Femme fatale tropes throughout history

Jessica Viola highlights weaponized femininity in classic literature.

In classical literature, the capabilities of women are often undermined through the misogynist structures in which they live. Femininity is often used as a tool that has granted women throughout the ages the power to cleverly achieve their own goal. Female protagonists are written to cleverly trick and deceive their male counterparts through their womanly charm. Whether it is in Classical Greek tragedies, such as Medea by Euripides, or the post-modern classic Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, these women use their femininity as a weapon in order to be successful in their own misogynist settings.

In Euripedes’ Medea, the female protagonist manages to use her feminine charm to manipulate the misogynist stereotypes that exist around women of this time. The overall perception of the people of Corinth is the prejudicial idea that women are helpless without men. This classic Greek tragedy tells the story of Medea, a recently separated mother, who vows to strike revenge on her ex-husband Jason for leaving her to be exiled out of the land of Corinth. In this text, Jason represents the male dominated opinion in their society as he, like many others, views women as vulnerable and weak. In order for her scheme of vengeance to take place, Medea must convince Jason that she needs help from him. She uses the stereotype that women are weak without men to persuade Jason into getting what she wants. At one point, Medea’s act of weakness is so convincing that she openly weeps in front of Jason to show her vulnerability and states, “but women-are women; tears come naturally to us.” Once he agrees to help her, Jason is made a pawn in Medea’s plan for revenge. This form of feminine manipulation, playing a helpless victim, allows for Medea to achieve her goal of revenge for Jason leaving her.

Lolita is a novel that demonstrates weaponized femininity through sex and lust. This highlights the lengths that people go through for their desires. In Nabokov’s novel, a middle-aged man, Humbert, possesses a paedophilic obsession with his step daughter, Lolita. While at first in the novel, Lolita obeys Humbert when they travel cross country with their affair. When she settles in her new school, Beardsley, Lolita learns that she has total control over Humbert. This is due to the fact that Lolita is spending time with boys of her age and not devoting all of it to Humbert as done before. In Humbert’s eyes, he only sees this young child as a form of his desire and for sex. Lolita realises how dependent Humbert is on her and from then on, she begins to charge him for sex. Due to the objectification of women and the transactional culture of sex in America, Lolita is unable to associate sex with love. Instead, she uses it to her benefit as a tool in order to control Humbert. This is acknowledged when he states, “with the human element dwindling, the passion, the tenderness, and the torture only increased; and of this she took advantage”. Lolita physically uses her body as a weapon in order to manipulate Humbert into getting whatever she wants, such as money and gifts. The female characters in Lolita and Medea both share common features as they both are able to manipulate the men in these stories into getting what they want. Both use the misogynist structures they exist within to manipulate those around them and gain power they would otherwise be denied, regardless of the moral implications. By weaponizing their femininity, Lolita and Media both change their circumstance and power level, flipping the sexism of their worlds to their benefit.