Femme Fatale: Part I

26 October, 2009

When I was 15 years old, two boys fought over me.  (Sadly, it never quite came to fisticuffs, but it’s true that part of me – then and now – wished it had.)  Still, there were consequences: one boy was dramatically banished from the other’s home (where he had been living for the summer), the other boy (whose note-writing inspired the title of this blog) had his heart tragically broken, and two friendships were irrevocably destroyed while a new relationship began.  Most importantly, and not tragically at all, the teenage boys’ spat inspired in my awkwardly adolescent self a new sense of self-worth, one that was born out of finding out that little ol’ me was worth enough to both of these men-in-training that they would risk so much – the friendship of the other, and, in one case, a roof over his head – for the privilege of holding my hand and a kiss on the cheek (which, indeed, was all either ‘relationship’ had amounted to at that point).

At the time, ‘the fight’ meant little more to me than a good ice-breaking story my freshman year of college.  Fourteen years later, it’s grown into something bigger: something a little more coy, a little more sly, a little more playful, a little more wicked.  It’s what fifty years of films, silly women’s magazines and self-help books call the Femme Fatale.  She’s dangerous, she’s charming, she can break friendships, she can break men; she can kill with a smile, she can wound with her eyes.  She holds an allure that causes the men who tangle with her to do so at their own entranced risk.

What’s not to love? I ask.  I have an ever-decreasing patience for the coquettishness that so many women I know rely on.   Sure, there’s a time and place for everything, but baby, baby, it’s a wild world, and it’s hard to get by on a smile.  Flip that smile into a smirk and frame it in red lipstick; now we’re getting somewhere.  The Femme Fatale doesn’t need to parade around in dominatrix vinyl or crack a whip.  She breathes out a pause, she thinks about leaving, and no whip need be snapped – you’re already on your knees.  Oh, it gives me goosebumps.

The  common perception of the Femme Fatale is that of film noir archetypes, and I largely cling to the wonderful styles of my dangereux anti-heroine ancestors.  But I argue (as I would) that her power is not necessarily in her stature and heavy blond locks, but in the confidence with which she holds herself: an unwavering gaze, a chin held aloft, shoulders thrown back but tense, reflexes alert and ready to pounce at any moment.  Combine these elements with a pair of fabulous 1950’s stilettos, a black halter dress, wide-brimmed hat and the aforementioned venomous red lipstick, and you’d better sit down, Mister.  Hollywood ain’t got nothing on this.  The power is intoxicating.

… Except that, as I am unfortunately often reminded of, I haven’t quite learned how to harness this power.  Hell, I’m still trying to better reconcile my inner goddess with the “who me? aw shucks!” 15 year old.  It’s like believing you could be a great virtuoso, if only you could learn how to play the piano.  I’ve read books on the elements of seduction (recommended, ladies, if not for specific tips than for general knowledge), and, like a suggestible suburbanite to an infomercial, I shouted, “Yes, yes!  That’s me!”  But still… the pesky little detail of being me when out and about, when attempting to employ these elements of seduction with men that – well, that I’d like to seduce – keeps getting in the way.  Being a Femme Fatale is wonderful, but it’s hard.

But cut to a few days ago, to a glorious moment that brought back shades of the Great Fight of ’95.  I’ll disclose that, unlike the Great Fight of ’95, neither guy was looking to fight for me; in fact, both seemed rather preoccupied with other plans for the evening.  For the sake of reputation and privacy, suffice it to say that I had a history with A, and I had a history with B, but neither A nor B ever knew about the other, despite chronological and geographic proximity of each other.  At an out-of-context meeting for both of them, I held my head high and cool as I delighted in this minor Femme Fatale moment; neither man had been safe from my feminine wiles, and there was some discreet, delicious deception that existed in my secret.  Instead of me becoming their shared conquest, they became mine, and I ate it up.  I was tempted to offer their commonality (having not been able to resist me) as conversation, but, thankfully, my inner Femme Fatale bit my tongue.  A minute later and it was all over, but the dynamic in the room was as strong as my red-lipped smile was wide.

I recently mentioned to a flirtatious fella at a local bar that I aspire to become a Femme Fatale.  He was taken aback, became cautious, and retreated a bit.  He recommended that I don’t advertise that goal to interested parties.  I stressed that by specifying the aspiration, I am clearly not there, I am clearly not threatening.  I will not hurt  you… yet.  And I’d argue that my goal is not to hurt, it’s not to threaten, really.  Who is my Femme Fatale?  She’s the one who protects herself, who understand means, ends, and the way she can control the connection between the two.  She’s a woman who combines skill and beauty, who walks a tightrope between impenetrable and vulnerable in heels (sometimes boots).  It’s not that she can’t help herself from seduction, it’s that she can’t help but accept the challenge.  My Femme Fatale is also, unfortunately, hidden underneath layers upon layers of memories of all the times she chose not to show.  If my Femme Fatale is a tiger, as a friend recently likened it to, she hides behind an acute memory of the times she’s skulked back to her cage with her tail between her legs.

Yet, upon digging deep enough, I can find that look, that moment when a man’s eye has scrutinized my frame before him, looked at me, found the Femme Fatale’s cool and powerful glare in return, and he betrayed the smile that said he’d just caught a glimmer of what he was getting himself into.  I first saw it from those boys when I was fifteen years old, then again for just a moment I was 20.  It’s been nine years since then, and I take my Femme Fatale, my shadow, out to play every now and then, to see how much trouble we can get into together.  We smile, we challenge, we reel you in, then we slink away from you without a second glance, because it feels so, so good.