The Locker Room and The "Lesbian" - The Unfortunate Sexual Politics of THE FACULTY

By Brittany Knupper · @MsGeorgiaOQueef · September 21, 2021, 6:00 AM PDT
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THE FACULTY (1998)

The empty showers of the locker room fill with steam as our agile young hero turns the spigot and plunges himself into the cleansing waters of his post-practice routine. His back is to the entrance. He is completely naked. Completely vulnerable. But his masculine sanctum is soon violated, made obscene, by the mewling shrieks of a monster. The decaying body of old Mrs. Brummel descends upon him. Ripping off her clothes, exposing her withered flesh, she clings to him, gasping for breath, crying out for moisture, her scalp sloughing off at his tentative touch. He is powerless, frozen with terror, unable to stop this unwanted female invasion.

There is more than one horror at the heart of the 1998 classic, The Faculty. But before we wade in, I want to say up front that I still love this movie. It hits comfort and nostalgia buttons and remains a well-told, entertaining story. It has humor, great casting, appropriate levels of camp, and extremely satisfying death scenes. It's an excellent metaphor for the fear of growing up and being assimilated by adult power structures... but trailing along behind all of that like Marybeth's sinister, tentacled shadow is a more insidious anxiety. It is also haunted by a distinctly male (and heterosexual) abjection of the female body. Both seductive and revolting, the parasitic aliens use female bodies to dominate, terrify, and ultimately consume the male protagonists.

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We see this in: Delilah, a bully, wielding her beauty like a cudgel and badgering her hapless boyfriend, Stan. Mrs. Brummel and the other older teachers are grotesque, unable to hide the monstrosity of their insides. Even Miss Burke, the beautiful yet shy teacher that Zeke loves to torture (and sexually harass), is revealed to be a ballbusting bitch. Yes, the male faculty are also to be feared but it is because they have already succumbed and been infected by the Queen: the evil mother inflicting her will upon the hapless school.

Marybeth, the Queen, is the Madonna/Whore, the monster, and the mother all in one.

Mothers are lionized and sanctified by their sons but also, unconsciously, a reminder of death. ("You came from me, you did not exist before me, and eventually, you will go back to nonexistence.”) Marybeth's blonde hair, folksy accent, and flowery sundress are merely a disguise. A way of hiding the monstrous appetite within her. Her true desire is to consume and control. To enslave mankind and fill the world with her children. In the end, she wields her naked body as a weapon, using it to stun and distract the surviving male heroes. Assuming them helpless to resist such a provocative display. This is, of course, one of the oldest male fears. The fear of the Other. Of woman as uncontrollable nature, as temptation, as darkness.

This is why water in The Faculty serves as both a symbol of the fluid liminal space of adolescence and female sexuality. A necessity for the alien parasites to survive, they thirst for it. They drain the men of their life's essence, requiring them to replenish constantly. They both fill and need filling. To get Freudian, they are the perverse cup that requires fluid to survive and propagate. Moist, alluring yet dangerous, water represents the fear of consumption as opposed to the thrill of penetration. The vagina dentata.

And, much like many negative stereotypes about women, they are insidious. They don't invade with massive ships, blowing up major cities and heads of government with their big, hard energy blasts; they slip in through the back door. They come as the girl next door. Passed on like a secret, poison dripped into the sleeping king's ear. Reducing the human population of the school from virile, violent (read: masculine), and chaotic to passive, docile, and orderly. They drain humanity and leave it impotent.

The Faculty is meant to be an underdog story. The school misfits - Casey, Zeke, and until the very end, Stokely - are the ones who triumph. Their outsider status allows them to see the larger problem invading the school and gives them the tools to resist it. It goes even further to subvert expectations by giving the final victory to Casey, the gentle nerd. Zeke, the larger, physically stronger boy, is knocked unconscious, so Casey, wielding the tweaker pens, slays the extraterrestrial dragon. It's Casey who saves the day, becomes famous, and wins the hand of Delilah. It challenges and subverts the expected teenage narrative. The nice guy does not finish last.

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But it becomes impossible not to also view it as an incel fantasy by viewing it through a more modern lens. We are introduced to the main protagonist, Casey (Elijah Wood), by watching him get first elbowed in the face (apologizing to the boy as his nose bleeds) and then immediately scooped up by the football team and rammed into the flagpole repeatedly, balls first. He is small, timid, constantly fleeing from threats real and imagined, and ordered about by Delilah - the "Stacy" of the school. He is, as Reddit would say, a "beta male." Conversely, both Stan, the football star, and Zeke, the sexy bad boy drug dealer, are "Chads." They have women, and they have respected status. Stan has Delilah (who even bosses him around), while Zeke pursues both Miss Burke and Marybeth. But with sexual access comes danger. Stan is accosted in the shower by Mrs. Brummel, which is then paralleled at the end when Marybeth, fully exposed as the queen alien, corners Zeke. Both are paralyzed, transfixed by the naked female body in front of them. And both are eventually defeated. It is Casey, the disrespected beta, who destroys the Queen by stabbing her, penetrating her with his "tweaker pen," his small phallic weapon. And he is the one who is most rewarded. By conquering the monster, he has conquered his fear of the female. Now he is able to elevate his status. He receives respect from his peers and attention from the media. And most importantly, he gets his own Queen, his own "Stacy," in the form of Delilah.

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And then there is Stokely. Now don't get me wrong, as a former surly goth teen who often had homophobic slurs thrown at her between classes, there is a part of Stokely that resonates with me deeply. However, the movie's choice to reveal that Stokely is not only not a lesbian, but started the rumors herself reveals much. It posits that Stokely uses her mask of queerness to increase her outsider status, elevate her uniqueness, and hide her true feelings for Stan, the football team's captain (crushing on such a basic boy is bad for her image). It plays into the tiring tropes that lesbianism is a phase, or that young women only do it for male attention. After the defeat of the aliens, the conclusion of her story when she trades in her black clothing for pastels and gets her guy is both an homage to The Breakfast Club and a betrayal to the real-life Stokelys at home.

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The easy solution would be to retroactively claim Stokely as bisexual. A young woman in a small suburban town whose conflicting feelings disrupt her identity and give her a hefty dose of imposter syndrome. Unaware that she is allowed to crush on any and all genders. But unfortunately, this film is very much a product of its time. While attraction to multiple genders has obviously always existed, representation of it in the mainstream - especially popular entertainment aimed at teenagers - was slow to come. 1998 (the year of The Faculty's release) was only a decade away from every teen comedy using "fag” as a comedic insult (a slur that continued to be used as a punchline long after as well). Hell, the bisexual pride flag itself was created that same year but was not widely known outside of queer hubs. Bi-erasure was the modus operandi.

And so, in the end, Stokely is also conquered. The goth lesbian returned to the fold of traditional heterosexuality. And the final fixation of both men's desire and anxiety - the woman who has no sexual interest in men - has been laid to rest. Order in The Faculty universe has finally been restored.