"Something's Wrong, Like More Than You Being Female": Transgressive Sexuality and Discourses of Reproduction in Ginger Snaps
Bianca Nielsen

BRIGITTE. Ging, what's going on? Something's wrong, like more than you being just female. Can you say something please?
GINGER. I can't have a hairy chest, B, that's fucked.
BRIGITTE. Bitten on a full moon, now you're hairy.
GINGER. Well, thank you for taking my total fucking nightmare so seriously… Oh shit, what if I'm dying or something?

-- Ginger Snaps (John Fawcett, 2000)

Since the 1970s, many horror films have focused on the body as the site of violent transformation. Comments on such films as Night of the Living Dead (George Romero, 1968), Last House on the Left (Wes Craven, 1972), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the entire subgenre of the slasher movie make clear the connections between violent invasions of the body and the role of the body in society.

-- Ernest Mathijs, "AIDS References in the Critical Reception of David Cronenberg," 29

By (re)-articulating and modifying horror conventions, Ginger Snaps depicts the experiences of young women coming to terms with their sexuality. In many respects Ginger Snaps contributes to dominant discourses of reproduction, however the film also demands feminist scrutiny. Ginger Snaps merits a reading through psychoanalytic theories - specifically through Barbara Creed's analysis of transgressive femininity in the horror genre. Creed's The Monstrous Feminine considers how representations of body horror are connected to Kristeva's theory of abjection. Kristeva's psychoanalytic account of feminine sexuality in turn lends force to a reading of Ginger Snaps that incorporates feminist critiques of reproduction narratives. Emily Martin, for instance, contends that scientific accounts of reproduction reinscribe normative femininities by associating passivity with menstruation and activity with spermatogenesis. Ginger Snaps incorporates both the discursive frameworks of menstruation in medical texts and the pervasive ideologies of normative "femininity" that are in operation in contemporary society.

Ginger Snaps also centres its story on a kind of feminist solidarity experienced by two teenaged girls and, contrastingly, the rivalry that exists in sisterly bonds. As Ginger Snaps progresses, the close relationship between the sisters, Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins), is increasingly characterized by conflict and jealousy. At the start of the film, neither of the sisters has begun menstruating. Perhaps due to the late arrival of what they call their "curses," Ginger and Brigitte are considered outsiders at their suburban high school. However, when the elder of the sisters, Ginger, begins menstruating, she attracts the attention of her male classmates. The interest that Ginger arouses in her male classmates disgusts her younger sister Brigitte because it represents her entry into a sexualized world that they had vowed to avoid in a pact to never be "average."

Once Ginger begins menstruating a parallel process is triggered in her body, a process that transforms her into a werewolf. This "event" is a revision of early hormonal teen-horrors - such as I Was a Teenage Werewolf (Gene Fowler, 1957) - which depict teenagers' sexual experiences as resembling a metamorphosis into a monster. Ginger Snaps asserts itself as a twenty-first century interpretation of the "body" sub-genre in its references to other canonical horror texts, such as Cat People (Jacques Tourneur, 1942), Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968), The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973) and The Fly (David Cronenberg, 1986). Mark Jancovich associates "body horror" with a "supposedly postmodern collapse of distinctions and boundaries" (6). In "body horror" films "the monstrous threat is not simply external but erupts from within the human body, and so challenges the distinction between self and other, inside and outside" (Jancovich 6).

Ginger's experiences additionally approximate those of the eponymous protagonist in Carrie (Brian de Palma, 1976), who becomes monstrous after she first experiences her "curse" and discovers her telekinetic powers. Shelley Stamp Lindsey emphasizes that the monstrosity of Carrie's supernatural angst is accentuated by the onset of her menses:

Prohibitions surrounding first menstruation and menstruating women exist in many cultures and are grounded in fears that during menses a woman is polluted or possessed by dangerous spirits. Hovering on the edge of supernatural, such women are deemed especially treacherous and subject to taboo. 'Exceptional states' like menstruation and puberty foster taboos, Freud believes, because they elicit contradictory, yet equally acute sensations of veneration and dread. Poised between natural and supernatural realms, then, the menstruating adolescent girl occupies a liminal state, an object of both aversion and desire. Equating Carrie's burgeoning sexuality with her newfound telekinetic power, the film hyperbolises this connection. (284)

According to Lindsey, "Carrie is not about liberation from sexual repression," but instead is "about the failure of repression to contain the monstrous feminine" (290). Lindsey asserts that Carrie "enforces sexual difference by equating the feminine with the monstrous, while simultaneously insisting that the feminine position is untenable precisely because of its monstrousness" (293). Carrie's monstrousness indicates the pervasiveness of masculine fantasies in which the "feminine is constituted as horrific" (Lindsey 281). Ginger Snaps' tagline, "they don't call it the curse for nothing," also constructs menstruation as "other" by implying the abjection of the menstruating woman.

