Cherchez La Femme (Fatale), Take 3.


From an excerpt by James Lileks on TV Tropes:

“They’re the kind of dames who can wear floor-length gowns and look completely naked. The kind with hair piled up on their head like compliant serpents, or falling down in smooth lustrous waves. Dames with hard faces and mocking smiles and eyes that sized you up and found you wanting . . . but you’d do, for now.

Related: Cherchez la Femme Fatale, Take 2.

Cherchez La Femme (Fatale).

Raymond Chandler on the Femme Fatale.

The “Evil” Woman.

Elsewhere: [TV Tropes] Femme Fatale.

Image via Celebrity Dirty Laundry.

Event: Cherchez la Femme Fatale, Take 2.

Geelong may seem like a world away for city slickers. At first, I was going to let its distance prevent me from attending the city’s latest exhibition, Femme Fatale: The Female Criminal, at the National Wool Museum. But if you take some friends and a good book (though not both at the same time. Take it from me; you’ll be stuck on the same page for the duration of the trip!), the hour’s train commute is worth it.

The exhibition juxtaposes “glamorous depictions of female felons in literature” with “the grim reality experienced by real women criminals”, such as Janet Wright, who was prosecuted for performing an abortion on a teenager who, after becoming ill, reported her, in 1928. Or “Sydney’s most beautiful prostitute”, Dulcie Markham, who probably got her fake name from Alfred Hitchcock’s Murder!, and whose real identity was never revealed. Or Louisa Collins, who poisoned—“poison was considered a particularly feminine murder weapon”—her husband in order to marry a boarder in their home just two months later, in 1887. She was sentenced to hang on 8th January, 1889, but the execution was botched by the hangman, “who was unable to open the trapdoor”. The execution was eventually carried out.

These were just some of the individuals profiled in the exhibition, which dealt with the supposed “empowered, cunning, unemotional woman who commits crime and uses her sexual allure to persuade men to sin on her behalf”—the quintessential “femme fatale”—and today’s understanding “that a wide range of factors may influence criminality including difficult childhood environments, mental illness and drug addiction.”

But back in the day, it was believed that “women lack moral fortitude and are easily tempted”, which allegedly stemmed from Sigmund Freud’s “penis envy” theory.

In 1893, Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso wrote La Donna Delinquente (The Criminal Woman), in which he contended that masculine features, such as a “mannish jawline”, noticed in his photographical portraits of female criminals, were the “stigmata of degeneration”. Factors such as the menstrual cycle and the fables of Eve in the Garden of Eden, Medusa, and the Biblical Delilah, of Samson fame, were also taken into account when women “sinned”.

As was written in relation to the Salem witch trials in the early 1690s, “the fear of wicked women, whether real or imagined, can have horrific consequences.”

In Australia, though, in recent years “the number of female offenders incarcerated… has risen dramatically”. In the early days of female incarceration in Australia, psychological punishments such as head shaving were preferred to physical punishment. But at the State Reformatory for Women in Long Bay, Sydney, which opened in 1909, “the women were encouraged to reconnect with their ‘femininity’ and to adopt more refined, ‘ladylike’ behaviour.”

The abortion section, which I briefly mentioned above in relation to Janet Wright, was quite affecting but, as my friend Eddie pointed out, perhaps seemed out of place in the exhibition. Sure, abortion was (and still is in some parts of the country) illegal for a long time, but it kind of felt like a certain agenda was being pushed via its inclusion. Still, it is “one of the few crimes that always involves a woman”.

My favourite part of the exhibition, by far, was the genre of “femme fatale” paperbacks and films, which lured me to it in the first place. There was a highlight reel of some of the silver screen’s greatest female villains, such as Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, next to this Italian proverb: “woman is rarely wicked, but when she is, she is worse than a man.” Another quote, from Raymond Chandler in Farewell My Lovely, which really resonated with me and my love for femme fatales, and which I posted last week: “I like smooth shiny girls, hardboiled and loaded with sin.”

