The femme fatale is being tortured to death, if she hasn’t been completely murdered yet. There’s no place for her in the radical agenda that has hijacked feminism and set out to instil in us the absurd idea that women are the same as men. She could have easily survived in an equal society, but not in one that considers differences between the sexes to be social constructs.
Earlier this year, the Pre-Raphaelite painting Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse was removed from permanent display at the Manchester Art Gallery. The artwork depicts a famous scene of Greek mythology, where Heracles’s young servant Hylas is bewitched and abducted by dangerous nymphs. The removal was explained by a note, stating that it was meant to “to prompt conversations” about the display and interpretation of artworks and challenge a “Victorian fantasy”.
The femme fatale has been a recurrent archetype in art and literature since ancient times, and we have all reason to believe that it’s as old as mankind itself. But times change, don’t they? You might ask: what’s so special about this character that makes it worth saving?
The archetype may be worth saving for its own sake, so that it can continue adding an exciting flavor to stories and imagery. But a more important reason why we should care is that the femme fatale represents feminine power at its most extreme. It carries a strong symbolism which asserts that there is a type of power that only women may possess.
The femme fatale has no male equivalent, and the idea that there’s something only women are capable of threatens the third-wave feminist view that the genders are identical in every way possible. What might seem like an empowering idea to some has no place in a movement that claims to encourage us to be ourselves, while all it really does is reject everything that makes us women.
The femme fatale rarely appears in real life, especially in recent history (Mata Hari is one of the few examples that come to mind), and saving the archetype is not about motivating anyone to fulfil this role. Instead, it’s about acknowledging that women can exercise a form of power that’s very different from the power traditionally associated with men. It’s wonderful that there are more and more female leaders all around the world; it’s a trend that the entire planet is going to benefit from. It shows that women have got the ability to be powerful the same way as men have. However, there’s no reason why the unique and separate notion of feminine power should be considered a taboo.
For many, many centuries, artists of both genders have been inspired by female beauty, and the femme fatale is one of the most poetic and purest depictions of the mysterious power a beautiful woman can possess over those who fall for her. Of course, it’s not a complete representation of female sexuality, but it certainly is a strong illustration of one aspect of it.
There’s a profound biological fact influencing us unconsciously when it comes to selecting our partners: women need to make sure that the man they’ve chosen will not leave them once they’ve become pregnant. Having a baby is an infinitely larger investment for a woman than fathering one is for a man, since a woman is only physically able to have a couple of dozen pregnancies in a lifetime and is rendered extremely vulnerable for several months at a time, while a man could, in theory, produce a child every time he has an orgasm. No amount of social progress is going to change this simple truth of reproduction, which has defined the dynamics between the sexes for millennia. And, indeed, even the invention of contraception has not erased the instincts ingrained in our psyche since the beginning of human history. This is not a social construct; it’s actual science.
These biological facts explain why men and women have evolved to chase two different types of power: for men, it’s the power over as many human beings as possible, in a political or business sense, so they can attract more potential mates; while for women, it’s the power over the man they have chosen to be with. And, as mentioned earlier, the femme fatale is the ultimate metaphor for the absolute potential, and the darker side, of feminine power.
Once again, it’s important to emphasize that women should be able to pick what kind of power, or lack thereof, they wish to possess. In other words, we should be allowed to make our own life choices without being shamed for them, whether we decide to lead a country or a corporation, stay at home with our children, or anything else we fancy doing with our lives. This is what feminism should be and was once about, but these days many women find it difficult to identify with what has become of the ideology that was once a positive force in the world. (In a 2016 poll, only nine per cent of British women described themselves as feminist, even though 74 per cent supported gender equality.)
Today’s radical feminists claim to encourage conversation, while they actually do everything they can to censor any views and ideas incompatible with their beliefs, just to ensure no one feels offended. The removal of the Waterhouse painting is just one example of this relatively recent phenomenon.
To make matters worse, these feminists also routinely judge women for their personal choices, if these are not in line with their agenda. For instance, at the end of February, Jennifer Lawrence was called out on social media by critics who would otherwise identify as pro-choice for wearing a revealing dress in the cold London weather, while her male co-stars wore jumpers and coats. When the actress claimed she had chosen not to cover up the “gorgeous dress”, feminists responded by saying that it could not really have been her choice.
Is it not politically correct to acknowledge that a woman may take delight in showing off her beautiful figure – the feminine shape, which has got a kind of power associated with it that the male one hasn’t? In a similar story, it was reported that Formula 1 was going to stop employing grid girls, because this custom was “at odds with modern day societal norms”.
Femmes fatales have not been excommunicated from today’s cinema and they’re especially abundant in the countless superhero films made these days, perhaps because they can be an important asset of storylines exploring the subject of love and power. They are, however, certainly under attack by those refusing to come to terms with certain aspects of female sexuality. All we can do is hope that the hypocrites calling themselves feminists will never succeed at taking censorship so far that one day only paintings of basic geometrical shapes will be allowed in galleries and all actresses will need to dress and act like men, only to make sure no one is ever offended.
Amy Balog is a London-based writer and journalist.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.