Femme Fatale: Sexist or Empowering ?

Elvina Damara
4 min readJan 6, 2021


Gilda 1946 Rita Hayworth

Back to the Noir era film of the 1940s and 50s or detective fiction novel, especially in its ‘hard-boiled’ sub-genre which largely originated from crime stories and murderer. A femme fatale appears as an archetype of mysterious, charming and seductive woman who brings the destruction of the man by manipulating them to get what they want. As we may know is an intriguing and enduring challenge to traditional notions of femininity.

In early 20th century films, femme fatale characters were referred to as vamps, Theda Bara, who played seductive woman referred to as a vampire in the 1915 film A Fool There Was. Later fueling the rising popularity in “vamp” roles that encapsulated exoticism and sexual domination.

A Fool There Was 1915 Theda Bara

During the film-noir era, femme fatale archetype flourished in America cinema. Such as Dashiell Hammet’s The Maltese Falcon, starring Humprey Bogart as a detective and Mary Astor in the femme Fatale role. Her Character in an accomplished liar and master manipulator, yet became the audience interest due to her irresistible and mysterious beauty and criminal tendencies. She is woman who knows exactly what she wants and knows exactly how to get it.

Tracing the evolution of femme fatale has been a reflection of her era’s anxieties about femininity. Early version of femme fatale archetype exist in the culture, folklore and myths of many cultures. From Eve to Salome and very classic Cleopatra are cautionary tales of the risks of unchecked female sexuality.

Does it sound Sexist but also Empowering , Right?

Best-known critics of the representation of women in film from psychoanalytic point of view, Mary Ann Doane, the femme fatale represents a challenge to male authority, who ultimately is put in her place; she is not therefore a feminist icon. The psychoanalytic feminist pull from the work of Lacan to describe women in film as objects of the male gaze; the males are subjects in the film. From this perspective, one would evaluate any character, archetype or not. As to whether she or he stands as a subject (acting) or an object (acted upon)

Amesley (1996–1999)

Discussions are complicated by the endless interruption of a perspective in feminism. Most feminist, who approach theory on line tend to embrace reconstructed stereotypical roles of generations ago. Most of the femme fatale in earliest era tend to refuse a conventional domestic life of being a woman (motherhood). During the WWII many women had been called away from traditional domestic roles to works to aid the war effort.

And the post war era the femme fatale was linked to male fears that women had gained too much power and independence outside the role.

“The rise of the femme fatale in films noir reflected male ambivalence and anxiety about those Amazon unleashed by the war who worked at men’s job, had sex with whomever they wanted and rejected home and motherhood.” Richard Lingaman, The Noir Forties

Likely a manifestation of anxieties about women getting a taste of independence by a man, appears to be softly intimidating. On our society’s continuing discomfort with female ambition and the career woman. Society tend to think that woman should belong to the home not in the office. And to pursuing their career are very determined as an ambitious and greedy.

On recent movies of femme fatale might show us a new awakening of leading another woman astray. In Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor Blake Lively’s femme fatale Emily Nelson brings darkness into the life of a new female friend. Interestingly a femme fatale of A Simple Favor is a mother and a career woman. which on the past era the femme fatale is defined to reject the main role as a mother. But as we see It now the theory of femme fatale has changed.

A Simple Favor 2019

Current discussion about what actually female fatale stands for. It’s still become debatable on the daily basis whether woman should be remarkable, enchanting and become the man’s point of weakness by embracing what she have been served at birth to gain what power she can and consider it as a privileged or going on the front row to stand equality. As a female myself I stand for the independent terms that also why not to embrace what we have to gain a power that men doesn’t have, isn’t?