We Are All “Carrie”

carrie2013“Carrie” endures because she embodies the vulnerability we all share. We are all Carrie, says the film’s director, Kimberly Peirce:

We all want love and acceptance, we all face extraordinary obstacles, we all have some part of our lives where we are a misfit trying to fit in. That’s why we can all identify.

I’d thought “Carrie” was a horror flick. Who knew it was a coming of age film?

“Carrie” revolves around the search for personal power, self-esteem and status — and reveals how horribly wrong it can all go.

Insecure kids bully even more insecure kids, trying to raise themselves up by putting someone else down. It all backfires when the tormented unleash their wrath in retaliation. But the unleashing backfires on the avenger.

A cautionary tale warning against paths that look powerful, but which are only destructive.

Happens all the time in real life. Oppressed people instigate mass killings, crime, violence. Which leaves them dead or in jail.

Interestingly, women’s fight against oppression inspired “Carrie” says Stephen King:

Carrie is largely about how women find their own channels of power, but also what men fear about women and women’s sexuality. Writing the book in 1973 and only three years out of college, I was fully aware of what Women’s Liberation implied for me and others of my sex. Carrie is a woman feeling her powers for the first time and, like Samson, pulling down the temple on everyone in sight at the end of the book.

That fear of women’s wrath and power led to both patriarchal and religious backlash — both reflected in the film.

Before patriarchy menstruation was thought a source of power. Post-patriarchy it became a supposed source of pollution. Apparently, Carrie’s uber-religious mom thought it too sinful to even discuss.

So when the blood comes in the gym shower, Carrie panics. Her fear is met with mockery and shouts to “plug it up”! At home it just gets worse when mom locks her in a “prayer closet.” Carrie screams and screams, and then discovers her telekinetic power when she cracks the door.

Media critic, Holly Derr points out that a crucifix bleeds as Carrie shrieks in the closet. The bleeding connects her period to Christ’s suffering, “which deepens the relationship between debased femininity and religion,” she says. And reshapes it, really. Because her first blood moves outside the mistaken view that menstruation is pollution and not power.

Later, when pig blood dumps on her at prom, Carrie is essentially born again, Derr says. Into an extremely powerful person.

But she destroys herself while taking a swipe at – and defeating – many of her oppressors.

On the one hand, heroes often die fighting for the greater good.

On the other hand, surely power can be used more wisely — and constructively — when not in vengeance mode.

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
Best Not To Be Popular In High School
From Being Bullied to Being a Star
Do Kids Bully from Low Self-Esteem? Or Because they’re Popular? No and No

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on November 8, 2013, in feminism, psychology, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. Well, I guess we could say Carrie “destroyed herself”, but she was “reborn” afterwards. See: When Sue arrives at Carrie’s house after the massacre, Carrie is crying hysterically inside her house because of what her life has come to. Then Sue came. Did you notice that when Carrie told Sue, “it’s a girl,” she had a look of sudden hope on her face? & That’s when she decided to push Sue out of the house to safety, & kill herself by remaining in the house. And after the house falls apart, Sue holds her hand over her belly. It is implied that Carrie found a chance to reincarnate within the fetus of Sue, who has repented over her wrongdoings towards Carrie, and will hopefully be a better mother to Carrie than her own mother was.
    I’m finishing up a feminist analysis of this story & I’ll post the link when I’m finished. :3

  2. I haven’t seen this movie yet, but I know I will. But I know exactly what is like to be bullied in school. I was bullied all the way from kindergarten until my senior year, by the same group of kids. After I graduated I disappeared from everyone and did keep in contact with those I had spent so many years with. I used their comments and rudeness to change myself. Not because I felt that I had to fit, or that I wanted to be like them, but for myself. It may sound like I changed because of them but I really did it for myself. High School can be some of the hardest times in a teens life, boy or girl. Everyone is so worried about themselves that they don’t see how their comments and criticism affects those around them.

