Monstrous Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis (1993). The female genitalia terrifies men, not because the female has been castrated and is missing male genitalia but because she herself has the ability to castrate – vagina dentata.

The theory is that within the vagina are a set of teeth that will castrate the male when he enters the female. The ultimate monstrous feminine is the woman who can castrate men with her body. Vagina dentata exists symbolically, the fear of the female because she is more powerful than the male. This has been evident from the beginning. Eve brought the destruction of man, and an example of the female as the site of man’s destruction. This comes from her ability to use her sexuality to trap him, the males desire for the female body is his downfall. Femme Fatal – the females use of sex to get what she wants. The female becomes more masculine while the male is symbolically castrated. The female body is a sight of anxiety in numerous forms.

We looked at an image by Salvador Dali titled The Ants (1929) as an example of vagina dentata. The image depicts a woman with ants emerging from her body and dispersing all over the image. This suggests themes of death and the decay of the body as well as destruction and downfall, suggesting the danger of females.

Summary of Vagina Dentata extract by B. Creed (1993).

What is it?
– vagina taking form of a woman, represents the power females have.
– suggests transformation and liminality.
– also suggests women as dangerous and evil, femme fatal.
– a duplicitous woman is a source of fear that can be hidden. Also a source of pleasure that will cause the male pain when his guard is down.
– lots of imagery of teeth and gaping jaws
– discusses fairy tales and the female role, Evil Queens, Enchantresses and witches.
-Medusa: phallic woman, snakes also represent toothed vagina, turns men to stone, she stops life, de-masculates and castrates.
– Castration fear: pubic hair hides the genitals, a source of the female castrator. The source of evil and anxiety is hidden.
– Importance of pubic hair, not a sight of desire, any anxiety must be erased. Erasing the pubic hair allows the male to see in and can be interpreted as attractive to men.

Lastly, we discussed how the female genitalia is used as a term of abuse in society by males to de-masculate other males. It’s use is very misogynistic and is based on a fear of women.
We also continued our discussion of examples of vagina dentata in visual culture, one of them being Ridley Scott’s Alien, like last week. In the Alien series, the main alien is often referred to as a ‘she’ and is seen laying eggs, depicting the reproductive systems as a source of terror.
We also analysed a picture by Salvador Dali involving a lobster placed over the female genitals representing the female as being a the castrator not the castrated.
We ended the session by making a brief note on the duplicity of women and the hidden fears and anxieties associated with them such as the vagina dentata.

This session discussed themes that were completely different to our very first session and put both the female and the male in a new and very interesting light. The growing relationship and contrast between all we have looked at is also fascinating.


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