In "Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine," Barbara Creed suggests that horror films are works of abjection because they contain pervasive images of transgressive femininity and monstrosity. Creed utilizes Julia Kristeva's Powers of Horror to detail three key aspects of horror films that foreground their abjection:

Firstly, the horror film abounds in images of abjection, foremost of which is the corpse, whole and mutilated, followed by an array of bodily wastes such as blood, vomit, saliva, sweat, tears, and putrifying flesh… secondly, there is, of course, a sense in which the concept of a border is central to the construction of the monstrous in the horror film; that which crosses or threatens to cross the 'border' is abject… the third way in which the horror film illustrates the work of abjection refers to the construction of the maternal figure as abject. (71-2)

According to Creed's definitions, Ginger Snaps intimates abjection in all its varying forms: the film's aesthetic is excessively gory, Ginger's transformation from adolescent girl to werewolf transgresses many borders, and finally, the girls' mother, Pamela (Mimi Rogers), is frighteningly unwilling to relinquish control of her daughters.

Ginger's lycanthropic transformation also has feminist connotations. In "The Cycle of the Werewolf," Chantal Du Coudray points out that since the thirties, a "preoccupation with the feminine experience of lycanthropy has characterized fantasy fiction," and that such works of fiction often "explore themes that have been a consistent feature of feminist critical thought" (61). Du Coudray explains that on the surface lycanthropy in popular fiction appears consistent with the "equation of femininity with nature in Western culture, and the systemic degradation and exploitation of both under patriarchy" (61). However, as Du Coudray emphasizes, lycanthropy has also been utilized by women writers in order to explore "a specifically feminine process of individuation," a process that frequently merges "feminist and ecological concerns" (60-2). Perhaps the most obvious feminist issue that werewolf narratives insinuate is that of menstruation, since lycanthropes exist in monthly cycles. In many cultures the monthly cycles of the moon (the moon itself is recurrently coded as feminine) are associated with the menses, which is in turn connected to the abject. As Creed proposes, like witches, vampires, and zombies, the werewolf, with its monthly transformative cycles and its body that collapses the boundaries between animal and human, belongs to the category of the abject:

Abjection… occurs where the individual fails to respect the law… Thus, abject things are those which highlight the 'fragility of the law' and which exist on the other side of the border which separates out the living subject from that which threatens its extinction. But abjection is not something of which the subject can ever feel free… the subject is constantly beset by abjection which fascinates desire, but which must be repelled for fear of self-annihilation. The crucial point is that abjection is always ambiguous. ("Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine" 71)

As Creed's comments suggest, Ginger's transformation and subsequent demise reveal abjection's ambiguities.[1] During her lycanthropic transformations, Ginger persistently refuses to obey the gendered "laws" of her small Canadian town. Moreover, her werewolfishness signals the collapse of the border that separates civilisation from primitivism, animal from human, child from adult, rational from aggressive, active from passive, and feminine from masculine. Because she refuses to comply with the norms of her culture, Ginger appears to be heading for self-annihilation.

Though Ginger Snaps might be analysed utilizing Creed and Lindsey's frameworks, the film also references "slasher" conventions. Brigitte and Ginger can be usefully compared to other contemporary horror-protagonists, such as Sidney in Scream (Wes Craven, 1996) and Buffy in television's Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy discovers at the onset of puberty that she is "not quite" human, but instead comes from a long line of female warriors who fight demons and vampires on earth. Sidney, as she gains knowledge of her mother's sexual reputation and experiences heterosexual intercourse herself, is subjected to repeated violence at the hands of ruthless stalkers. Similarly, in Ginger Snaps, Brigitte discovers that Ginger's sexuality is inextricably linked to violence and monstrosity, and that she must attempt to "rescue" her sister from her own animalistic and aggressive urges. According to Carol Clover's definition, Brigitte might be considered a "final girl." In Men, Women and Chain Saws, Clover identifies a trend in horror films of the seventies and eighties wherein virgin teenaged characters are depicted as strong and resourceful protagonists. Unlike their more sexually experienced peers, "final girls" survive the slaughter that takes place in their communities. With the foresight and intuition of a "final girl," Brigitte sees that her sister's transgressions appear monstrous.

The deviancy of Ginger's sexuality is potently contrasted with the banality of the sisters' Canadian neighbourhood. The difference between Ginger's sexuality and the town's moral position highlights the repression that underpins the female experience of adolescence in general. The opening shots of the film depict a dull and pristine suburban landscape. The camera passes over streets full of identical houses, coming to linger on a brown tussock field where many more such houses are planned. A real estate sign reads, "Bailey Downs: A Safe and Caring Community." The ensuing scene is juxtaposed with this image of the safe and boring Bailey Downs. A woman emerges from her garden screaming having discovered her son playing with the severed paw of their family pet, which she then finds massacred in a quaint doghouse. Children playing hockey on the street turn and stare at the hysterical mother, shrug, and resume play. The violence perpetuated by "The Beast of Bailey Downs" has become commonplace, an uninteresting daily reality. Here Brigitte is introduced into the film's narrative explaining to her sister what she has just witnessed outside: "Baxter's fertilizer and everyone's just standing there, like, staring. Why don't they just catch the thing? How hard can it be in a place full of dead ends?" As the sisters' conversation develops what is revealed is that their fascination with the horrors of death and violence is their one escape from the "dead ends" of Bailey Downs.

