There’s a girl at the bar, and she’s looking at you. You didn’t expect this, didn’t come out looking for action, but she’s looking at you — a predatory, calculated look accented by the long, well-manicured hands that tap a staccato rhythm on the bartop. She smiles when you meet her eyes, so you smile back in a way you hope comes across as disarming. She turns back to her drink and you nudge your friends, telling them about it. The bartender interrupts you. Careful, he says, she’ll eat you alive, and you tell him you can think of worse fates. Your friend punches your arm and tells you to go on, dumbass, and with the boys’ blessing, you do. You don’t catch her name when you talk, but she invites you to hers, and you agree. You practically fall out the bar door, sending a wolfish grin back to your friends as you leave. Her hand is warm in yours during the ride back to her cozy condo, and her smile is wide with glistening white teeth. Wow, those are sharp. Really sharp. With the door locked behind you, the last thing you ever hear is her, telling you what good prey you were. 

Media is full of femme fatales, women who our hapless everyman action protagonists are warned are dangerous and will eat them alive. It’s a well-worn trope: the badass who is, for some inscrutable reason, attracted to an idiot who she is in every way better than, or alternatively, the Big Bad Evil Guy’s henchwoman/daughter who is inexplicably attracted to the hero. On its surface it empowers women, but at its core the femme fatale trope exists to make men feel masculine. It embodies the idea that even the most terrifying of women still fall under the sway of drastically mediocre men. 

The female cannibal in feminist media contrasts this. She consumes men, not with a wink, but with too-sharp teeth and bloody clothing. It is deliberately emasculating, positioning men as prey and women as predators. In fact, the predatory nature of cannibalism is a call to the violent nature of sexual assault. It is an allegory for rape culture that originates in the anger of a group long ignored. 

It’s just about impossible to talk about women eating people without talking about “Jennifer’s Body.” For the uninitiated to the 2009 queer-coded horror sleepover classic, the titular Jennifer, following being the victim of a botched virgin sacrifice to summon the devil, becomes possessed and starts eating boys for Demon Reasons. Her consumption of these boys is not impersonal. She gets in their faces and terrifies them because their fear is as much what she feeds on as their bodies. This is an obvious metaphor for the cycle of abuse- she was attacked by men who deliberately hurt her for their own gain, so now she perpetuates that harm onto others, setting up an expectation of sex and instead assaulting them in a clear allegory to rape. Make no mistake, sexual assault is not sex any more than theft is financial advice. It is violent and painful and it eats its victims from the inside out. Jennifer’s need for the boys to die afraid and in terror mirrors the fact that rape is often more about subjugation and control than sexual satisfaction. 

Not every piece of media can afford the same black-and-white slasher morality of “Jennifer’s Body.” “Bones and All” is a 2022 romantic horror that dares to *gasp* have our cannibals be the good guys! Teenager Maren discovers that throughout her past she has straight up eaten people and flees the state, meeting and falling in love with a boy named Lee as they travel

across America cannibalizing the elderly and cruel. They spend the better portion of the movie killing and eating their way through the United States, meeting others who share their ‘cravings’. Towards the latter half of the movie, Maren and Lee swear off satisfying their cravings and… live their life. With zero to a handful of easily manageable side effects. And yet, the movie never questions their killing- merely the quality of the person they consume, and whether or not they deserved it. The movie assumes that killing and eating people is their default state and that denying it is a brave thing, when in actuality, um, they could just. Not do that. It’s reminiscent of ‘boys will be boys’ culture, where rapists are assumed to have been acting on their nature, and the discussion instead falls on whether or not the woman deserved it, or did enough to avoid it. Our victims are portrayed as deserving it, or it being best for them, and in the rare case when Lee kills a married man, the notion that Lee has done wrong is quickly erased by the fact that Lee got him alone by seducing him, making him a cheater and therefore ideal victim. Like rape culture as a whole, “Bones and All” is more concerned with the moral standing of its victims than that of the perpetrators, who are assumed to be acting on some biological instinct. 

This phenomenon is not limited to movies, however. The image of the female cannibal often finds a place in female punk music, especially in the 90’s punk genre “riot grrrl”. It can be heard in punk icon Bratmobile’s “Gimme Brains,” which declares in a nasal talk-sing, “Gimme brains for breakfast baby, and give me more for lunch”, and “A girl could starve on a boy like you!” It’s a mockery, it’s angry, it yells in men’s faces that the issue is not on her for wanting to eat brains, but on them for not being smart enough to eat, mirroring again the idea perpetuated by rape culture that sexual assault is a compliment. However, the clearest connection comes from Lady Pills’ “Eat Them,” which states “You don’t want to listen, you just want to look at me. it’s been going on too long, this time you’re the meat.” The song wears its comparison on its sleeve, and also tells us something about where this metaphor comes from and why feminist media uses it. It comes from anger, and being seen as meat. The dehumanization of rape culture is devastating to women. The metaphor of cannibalism comes from giving in to the exhaustion of trying, again and again, to convince men that women’s voices deserve to be heard and never succeeding because we live in a world that views women as meat. It’s terrible, but it’s also kind of an escape to think of a world where men are the meat. 

“Jennifer’s Body” was torn apart by male critics, who went in expecting to see Megan Fox doing just about anything other than killing and eating people. “Bones and All” gets by with its drastic non-criticism and tacit approval of its main characters. Female punk artists have been shoved out of punk spaces since their creation. This is a metaphor that makes men uncomfortable. And it should, because it communicates what women already know. Sexual assault is a kind of consumption. It kills people from the inside out, taking the people the victims were before and destroying them, leaving them with only the pieces of who they thought they would be. That’s why the cannibal fatale is so terrifying- it externalizes the harm caused by sexual assault. Instead of being eaten from the inside out, victims are eaten outside in. Literally. With teeth. It takes the metaphorical low road in the conversation, shoving women’s shoes on to men and forcing them to walk a mile. It’s a harsh way of convincing people, but the point isn’t really to show anyone anything. The kind of man the female cannibal represents a reversal of is not the kind of man who can be convinced out of his beliefs. Rather, she isn’t for men at all. She’s an

expression of rage, of a desire to be the one on top, to take an eye-for-an-eye revenge approach to the men who have hurt her creator. That’s why she makes men uncomfortable — she isn’t for them at all.