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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The femme fatale : A recurrent manifestation of patriarchal fears Anderson, Lesley Cecile Marie


This thesis examines how and why the representation of the femme fatale is constructed and recycled by a dominant patriarchal ideology throughout history by outlining the catalysts that have produced and continue to produce such a figure. The image of the femme fatale is utilised as an ideological contrivance, occurring in the cultural discourses of various historical epochs in an attempt to quell any social change considered to be threatening to the patriarchal infrastructure. Massive improvements in women's social, political and/or economic position produce stress points in the historical continuum which destabilise previously clearly demarcated sex roles and other boundaries thereby provoking a response from the dominant ideological network through its institutions (legal, governmental, religious) and cultural productions (myth, religion, art, drama, literature, film). It becomes obvious that there is little change in recorded civilised history as to how patriarchal discourses oppressively delineate women. Its ideologically encoded message is clear-a good nurturing mother benefits man, allowing him to be prosperous and progressive, while a selfish and barren female, concerned only for and of herself, is destructive and abhorrent. While the former is a patriarchal necessity, the latter must be reinscribed within the safe workings of the status quo or destroyed. The image of the femme fatale is a recurring patriarchal ideological construction which, in all future simulacra, will possess the archetypal mythological characteristics of the emasculating licentiousness of the Siren, the Furies' malicious retributive sense of justice, the avaricious rapacity of the Harpies and Pandora's narcissistic and destructive curiosity. Because the femme fatale is a symptom and symbol of male fears of female equality, resurfacing at those periods when the smooth workings of the patriarchal social infrastructure are experiencing excess tension, she can be interpreted as a necessary evil not only to the patriarchal network but also as a emblem of inveterate feminist endeavours. Chapter one outlines the ideological implications of the femme fatale's representation; chapter two provides historical contextualisation; chapter three investigates her filmic incarnations in the first half of the twentieth century, concentrating on the femme fatale of film noir; and the final chapter examines issues associated with the contemporary cinematic femme fatale.

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