The sisters' obsession with the topic of death seems inseparable from their desire to avoid the grim suburban future that potentially awaits them. Later in the film, their mother Pamela is also portrayed as fervently desiring an escape from this existence. Ginger explains that she feels that suicide is "the ultimate 'fuck you'" and insists that she and Brigitte "swore" to "go together" because that way they'd be "together forever." While Brigitte expresses an understated enthusiasm for Ginger's suicidal plans, she also fears that their deaths could be "little more than cheap entertainment" because "even your final moment's a cliché" in Bailey Downs. The sisters take gruesomely realistic photographs of each other faking death and these snapshots form their "Life in Bailey Downs" school project. Ginger and Brigitte's teacher is disgusted by the macabre slides included their "project" and his shock reveals the way that society is repulsed by the violence it at once nurtures and constructs as taboo.

The Fitzgerald sisters' fascination with quirky morbidity excludes them from the mainstream of their school, yet it is their idiosyncratic approach to suburban life that begins to attract the attention of their male classmates. Boys in the sisters' class cheer loudly when they are shown slides of their gruesome "Life in Bailey Downs" project. As the sisters play hockey with other girls from their class they are watched by a group of boys from Bailey Downs High, who urge them to "run" and "bounce." The boys' voyeuristic pleasure is heightened by their discussion of the girls' physical endowments. When one boy comments that he likes Ginger, she seems impressed by this attention and proudly tells Brigitte that Jason McCarty (Jesse Moss) "checked her." Brigitte's response, that "high school's just a mindless little breeder's machine" and she'd rather "wait it all out" in their room, expresses her attitude towards being the object of a male gaze. Her disdain for the ritualised heterosexual exchanges of her high school is focused largely on their adversary, Trina Sinclair (Danielle Hampton). The sisters fantasize about Trina being "DOA at the hair dye aisle," having "perished" on diet pills and laxatives. Brigitte labels Trina - who symbolizes popularity and sexual experience in Ginger Snaps - as "come-buckety date bait," while Ginger confirms that their dislike for their popular classmate is related to their knowledge of her sexual experience. Ginger suggests that because Trina "screws a drug dealer" she must be "begging for negative attention." Brigitte explains that should Ginger also become interested in boys it would mean that she is "going average" on her. Brigitte would "rather die" than experience the abandonment she believes would be a direct result of Ginger's interest in boys. Although she swears she will not abandon her sister, Ginger becomes sexually interested in her male classmates when she begins menstruating.

What Ginger desires to be her private experience of puberty is soon the focus of familial discourse. The first indication that she is about to get her period is a back pain she feels while eating dinner with her family. The girls' mother, Pamela, immediately deduces that Ginger's back pain is connected to menstruation and the girls are embarrassed by her intrusive comments about their sexuality, as is their father, Henry (John Bourgeois), who expresses his revulsion at overhearing a discussion to do with female reproductive processes at his dinner table. Revealing her invasive fascination with her daughters' bodies, Pamela claims that the girls are "not normal" because they are three years "late" menstruating. Ginger, however, subverts her mother's curiosity and control by morbidly suggesting that her pain must be "cancer of the spine," and Brigitte comes to her defence with more excessive explanations, offering that it could instead be tuberculosis or spondylosis. When Ginger responds by congratulating Brigitte for her creativity she details the pleasure that their grim fantasies give them.

Once Ginger begins menstruating the film deliberates over the boundaries between "normal" and "abnormal" experiences of teen sexuality. In one of the film's opening scenes, a short line from a television commercial poses the question, "can this happen to a normal woman?" Ginger's experience of menstruation comes to incorporate two understandings of female adolescent sexuality. The onset of Ginger's menses is simultaneously a sexual metamorphosis and a violent possession or infection. Creed's The Monstrous Feminine considers how representations of body horror and possession are connected to Kristeva's theory of abjection:

The possessed or invaded being is a figure of abjection in that the boundary between self and other has been transgressed. When the subject is invaded by a personality of another sex the transgression is even more abject because gender boundaries are violated… One of the major boundaries traversed is that between innocence and corruption, purity and impunity. (32)

It is only Brigitte who understands what Ginger calls her "total fucking nightmare" - her parallel experiences of menstruation and lycanthropic metamorphosis. Brigitte comprehends that Ginger's body is at once developing sexually and being invaded by an aggressive werewolf.

