She sashays into a smoky office with a hitch in her voice and a sob story assured to hit just the right notes in a cynical gin soaked PI’s hero complex. He knows she’s trouble, that the damsel in distress bit is an act, but he can’t help himself and he takes the case. The femme fatale is in play and the PI better watch his back.
Noir has given us one of the most iconic ‘bad girl’ tropes in the femme fatale. She’s sexy, capable of appearing vulnerable, she can be incredibly feminine while smoking, drinking shots and stabbing you in the back. While the ‘moll’ might be drawn to bad boys and usually ends up beaten or dead the ‘femme’ is their equal. There is something alluring for the female reader in a character who plays by her own rules and can pull off the balance between tough and sexy.
The femme isn’t a cipher, she’s not a vessel for the reader to step into, not for most of us anyway. She’s tempting though. The Damsel in Distress might be alluring to male readers, to would be rescuers, but for the independent minded woman she’s a sap, a victim, a bore. The femme is exciting, she’s the possible, a what if. What if I didn’t worry about prison, if I didn’t have this moral code, what if I was a little more ruthless. What might I do if I had less fear and guilt?
For me the femme fatale was possibly the beginning of my fascination with bad girls, watching old black and white movies with my dad, then digging into noir and hardboiled fiction. The fiction characters, regardless of genre, that appealed to me most were always the ones who didn’t play by the rules. The ones who did things beyond the boundaries of my life.
In real life characters like Bonnie Parker and Anne Bonny captured the imagination. In fiction even as a child it was the wilder Nancy and Peggy in Swallows and Amazons I wanted to read about rather than the sweet Pollyanna. Now it’s Christa Faust’s Angel Dare and Zoe Sharp’s Charlie Fox who even when they are trying to be basically good are still fighting and shooting and having sex and generally not behaving like ‘nice girls’.
The ‘good girl’ sweet, trusting, optimistic, living within the rules and probably also ‘virtuous’ is dull and restrictive, who really wants to be that girl? What woman idealises the Stepford Wife? Bad girls in their many guises are exciting, they are unrestricted, they offer us freedom to be ourselves and they offer us a view of a more extreme version of us. They mock our inhibitions and our rules and I love them for it.
Adele Wearing is “like a muse…. who kicks people in the face.” A lifelong genre fan, Adele was for some time a book blogger and then set up Indie Pub Fox Spirit Books. In addition to running Fox Spirit, she trains in kickboxing and mixed martial arts. http://www.foxspirit.co.uk