  3. While I have not seen this movie, the whole subject of women’s power in this movie seems quite interesting. It is very telling of our society in the way we perceive and act about women’s issues. I find it very interesting that “Before patriarchy menstruation was thought a source of power. Post-patriarchy it became a supposed source of pollution.” In our patriarchal society, everything that has to do with women is looked down upon, even though it definitely shouldn’t be. For example, being emotional or caring is seen as a weakness today (because those traits are associated with women), when in reality, having these traits makes you a more stable and less depressed person. It says that Carrie’s mother was “uber-religious” and therefore refused to discuss menstruation. Today, even people who aren’t religious in our society avoid the topic at all costs. Even though everyone knows what it is and how it works, there is still that little bit of shame in having to go buy tampons or slyly pulling them out of your bag when no one’s looking. In order for women to be truly equal, the stigma and shame in the traits of women needs to be eradicated.

  4. I found myself intrigued with this post. I recently watched the movie in the theater, and I was struck by how relentlessly cruel some of Carrie’s peers were. It’s as though they needed to make themselves feel taller by pushing down someone who appeared the most weak. In the end Carrie decides she is finished with being the brunt of their cruel jokes and seeks vengeance. In a way, her vengeance is self-defense, because the people who treated her poorly were not ceasing and established authorities were not effectively intervening; the only way to make a change was for Carrie to change the circumstances herself. Carrie uniquely had a viable motive. So, what could she have done differently? She didn’t have anyone in the community who she could trust or genuinely talk to. She was a minor, unable to move away, live on her own or begin a new life. It seems like a natural response when trapped to go into a fight, flight or freeze mode. She had done plenty of the passive flight and freeze responses. When she finally felt angry, this article indicates that she was acting unwise. I would then pose the question, how would a young girl who is only familiar with an isolated and abusive environment supposed to wisely and constructively inform her community of their wrongs? It is as though we are accusing the victim of deciding not to be the victim anymore. Why are we not angry with the community for not stepping in a decade sooner to help this young girl? It is a societal illness, not a problem with the young woman. It would be like blaming healthy cells in your body for allowing cancer or a virus in instead of directly addressing the illness. It’s absurd.

  5. I think that this topic is very interesting and suggests views on this movie I didn’t even think of. I thought that this movie is just one of the horror flicks that are just meant into scaring people.
    I do agree that even though men are supposed to be the “strong” and “unafraid of anything” gender, they fear women because they rely and depend on them. This is actually pretty weird, because I only watched the preview, but this story is kind of the same of what my mom told me. I remember before my period even started my mom wanted to talk to me about it, and I was like;”Ew why are you telling me this?”, and she said that when she was my age, her mother never told her about period etc because she was either embarrassed or it was something the society didn’t accept back then. And when it started my mother ran into the shower and tried to stop it with cold water.
    After reading this article, I really want to see the movie with the perspective of knowing what everything means, however period connecting to Christ’s suffering seems a little too much (LOL).

  6. This movie is a perfect example of what happens when someone is picked on too much. I hate it when I see bullying in movie or in real life it just makes me so uneasy and angry. I just wish there was a way to stop this from happening , because it never ends well for the victim. Or some times in the worse case scenarios the people around them. Also after reading this post about the other meaning behind the movie it really grabbed my attention. When I hear about this movie I just assume it just another horror movie, but to read around the deeper meaning that it showing it really cool. It makes me want to go back and watch all the different visions of this movie and really pay attention .

  7. Ashley Steffenson

    We truly are all Carrie. In some way or another, in a majority of people’s lives, we have felt left out of something at at least one point in our lives. Personal power is one that can really have a tendency of going to a person’s head because of the self assigned status that a person has given to and believed in one’s self. Thus, to some, a self assorted pedestal is built and people without power appear to be beneath you because you view those with power to be of more importance than others. This “reason” can be seen in a lot of bullying instances especially. We see the misogynistic and patriarchal view of making out a human being’s bodily function warped to being seen as this “unclean” act through the eyes of valuing “cleanliness is close to godliness” sort of mentality that we see being projected through the character Carrie’s religious mother. The fact is that this way of thinking over a woman’s reproductive system is derived from a patriarchal society, moreover evidently showing that this way of thinking is shaming a woman over something that happens naturally in nature and being one that a woman cannot naturally change herself. This way of thinking over the issue comes from male perspectives that women are beneath themselves. Building that pedestal that if a person doesn’t have a period then they are automatically less unclean or powerful and should be ashamed of this. And although in Carrie’s instance it was amongst teenage girls that were shaming Carrie, that shame roots heavily in the shame given to girls from the patriarchy sort of outlook on a woman’s reproductive system.