A biology documentary that the sisters watch at school suggests that there are parallels between the processes of Ginger's body - which she insists are not "contagious" - and some kind of an invasion or infection that Brigitte wishes to "cure" her of. The documentary, which considers the effect of a virus on human cells, contains a voiceover: "Preying upon normal healthy cells, the intruder gradually devours the host from within. Eventually the invader consumes the host completely and finally destroys it." Because this is placed within the context of Ginger discovering her sexuality, Brigitte's view that her sister is possessed by an infectious other is dominant in the film's narrative. Brigitte's perspective is further emphasized when Ginger begins to behave violently, first killing animals and then people. Their first encounter with the werewolf is the catalyst in Brigitte's growing suspicions about Ginger's sexuality.

The scene where Ginger is "infected" during the werewolf attack represents a turning point in the sisters' close relationship. At the same time as they discover Ginger has begun menstruating she is attacked by the lycanthrope, and soon after her body begins to transform rapidly. While out walking one evening, avoiding the intrusive questions of their mother, Ginger discovers menstrual blood trickling down her leg and expresses her disgust to Brigitte by commenting that she "just got the curse" and that she hopes it is not "contagious." Ginger laments what she calls her newly acquired "normality" by explaining that she has been "killing" herself to be "different" and that her body has now "screwed" her. Ginger even asks Brigitte to shoot her if she starts "simpering around tampon dispensers, moaning about PMS." They have barely finished discussing the cultural cliché of a teenaged girl getting her "curse" for the first time when Ginger is attacked by "The Beast of Bailey Downs" and dragged off into the forest. After rescuing her sister from the jaws of the wolf, Brigitte is certain the animal was attracted to Ginger because she has her period. Having watched an old werewolf film, Brigitte persuades herself that Ginger's aggressive behavior is linked to an infection she has incurred during this incident.

Brigitte's interpretation of her sister's sexual development is accompanied by an increasing sense of abandonment: she is clearly alienated by Ginger's burgeoning adulthood. As they shop for tampons, Ginger's condescending comments about "PMS" and cramps demonstrate that her sexual experiences have already begun to disrupt her bond with Brigitte. Also indicative of this disruption is Ginger's acceptance of Jason McCarty's invitation for a "toke" of a joint, which he explains will help with the cramps. He professes that he should know because he has three sisters who use this form of pain relief to take the "edge" off their period pain. Ginger responds that she likes her "edge" and does not want to "lose it." She dismisses Jason's knowledge while expressing her pride in her "difference," but he eventually convinces her to smoke a joint with him by calling her "chicken." In taking up the invitation for a "toke" Ginger not only accepts Jason's understanding of menstruation, but also betrays her isolationist pact with her sister. Brigitte is clearly offended by Ginger's superior attitude and becomes convinced that her sister's uncharacteristically sociable behavior is "not normal." As Brigitte's suspicions and jealousy develop, she insists they see the school nurse.

The conversation the sisters share with their school's nurse (Lindsay Leese) is noteworthy because it informs the film's critique of gendered understandings of reproductive processes.

NURSE. I'm sure it seems like a lot of blood… it's a period.
NURSE. Everyone seems to panic their first time. Neither of you have had a period before and you're how old?
GINGER. I'm almost sixteen, she just turned fifteen- she skipped a grade.
NURSE. A thick, syrupy, voluminous discharge is not uncommon. The bulk of the uterine lining is shed within the first few days. Contractions, cramps, squeeze it out like a pump. In three to five days you'll find lighter, bright-red bleeding. That may turn to a brownish or blackish sludge, which signals the end of the flow.
GINGER. OK, so it's all normal.
NURSE. Very, expected every twenty-eight days, give or take, for the next thirty years.
GINGER. Great.
BRIGITTE. What about hair that wasn't there before, and pain?
NURSE. Uhuh, comes with the territory… you'll have to protect against both pregnancy and STDs now, play safe!

While this scene comically contrasts with our knowledge that Ginger is in fact experiencing other more unusual physical changes, it additionally, and perhaps more significantly, depicts how foreign and strange these hormonal changes must seem to the teenagers who undergo them.

The nurse's diction also (re)-articulates the scientific discourses of medicine. Emily Martin explains that medical language describes the process of menstruation as a mechanism expelling a waste product. Medical textbooks describe menstrual blood as the "debris" of the uterine lining which is the result of "necrosis" or "death tissue." Martin suggests that our scientific explanations for menstruation carry "the idea of production gone awry" or the expulsion of "products of no use" (411). Medical texts and illustrations show menstruation as "a chaotic disintegration of the form… which describe it as 'ceasing,' 'dying,' 'losing,' 'denuding,' and 'expelling'" (411). Martin proposes that "these are not neutral terms, but ones that convey failure and dissolution" (411). Where the school nurse in Ginger Snaps refers to a "discharge" which is "squeezed out like a pump," she likens the blood to a kind of "garbage." She further accentuates this by calling the "discharge" a "brownish blackish sludge." Martin compares these descriptions of menstruation with the language used to explain male reproductive processes:

In one of the same texts that sees menstruation as failed production, we learn that, 'The mechanisms which guide the remarkable cellular transformation from spermatid to mature sperm remain uncertain… the most amazing characteristic of spermatogenesis is its sheer magnitude: the normal human male may manufacture several hundred million sperm per day.' (411)

In Medical Physiology, as Martin demonstrates, the comparison is even more explicit: "Whereas the female sheds only a single gamete each month, the seminiferous tubules produce hundreds of million of sperm each day" (Martin 411-2). This could explain why both sisters view the onset of Ginger's menses as a threatening, even shameful thing. Contrastingly, their male classmates view their own sexual transformations as celebratory occasions which give them confidence.

