Evil Seductresses in Myth and Media

His female was aggressive and resistant. He was able to convince her only after a long dancing ritual, testifying his fitness. Just as they finish mating, the female mantis has a change of mind. She twists herself and grasps his head; with an upsurge of great passion she snaps it and gulps his head down her throat.

The female mantis is known for its indulgence in sexual cannibalism. In popular culture, it has become an icon for predatory female sexuality. Emphasising an age-old patriarchal fear of women’s sexuality, the female praying mantis has always been the symbol of the evil seductress – a cannibalistic lover who lures her mate close only to eat him. The femme fatale, better known as “evil seductress”, is one of the oldest and most common archetypes of women. The representation of this archetype in narratives, old or new, does not follow a single pattern; nevertheless, the moral of the story has always been the same: if you do not tame a woman’s passion, she will lead you to doom.

Let me tell you an old tale:Surpanakha was wandering through the forest when she met the brothers, Ram and Laxman. Smitten by Ram’s beauty, she disguises herself as a pretty woman and proposes passionate love to him. On his rejection, she tries seducing Laxman who also turns her down. Enraged Surpanakha attacks Sita. Laxman, in response to Surpanakha’s behaviour, chops off her nose. Traditionally, this brutal act of Laxman is seen as a punishment to the woman’s excessive lust.Interestingly, the ugly demon disguising as a sensuous woman is a trope still in vogue. In the movie Men in Black II, Serleena, a shape shifting monstrous alien, assumes the form of a lingerie model. This portrayal of a glam girl, someone comfortable with her sexuality, as a man-eating monster propagates and sustains the fear of female sexuality in the modern timesSamson, a Biblical hero, was ensnared by Delilah, a famous Philistine Biblical bad woman. She is blamed of selling Samson’s secret, that his seven braids contained his physical power, to his enemies for silver. The fall of Samson the Israelite leads to the rise of the Philistines. Though Christian tradition scorns Delilah for her fraudulence, this kind of aversion for the seductress does not seem to be consistent.

Judith, a widow Jewess, does something similar as Delilah; however, unlike Delilah she is considered a heroine and an exemplary portrayal of female grit. Judith had seduced the general Holofernes, an enemy of Israel, by getting him inebriated and then she cuts off his head. This leads to the victory of the Israelites in the war, and people hail her. Judith is perceived by Christianity as a virtuous woman in spite of her practising seduction antics. The varying reception of Judith and Delilah’s actions stem from the fact that one is an Israelite and the other is not. Just as history is written from the winner’s perspective, Bible is written from the Israelites’ perspective.In Greek mythology, Sirens are half-women who use their captivating voices to lure sailors and drown them in the sea, in order to consume them. The movie Jennifer’s Body uses a similar femme fatale representation. Jennifer, the antagonist, is taken over by a demonic spirit. She invites her school’s football captain for a brief make out and devours him, as a diet on human flesh is necessary to keep herself glamorous and beautiful.

The temptress archetype is common in Tamil cinema too. From M.R.Radha’s black and white movie RathaKanneer where the hero requests to erect his statue as a warning for men against falling for evil women to Silambarasan’s movie Vallavan where the hero challenges the femme fatale, Geetha, that he would destroy her, Tamil cinema has several instances for the use of this archetype.In the movie Padayappa the protagonist classifies women into three types; Sathvigam or the virtuous, Prachothagam or the sensuous, Bhayanakam or the formidable. The antagonist Neelambari is both sensuous and formidable; in spite of being rejected, she relentlessly pursues him only to be turned down as she does not possess the “qualities of a woman.”

To this day, female genital mutilation is practised in several parts of the world, as an attempt to control and harness female sexuality. Sexual freedom is an important aspect in women’s liberation. Feminists have been propagating sex-positivism for several decades but stereotypes like the evil seductress portray sexually liberal women as monsters. This propagates the femme fatale archetype and constantly brews the fear of female sexuality.The usage of femme fatale archetype by media, the modern myth makers, depicts the patriarchal urge to suppress women. People behind the screens must be more vigilant and avoid these negative stereotypes. Film makers and writers should relax and start presenting less judgemental, more frank and true portrayal of female sexuality.

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