Rhymes With Witches: The Virgin/Whore Dichotomy in “Saved!”

I’ve always had a bit of a thing for bad girls, and I don’t think I’m alone on this one. Who doesn’t love gals with switchblades hidden in their beehives, girls with killer smirks who drink the tears of their enemies, and ladies that enact revenge without smearing their lipstick? And why do we love them? Is it the clothes, the hair, the make-up? Or is it more about attitude, manipulation, and that pesky sexual ambiguity? For slightly shy girls like me, bad girls let us live out our wildest fantasies. All those things we wish we could have done to that one girl in high school who made our lives a living hell. For these reasons, this column, “Rhymes with Witches” will dissect our love for the fictional mean girls that make it hurt so good. Every week, come take a walk with me on the wild side (switchblade not included) to explore the evil women we love on TV and in film and why we love them. Heroes and damsels in distress be damned.


For those of you who don’t know what the virgin/whore dichotomy is, Vladimir Tumanov defines it as the tendency to categorize women in terms of two polar opposites in his article titled “Mary Versus Eve: Paternal Uncertainty and the Christian View of Women.” It’s the timeless stereotypes of women as either submissive “virgins” that fit the patriarchal confines of femininity or rebellious and sexually active “whores” who are often patronized characters that usually meet an untimely end (if you read Victorian novels you know exactly what I mean). It’s pretty much all the regular misogynist bullshit women have had to deal with since the rise of patriarchal religion. Leah M. Wyman and George Dionisopoulos describe this change best in their article, “Transcending The Virgin/Whore Dichotomy.”

“The creation of these harmful tropes is attributed to the change from the worship of female goddesses to religions based on a singular male god figurehead. Since the ancient goddesses displayed qualities that would be viewed as contradictory from a contemporary perspective, a singular goddess was often split into two separate entities; one representing the acceptable upper-world and the other representing the repulsive underworld. Thus, the female image became similarly dichotomous, consisting of a virginal, conscious, upper-world image and a harlot, unconscious, underworld image.”

No more were women viewed as full humans beings, with complex personalities and traits as contradictory as the goddesses we used to worship. We were now only regarded by in relation to our male counterparts, which pretty much comes down to viewing us as sexual objects instead of equals. This dichotomy has been analyzed in numerous papers and books, but none do it with as much flair and fun as the teen cult classic, Saved!.

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Hands down one of my favorite movies of all time, the evangelical teen flick follows Mary (played by Hunger Games: Catching Fire break out star, Jena Malone), 1/3 of the most popular group in her Christian high school, who has sex with her boyfriend when she finds out he’s gay. Through a series of trials to turn him straight, she accidentally gets pregnant and we see her go through an existential crisis, drop in the social hierarchy, losing friends and making some kick ass new ones, as well as some pretty cute shopping montages.

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Obvious early 2000′s hairstyle

And while I love Jena Malone and I can’t believe it has taken Hollywood this long to pay attention to her, the stand out stars that make this movie are the residential mean girls, Hilary Faye and Cassandra. At completely opposite ends of the high school hierarchy system, Hilary Faye is the reigning Virgin Queen Bee while Cassandra plays the Whore with the Heart Of Gold. What’s fascinating about these two characters is not just how different they start off in the beginning of the movie, but how they blur the lines between these two tropes and end up somewhere in the middle. They grow from not just the high school caricatures we assume to survive, but end up whole and complex people.

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Lets start with Hilary Faye, played by Mandy Moore who won my Mean Girl blackheart when she played Lana in The Princess Diaries alongside Anne Hathaway. Here we have a stereotypical popular girl with the perfect smile and blonde hair, who flaunts her religious perfection and uses it against her fellow classmates and friends. Religion is both her shield and her weapon. She embodies the “virgin” part of the dichotomy, as the female character who gains her power through her religious fervor, chastity and completely submissiveness to her faith. Maybe submissiveness is not the right word since Hilary Faye is anything but submissive. She is strong willed and determined even if a bit misguided in the beginning. But this misguided nature comes from the very “virgin” pedestal that she is placed on by her classmates, her principal, but mainly herself. Hilary Faye is the first to banish Mary into social outcast oblivion the moment she starts to derail from Hilary’s linear concept of what it means to be a good girl. Make that, a good Christian girl.