The sisters' confusion and concern over Ginger's bodily transformation is further exacerbated when their mother discovers that her daughter is menstruating. According to Kristeva's definition, Pamela is the abject mother who refuses to relinquish her hold over her daughters and their bodily functions. Creed's comments on motherhood and boundaries are again apposite here. Creed outlines Kristeva's argument that all individuals experience abjection at the time of their earliest attempts to break away from the mother. For Kristeva, the mother-child relation is one marked by conflict: "the child struggles to break free but the mother is reluctant to release it… the maternal body becomes a site of conflicting desires… by refusing to relinquish her hold on her child, she prevents it from taking up its appropriate place in relation to the symbolic" (The Monstrous Feminine 12). Pamela is entranced by her teenaged daughters' sexual development and this obsessive fascination indicates her inability to relinquish maternal control over their bodies. In response to Ginger's first period, Pamela presents her with a garishly red cake in a particularly comedic moment, congratulating her for her "achievement." That the cake bears an uncanny resemblance to the sisters' bloody death "projects" is no mistake, and this in turn serves to accentuate Pamela's excessive interest in Ginger's reproductive processes.

Although she "celebrates" Ginger's menses, Pamela's knowledge of her daughter's actual experiences is deficient. Ginger Snaps refutes the notion of "motherly instinct," portraying Pamela as lacking in intuition and as easily manipulated by her daughters. When Henry sees Ginger and Brigitte behaving strangely, commenting that he thinks they are "up to something," Pamela dismisses his suspicions and suggests "they're just being normal teenage girls." Pamela's exchanges with her daughters also represent her as naïve: by simply asking questions about "boys" and body image, Brigitte and Ginger are able to distract her from the most serious of tasks. It is only when Henry finds one of Trina's fingers while raking leaves that Pamela finally becomes apprehensive.[2] When she discovers her daughters' involvement in the disappearance of their classmate, she pledges her willingness to cover up the "terrible thing" they have done because she will not let anyone "take" her daughters away. Pamela optimistically tells Brigitte that they can "start afresh" by setting their home on fire and that it will be "fun." While Pamela's plan suggests that she loves her daughters deeply, it also implies her obsessive attachment to Ginger and Brigitte, given the unusual lengths she will go to in order to keep them with her for as long as possible. Pamela's willingness to protect her daughters from the law extends so far as to endanger her husband's safety, and Ginger's transgressions appear to provide her with a much-awaited excuse to escape her married life.

Brigitte's excessive interest in her sister's hormonal changes is presented as very different from her mother's obsession, more so because she witnesses her sister being devoured by a werewolf. Brigitte recognizes before anyone else that something is unusual about Ginger's behaviour. What is most frightening for Brigitte is that when she expresses these concerns she finds Ginger is relegating her hormonal changes and her encounter with "The Beast of Bailey Downs" to the category of "normal," like everyone else in her town. Ginger condescendingly tells Brigitte, "I just got my period, OK? Now I've got weird hairs, so what? That means I've got hormones and they may make me butt ugly, but they do not make me a monster… Did I change last night, howl at the moon and kill shit and change back this morning?" When Ginger suggests that Brigitte is simply jealous, Brigitte responds by outlining exactly how she finds the sexual aspect of her sister's maturation abhorrent. Brigitte sarcastically tells Ginger that she wishes she was "haemorrhaging and sucking off Jason McCarty." For Brigitte, sexual maturation involves heterosexual experimentation at the expense of female friendships.[3]

Here Brigitte also reveals that she might be jealous of Ginger's rapid sexual development. Brigitte implies the rivalry in her relationship with her sister when she is angered by Ginger's flirtatious behavior. While at the start of the film both sisters agree to remain "united against life," Ginger begins to ignore Brigitte as she comes to reciprocate the attention she is receiving from her male classmates. Brigitte's anger at Ginger's interest in these boys implies more than her isolation. As Pamela deduces, Brigitte's separation from Ginger signals that she is observing her sister's sexual experimentation enviously. This possibility is specifically explored in one scene where Brigitte describes her sister as "monstrous," and Ginger retorts that the only monster she sees has "little green eyes." Ginger summarizes Brigitte's jealousy by exclaiming, "Poor B, I'm growing up and obviously you're not... you always wanted to be me." Brigitte herself indicates that her fascination with her sister is envious when she stares at Ginger with amazement as she attracts wolf-whistles at school. Later, as Brigitte longingly inspects Ginger's razor and shaving cream, she is again enviously in awe of her sister's bodily transformations. These antagonisms are most explicitly addressed moments after Ginger murders their school's guidance counselor. Ginger articulates her knowledge of Brigitte's jealousy when she outlines that she believes she was "nobody" before puberty. As much as Brigitte retaliates by asserting her disgust at Ginger's violent behavior, her expressions of loathing signal that she resents her sister for her rapid sexual development and social inclusion.

