Switchblade Sisters

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade December 2001

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Switchblade Sisters: Gender Representation and Discourse Enter Jack Hill's sexploitation masterwork Switchblade Sisters, wherein a band of bad-ass, leather-clad hotties take on their high school's lame-o guy gang, bill collectors, a corrupt community activist, and--with the help of some black nationalists--even The Man. The Dagger Debs are a gang of knife wielding bad girls faced with teenage angst and repression by the male dominant culture. In the opening sequence Lace, the merciless leader of the Dagger Debs, is seen sharpening her switchblade by her nightstand as she checks her self out in the mirror, admiring her leather jacket and biker's cap. Faced with the apathetic and harsh attitude of the adult culture, the Dagger Debs find their own solution, by creating mayhem and striking fear wherever they go. Much like the male rebel films of the fifties, authority is misplaced and youth culture seems to have the upper hand.

Like a typical teen film, most of its scenes take place in their high school, or at their hangout diner or warehouse, however, they have turned these public places into their own turf.

The Dagger Debs serve as groupies to a gang of male rebels named the Silver Daggers. Throughout the film, women are presented as muses, or groupies, much like the films of the fifties, and serve as toys for the dominant male gang to toss around and play with. To be initiated into the gang, it is necessary to "go through" Dominic (leader of the Silver Daggers), this exercise of male dominance and power through the means of sex and repression can be said to be typical of the male rebel.

Maggie, the new girl in town, is approached by the Dagger Debs and is forced to defend herself from Lace's hench-woman, the one-eyed Patch. Unlike typical films of the seventies, Maggie is able to take care of herself without the aide of a strong masculine man; instead, she wraps her glinting metal belt around Patch's legs and beats her to the ground, not without first spraying pepper on her eye to disable her. This automatically gets the attention of Lace, and is prompted to ask Maggie what gang she is in. "Everybody's gotta be in a gang" says Lace. The idea that every girl must belong to a gang, to have muscle behind them to protect them, presents women as helpless and dependant. At the same time, Dominic is drawn to Maggie's spunk, and so drops by her house where he rapes her as her mom shacks up with the landlord to pay the bill. By violating her, he destroys the whole institute of "family", through the exercise of power and rape.

It is only in the beginning of the film that the women represent everything the rebel is not (passivity, inhibition) and everything that threatens to shackle him (domesticity, social norms) to an extent. Lace, underneath her tough girl kicking-ass persona, is a young teenager concerned with love and dependency on the male. When she finds out that she is pregnant, she mistakenly believes that Dominic will be thrilled to become a father, instead faced with reality he throws a wad of bills on the bed and says, "So you got knocked up, big fucking deal! You know what to do." However, once Maggie takes the lead of the girl gang, the films takes a shift in attitude serving as a precursor to the 90's riot grrl movement. The Dagger Debs find a strong sense of unity with their femininity and realize they are oppressed by the Silver Dagger's masculinity. Maggie's rape seems to make her stronger and more determined to break the rules. But it has a different effect on Lace, her sudden rejection by Dominic leads her to despise Maggie, and plot to frame her, this feeding into the idea that a woman is helpless if she is not backed up by "muscle" as Lace refers to men in the opening sequence. The idea that girls " long for a liberating sense of adventure through competing against other girls for the attention of an alluring, even dangerous man" is argued by the film Mi Vida Loca as well as Switchblade Sisters.

Once the Crabs (teenage pushers in their local high school) kill Dominic, the Silver Daggers loose their sense of unity. Now that their leader is dead, they feel they have no "cause" to fight. Not saying that they had one to begin with, Jean- Paul Sartre would agree that the rebels are not trying to solve any problems, rather just break the rules.

Therefore, the Dagger Debs break from the male dominated gang and "castrate" them out of their circle, and thus change their name to The Jezebels, meaning an immoral, shameless woman. From then on, the all-girl-gang take the lead in the fight to avenge Dominic's brother and girlfriend from the villains of the film, teenage pushers who are hooking children on drugs. Maggie leads the leather-strapped chicks to an abandoned police station on the outskirts of town to find a group of African American nationalists, who in turn for guns help the Jezebels out. Hill makes a social statement about the authorities and their inability to control or regulate the teen culture and its mayhem. "They're juveniles; they'll be out in a week" says a greasy cop who continually refers to the young women as "babe" and "honey." Much like the riot grrl films of the 80's were women re-defined their social representation, the knife wielding bad girls of the film adopt a more masculine persona and become more dominant and less "feminine." Timothy Shary in "The emergence of the "tough girl" image in American films" argues that female gang members "do not enjoy the thrill of violence, yet have become defensive of their turf and friends due to the treacherous conditions of their surroundings"¦primarily by the activities of man." Through the means of exploitation, Jack Hill's presents this idea. But at the same time plays with it a little. At then end of the film, the Jezebels alongside the black nationalists fight the Crabs, in a final shootout in their town square. When they return home (to their warehouse) after a long day of blasting away, Lace confronts Maggie and tries to turn the gang against her. However, the gang no longer feels threatened by Lace and side with Maggie. Lace feels she must regain her gang so she challenges Maggie to a blade fight.

After some slice-n-dice action, the fight finally ends when Maggie plunges her blade into Lace's neck, ending her control over the girls just as the male rebels had. In the end however, reminiscent of The Wild One the authorities catch up to them in the end. The cops bust in on them once Lace has been killed and arrest them. Throughout the film the girls would not admit to the cops that they were in a gang, however when they are asked now, they answered "The Jezebels." Jack Hill makes the statement that their ability to preserve their group is integral to the preservation of their sense of who they are (Timothy Shary, The Emergence of"¦,56).

At the end of the film, the Jezebels are thrown into the swat van, but not before Maggie is able to make her witty final monologue, where she warns the cops that they will be back. Even though the film ends with the inevitable capture of the female characters, leading to the idea that rebellion inevitably leads to punishment, the film goes further to say that regardless of what the obstacle is, teenage rebellion will always exist and the men will not dominate them"¦.The Jezebels will be back! Works Cited Shary, Timothy. "Angry young women: The emergence of the " Tough Girl" image in American Teen films." Reynolds, Simon and Joy Press. " Angry Young men: precursors and prototypes for rock rebellion."