- YEAR: 2000
- DIRECTOR: John Fawcett
- KEY ACTORS: Emily Perkins, Katharine Isabelle
- CERTIFICATE: 18
- IMDB SCORE: 6.8
- ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 89%
SEX SCORE: 3/5
✔️ This definitely passes the Bechdel Test! The two girls talk about a lot that has nothing to do with men!
❌ But it didn’t inspire fantasies. The sex is a bit teenage and a bit, well, violent. There is something inspiring about Ginger, but not as a sexual fantasy…
❌ And I don’t want to fuck the cast. The men aren’t that appealing and, while Ginger is hot, she’s not for me.
✔️ Despite the violence, it is sex positive. It’s a coming of age film like no others, showing the power of women who are in control of their sexuality!
✔️ And it is rewatchable. It’s bizarre and violent and clearly low budget, but it is enthralling!
As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…
[Content warning: suicide, sexual violence, murder]
I’m starting my Halloween season a bit early this year. There are so many sexy and feminist and frankly misogynistic horror movies and films about witches and vampires and all sorts of monsters that I’ve planned a whole season of movie reviews but this one is different. This is a horror film and this is about werewolves, but that’s not why I’ve picked Ginger Snaps.
Tomorrow is Smutathon 2020, our annual 12 hour erotic writing marathon to raise money for charity. Last year, we supported the National Network of Abortion Funds and so I wrote about Dirty Dancing, a fabulous and fun teen movie with a gritty plot about reproductive rights woven into it. This year, we’re raising money for Endometriosis UK – a small charity that supports people who suffer with this very difficult and often misunderstood disease.
But are there any movies that mention endometriosis? This disease that affects 1 in 10 people assigned female at birth (AFAB)? Of course not! Are there even any movies that talk about menstruation?! Sadly, very few mention periods and there are even fewer where it is a key plot feature…
So I asked Twitter for recommendations and Charlie X, who wrote a recent guest post on Contact, suggested Ginger Snaps – a film about the horrors of menstruation gone wrong. And it’s perfect! Yes, it’s melodramatic. Yes, it’s ridiculous. Yes…it’s about werewolves. But it is also commendable for using periods as a horror device without being misogynistic and for being a pretty great horror film!
Ginger Snaps tells the story of two outcast teenage girls, Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald, who revel in their strangeness, recreating violent murder scenes for a class project and shunning traditional beauty expectations. Ginger is older but neither girl has started their period yet – and they are in no hurry to start, regretting the change to adulthood before it even happens and declaring that they would rather kill themselves together at sixteen than become old and boring. Of course, they can’t prevent the progress of puberty and at the moment Ginger starts her period – literally getting the curse – she is attacked by a werewolf that was attracted by the smell of blood. From that point on, Ginger gradually changes, becoming more confident and sexually outgoing. She becomes stronger. She develops an insatiable hunger than is not satisfied by sex or violence. And, despite Brigitte’s best efforts to find a cure, Ginger becomes a werewolf and Brigitte has to kill her.
From a most superficial perspective, Ginger Snaps is a fairly low budget horror movie. The special effects aren’t brilliant and, while they take a leaf out of Spielberg’s book and avoid exposing their bad effects until the last minute, the final wolf transformation is not very good.
But I really don’t think it matters because that superficial perspective misses the whole point of the film! The characters and the character development are so much more interesting and so much more important than the horror plot, and the werewolf storyline in Ginger Snaps is almost secondary to the story of Ginger’s other transformation into an adult and sexual being – as the Guardian review commented, this is a ‘black horror comedy in which lycanthropy and blood lust are pressed into service as metonyms for sexual anxiety.’
This is hugely significant because it is so rare to see lycanthropy, or werewolves, used as a metaphor for female experience. And by this, I really mean the experience of anyone who has been affected by misogyny. A universal female experience doesn’t really exist as it is too influenced by gender identity, race, educational attainment and innumerable other factors to be genuinely universal. But misogyny and mistreatment by a patriarchal society does lead to common experiences and shared consequences, so I am using the term ‘female experience’ as a shorthand for these experiences and it isn’t intended to exclude trans women or non-binary and trans AFAB people.
Because Ginger Snaps is noteworthy exactly because it takes a young cis woman’s experience and uses it to create a story where her strength comes directly from being a woman, rather than in spite of it. In contrast to this, werewolf movies are historically ‘aggressively male…about secret urges [and] hidden primal instincts’ that torture these violent, masculine characters. It is classic Patriarchy that this could become an almost romantic notion! And as Dave Kehr pointed out in his NY Times review, using the transformation to a werewolf as a metaphor for puberty is not exactly new, citing 1957’s I Was a Teenage Werewolf and the brilliantly bizarre 1985 Teen Wolf as examples: ‘lycanthropy is almost a comforting explanation for all the disturbing developments of late adolescence: the sudden sprouting of unfamiliar hair, body parts going through odd transformations and the appearance of deep-seated urges that just won’t go away.’
