Feminism in Jennifer’s Body: The Weaponization of Allure


An Essay by Sabrina Ghidossi


Jennifer’s Body (2009) is a horror film, directed by Karyn Kusama and written by Diablo Cody, about a young high-school girl, Jennifer, who becomes a succubus after being sacrificed in a forest, consuming men’s blood and life energy after having sex with them. Her friend Needy finds out and tries to stop her, ultimately killing her in the end. Being a film that is both written and directed by women means that this film has a unique perspective on one of the most recurring topics of horror films: the monstrosity of female sexuality. This perspective is seen through the use of the abject to create a dynamic conversation about feminism, where the film weaponizes horror film tropes to use them against the predominant male gaze that has prevailed in the history of horror cinema, and in the industry as a whole. In what follows, I will discuss the film’s portrayal of three different types of feminism, “lipstick,” “conservative,” and “separatist,” and how the allure of female sexuality in Jennifer’s Body is twisted to become an instrument of abjection.

Traditionally, horror films are informed by the perspective of the male gaze, having the genre overrun by male directors. It is not often that we get to experience the niche subset of a female-directed horror film. According to Stephen Follows, an established online researcher that collects data on the film industry, out of all the horror films that have grossed more than $10 million over the past three decades, only 5.9% have been directed by women. This means that it is a unique moment when we get a film like Jennifer’s Body, a movie both written and directed by women. Because of this, the film cannot continue the past previous tropes seen in other horror movies. Simply by having women at the helm, it is uniquely poised to provide commentary on the genre itself and its portrayal of women. In Jennifer’s Body we see different types of feminism throughout the film, particularly the “lipstick feminism” involved in building up Jennifer’s character as an alluring sexual being. In an interview with ET Live, Megan Fox and Diablo Cody discuss the film ten years after its release. When Megan Fox asks about casting choices, Diablo Cody mentions that from the start Fox was the first choice to play Jennifer. This is no coincidence: the media’s portrayal of Megan Fox at the time of the film’s release was hypersexual and objectified, and choosing a woman like Fox to portray the titular character meant she would immediately be associated with sex when seen on posters. This attracted certain types of viewers, particularly a young adult male audience, to watch the film [00:07:30]. Using a highly sexualized celebrity as the canvas for this character furthers the idea behind “lipstick feminism.” “Lipstick feminism” is a subcategory of third-wave feminism that attempts to use the sexual force of women to uphold feminist ideas, embracing the common female archetypes and highlighting them, using female allure as a form of power, using the definition found on Wikipedia. This can be seen in the film when Needy and Jennifer are at a local bar and Jennifer says “They’re just boys, morsels. We have all the power,” and then references her friend’s breasts as “smart bombs.” This weaponization of female sexuality twists the archetype of the monstrous feminine seen in other horror films. In Jennifer’s Body, female allure is turned on its head, and used against the male audience. In this film, Jennifer uses this overpowering sexuality to take revenge on the gender that did her wrong; after a group of men sacrifice her in the forest (a scene that alludes to rape and non-consensual abuse), she lures men in, then kills them. In reference to the increase in popularity of vampires in 1970’s films, Barbara Creed writes in her book The Monstrous-Feminine: “… there might be a connection between this and the rise of the women’s liberation movement, which also led to public fears about a more aggressive expression of female sexuality” (Creed 59). This idea of women expressing themselves sexually and using their power against men is completely abject to a society that is run by men. By creating a blur between the borders of men and women’s power dynamics, it threatens meaning. Creed continues, quoting Kristeva (the theorist of the concept of the abject), “The place of the abject is ‘the place where meaning collapses’ (p 2), the place where I am not. The abject threatens life; it must be ‘radically excluded’ (p 2) from the place of the living subject, propelled away from the body and deposited on the other side of an imaginary border which separates the self from that which threatens the self” (Creed 22). An empowered sexual woman is a threat to the male self, and therefore it is seen as abject. An empowered sexual woman is a danger to the norm, and is seen as monstrous to those it threatens to dethrone.

