How girlboss cannibals killed pop culture
I was shocked the first times I saw “boss cannibal” and “girlboss Hannibal” appear on Goodreads reviews of my book. The two names do not seem to occupy the same address. Girlboss, a term that had a meteoric rise and fall in the late 2010s, went from connoting female empowerment and inclusivity to white women engaged in capitalist control and enlightenment. to the gas of black and brown women. Cannibal, on the other hand, feels almost morally pure. Of course, cannibals eat other people. But at least they’re honest about it.
The cannibal girlboss idea, however, did not die a quick and clean death; it hooked me and I chewed it, so to speak. I started to wonder how, like in capitalism, the dynamics of cannibalism change drastically when it’s the woman at the head of the table. Power: cannibals have it, their victims don’t. This iniquity may be at the heart of people eating people, at least in art, where the cannibal is almost exclusively male.
In this year’s stylish horror-comedy Costs, Steve, played with a wink by Sebastian Stan, is a plastic surgeon who turns to the dark side of slicing and dicing. As much as the film takes a candy-colored look at the dark side of hetero dating, it drags a scalpel around the commodification of female bodies. Unlike Bryan Fuller Hannibal series (2013-15), where the greatest sexual charge came from the will-they-or-won’t-they erotic dance between Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) and FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), Costs makes male power over women the essential point of cannibalism.
Robertson sees “girlboss cannibalism” as an ironic form of self-identification. “The #girlbosscannibal takes an active role in her story, asserting power over her life in a world where power is so often denied. She does what she wants. She takes what she wants. On screen, she subverts expectations of the roles played by women – especially in horror, where they are so often limited to helpless victims or [the] ‘last daughter,” she says, referring to the woman who, like Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode in Halloweenstands alone in the carnage at the end of a horror movie.
Bogutskaya supports this idea by saying: “If you subscribe to this idea that women are physically incapable of dominating men, the female cannibal figure does just that. It is a complete overthrow of power. When Daisy Edgar-Jones’ Noa, the female protagonist of Costs, chooses to sit down to a meal with Steve and knowingly eats human flesh, she signals a change in tone to the audience. Noa herself has already lost some of her ass to Steve’s capitalist cannibalistic enterprise, but with her hesitant first bite, she begins to regain her power.
The girlboss cannibal has the unapologetic, rapacious appetite of your prototypical boss or archetypal maneater. She’s Charli XCX in a power suit, eating boys breakfast and lunch, and using their fingers to stir her tea. If the wild girl is a temporary tattoo and the wild woman a terrifying anomaly, the cannibalistic girlboss occupies a place of power, straddling the line between serious and ironic, legs akimbo in an unmistakably dominant position.
Bogutskaya notes that the cannibal girl “has an understanding of hunger and craving. There’s a processing of that and then there’s a conscious decision to make the choices they make, thinking about the consequences and how to avoid them, so they can, if they want to, carry on to do what they want to do.”
The cannibal girlboss figure is the ultimate wild girl, an anarchic cultural force. You can’t get rid of your cannibalism like yesterday’s heels because people eating people can never take it back. Like the survivors of yellow jackets or, indeed, the protagonist of my novel, the cannibal girlboss may have to live with the consequences of her actions. But at least she never went hungry.
How many smoothie-sipping basic female dogs can say that?
The whet appetite for more cannibalism between girls? A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers is published on the 7the July 2022 by Faber