With her stunning looks and mysterious ways, the femme fatale makes for an intriguing character in the film noirs of 1940s and ‘50s-era American cinema. She’s best known for tricking or deceiving her male counterparts with her exaggerated sexuality.
Through the strategic use of seduction, the femme fatale was able to have power in her on-screen relationships.
Despite the fact that this power came at the cost of over-sexualizing women (yet again) it did popularize a new archetype for female characters—an archetype which did not require a woman to raise a family, be subordinated by her husband, or serve someone else’s needs at every given moment. She was afforded the luxury of power to serve her own wants and needs at whatever cost. The femme fatale exuded confidence and a strong sense of self-worth. She did not allow herself to be questioned or tossed aside. This is arguably her greatest asset.
The lesson to take from this is not that sexuality is conducive to power, but that confidence is essential for commanding a situation. Now I understand that the femme fatale poses an interesting role model from a feminist perspective because of her overt use of sex to achieve a goal. However, the larger picture reveals that she created a new way to define being a woman and through this, she gave female characters the ability to actively control the plot instead of passively being a pawn in a man’s narrative. This new way of understanding what it meant to be female demonstrates to audiences that women could have power if they employed self-assuredness and confidence (traits that had typically been attributed to men).
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