Similarly, much of Ginger's aggression is targeted at men she perceives to be sexually attracted to her sister. Ginger kills their school's janitor (Pat Kwong-Ho) because she fears he has been looking "inappropriately" at her sister. Ginger also aggressively pursues Sam (Kris Lemche), a local botanist and drug dealer who shows an interest in Brigitte. Sam is aware that there is something unusual about the Fitzgerald sisters because he is responsible for saving their lives when his truck hits and kills "The Beast of Bailey Downs" while it is chasing Ginger. Though Sam insists his interest in Brigitte is not sexual, and though Brigitte is adamant that he is just trying to help her find a cure for the "infection," Ginger senses that he might have less than honorable intentions.[4] Ginger appears jealous of the attention that Brigitte is receiving from Sam, but also accurately estimates the potential dangers that her young sister might face by involving herself with an older man.

Brigitte does not understand her community's sexual double standards as well as her sister does, and is noticeably appalled that Ginger is abandoning her in order to partake in heterosexual rituals. She does not initially realize that Ginger's aggressively sexual behavior is in fact in opposition to the kinds of socially constructed gender roles they had sworn to rebel against. During her first sexual experiences with Jason, Ginger takes on a traditionally masculine role, something he finds increasingly perplexing. Jason repeatedly tells Ginger to "take it easy," and when she demands that he "just lie back and relax" he revealingly asks her, "who's the guy here?" Ginger's "masculine" sexual aggression is accentuated when the scene ends with the inference that she has raped him. This is presented as an unusual role reversal when Brigitte mistakenly assumes it was Jason who was forceful. Ginger explains to Brigitte that she gets an "ache" that she thought was for sex, but which she now realizes is a compulsion to tear things to pieces. She explains that because intercourse with Jason had not satisfied her she was forced to kill the dog next door instead. She confides to Brigitte that sex with Jason wasn't at all like she "thought it would be," that there was "just all this squirming and squealing" and then he was "done." Ginger conveys the sexual double standards in their community by explaining that Jason is likely to be bragging about his encounter with her and comments, "he got laid, I'm just a lay."

Ginger's prediction about the likelihood of Jason boasting about his sexual exploits is proven correct, but though he brags to his peers that Ginger Fitzgerald "rocked his world," his claim sours once he realizes that she has "infected" him. No sooner has he told his friends about his night with Ginger than they notice he has blood seeping through the crotch of his trousers, and they ask him if he has his "rag." Brigitte witnesses Jason's humiliation as he is feminized by his peers and confronts Ginger with the possibility that this infection is sexually transmitted.[5] Because Ginger spreads infection and behaves aggressively during sexual intercourse, her lycanthropic transformation functions as a metaphor for her sexual deviancy and transgressive refusal to perform within the limits of culturally prescribed gender roles.

When Brigitte deduces that Ginger's "infection" is both sexually transmitted and influenced by the cycles of the moon, she decides to confront the "monster" that is taking over her sister's body. However, Ginger has no intention of having her sexual urges curtailed by her pre-pubescent sister and regards the men who try to help Brigitte as sexual predators. When Brigitte tells Ginger that her friend Sam "knows stuff" and "wants to help" Ginger retorts that he just wants to "get down" Brigitte's pants. Ginger also suspects that the school janitor, a seemingly innocuous man, is having sexual thoughts about Brigitte and tells her that he was looking down her shirt. As a result of her suspicions Ginger kills the janitor. When Brigitte is upset, Ginger tells her she killed him because she didn't like the way he "looked" at her. In another scene, Ginger's taste for "tearing up" men and her distaste for her own wolverine tail, an apparent phallic symbol, are explicitly connected: Brigitte finds her sister trying to cut off her tail. Ginger responds by commenting, "nothing helps but tearing live things to pieces." The implication here is that she associates this pseudo-phallus with her masculine aggression.

