For thousands of years, the femme fatale has been considered a dangerous, cultural myth in society. Both women and men are captivated by the charm and mystery that embodies these eroticized female heroines. These fierce and independent characters can be interpreted in different ways. They are viewed as not trustworthy and their beauty is only meant to lure men in with alluring complexities. A femme fatale in real life and fictional situations have a long history of how this alluring character came to be and where it stands in the present.
The femme fatale is often seen as pure and uses her beauty and brain to her advantage. There are misogynist terms when it comes to this characteristic situation and some may look at it from a feminist view. Women know they’re strong, even in a world where some may still think that it’s a male-dominated world. This recognizable role in cinema is characterized by being rebellious and desiring control.
This idea of a woman creating sexual tension was created because there was backlash of women entering the workforce during the WWII years. During the 1940s, the fatal woman truly showed the misogynic views due to American society during post-war. It’s always the woman luring the male protagonist then a crime is committed. Due to a secretive charm that can lead a man in a compromising position, an iconic figure in Judaic tradition is Adam’s first wife, Lilith. She is independent, a strong characteristic in femme fatales, and was cast out of Eden because she wanted equality. She then changed into a demonic creature who had an enormous sexual appetite. For Biblical tradition, Salome and Judith fought for the title of femme fatale, Judith went as far as to sneak into a tent of a general of Assyrian and beheaded him. She can be seen as a hero, but she is also often labeled as a problem because she used her sexuality to help her missions. This story is about strong female sexuality that wins over male virtue. During Christian medieval Europe, female sensuality was looked down upon but was also used as trickery that quickly spread. Folklore, popular fiction, and many plays caught on like the famous satirical trope of Wayward Nun. It’s about a nun that goes crazy and lures men in with sexual acts. In some German medieval poetry, a sultry character Frau Minne made an appearance and was known for trapping her lovers in bird cages. One of the most known femme fatales is from an ancient Babylonian tale, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and she’s a famous goddess. Innana or Ishtar, created Aphrodite and other goddesses to capture the attention of the hero, Gilgamesh. Due to rejection, she declared war because rejection did not sit well. Female figures became more popular during the 19th century due to men writing about powerful women in poems and books. Women were portrayed as sexuality powerful that made men become destructive. La Belle Dame Sans Merci written by English poet, John Keats, wrote about a woman luring men into her arms or Emile Zola, an actress in Paris, was known for her seducing ways that got her in trouble. Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence by Adrienne Rich mentioned that there’s female power when it comes to woman-identification, there’s an energy source there. If women chose to identify, the find themselves labeled. Women who are independent and smart can be labeled as a femme fatale. Old Hollywood during the 1920s – 1940s was themed around the classic femme fatale. The movie, Gilda, featured Rita Hayworth who played a femme fatale goddess while singing. Her dancing and singing ooze feminine sexuality, her character shows off fire and passion. For Hollywood today, the movie Gone Girl is a perfect example of what a woman can do when she wants something. With beauty and brains, Amy Dunne fakes her own murder and disappearance and blames it on her husband, Nick Dunne, because of how he treated her. This character is cold and calculating, this femme fatale’s ambitions are boundless. The femme fatale is an overall complicated character that involves feminism and sexism. The women who embody this character has a hard time submitting and has the desire to seek justice, even if it means tearing society apart. Throughout time, masculinity has marginalized women, but in this instance, it gives her the strength and empowers her. Audiences may overlook femme fatale’s story due to the men taking action in the film, for example, in the movie The Lady from Shanghai by Orson Welles, the woman doesn’t lure the man but yet becomes his obsession. In the movie, The Postman Always Rings Twice, a man named Frank is captivated by a woman named Cora, when she drops her lipstick, he is quick to pick it up and not give it back until she comes to him. Women tend to look up to femme fatale when enjoying cinema to see how they’re treated and what it offered to them. Subordinate roles for women can get boring and make them unhappy, a life they want to leave behind for something new and exciting. Women will use what they have to get what they want, it could be their sexuality, mind games or manipulation if they want something bad enough. Much of classic Hollywood leans on the role of femme fatales, and the actresses who played them, they embodied lust and empowerment. A common trait was promiscuity and often these women rejected motherhood. “If she is within the bounds of moral regeneration, she is so excessively selfish that, even in the act of seeking personal redemption, she hurts and destroys her lover” (Thekkeveetil 1983, p. 15) In today’s society, the femme fatale has never been better or stronger. A perfect example is a movie, Atomic Blonde (2017). Actress Charlize Theron plays an intelligent seducer while playing a cunning game to defeat her enemies in brutal battles. Femme fatales have been looked upon as dangerous, impressive and being blamed for problems, but some now look at them as role models. Women today don’t have to fight as hard to gain control of their lives, but society today needs more roles of femme fatales in film. We need more women to fight for sex education, reproductive health, rape awareness, and body image. The femme fatale is a character that is going to be remembered and empowers other women to reach for their goals. The femme fatale is fluid and can adapt to any situation. Films today still have gender inequality and with more and more strong female movies as representation, more women are standing up for what they believe in. There may be a radical feminist agenda when it comes to strong female leads, Judith Lorber mentioned in her second edition of Gender Inequality. A strong female role who doesn’t need a man’s protection or guidance may turn a male-dominated culture on its head. A femme fatale can be a high-class lady living a luxurious lifestyle or a low-class woman who wants more, wants to change her life. The revolution of the femme fatale has evolved and will continue to evolve throughout time. This powerful character is smart and finds the strength to carry on, this woman is not a side character nor an irritating social necessity. The stereotype around femme fatale should be overlooked because it’s not just about a dangerous woman. These women have stories, whether it be a traumatizing past or a horrible present, she thrives in different narratives to achieve what she wants.