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On the other side of the spectrum is Cassandra played by Eva Amurri Martino, who wears killer eye shadow I still try to duplicate to this day. Like Hilary Faye, she is confidant and feels comfort in her social position of sex-crazed, cigarette tokin’ Jewish girl in a conservative Christian school. Her self worth doesn’t come from other people’s high regards for her but for their disdain towards her. On the first day of school she solidifies her place as a total badass when she starts speaking tongues during a school assembly, but was really just her saying PUSSY over and over again (#rolemodel status). As the “whore” part of this dichotomy, she is viewed by her classmates as not a fellow student but as something to fix, to Save. Since she realizes she will never fit in, she decides to completely stand out which, like Mary realizes, can be a lonely place to be.

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Throughout the movie we see these two girls restricted by these stereotypes, slowly break free of them. We learn Hilary is not as perfect as she would like to appear and Cassandra is the caring person that friends Mary at her lowest. They both learn in their own way, that there is no one right or wrong way to be a girl — we are strange, complicated, that can’t be categorized into just one thing. We mess up, we’re misguided, we get jealous, but we’re human.

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Born in the small island of Puerto Rico, Nina currently lives in Athens, GA with her phantom corgi, Potato.You can find her work in BUST Magazine, HelloGiggles, Thought Catalogue and Portable.tv. She spends most of her time daydreaming about what it would be like to hand out with Taylor Swift and writing in her blog, http://femme-nist.blogspot.com

Nina has written 16 articles for us.

22 Comments

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    SO I haven’t seen Saved!, but this whole switcheroo of the virgin/whore dichotomy makes me think of Easy A a little? I mean there is no clear bad girl in this situation because even Amanda Bynes’ character turns out not to be completely evil. But it toys with the notion of how we demean women because of their sex lives and idk I just really love Easy A guys. It’s really well written and you know, Emma Stone.

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    I’ve just realized that Eva Amurri Martino (Cassandra) is the same actress that played Evan Rachel Wood Bisexual’s BFF in the movie “The Life Before Her Eyes.” Which I find amusing because in that film, Eva plays the church-every-Sunday-the rapture-is-coming virgin to Evan’s older-man-screwing-abortion-getting whore. And now I’m thinking that this whole virgin-whore thing is played out way more often than I’ve realized before. Hmm.

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    WEEE! Many feelings long post:

    One of the things I’ve always loved about Autostraddle is the “How are you in my brain?! Are you me?!” feeling I get from so many articles on here. I’m so verrrry glad you’ve touched on this movie Nina! A lot of people DID get it when it came out. But a lot of people I think ignored all the messages (ie: the girl I was dating at the time and saw it with) and just saw it as a regular comedy and nothing more but lol Jesus.

    Some great points I think this movie made:

    * Having sex with someone to try to make them straight. HUGE. *slow clap*

    * The reaction of Christian families *though love* BS (aka my life growing up) and how they are willing to send their children away, and even disown them because they do something that doesn’t agree with their religion. It’s a for real issue still to this day and it makes me so angry and sad. Like can we please get away from this archaic way of thinking?!

    * The stigma of getting pregnant as a teen. I was adopted but I know my biological mother now. She was 17 when she got pregnant with me and was pregnant with me her whole senior year of school. I have heard some stories. I don’t know how she survived that shit. And I’m just gonna go out on a limb here and say things like the exploitative teen mom are not helping.

    *How Christian parents teach their children (Mandy Moore’s character) at a very early age to not think for themselves or question authority. Also how private religious schools, and more and more nowadays public schools are teaching less and less teaching critical thinking (and/or how to analyze things). There is a nice little uprising or article starting to come out about how this is still a huge issue for GEN-Y and related it to how we are becoming less and less likely to do things like protest due to being met with the threat of arrest of violence from police, and that we just take on this “well there’s no point, it’s all hopeless,” mindset and I think a lot of this is related to Baby Boomer (and their parents) and Gen X’rs methods of raising their children in a religious environment.

    * I especially loved the end of the movie where Mandy Moores characters mask finally came off, in addition to the affair going on between the mom and pastor, showing that the more you adhere to this strict masks and social presentations due to your religion, the more you have to “hide,” and it becomes this bottled up, repressed thing that not can, but WILL eventually explode in one way or anther. I really applaud Saved for this.

    *Literally throwing a bible at someone violently

    *They even threw in how handicapable folks face discrimination!

    * Lol carpenter jesus saving her from drowning

    * Abortion/Adoption issues touched upon

    * Despite everything she’s going through with pregnancy, bullying, gay father of child, all she wants to do is attempt to have as much of a “normal,” teenage life as possible, go to a dance, etc – But everyone including (or especially) teachers doing everything they can to not let her. If a guy was in her position, and had just gotten a girl pregnant, would he be treated the same way?