  8. Carrie reminded me of the story of 15 year old Adelaide girl Carly Ryan. This is a story that may not be widely known

  9. I think a lot of women can relate to Carrie in the sense that they might feel oppressed or bullied by their peers for being different.

  10. You know what I find disturbing is a lot of fans have split in teams. Team Incognito or Team Martin. It’s stupid for anyone to really team with either player, but more people are on team Incognito. There’s a popular miami dolphins message board and I had discussions with a guy who thought less of martin for being a snitch and being “weak” as a result than he did of Incognito. I thought it was ridiculous not because he was against Martin, but he’s more for a man, who said strong racial remarks and not simply that, but a guy whi I believe is a dirtbag. Incognito has had a bad reputation in the leagure for years and not made up stuff and then recently news came up of him sexually harassing a woman and bullying her when he was drunk at a golf charity game. Yep, a man doling stuff like that is “strong”. No, he’s just as weak or any man doing that is not a man and is weak. But it’s disturbing the attitude though by some. Many of course, are rational fortunately and like me, are not on either team and against both guys. I’m personally against all. They are all at fault. Martin could have gone about things differently. Incognito for being a dirtbag. Incognito also punched a bouncer at a club, so this guy is a punk. And the coaches for letting this brew like this and not getting involved. I can’t believe the coaches didn’t know things weren’t heating up or what was going on, but instead brushed it off. So coaches and staff at fault too. Just a mess and too bad because that’s my team. I’m glad those guys are off the team now though.

    • I don’t get the problem with Martin saying something. He tried making friends with the harassing players. It didn’t work. Coaches did nothing.

      And if they aren’t ashamed of what they were doing, why should they be upset that it was made public? If they are ashamed, they shouldn’t have been doing it. And of course, they should be ashamed of that middle-school behavior — which even most middle-school kids are above.

  11. When you think you learned so much from these blogs more knowledge just keeps coming. I never looked at this movie this way. There is some good points here. Sometimes I ask myself does being a good person really benefit me being nice to those who oppress you no matter the outcome or how they feel or how you feel. This article helped me make that decision. If you get lost in revenge you loose yourself in the process. So I will Continue to be the best person I could be with the morals and values I know are correct not just for me but because doing the right thing is truly peace of mind and Genuinely wanting to help others..

    • Yes, there is no point making yourself miserable. It’s disempowering in so many ways. Especially if you end up destroying yourself and your goals in the process.

      One can harness anger in positives ways, of course. Great motivator if you use it right. Anger was no doubt the motivation behind the women’s movements and the Civil Rights movements. But think how much more effective Martin Luther King was than the Black Panthers, who may have felt powerful but who largely created fear and backlash against them.

      And see this:
      Inflaming Feminazis: BEING Powerful? Or just FEELING Powerful?

      • Just to play devil’s advocate, the Black Panthers were why California instituted relatively strict gun control laws. It was a racist response, but there are things to be said for gun control laws.

      • Ok. But gun control wasn’t their goal.

        In terms of their goal: creating equality for blacks, the perceived scariness they created backfired and made them seem more “other” — Scary other.

      • I think it’s always worth noting how actions have consequences. It helps put things in a broader perspective.

  12. I don’t know if you follow sports or not, but I think even non-sports followers know of trending news that is the Miami Dolphins. Incognito vs Johnathan Martin and him harassing Martin. I have my thoughtd from both sides, just wondered your thoughts on culture and bullying as well as jock culture upon masculinity from this perspective?

    • Big topic.

      I think people bully because they feel lacking in some way. Put others down to bring themselves up, by comparison and powerful (or at least if feels that way). When masculinity is defined as tough, powerful, dominant, the incentive is higher. They’re looking for power and dominance, but in my eyes they’re advertising their insecurity.

  13. Here’s a better frame on the anger thing I was discussing:

    I think it’s ideal to have a wide variety of ways to express emotions and a good sense of knowing how to decide which one to use. But that takes a certain amount of practice. Since we are socially inhibited from expressing anger at men, doing so in a relatively safe place can come off really rough-edged. That doesn’t mean this, or any other way of expressing emotion, is ideal. It’s more a matter of expanding one’s palette. Doing so can be a journey that takes one to unexpected places.

    I certainly don’t recommend staying in a constant state of rage. Bad for your health. But editing that color out of the spectrum is, too.

