As the year comes to an end, I thought that I would like my last post of the year to be about something exciting, a feminine energy we could do well channeling more of in 2014. Scrolling through old posts and comments, I recognised an energy brewing, one not yet defined but one which can put an end to the erotic famine that has caused women a sense of powerlessness – namely the femme fatale.
So I am dedicating 2014 to her. La femme fatale. Why? Well, simply because her no bullshit modus operandi could bring about radical change. Hers is an archetype that is simultaneously disobedient, powerful, serious, troublesome, wise, playful, tough, kind, seductive and sensual saying “Fuck you” to anyone who attempts to diminish her sense of self. Qualities which could be useful for African women, for women everywhere, don’t you think?
Also, while she certainly exists, the African femme fatale is absent from cultural production at large. Most of us can name women such as Marlene Dietrich, Mata Hari or mother of all femme fatales, Eve, but their African counterpart is not as well known. Yet as a cross-cultural study about the female archetype found, the femme fatale is incredibly popular in sub-Saharan African folklore.
The African “Fatale” has a lot in common with Fatales all around the world but I suggest that a few things distinguish her.
Firstly, the African Fatale lives – and has for very long lived – in a world, where much like the continent from where she comes, her existence has been equally mystified and condemned. As the feminine proprietor of the torch-shaped treasure grove which is Africa, she has been exploited, abused, adored and praised in tandem with it. In ancient times before christian mythology was misused to justify slavery, declaring black the colour of evil and of the devil, dark skin was a symbol of beauty, of earth and of divinity. The African continent was in those days also seen as a place of esteem: of knowledge and wealth. This was long before fellas like Sigmund Freud nailed Africa and women into the same casket with declarations such as, uhn, “the sexual life of adult women is a “dark continent” for psychology.” The modern African femme fatale knows that her early worshippers had good taste. To her, “female freedom always means sexual freedom” (as Toni Morrison said), and she is indefatigably proud of her heritage.
Unlike her western counterpart, to whom history can seem unfashionable, to the African Fatale, reflecting back is reflecting forward. Due to the proverbial hunter-historian obscuring her continent’s magnificence, rediscovery of women like Cleopatra, Nefertiti, Nzinga, Winnie Mandela and deities like the Mami Wata and Oya, connect the dots between the modern African Fatale and her ancestors like a string of pearls.
Which brings me to glamour, for you cannot talk about the femme fatale without mentioning glamour. Whether she is diabolusly charming or eloquently seductive she uses glamour like a magician uses a deck of cards. The African Fatale’s existence is enriched by luxuries of the senses: powerful colours, waist beads, lush fabrics, indigo, henna, patchouli, nipple tassles, you name it. Glamour is her uniform as she fearlessly and “irresponsibly” navigates the edges of her world.
As for the men of her continent, they are equally frightened and seduced by her power. They sing songs, write stories and make movies about her. The myth of Moremi, Nedjma, Karmen Geï… They accuse her of witchcraft, they murder and adulate her. Her insouciant wilderness threatens the status quo and precisely therefore she, the Afro-fatale, ignores the rise of conservative values. She knows that their primary goal is to make her extinct and the priority above all for the African Fatale is to avoid extinction.
The Fatale – wherever she stems from – is not necessarily feminist, at least not in the academic sense of the term. But she is most certainly a feminist archetype especially because of her determination not to let anything – nothing at all: not men who sit mightily on power, not traditions that are afraid of her sexuality, not white supremacist fantasies about racial hierarchies, not religions that dictate that women should obey men, not ideas that negate the life giving act of mothering, not media that obsesses with depicting women weakly, not even the inevitability of ageing, let alone the mortifying mythification surrounding it – compromise her appetite for life. She is her own boss and she runs her enterprise with zest.
So are we ready for the brave new world of the Fatale in 2014?
What does the term ‘femme fatale’ make you think of?
Hi! I’m Minna Salami. I’m a writer, blogger, columnist, lecturer and speaker and the founder of the feminist blog, MsAfropolitan, which connects feminism to contemporary culture from an Africa-centred perspective. I’ve been listed alongside Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie as one of “twelve women changing the world” by ELLE and my work has been used as a resource and case study at universities around the world. Like what you just read? Sign up above to receive new posts directly in your inbox.