    I could keep going but two more favs

    * How blind some people (Mandy’s character, and her allies) that what they are doing is actually bullying because they are blinded by their indoctrination and “values,” and this example is most certainly a very extreme case.

    And Finally one of the most important of the movie, especially bc I’ve expierenced it not only in my family growing up, but also with bosses at 2 jobs i’ve had:

    * Not being able to talk to your parents (or authority figure) and get help for a real crisis because you are so terrified of their reaction. Christians…they just so often miss the real messages from the bible. Which one of the main ones is GOD IS LOVE. Love everything and everyone regardless of how they disagree with your values.

    So many christian parents are SO QUICK to:

    1. Worry about their own image with who they associate with in their lives (ie: oh gosh will i be looked down on at my church because my teed daughter is pregnant?) – and completely devalue that their children are humans and need a lot more help and attention than parents trying to cover up things to save face is taking up.

    2. Say things like “This isn’t how we brought you up,” essentially fuck you for doing this. – or – even “You’re not my child, I don’t even know you anymore.” Yeah love you too.

    3. Back to the christian tough love thing. It’s essentially a faith based set of values that “takes the blame,” off the parents, and assumes that the only way for their children to mature is to be totally cut off and on their own. Or saying things like “we can’t support you because of what you’ve done, you need to leave/move out,” etc. I mean how many stories have we all heard (or experienced ourselves) of families disowning their children upon discovering their child is LGBTQ? Yeah GOD is love, such love. Wow. I’m sorry but I cannot imagine having a child and ever disowning them. I just CANNOT understand how a person can do that, and especially go own thinking they were somehow justified, and a good person. It just breaks my heart.

    Also a quick note about other religions vs Christians:

    I really love that they made Cassandra Jewish (or brought up Jewish and still relating to it). It would’ve been so easy just to make her non-religious/agnostic/atheist, whatever, but even if they didn’t have a deep message attached to it, I got one. So many Christians are friends with, family members with, etc Jews – but just in my own life exp, they reallllly don’t give a flip about anything Jew related. Christians will “tolerate,” and “agree to disagree,” with their faith differences, but I think Christians (re:my parents) still quietly hold a self professed title of superiority of Jews (or rather all non-Christians anyway). And I think that a lot think that bc they technically believe in the same god, it’s a foot in the door to try to get Jews to convert to Christianity. I have witnessed this. Again going back to Christians really don’t take the time to learn much of ANYTHING about how Jews live their lives if it is faith based, or even how they celebrate their faith. It’s just such an often overlooked thing imo and it made me happy that this movie touched on it, even though it was minimal.

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    this one time i went to see the movie with stef schwartz and a group of other misc people, and during the scene where eva amurri and and the culkin are like “hey we got you another surprise” and a limo rolls up, stef yelled out in the middle of the theater “A PARTIAL BIRTH ABORTION!!!!”

    true story

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    Ahhhh Saved! is SO GOOD!!!! I decided the first time I saw it that I needed to be Cassandra when I grew up, and that has never changed. She is the ultimate role model for giving no fucks. While still being an awesome friend/human being.

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    Oh my god I JUST watched this the other day and fell in love all over again.
    First, Jena Malone is amazing in everything. I miss her and need more of her in everything.
    Second, it really is very accurate to the Christian-y teenage experience, which I think is why I love it so much. The super push for girls to be pure, save themselves for their husband, etc. EVERYTHING is focused on that. Hated it so much, but it was super easy for me to remain a virgin, ya know, ’cause I didn’t want what the rest of the girls wanted.

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    I just re-watched this a couple weeks ago! And I am ashamed to say I had NO IDEA she was saying “pussy” when she was speaking in tongues. Def thought it was just jibberish.

    My girlfriend’s dad loves this movie because he says it reminds him of the Christian school he went to as a kid/teen. He’s still very religious and Christian. I think it’s sort of in the way Mary is at the end of the film, that’s probably part of why he likes it so much.

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    I just rewatched this again with my sister last night – Mary-Louise Parker plays mary’s mom and also played Nancy in Weeds, and the creeper who played Pastor Skip also played DEA Guy in Weeds, and oh my gosh how did I not realize that they kinda play the same character with the same relationship together

    My sister and I spent at least five minutes freaking out about this and I just had to come back and comment a third time on this article to share my epiphany with everyone.

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