When she kills the janitor Ginger further expresses the sexual aspect of her killing. After mortally wounding the janitor, Ginger remarks, "It feels so good, B. It's like touching yourself, you know, every move right on the fucking dot, and after, you see fucking fireworks, supernova, goddamn force of nature. I feel like I could do just about anything. You know, we're almost not even related anymore." Here Ginger explicitly links her violence to masturbation, a sexual activity where men are not necessary. It is Ginger's description of the hyper-exhilaration that she feels while inhuman forces are raging through her that implies her utter difference from Brigitte. Ginger's suggestion that they are "not even related anymore" is the catalyst that pushes Brigitte towards justifying killing her sister in the film's final scene.[6]

The final severing of all emotional, familial, and physical ties to Ginger allows Brigitte to kill her just as her metamorphosis into a werewolf is almost complete. When Brigitte goes on to express her disgust at Ginger's sexual urges, she indicates that she does not wish to experience sexuality in the same way. She accentuates this by insisting that she'd rather be dead than become "like" Ginger.[7] Brigitte confirms that their suicidal promise no longer makes sense to her when she remarks to Ginger, "you said you'd die with me cos you had nothing better to do." After Ginger suggests that she was "nobody" before her sexual transformations Brigitte is convinced that she no longer shares a bond with her sister. As she plunges the knife, instead of the syringe containing the "werewolf antidote," into her sister's chest, Brigitte shouts, "I'm not dying with you." While Ginger exhales her last breath they are intimate for the last time.

The reasons behind Brigitte's murder of Ginger are ambiguous. On the one hand, Brigitte kills Ginger because she has lost her both to normality- menstruation and heterosexuality - and abnormality - her inhuman animality and disengagement with their sisterly bond. On the other hand, Brigitte kills her sister because she has become a grotesque representation of all that their community loathes about female sexuality. In this wider sense Ginger is killed because she has challenged her community's sexual taboos (and also, perhaps, the prohibitions that surround incest). When Brigitte kills Ginger because she has become infectious, she emphasizes the sexual nature of her monstrosity. As Creed points out,

The reasons why the monstrous-feminine horrifies her audience are quite different from the reasons why the male monster horrifies his audience… As with all other stereotypes of the feminine, from virgin to whore, she is defined in terms of her sexuality. That phrase 'monstrous feminine' emphasizes the importance of gender in the construction of her monstrosity. (The Monstrous Feminine 3)

Ginger is not simply monstrous because a werewolf bites her and infects her, but also because she begins menstruating for the first time during the scene where she is attacked. The sisters' confused reaction to Ginger's sexual development suggests our culture's ambivalent attitude towards female reproductive processes.

Martin's analysis of the medical descriptions for ovulation used by educational textbooks and documentaries further explains our culture's marginalization of feminine sexuality. Martin describes the "marked contrast" that is set up in medical texts between male and female: the male who "continuously produces fresh sperm," and the female who "is faced with the continuous degeneration" of her reproductive abilities. According to Martin, medical texts explain how "femininely" the egg behaves and how "masculinely" the sperm:

The egg is seen as large and passive. It does not move or journey, but passively 'is transported', 'is swept'… or even, in a popular account, 'drifts'… In utter contrast, sperm are small, 'streamlined,' and inevitably active. They 'deliver' their genes to the egg… and have a 'velocity' which is always remarked on… they can 'burrow through the egg coat'… and 'penetrate it.' (412)

This begins to account for Brigitte's opinion that Ginger's predatory sexual behavior is unusual or abnormal. Throughout Ginger Snaps, Brigitte has been reading medical accounts of menstruation and reproduction, and therefore comes to see Ginger's active, or "masculine" sexual behavior as deviant.

Martin paraphrases our cultural understanding of the egg's function in reproduction, an understanding that is again informed by socially constructed gender roles, and upheld by medicine's explanation of menstruation as a process by which waste is produced. Within medical texts, cultural traditions that espouse passivity as a "female attribute" and activity as a "male attribute" are replicated in reproduction narratives. The egg is therefore described as "set apart and above," and dependant on sperm to "rescue her." The language of reproduction Martin analyses sheds light on Ginger's characterization in Ginger Snaps because she represents our culture's ambivalent attitudes about menstruation and women's reproductive processes in general. When Ginger behaves aggressively during intercourse she becomes an extension of the "hostile environment" of the vagina into which the sperm must make a "perilous journey." Ginger's sexual violence disrupts the image of the "fragile" and "dependant" young woman.

Although Ginger's menstruation epitomizes all that is taboo about femininity, Brigitte realizes that Ginger's "true" abjection is that the transformation is making her behave "like" a man. Brigitte primarily kills her sister because she disapproves of her behavior and thinks Ginger's aggression has gone "too far." Despite her own sexual inexperience, Brigitte eventually develops an understanding of the gendered binaries that are in operation in her small town and kills Ginger partly to protect her from the ostracism and vilification she would suffer as a result of her transgressions. Ginger is also dealt this phallic punishment because she denies the importance of her relationship with her sister. Brigitte does not simply feel abandoned because she is jealous of her sister's burgeoning sexual maturity, but also because Ginger is spending time with boys and ignoring the importance of sisterhood. However, Brigitte herself rejects their sisterly bond by killing Ginger after her transformation into an animal is complete. When Brigitte murders Ginger she acknowledges all that is untenable about their sisterly bond: that their desire for an isolated and exclusive relationship with one another is somewhat incestuous. By simultaneously depicting female bonds as important and fraught with difficulties, Ginger Snaps portrays the double-binds teenage girls face. Ginger articulates these ambiguities most convincingly when she explains that a woman can only be "a slut, a bitch, a whore, or the virgin next door." Ginger is an embodiment of these impossible binaries: she is at once sexually attractive and monstrous, "natural" and "supernatural," human and animal, "feminine" and transgressive, a sister and a rival.