  14. Power never gives up voluntarily. An economic system based on profit requires a class of people who do work others are paid for. People like their slaves, whether de facto or de jure. Very few in this culture will opt for voluntary poverty, and the ones who say they do usually have legal control over land, in itself privilege.

    You don’t get the temple without the slaves who built it.

    • True enough.

      At the same time, hoping people will use their power constructively more than destructively, as much as possible.

      • Even a full-blown revolution requires a culture of resistance, and one based on valuing life.

        Random destruction just increases background noise. I’ve noticed there are more than one kind of people calling themselves anarchists. Some are pretty much just about boundary violations, others are more about doing the work of creating a free egalitarian culture.

        That’s not an easy task, working from within, and there is a strong element of endlessly cleaning up messes made by others.That’s traditionally women’s work, and when men take it on, I do respect that.

        Otherwise, I support the right of women to express their anger without constantly feeling they have to express it in a way that doesn’t leave men feeling uncomfortable.

      • “I support the right of women to express their anger without constantly feeling they have to express it in a way that doesn’t leave men feeling uncomfortable.”

        I agree.

        I also feel this should be done constructively. Not in a way that destroys women and our cause.

        For instance, early feminism had a few man-hating feminists. The man-hating probably made them feel powerful, but it backfired on the movement. It alienated both men and women, making both less likely to join the cause. And besides, plenty of men want to support women’s rights. About one third of men and call themselves feminists. So there is certainly no reason to paint all men with the same negative brush.

      • That still comes off as tone policing. If a woman has been sufficiently abused by men as a class, who I am I to tell her not to hate men as a class? Feminism is about women, not about refraining from offending men.

        I don’t think men can be feminists anymore than I think people of European extract can be black activists. One can be allies, one can be supportive. But men who try to join feminist groups tend to kind of try to take over, because they are socialized to be more aggressive and women are socialized to be more accommodating. I have seen some real jerks claiming to be feminists. I don’t think it’s a man’s decision to make, that he is a “feminist.” His actions and behavior will speak to women as to whether he is truly supportive and trustworthy. It takes some work to see how one’s privilege affects one’s behavior, this is not just a statement a guy can make in order to ingratiate himself with women.

        Expressing anger in a more toned-down manner reinforces the idea that only men are allowed to freely express themselves without consideration of how women take it. Expressing anger without editing it pisses men off. But it does get their attention.

        A real male ally doesn’t take it personally if it’s not aimed at him personally. If it pushes a guy’s buttons, he should do some self-examination about that. Because it’s only a taste of what women deal with on a regular basis.

        I personally do try to ascribe to a more moderate tone of debate, but I don’t criticize women who are more harsh, because doing so reinforces the idea that women should never be aggressive or even direct. That doesn’t mean I think any behavior is acceptable. It’s just a matter of watching out for double standards.

      • I’m sorry for your pain and I’m not saying don’t feel angry, don’t express yourself. I’m simply saying that there are both constructive and destructive ways of doing that. I don’t know you well enough to make any judgment as to how you go about it.

        And, I’m not policing anyone. I’m offering my opinion.

      • Opinions can come off as policing when they are offered by those who are respected, and you present yourself extremely well. No harm, no foul.

        Also, regarding the guy-as-feminist thing, the problem is that men tend to see it only in terms of their own behavior, the “I’m not like that” stance. But being a real male ally also involves how a man interacts with other men who behave badly towards women. Even if he isn’t a direct participant, is he a bystander? Does he try to interfere? Does he believe women who say they’ve been assaulted, or side with his friends, say she made it all up? Asked for it? It wasn’t that big a deal, just move on? Brush it under the rug? Ostracize her if she insists on confronting  her assailant?

        The guy who stops the gang rape before it happens and takes the girl home, he’s an ally. Especially if he has to deliver her to her parents passed out, with all the likely shoot-the-messenger stuff that entails.

        That kind of thing takes character, especially for a teenager under all that social pressure to be a man. But being a male ally means dealing with how men behave, because women can’t do it alone. Women also need to focus on helping liberate each other from all this internalized crap, and many of us can’t do that with guys around. So “I’m a feminist, be nice to me” isn’t too impressive as a standalone.

      • I completely agree. Thank you.

  15. Yes, we can all relate to Carrie. And learn something.

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