In depictions of the femme fatale, there seems to be a reverent awe and fear of her power. It plays upon the concept of woman's hidden evil: her "Dark Continent," her sexuality.
When woman was at her worst, she was insatiable, stealing the vitality from her male lovers. Her sexual prowess allowed strength, immortality, influence, and most importantly, the ability to transcend to a trance-like state. Perhaps she could not be complete without a retinue of masculine servants, but they only provided the borrowed energy. The rest was carried out by her own internal machinery and capacity to wield power.
Though the femme fatale embodies and exposes these qualities, she only gives light to underlying fears placed upon all women. Newcoming sexologists and even everyday Victorian husbands could attest that the common conception of woman's sexual innocence and frigidity could not be upheld as a biological fact. Women were no less susceptible to sexual appetites than men, which opened the floodgates for all sorts of paranoid conjectures. The fear emerged from the questioning of which gender commanded sexual dominance, if women indeed had just as much inclination as men. Men no longer held a monopoly over sensuality and, therefore, aggression.
Though this may reflect the heart of the controversy, most theoreticians, including Freud, sought to define female sexuality in terms of a digestible patterned behavior. Freud never found the exact answers he sought, admitting that psychology will never "solve the riddle of femininity." He coined her sexuality as the obscure "Dark Continent," presumably never to be conquered.
Last modified 1996