It’s just that they’re always about men.
Except Ginger Snaps! Instead of the same old masculine story, it connects the horrific and unstoppable transformation into a werewolf with the terrifying and progressive transformation from girl to woman, but it manages to do this in a way that isn’t misogynistic or belittling of the female experience, which is truly remarkable. It would have been so easy for Ginger Snaps to descend into ‘urgh, aren’t periods disgusting and aren’t women scary and gross’ but it is much more nuanced and sympathetic than that.
For a start, why haven’t the lunar and menstrual cycles been linked like this more often?! It now seems so obvious that the two monthly cycles could be connected that I am astonished that there aren’t more mainstream examples! Those of us with bad PMS or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) can certainly empathise with monthly mood swings and emotional upheavals that can make us feel like a completely different person. And our normal menstrual cycles are filled with waxing and waning lusts and desires – for food or sex or solitude – so it doesn’t feel like an unreachable stretch to something more animalistic.
And there is no doubt that puberty is a disruptive and kind of terrifying time, particularly for AFAB people, and while the analogy of monstrous transformation feels hyperbolic, it’s really not far from the truth for some people. I don’t see Ginger Snaps as a trans allegory as such but I can understand how trans young people’s gender dysphoria could worsen when unwanted secondary sexual characteristics develop, and many people do feel a sense of helplessness at a transformation that is entirely beyond our control.
‘Adolescent hormones are terrifying, confusing, and unexpected, specific to the individual’ and, thanks to the rape culture, the attention that people with feminine bodies get when they develop into adults can be overwhelming – it’s intoxicating and thrilling, but also terrifying and risky. It quickly becomes obvious that we wield incredible power and are able to use our bodies to our advantage, but we are equally aware that that power is worthless. We are blamed for tricking men into falling for us, blamed for the hurt they inflict on us, and made to feel responsible for, well, everything. And yet Ginger Snaps tells this story with ‘studious, subversive, satirical awareness that avoids devolving into the “monstrous woman” trope.’
The NY Times review comments on how ‘Ginger’s body is developing in ways that attract the interest of her male classmates, and she is starting to respond to their attention’ but I think she has more of an active role than just responding. She definitely shunned any attention before she was bitten but afterwards, she is just going after what she wants!
And Ginger is never blamed for her rages and lusts. She is never out of control and never ashamed of what she wants. Brigitte may be desperately searching for a cure but, for the most part, Ginger seems pretty happy in her new existence. And as she becomes more werewolf and less child, she regrets the violence less and less. When Ginger had to satisfy her bloodlust by killing pets, she wails that she ‘can’t be like this’ but later, after killing a janitor, she sounds almost orgasmic: ‘It feels so…good, Brigitte. It’s like touching yourself. You know every move…right on the fucking dot. And after, you see fucking fireworks. Supernovas. I’m a goddamn force of nature. I feel like I could do just about anything.’
I love this. (Apart from the murder, obviously!) Through her transformation, Ginger becomes more confident in her body and more aware of her own power. Ginger Snaps uses female sexuality as both a metaphor for Ginger’s new supernatural appetites and as a direct portrayal of her increasing horniness – ‘her need for sex and her need to eat are not indistinguishable.’ Once Ginger accepts the wolf within her and accepts herself for who she now is, she flourishes. She walks taller, she stands up for herself. And she does just take what she wants! Which, of course, is terrifying to the Patriarchy. Ginger is positioned as the movie’s villain but, like Jennifer in Jennifer’s Body, she’s most terrifying because she is a woman acting on her desires: ‘it could be argued that Ginger isn’t a villain so much as she is a person completely in touch of her own power, comfortable in her own skin, and unabashed in her bodily desires. In fact, that notion is what makes the film truly terrifying to those who innately fear what could happen if women embraced their bodies and themselves in a way that didn’t rely on a man to save them.’ She is ‘sexualized but frightening, beyond man’s control and therefore deadly to them.’ And this is why Ginger Snaps really is a feminist horror movie!
Women in movies aren’t normally allowed to be both heroes and villains, flawed and interesting, innocent and sexual. It’s the key to the Madonna/whore complex – we can’t be both! But Ginger is. And, unlike other horror movies that only allow women to triumph over their male oppressors after they have suffered all kinds of trauma, Ginger never suffers at the hands of men. She is better than them. Always. Yes, she is the villain by the end of the movie but that isn’t because of a man – the gender of the werewolf that bit her is never revealed. It’s just because.