But as much as the femme fatale is lauded, in her heyday the American Production Code stated that “ ‘the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime’. Censorship led to many implausible endings and a high level of mortality among femmes fatales.”

The exhibition finished up with crime memorabilia, which has reached fever pitch in recent years, with action figures, calendars, trading cards and true crime publications. (I, myself, have a penchant for true crime. Dominick Dunne, anyone?) This is a far cry from the assertion that “most people find it repellant that an individual can become a celebrity simply for being very good at being bad.” Reminds me of a certain Rihanna song

Overall, while each individual aspect of the exhibition was fascinating in its own right, Femme Fatale: The Female Criminal as a whole was a bit clunky and disjointed. I would still recommend seeing it, if “evil” women are your thing. But get in quick! It finishes next Monday.

Related: Cherchez la Femme (Fatale).

Raymond Chandler on the Femme Fatale.

The “Evil” Woman.

Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

Minus Two & a Half Men.

Rihanna’s “S&M”: Is It Really So Much Worse Than Her Other Stuff?

Image via Art Geelong.

Magazines: The “Evil” Woman.


From “Women Behaving Badly” by Gabriella Coslovich in The Saturday Age’s “Life & Style” supplement, 30th April, 2011:

“The classic bad girl of popular culture is the femme fatale, a cunning criminal with a vixen-like beauty, usually pouty, platinum-haired, buxom and arch—from her stiletto heels to her finely plucked and penciled eyebrows…

“Meanwhile… there remain lingering assumptions about the way a woman should behave. One need only look at Prime Minister Julia Gillard, whose childlessness is often used to demean her, most recently by former Labour leader Mark Latham, who viciously accused her of lacking empathy and love (because having children has clearly given Latham copious quantities of both).

“In short, women whose ambitions waver from the ‘norm’, who have the temerity, say, to become prime minister, without having fulfilled their ‘God-given’ role of procreation, are still treated with suspicion. Audacity, it seems, is fine, to a point, especially if it adheres to the stereotype of woman as fashion-loving sex-object: Lady Gaga and her outlandish garb, Madonna and her extreme muscles. But try bucking convention in perhaps more profound ways—wanting to run the country, or fight for it—and female nonconformity suddenly becomes threatening. Which is why bold and rule breaking women are still worth celebrating.”

Images via Art Geelong, Yunch Time, unknown.

Event: Gustave Moreau’s The Eternal Feminine Exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria.

If you haven’t seen “The Eternal Feminine” exhibition by Gustave Moreau at NGV yet, hop to it, because it closes this weekend.

The exhibition only displays a fraction of Moreau’s work, focusing on his interpretation of the female: “strong and often dangerous” femme fatales. I was particularly intrigued by the powerful, yet controversial women he chose to paint, like Salome, the daughter of the Greek/Jewish Herodias, his response to the Unicorn tapestries, and women of the Bible.

Here are some choice excerpts from the exhibition:

On Femme Fatales.

“The term ‘femme fatale’… emerged in the middle of the nineteenth century, when patriarchal attitudes to women began to shift as a direct outcome of the growth of the middle class. Greater prosperity, brought about by the opening up of trade and the adoption of new technologies, also saw women beginning to advocate for access to high education, married women’s property rights, equal status in sexual mores and, ultimately, the vote. In France, where the Code Napoleon had defined the status of women as being the property of man, the ‘new woman’ challenged the traditional image of woman as mother and homemaker, virtuous, sexually repressed and above all else subordinate to her husband.

“The femme fatale, as an extreme contrast, was characterized as worldly, alluring and independent, with a predatory nature that was ultimately destructive to any man who fell victim to her seductive powers. Unlike the passive, Romantic heroine who existed in an aesthetic realm of erotic lassitude, she propelled a negative energy of malevolence and sadomasochism.”

On The Lady & the Unicorn.

