Vamp. Tramp. Temptress. Seductress. Tart. Trollop. Words that conjure up such wickedness, such evil, such sensuous manipulation of men!
In what is primarily still a man’s world, where things are seen and documented from a male point of view, the worst villains are always women. Sure, there have been some seriously devilish men, but the best of the worst are always the women. Just ask the happy folks at Disneyland. In a recent poll of the “Best of the Worst” villains, three of the top five characters were women. It seems even the kids are picking up on just how vindictive women can be…
In our culture, women are portrayed as either angels or monsters – never anything in between. Yet even the angels among us are assumed to have a repressed manic energy. “Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned” and all that. Women are expected to go mad at some stage in their lives – it’s just a matter of when.
Why? Is it really all Eve’s fault for believing that dastardly serpent? Was Adam so peeved with his woman for denying him a life spent lazing around in Eden eating mangoes, that he felt obliged to teach every man after him never to trust a woman?
Or was it Adam’s mythological first wife, Lilith? She liked it on top, but he wanted to make love missionary style so he told her to bugger off. Given that most men would be content with sex in any position, was Adam perhaps a repressed homosexual? That’s it! No wonder the Catholics have exerted so much energy repressing women and bolstering the position of men. The last thing they would want made public is that the father of mankind is a raving poofter!
Then there was Pandora and her irresistible box of evil little voices. Her curiosity didn’t just kill the cat; it damned mankind for all eternity.
It is a theme that runs consistently through history, from ancient mythology to present day. Women stuffed up by taking the initiative, and refusing to wait for a man. Interestingly, the very characteristics that make these women a target are the same personality traits admired in men – aggression, courage, strength, independence and dominance.
Of course, as the feminists have been pointing out for the past 40 years, we’ve historically only ever heard the bloke’s side of the story. Maybe both Eve and Pandora were sick of languishing with the limp wristed other halves, and desperate for a bit of excitement. Who knows? Lilith certainly wasn’t going to hang around, sexually frustrated and subservient to her husband’s urges. The world’s first feminist, was our Lilith. Germaine Greer in full flight was never a patch on Lil, who screamed and cursed Adam for banishing her from Eden, and spawned evil little babies to harass her ex husband.
We will never really know what caused women to obtain such a violently unattractive reputation, although perhaps Freud went some way to explaining the problem all men face, when he admitted that for all his psychoanalysis, he never could work out the intricacies of the feminine psyche. I suspect a lot of the mystery surrounding women relates to men’s view of ‘that time of the moth’, and their utter bemusement at the mood swings, cravings, obsessions and trauma that females go through every month. Part of the expectation that women eventually go troppo must surely come from generations of men watching their mothers’ journey through the wonderful world of menopause, without actually understanding what the poor woman was enduring. This thinking, by association, must culminate in long lasting cultural references to the Mother-in- Law figure.
What we do know is that the motif of the dangerous woman remains current in our culture and shows no sign of abating. Within society, we don’t ever anoint a queen of ‘nice’ (well, we have Miss Universe but no one in their right mind takes that seriously), yet we always have a reigning queen of all that is conniving, manipulating and obsessively sexual.
In every generation, there is one woman anointed by society, who embodies the archetypical temptress. A mysterious, dark and untouchable fembot, whose only aim in life is to suck the essence out of every man she encounters. These women come primarily from the rank of actress, perhaps as a result of the flamboyant nature of the business and because as a profession it was always seen as only a slight step up from prostitution, although there has been the occasional politician, author and painter.
So what sets these women apart from their peers?
