At first I was dreading the conflict between the girls. Stories about the breakdown of close female relationships are always tinged with judgment about each girl’s respective personalities (“this wouldn’t happen if she was more outgoing”, “this wouldn’t happen if she was less of a slut”) and many attempts to flesh out deeper motivations tend to fall a little flat. Even just the fact that one of their sources of conflict was inevitably (inevitably) going to center around a boy made me want to zone out right from the start. But I’m glad I didn’t. While the movie didn’t fail to act on the trope (known as The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry, which I’ll expound on later), it managed to do it in a fair, thoughtful, and surprisingly believable way. You know, despite all the lycanthropy.
The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry, society’s way of simplifying the relationship between two girls/sisters/BFF’s who belong or grow into radically different or opposing life philosophies, is a development that is common in media because it is an effective caricature of female personality types. This trope makes it easier to explore the nuances of a relationship between specific character types without taking too much time or effort to communicate the distinction between the two. Sir mentioned in class that the relationships between women are known to be some of the deepest, most intense interconnectedness that a human can experience in her life, but sometimes society makes it so that being a woman brings to mind the saying “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. While I don’t generally agree with the stereotype that women generally backstab each other, it’s an attitude (even expectation) that has permeated to the core of modern storytelling. If media is to be believed, girls will fight over (clothes, shoes, men, wedding dates) sometimes to ridiculous extremes because that’s just the sort of thing that happens when two women who otherwise get along come into direct conflict about an issue they are both passionate about. They fight, and there’s something eerily primal about women fighting over resources.
Now, Ginger and Brigitte go through the motions of this odd rivalry at both deep and shallow levels. The girls struggle against each other, needing their individuality but trying to cling to their deep bonds of sisterhood. Their respective growths into womanhood are stories that are, at their core, separate but intertwined.
But the story also tells of another, larger dysfunction that exists in the world of women. The violent and sudden nature of Ginger’s transformation, an obvious if not heavy-handed metaphor for puberty, and our having to watch her struggle through it only accentuates the pitfalls of female-dom. The right way to act, the right way to feel, the right way to be and, in the context of our horror studies, the right way to gaze.
This reveals the state of the aggressive woman: she is either not allowed to exist (and therefore must be destroyed), or she is seen as someone who can’t function in society because the idea of an aggressive, sexually domineering woman defies comprehension. Ginger’s boy-toy, someone who never had to worry about openly lusting for Ginger, shows fear and uncertainty when his advances are met with eagerness and aggression.
There is a stereotype about sexually aggressive women, which is that they come into and wield their power effortlessly. Maybe it’s an idea born of male perceptions (“I can’t stop thinking about her. How is it so easy for her to trap me like this? Witchcraft!”), or maybe it’s a product of how women are generally seen as the fairer/more attractive sex (“She’s in a t-shirt and jeans! How does she manage to look so hot? Witchcraft!”), but whatever the reason, every logical human knows that these assumptions are false. Ginger Snaps plays on that by showing the nitty-gritty grossness of a terrible, transformative type of adolescence.
What’s wonderful about Ginger Snaps is that the sisters don’t fall prey to their tropes. At least, not in the ways that count. Both girls hold fast to their love for one another. They come into conflict because that’s what happens when people grow up, and even the closest relationships can’t escape badgering by the great hammer of puberty. It’s just that much worse when shark week takes an all too literal twist.