“The cryptic, religious symbolism of the unicorn exemplifies in equal measure the essence of the medieval period and the occult spiritualism of late nineteenth century French culture. In medieval times the unicorn was associated with notions of chastity, pure love and the taming of animal passions. The legendary unicorn was reputed to be so wild that it could only be tamed by the purest of virgins, to whom it would come voluntarily for protection and comfort. He [Moreau] described his painting, ‘somewhat cryptically, as an “enchanted isle with a gathering of women, providing the most precious pretext for all the plastic motifs”’.”

On The Bible.

“Inevitably, Moreau’s choice of Biblical women as subjects was directed not toward the ideal and virtuous… But to women whose virtue had been compromised as a result of their possession of a physical beauty that attracted the attention of men, with dire consequences. Though not as dangerous as their alter egos, the femmes fatales—with whom engagement or congress was invariably fatal for the male—these women also shared a compelling attractiveness to the opposite sex.”

I also loved Moreau’s “Ulysses & the Sirens” works, and the room dedicated solely to Salome was worth the $15 cover charge alone.

Cherchez La Femme (Fatale).


From “What Happened to the Femme Fatale”, originally excerpted from “Cherchez La Femme Fatale” by Kevin Nance on Obit, by Sadie Stein on Jezebel:

“The femme fatale isn’t passive, waiting for her life to improve on its own. Instead she takes the initiative, attacking the problem with nerve, drive and intelligence. Yes, she uses cat’s-paws, rather than her own paws, to accomplish her goals. But whose fingerprints do you want on the smoking gun, yours or someone else’s? Yes, she uses her sexual power over a man to get what she wants, but power is power. She is the actor, he the acted upon. It’s she who controls her destiny, for better or worse.”

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] What Happened to the Femme Fatale.

[Obit] Cherchez La Femme Fatale.

Images via Doctor Macro, Warwick, Dazzling Divas.

On the (Rest of the) Net.


“A Brief History of the Bump Watch.”

And for any preggo Scarlett Women out there, this one’s also for you: “What You NEVER, Not in a Million Years, Expect When You’re Expecting”.

Dodai Stewart discovers the benefits of jeggings.

In the wake of St. Kilda’s most recent sex scandal (Ricky Nixon and the same underage girl who released damaging nude photos of St. Kilda players Nick Riewoldt and Nick Dal Santo in December, for those of you who have been under a rock the last week or so), Hawthorn’s Lance Franklin has released a sexist line of t-shirts.

Also with the St. Kilda Schoolgirl Scandal, Round 2, Mia Freedman writes:

“… I think it’s extremely interesting how she is indeed redressing the power imbalance between a 17-year-old girl and high profile AFL players and managers. She’s using social media and traditional media in ways that have been both surprising and disturbing to watch.”

Freedman shares her views on Justin Bieber’s recent abortion comments, as well. More on this to come next week.

For all the single ladies (put your hands up!), “10 More Reasons You’re Not Married”, which include such gems as “you’re not good enough at fellatio or you’re too good at fellatio,” “you are too fat or too skinny” and “you want children too much and/or not enough”. It seems we can’t (or can) win.

Guest Girl with a Satchel blogger, Georgie Carroll of Frangipani Princess, talks teen magazines. “… My favourite day of the month is still when the newest issues hit the stand”; mine too.

On femme fatales.

Jenna Sauers attends a Fashion Week PETA party and “talks about animals with Tim Gunn”. Interesting stuff.

Are Lady Gaga and Rihanna really original, or “stealing other artists’ work”?

Are you a fan of kangaroo meat? Read this; it might change your mind:

“Like the seal trade, it’s brutal, but it happens away from our view, at night in the bush. According to the law, adult kangaroos should be killed by a single shot to the brain.  But in reality, many are injured in the neck or the body, and flee into the bush where they die slowly and painfully.

“What’s even less known is the terrible fate of joeys, just like the one Ray waded into turbulent flood waters to save: over a million a year are killed each year along with their mothers. How? The hunter stomps on the pouch joey’s head, or bludgeons him or her with a metal pipe.  This is enough to make you think twice about ever putting roo on the menu. The young outside the pouch are shot through the heart or head.”

Images via Romantic Dreaming, Juciytings.