Is the Femme Fatale a Feminist Concept?

Veronica-Lake-femme-fatal

With film noir, movie lovers became familiar with the “femme fatale”. These fatal women were essential to the plots of such movies as Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Out of the Past.

However, not all film noir had femmes fatale. Some film noir were prison pictures or movies developed around a doomed protagonist who wasn’t drawn to his fate by a woman.

Having said that, many film critics consider the femme fatale to represent a rebellion of sorts against the strictures of wholesome femininity to which women were confined during film noir’s Golden Age.

I’ve always seen the femme fatale in anti-feminist terms. Using one’s wiles to get what you want seems like an outdated notion of feminine strength and ability.

Interestingly, one article on the subject expresses this unique view:

I attended college in the late ’90s, at the height of third-wave feminism, when the prevailing notion—absorbed in an act of campus-wide osmosis—was that to roll with the “patriarchy,” to “break the glass ceiling,” we not only had to equal men in all endeavors, we had to surpass them. We had to be smarter, tougher, more skillful. I carried this idea into my adult romantic and professional lives. It wasn’t a wildly successful strategy. … I wasn’t entirely wrong that the world seeks to categorize women as brains or beauties, substantive or silly, and that people often can’t, to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, “hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time.” And yet there have always been women who somehow manage to be at ease in their femininity and still be taken seriously.

One type who has mastered this—the art of the integrated self, you might say—is the femme fatale. Even if she rarely graces the silver screen these days, she persists in popular culture. “Femme Fatale” is the name of both Britney Spears’s 2011 album and the lingerie line launched by burlesque star Dita Von Teese in May. In Rihanna’s wickedly fun video for “Bitch Better Have My Money,” the singer is a bikini-clad, blunt-smoking femme fatale who tortures the wife of her accountant in a bid to recover the money he owes her. And in Orange Is the New Black, Laura Prepon plays Alex, an alluring con artist who seduces Piper (not a man this time, but a victim nonetheless), convincing her to transport drug money, then dances in and out of involvement with her.

These are only a few examples, but they leave me convinced that Hollywood should channel what’s clearly floating around in the Zeitgeist and give audiences a nouveau femme fatale: a woman who exerts intellectual and sexual power, who is successful and shrewd in her own right, but also has an intense, charismatic, manipulative sexuality.

Double-Indemnity-1

What’s remarkable is how modern a film noir femme fatale like Barbara Stanwyck (as Double Indemnity’s Phyllis Dietrichson) seems even now, how of the moment. “I never loved you, Walter,” Phyllis says after she shoots at him, having donned a silk pantsuit for the occasion. “Not you, or anybody else. I’m rotten to the heart.”

To read the entire article, click here! 🙂

And feel free to check out Part Four of The Strange Love of Martha Ivers!

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