Continuing the conversation about feminism in this film, Jennifer’s Body touches on ideas that can relate to “feminist separatism,” which is the theory that feminist ideals can be achieved by the separation of women from men, according to Wikipedia. This type of feminism mostly focuses on lesbian couplings, and does not favor heterosexual relationships. This can be seen in the film when Needy and Jennifer are seen kissing immediately after Jennifer kills another boy. This example also plays on the abjection of women as a threat to the patriarchy. Men are rendered pointless in this scenario, unimportant and unnecessary to achieve sexual pleasure. Jennifer even murders the men she has sex with, then chooses to engage sexually with a woman instead: a woman that, at this point, Jennifer has no intention of killing. It is a clear example of the ideals of female “separatism,” as well as the threat of loss of meaning when men become sexually irrelevant. Jennifer’s sexuality is monstrous because it is a threat to men’s manhood and its purpose in gender dynamics. This is another example of the feminist discussion occurring in Jennifer’s Body.

Later in the film, we see Needy finally react to Jennifer’s “evil doings.” After Jennifer tells her what happened in the forest, and how after eating men she is unkillable, Needy questions this power. Reacting adversely to this discovery, she then tells Jennifer to leave. This could be read as an example of “conservative feminism”. Using a definition found on Wikipedia, “Conservative feminism” seeks to find equality for both men and women alike, by pursuing slow and cautious reform. It is, as its name says, more conservative when it comes to action, which can be seen in Needy’s negative reaction. Needy deems Jennifer’s approach to revenge too violent, too much, and even tries to stop her in the end. “Conservative feminism” finds itself trying to navigate the in-betweens of gender dynamics. While still trying to enact change, it delves into the slow-burning, slowly increasing type of change. This is the flip-side of the coin when it comes to women as abjection. Needy would represent the unthreatening woman, the one that doesn’t challenge boundaries or limits, or at least doesn’t threaten to enact massive change in one fell swoop. This is the type of woman that doesn’t exert her power over men, or use her sexuality as a weapon. Needy sees Jennifer’s approach as wrong; therefore, she is representing a conservative view on feminism, while also avoiding becoming the monstrous  feminine herself: Needy is not a threat.

Over the course of Jennifer’s Body, we see different examples of feminist representation. However, it is at the end that we get the auteur’s point of view: nobody wins in the discussion of “who’s a better feminist.” Jennifer’s approach led to violence and death, and didn’t truly achieve revenge in the end. Needy’s attempt to stop this violence led her to violence herself, killing Jennifer with her own hands. And even then, they could not live out the “separatist” lesbian fantasy that “could have been.” “Lipstick,” “separatist,” or “conservative” feminisms, none thrive, none survive ultimately. The allure of the woman will always be a complication. In Jennifer’s Body, Diablo Cody lets us in on a secret: from society’s perception, there is no right way to be a feminist; women will always lose. Cursed with the power of allure, there is no right way to be a woman. Jennifer could not use her sexuality in her favor, and Needy could not use her level-headed brain to save her. Jennifer ended up being killed, and Needy ended up in a mental institution. Perhaps the epilogue revenge scene we get in the credits shows that there will always be bloodshed in a women’s fight. Since there is no right way to fight for women’s rights, it might just mean we have to take them: blood, gore, and all.


Works Cited

Creed, Barbara. The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. Taylor & Francis Group, 2015.

“Feminist Separatism.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 5 Mar. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminist_separatism.

Kusama, Karyn, director. Jennifer’s Body. Twentieth Century Fox, 2009.

“Jennifer’s Body Reunion: Megan Fox and Diablo Cody Get Candid About Hollywood (Exclusive).” YouTube, ET Live, 19 Sept. 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2JLRtWlq0o&ab_channel=ETLive.

“Lipstick Feminism.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Apr. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lipstick_feminism.

“List of Conservative Feminisms.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Feb. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_conservative_feminisms.

Stephen Follows. “Is Jason Blum Right That There Is a Shortage of Female Horror Directors?” Stephen Follows, 21 Oct. 2018, stephenfollows.com/shortage-of-female-horror-directors/.