The African Femme Fatale



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, NedjmaKarmen 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?


  • freedes

    Femme fatale, or rather your entire post has made me think about what God has been drilling into my spirit for years. I make myself so small. Small at work, at home, with my partner… But I can only keep on trying. 2014 is for me supposed to be my year of becoming… just really coming into my own with personal power and the knowledge and acceptance of myself as someone with power and authority. Oh yes, God wants me to be that way, and His messages gets to me from all directions. 2014 is a year of reckoning for women. We need to rise up. Now this does not mean we are suddenly going around like teenagers in acts of rebellion. No. That would be so disempowering to our essence. What it means is that we take responsibility. I know it may sound wrong to some people when I put this in the context of culture. It takes a person who has been through bashing culture and practices which do not serve women; and realise that what makes it immovable is the very women you think you are fighting for. So, yes, it is time to take responsibility and suck it up when we are responsible for playing certain “roles”. What I have not figured out yet is how to do this without feeling exploited. I used to look at the older generation and wonder why all this acting out for the sake of peace with their husbands. But after hitting brick walls I stopped and observed that in fact these “doormat” types actually know the score. And when it is time to do their thing when the act is up, then off come the veils, masks and hijabs in exchange for that luscious lippy and attitude. It intrigues me, it really does. But I believe 2014 is a special year for women and it has been endorsed by God himself. Come now 2014, let me see dis!

  • MsAfropolitan

    Thanks for the comment @Freedes.
    Here’s to 2014 being a year of taking more space for all of us.
    It’s great that you are feeling a positive message from within and beyond, means you are on a journey of letting go of anything holding you back. Be patient with reaching your goals but don’t compromise them while embracing your feminine power.

    I have to disagree with you on the “doormat” archetype. I know our culture produces women like that and they can be amazingly strong in her own way, but life is too special a gift to be spent waiting for someone to “appreciate” all your sacrifices.
    As for responsibility, it’s overrated 😉

  • chief0h

    I like this post a lot. I’ve always been the one to shrink back when I was younger. As I’ve grown though, I’ve learned being quiet isn’t always the way to go. But this post .. this post has put a whole new perspective. I always knew I would be powerful & this post just helped me put a title to it.

    • MsAfropolitan

      I’m so happy to read this! Own it!

  • Val

    Thanks for another great post; I love it. I’m ready to reclaim…or claim, because maybe I never had it, my femme fatale-ness. 2014 should be the year of empowerment, sensuality, and just an overall dose of loving oneself. Again, thanks!

    • MsAfropolitan

      Ahh, the comments on this post remind me why I so love blogging. Thanks @Val, to “Fatale” self love!

  • Joke

    I love this term and I agree that there’s something brewing in the air amongst African women across the globe, from artists to business women. I feel and see it’s essence in the women I grew up around and in myself. In pop culture the name Grace Jones comes to mind. Who cares if the world isn’t ready it’s still going to be a force that cannot be ignored. Gone are days of African women being invisible.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Grace Jones is a regal Fatale!

  • Joke

    Great post by the way! It’s spot on:)

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thank you!

  • nike

    To me, a femme fatale is a woman- a powerful one- who knows herself and is unapologetic in knowing and expressing herself(whether it be sexuality, sensuality, intelligence, creativity, power, even her own voice, etc) and is not afraid to show it. A woman who is honest and does not waste time in pretendng to be demure or obedient or any of those traits which are traditionally placed on or attibuted to ‘good’ women. This does not mean that a femme fatale can’t be any of these things but is comfortable enough to have these qualities but is equally comfortable in embracing other qualities that are not so traditional.

    She is the type of woman, I think, most women wish they could be but typically shy away for fear of being judged. I hope to be that when I grow up and working towards it will be my pleasure

    • MsAfropolitan

      Spot on! Thanks for sharing reflections, Nike.

  • Zara Chiron

    Minna, another great read.

    I would also like to thank you because this piece inspired me to flesh out a creative piece that I already had in the works.

    Always a pleasure to stop by your site.


    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks Zara! Glad that it inspired a piece, hope to read it?