1 Since Ginger gradually becomes a wolf after several weeks of transformations, it is implied that she may never change back into a human being. In this respect, Ginger Snaps differs from many other werewolf narratives, where those infected are able to control their animal side so long as the moon is not full. Ginger, however, slowly loses control of her body and eventually becomes an animal lacking any discernable human qualities. back

2 Henry's suspicions about his daughters are soon proven to have been justified: Ginger and Brigitte have indeed killed Trina in a gruesome accident in their kitchen. The girls cover up the crime they have committed by burying Trina in their playhouse. back

3 According to Karen Hollinger, there is a definable genre of "female friendship" films, and, conversely a category of films that she labels as "anti-female friendship." Hollinger argues that "manipulative female friendship films" portray destructive female relationships that mock "the possibility of women forming the bonds of loyalty and affection that characterize other female friendship portrayals" (In the Company of Women 207). According to Hollinger, "anti-female friendship films" rely on "conflicts between women," and therefore "obscure other issues related to women's position in society, relieve men of any responsibility for women's problems, and suggest, instead, that women should grant men primary importance in their lives because they are the only ones upon whom women can rely" (207). Ginger Snaps does not comfortably fit into either of Hollinger's categories. back

4 Trina Sinclair repeatedly indicates that she has had sexual relations with Sam, and her desperation at the abandonment she faces suggests the sexual double bind many adolescent girls face. Trina articulates the gendered nature of teen sex in her community when she calls Sam a "cherry hound," a term which celebrates the achievements of men who seek out intercourse with virgins. back

5 Several academic and critical accounts of Canadian David Cronenberg's early work argue that his protagonists' transformations symbolically reference the AIDS "epidemic" (Mathijs 32-3). Mathijs explains the significance of the AIDS metaphor in cinema as a representation of "the human body in crisis" (33). Just as Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) in The Fly experiences a bodily infection that signals a global crisis in sexuality during the eighties, Ginger experiences menstruation as an infection that implies the persistence of these anxieties in popular representations of sexuality. This is highlighted in Ginger Snaps because Ginger's lycanthropic infection is passed on by the co-mingling of blood. back

6 Ginger's comment that they are "not even related anymore" sheds light on the homoerotic aspect to her relationship with Brigitte. If, as Ginger suggests, they are no longer related, the taboos that prohibit their incestuous desire for one another are at least partially eradicated. back

7 Brigitte's disgust for Ginger's developing sexuality could be read as a loathing of heterosexuality. An analysis of Brigitte's "queerness," however, is beyond the reach of this essay. back


Works Cited

Clover, Carol. Men, Women and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Creed, Barbara. "Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine: An Imaginary Abjection." Horror: The Film Reader. Ed. Mark Jancovich. New York: Routledge, 2002.

- - -. The Monstrous Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. London: Routledge, 1993.

Du Coudray, Chantal Bourgault. "The Cycle of the Werewolf: Romantic Eulogies of Selfhood in Popular Fantasy." Australian Feminist Studies 18/40 (2003): 57-72.

Hollinger, Karen. In the Company of Women: Contemporary Female Friendship Films. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

Lindsey, Shelley Stamp. "Horror, Femininity, and Carrie's Monstrous Puberty." The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film. Ed. Barry Keith Grant. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996.

Martin, Emily. "Body Narratives, Body Boundaries." Cultural Studies. Ed. L. Grossberg, C. Nelson and P.A. Treichler. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Mathijs, Ernest. "AIDS References in the Critical Reception of David Cronenberg." Cinema Journal 42/4 (2003): 29-45.

Related Works of Interest

Badly, Linda. Film, Horror and the Body Fantastic. Westport: Greenwood, 1995.

Crane, Jonathan Lake. Terror and Everyday Life. London: Sage, 1994.

Doherty, Thomas. The Juvenilization of American Movies in the 1950s. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1988.

Fischer, Lucy. Cinamaternity: Film, Motherhood, Genre. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996.

Green, Philip. Ideology and Gender in Hollywood. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.

Jancovich, Mark. Rational Fears: American Horror in the 1950s. Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1996.

Skal, David J. Screams of Reason: Mad Science in Modern Horror. New York: W. W. Norton and Co, 1998.

Williams, Tony. The Family in the American Horror Film. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson Press University Press, 1996.

© thirdspace 2001-2011