Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Guest Post: Nicole Galland

Femme Fatality

Guest post by Nicole Galland, author of Godiva (pubs July 2)

The heroine of my novel Godiva is, I am finally ready to confess, a femme fatale. She uses her feminine wiles to get what she wants, and what she wants isn’t what her victims suspect. It is most often to coax information, agreement or obedience from a person of the (usually) male persuasion. She does this with meaningful smiles, eyelash-batting, suggestive voice and body language – but nothing more. She offers the promise of seduction without ever actually seducing. As she cheerfully explains to her disapproving abbess friend: “I find flirting an effective way of getting a man’s complete attention while conveniently disarming him at the same time.”
Here’s the thing: I’ve always felt ambiguous about femme fatales. On the one hand, sure, they are charismatic, ballsy women who know how to get what they want without answering to anyone (think Cleopatra or Mata Hari, although they both ended badly); on the other hand, as role models, they emanate the message, easily skewed in the female adolescent brain, that you can have almost anything if you’re sexy enough – and you can have everything if you’re both sexy and manipulative. Not crazy about that message. So, I have mixed feelings about femme fatales as a collective unit. There are pros and cons to applying that particular archetype to a female character.

And honestly, in real life, the cons generally have it. I’ve known several women who danced that dance, and I have only rarely enjoyed watching them in action. I’m never jealous, threatened, or offended…but frequently, I simply find their behavior teetering between embarrassing and annoying.
And yet I elected to create a character who behaves just like them. And the vampier she grew, the more fun I had with her. How could I possibly enjoy her but not her real-life equivalents? Wasn’t it a double standard to dislike other women’s vamping, while championing the same behavior in my own creation?

I mused on this pretty intensely, because I try to hold myself accountable, and I don’t like double standards. My musing led to this observation, and quickly: While the behavior is superficially similar, the underlying impulse is completely different, and that makes all the difference. That’s where the pros and cons really lie.

Some women who play the femme fatale card do so because it gives them a feeling of personal power. In a culture that rewards women for being sexual commodities, they feel validated by winning a man’s attention and knowing they are sexually desired above other women. Their sense of self is greatly influenced (for good or ill) by how successful they are (or are not) at the exercise of capturing male attraction. That, I finally realized, is what makes me so uncomfortable with (those particular) femmes fatales: however fun and independent they appear, their engines run on the fuel of male approval – and to me, that just isn’t fun or independent. 

In contrast, Godiva has no personal need to demonstrate her sexual charisma. Her ability to do so is politically convenient to both her and her husband, but her sense of self is unaffected by her ability to turn a man’s head.  She does not need anyone to fawn over her for her to feel good about herself. She already feels just fine about herself, thanks. As did Cleopatra and Mata Hari. A real femme fatale does not fall for her own tricks.

I’m not judging women who are, for whatever reason, extremely needful of capturing male attention. But it was helpful and clarifying, for me, to realize that there is a huge divide in the world of femme fatality. I’m all for women feeling powerful in what is still largely a man’s world. I just enjoy it more when a woman doesn’t need a man in order to feel powerful herself. 


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