A woman’s strength tends not to be the size of her muscles or her physical dominance, but her femininity, her mysticism, and the depths of her complexity.
The Femme Fatale Archetype
One strong female archetype is that of the femme fatale (fatal woman). The femme fatale is a natural and feminine woman, who harnesses a darkness and a destruction behind her allure. She uses her feminine irresistibility — her beauty, charm, and sexual prowess — to enchant men. She’s powerful because she’s a woman, not in spite of it.
The femme fatale is powerful because she’s a woman, not in spite of it.
The femme fatale is an ancient archetype found in the myths and folklore of many cultures. Ancient examples include the Biblical Eve, who tempted Adam to join her in a forbidden act, or the Ancient Greek Pandora, the first mortal woman created to wreak chaos on the earth. In popular culture, femme fatales include the supervillain Poison Ivy in the Batman series, with her seductive red lips but poisonous kiss, and movie icons exuding femininity like Marilyn Monroe.
Poison Ivy from Batman & Robin
Carl Jung held that everyone’s psyche embraces both the feminine and masculine, and that the femme fatale was the dark animus of women. So, while women typically take on a feminine role and persona, they also develop a contra sexuality which is masculine in nature and called “the Animus.”
The Femme Fatale in Popular Culture
Femme fatales are often portrayed as villainous. According to Virginia Allen, the defining traits of the femme fatale are her promiscuity and her "rejection of motherhood," seen as "one of her most threatening qualities since by denying his immortality and his posterity, it leads to the ultimate destruction of the male."
Modern femme fatales are likely to possess self-destructive tendencies usually associated with men.
Today, most think of a femme fatale as the “boss bitch,” the “Instagram baddie,” or the powerful single woman who doesn’t need a man or children, defying traditional gender roles. Radical third-wave feminism has hijacked the image of a strong woman to mean a rejection of femininity entirely. The modern femme fatale is therefore likely to possess self-destructive tendencies usually associated with men, like promiscuity, aggression, and alcohol abuse.
Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Embracing Your Darkness
But, women don’t have to reject femininity or become self-destructive in order to be powerful. The femme fatale is actually a perfect symbol for the mysterious power of femininity, the “ultimate metaphor for the absolute potential and darker side of feminine power.”
The femme fatale archetype is neither masculine nor self-destructive. Instead, she lives on the delicate line between Carl Jung’s Great Mother, a soothing and nurturing feminine, and the Terrible Mother, who devours her children and all men. She’s the sinister edge of feminine energy, “reminding us that what creates also has the power to destroy.”
A strong woman doesn’t need to have masculine energy, but must harness her darker depths.
Just like there’s light and dark in masculine traits, there’s light and dark in the feminine. Jung believed that to be a whole person, you must embrace your shadow — your more primitive and negative qualities like your aggression, possessiveness, or selfishness.
Madeleine Elster in Vertigo
A strong woman doesn’t need to have masculine energy, but must be aware of her darker depths and be able to harness them. For instance, a woman can still be feminine but possess an assertive side. She can still be caring, gentle, and nurturing, but also not afraid to share her opinions. Confronting and accepting the darker side of your nature will allow you to integrate these negative traits into your personality and redirect them in more healthy ways. For example, if you’re aware of your tendency toward possessiveness, you’re less likely to allow yourself to become a Devouring Mother.
“There are countless women who succeed in public life without losing their femininity,” Jung wrote. “On the contrary, they succeeded precisely because of it.” In other words, you don’t need to sacrifice your femininity and act like a man to be a strong woman.
Women are not weak and harmless like some suggest, but possess a unique kind of strength, one embodied by the femme fatale. Contrary to what radical third-wave feminism suggests, we don’t need to abandon our feminine traits to succeed, compare ourselves to men, or make the claim that we’re the stronger sex. The truly powerful and fatal women in this world are those who recognize the beauty and strength in their femininity, but are also aware and in control of their darkness.