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Foxfire and female terrorism

Foxfire's portrait of 50s girl gangs has explosive resonances with today's radicals

What turns seemingly "nice" and "normal" young women into domestic terrorists?

Despite the exceptional media hubbub made over Tupac’s aunt, who made the FBI’s most-wanted list, and Samantha Lewthwaite—the 7/7 bomber’s  fugtive ”white widow,” now training female jihadists in Somalia for an Al-Qaeda branch—the cultural phenomenon of the female terrorist remains relatively undocumented. 

In refreshing remedy of this, Laurent Cantet’s new film Foxfire provides a rare example of the trajectory of an all-girl gang in 50s upstate New York, that inadvertently, ends up turning terrorist. Besides providing an exhiliratingly heady watch in which bop, marijuana, and stolen joyrides all have their sway, Foxfire also examines the blended themes of feminism, freedom, and violence that seem just as relevant today. 

Director Cantet explains: "What I’m interested in is the birth of an ideal, exploring how idealism often goes hand-in-hand with destruction. The resistance, which the girls explore, quickly disintegrates into a form of terrorism, which is not the end-accomplishment of their ideal, but its very opposite."

Its worth noting that from the beginning of Foxfire, most of the female protagonists already struggle from a range of personal problems including poverty, parental neglect, obesity, and chronic bullying. By banding together in secret sisterhood and solidarity, these individuals are able to flip-switch their roles as potentially helpless victims of circumstance into ones of rebellion and self-respect. 

”All I know is, I will never let another person be in control of my own life,” vows the character Legs, with the mesmerizing eyes and haircut of an emergent Joan-of-Arc. As that could very well be Foxfire’s unofficial mantra, its no coincidence that Legs is their unquestioned leader, as well as the only gang member that ends up as a fugitive terrorist in Francoist Cuba. Apparently, Cantet intended her to represent ”the dictator figure,” as she is simultaneously  the most militant, generous, and manipulative of the gang.

Invisibility is also a recurrent issue in Foxfire. Cantet commented: ”I think most social and political resistances today are still led by young people based on principles similar to those in Foxfire: in particular, their concept of invisibility. It still pops up in group movements like Anonymous...Its important that the Foxfire girls embody a DIY relationship with politics that doesn’t need a dogma to exist." 

Unlike the bouffanted boys crowing in the corriders of their high school, the Foxfire girls must create an alternative, shadow society of their own, since no conventional channels for female self-assertion are provided. Because they refuse to subscribe to the dichotomous 50s dream model of becoming either a modest, mini-Stepford wife or popular slut, they have little choice but to radicalise their already marginalised position, which becomes increasingly fraut with real danger. But they also manage to maximize their invisibility to their advantage, enjoying suspicion-free freedom of movement and a handy pretext of unassuming girly innocence.

As the Foxfire girls navigate their way towards adulthood among the sneers and gropes of often much older, wealthier males, their journey also provides a sharp social critique on the unequal distribution of wealth and hypocritical mores of the times. Early in the film, we witness a rape incident that goes unreported: the culprits are never punished, and all parties walk away acting as if it never happened.  Turning to sexploitation of their own youthful charm as jailbait, Foxfire's solution is vigilante justice via guerilla-style ambushes, retribution beat-downs, and even extortion, culminating in the kidnapping and randsom of a wealthy local businessman.

It isn't all just about revenge, but freedom from the demands of capitalist survival. And we not only accept this, but sympathize to some extent with their antiheroic revenge on an inherently injust system. Because, as Legs morally justifies it to the other girls: ”We have to search for money where it is, and its in the pockets of men. Sound familar—Occupy Wallstreet, anyone?

The question remains: how much has the political climate for women's rights really changed?

While Cantet does not describe himself as a ”feminist,” I was still surpised by the filmmaker’s reply, when I asked him the same question: ”I fear that the problems have remained the same, regardless of time. in France alone, there is an averge of at least one woman a day who dies as a result of being beaten to death by her partner. We underestimate a lot of violence and oppression against women. It’s important to denounce it at each occasion." 

Foxfire releases August 9th 2013 in the UK.

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