I’ve been quoting a lot from Kelcie Mattson’s essay, hosted on Medium, but she manages to capture exactly why Ginger makes such a great feminist hero and villian: ‘While sexual, she isn’t the male power fantasy of the exploited sex object, and while murderous, not the untamed “bad” woman deserving punishment. She’s sympathetic, heartbreaking, and utterly a teenage girl, one trying to find herself in the middle of a frightening, harsh, unforgiving world that hurts women for existing.’ And that feels pretty revolutionary. Particularly as she doesn’t need a man to save her either.
It is also revolutionary that menstruation is so crucial to the plot and this once again centres the female experience in the movie. The fact that Ginger’s downfall was caused by her period, triggered by her transformation to adulthood, feels horrifically ironic. Despite her best efforts, she is unable to stop her body’s development and ‘it’s barely even begun before she’s mauled half to death by a wild animal attracted to the smell of her blood — she’s punished for being a woman.’
Consider as well what Wicked Horror thought of as the ‘most feminist thing’ in Ginger Snaps – after Ginger has sex with a cis boy for the first time, she transfers some of her ‘power’ to him, transforming him into a werewolf despite not biting him and, more interestingly, he gets a period. And while not everyone who menstruates is a woman, this is certainly remarkable and unexpected for a cis man, and I loved this symbolic use of menstruation. In order to get the strength and power of a werewolf, he must also take on something of her – the ‘curse’ that Ginger had wanted to avoid as it was a symbol of everything she hated about becoming a woman and yet turned out to be the source of all of her power. Menstruation and the stigma surrounding it is such a feminist issue that it feels to me like a direct attack on the Patriarchy to align something as feminist as menstruation with the power of a werewolf!
And menstruation is key to a lot of the comedy in a way that further emphasises to me the strength of the female perspective in Ginger Snaps. One of the funniest scenes involved Ginger going to see the school nurse about her horrendous back pain – just to be told that this is all part of a normal period. Even hair in strange places is brushed aside as ‘normal’ puberty without asking any more questions. I laughed a cynical laugh, but I laughed nonetheless. As so many of the personal stories about endometriosis shared as part of the Smutathon warm-up have proved, people who menstruate are not taken seriously when they say they are in pain. Their distress and discomfort is dismissed as normal, and they are belittled for not coping with something so banal. Even when going through the trauma of transforming into a literal werewolf, Ginger is told to suck it up and just deal with it. Cool, cool, cool…
I also love the relationship between Ginger and Brigitte. They clearly love each other but they fight like real sisters, particularly as Ginger goes through her transformation and becomes distant from Brigitte. Suddenly Ginger wants everything that they have shunned, seeking out boys and joining the popular cliques, and Brigitte is left behind. Again, this is exaggerated but feels familiar. Even when siblings are close – in bond and in age – that relationship will have to change when one goes through puberty before the other. It’s one of the reasons why being a teenager is so tough!
But their bond survives this most hellish transformation. Brigitte loves her and wants to help her even when Ginger is violent and gruesome and angry at her. She makes an active decision to infect herself with Ginger’s blood so she can stay close to her, works throughout the whole movie to try and find a cure, and is genuinely devastated by her death. Brigitte grieving over Ginger’s fully transformed body after killing her also reminds us that this isn’t as simple as destroying the monster; Brigitte has killed her sister and ‘Ginger’s death isn’t a corrective measure victory to protect the male status quo, but a personal familial tragedy.’ And it is devastating.
I hadn’t heard of Ginger Snaps when Charlie X recommended it but I am so pleased that they did. This is a movie that shows how powerful women can be and how negatively society reacts to a powerful, sexual woman. It celebrates sisterhood and female friendships. It avoids a white knight figure rescuing the poor young girl, and it ‘stealthily made something as taboo as menstruation more palatable for male audiences.’ It’s also a lot of fun to watch!
I wonder how many of the other Halloween movies I’m planning to watch this year will reach the feminist bar that Ginger Snaps has now set? I suspect not many…
NEXT TIME… a films about WITCHES!!
You can donate to Smutathon to support Endometriosis UK via the button below. Go to smutathon.com, follow us on Twitter @Smutathon2020 or check out #Smutathon2020 to see all of the delicious, smutty and most likely NSFW content that will be shared tomorrow!
Special thank you to Quinn Rhodes for hir trans sensitivity reading of this post, a service offered as a tier on hir Patreon, and hir advice on ensuring my language was as inclusive as possible. Check out hir incredibly useful resources on being trans inclusive.