Well, firstly they act as though men’s only use in life is to provide a little light entertainment; they appear to believe that men are an unnecessary appendage in life. This is a woman who we could never envisage living for her family, standing in the kitchen making her husband’s dinner, hanging out the washing, or ducking through the supermarket, a kid on her hip, grabbing toilet paper, sugar and milk. Audrey Hepburn, widely considered one of the most beautiful women to have ever lived, couldn’t have cut it as a vamp. She was too domestic, too devoted a wife and mother, too darn nice. Instead, one imagines a real vamp waking slowly just before lunch, wrapped in satin sheets, hair shining in the late morning sun, her luscious ruby lips calling for a Bloody Mary to get the day rolling. These aren’t the sort of women you wouldn’t take home to meet your mother; they’re the sort of women who wouldn’t want to meet her anyway. Wanton women, who care for nothing other than their own peace of mind, are somehow Succubus incarnate. It is as though women, in forsaking their duty as controller of domesticity and childrearing, are letting down society. The inability to become breathless with excitement at the thought of a new washing machine in which to clean hubby’s clothes is seen as almost deviant in mindset. Indeed, many continue to believe that the family is the very foundation up on which we depend, without it we are ruined. Every woman who consciously chooses to ignore her social responsibility represents one more tear in the moral fibre of society. The “Post War Happy Housewife” must be determined to lose herself in the happiness, and cleanliness, of her family. Any other way of life just isn’t normal.
Secondly, a vamp is nobody’s fool and nobody’s victim. She most certainly does not require rescuing. Marilyn Monroe, the world’s most famous sexpot, doesn’t fit in with these women as she always had a quality about her that seemed fragile. Even in a low cut, figure-hugging sequinned number, all lips and tits and breathless singing, she appeared as though a little girl secretly dressing up in her mother’s clothes. Men yearned to be the one to save her, yet the only thing that could have helped her was a large dose of what a true vamp possesses in truckloads – confidence. Vamps exude self-assuredness. They live to please themselves and are not fazed by outside opinions. They aren’t the sort of women to check themselves when they bend down so that their underwear doesn’t show. Rather, they’d be quite happy if someone did get a flash of their undoubtedly sexy underwear.
Most importantly, these are women who have never apologised for their behaviour, as they frankly don’t see what needs repenting. Where men historically flex their muscles, or those of their troops, women flex their brains and squeeze their opponents by the heart or the testicles – whichever they reach first. What’s more, they get away with it, via a raised eyebrow and a determined pout. There have been some ballsy women throughout history – Queen Victoria, Joan Crawford, Margaret Thatcher, yet they never really got away with being iron fisted. Mostly, they were just written off as uptight bitches who ‘need to get some’.
Why do we bestow on some women an almost reverential form of fame, while others are hard-hearted old bags?
An undeniable part of the allure must their beauty, although it is by no means the only reason. Grace Kelly was a stunning woman, but always seemed to have something ultimately wholesome about her. Jane Fonda almost had what we’re looking for. Barbarella proved beyond doubt what a little sex rocket she could be, but then she went all serious, all activist, all aggression and frustration. Hanoi Jane didn’t exactly exude sex appeal riding in a tank during the Vietnam War, in her camouflage gear and with her hard hat slipping sideways off her head. Not even if the world did know she was pretty gorgeous under all that dirt and dust!
No, it is more than just beauty. It is an awareness of their attributes, combined with a total disregard for their looks, a slightly untouchable quality, a self sacrificing sense of humour, and a twinkle in their eye that indicates there is serious mischief to be made. No matter how bad they are, you can’t help thinking they’d be fun to hang around.
Their effect is measurable on both males and females. Men seem to behold the seductress in morbid fascination – at once repelled and aroused at the thought of a woman proving them redundant, while women are caught between jealousy and admiration. In either case, the world is in awe of the vamp.
So, are these man-eating, praying mantis-like, hyper sexualised, masculinised women all bad? With the media constantly chugging out constructed images of the world, who knows? We do know that their very existence threatens the makeup of society, the way we are conditioned to expect women to behave, and the standing of man and women as equals; with men a little more equal than the women.
Yet the vamp is a necessary evil. We need rebels and rule breakers amongst us to provide the excitement and interest in life. We need them so that we may safely experience danger by living vicariously through the experiences of those daring enough to take a risk, and we need them to measure ourselves against. In short, we need the sinners as much as the saints in order that we may live a little easier within our own mundane lives.
The power she wields over society ensures there will always be women who would relish the opportunity to personify all that is deliciously, hellishly, sensuously alluring, untrustworthy and villainous about women. It is, after all, what sells stilettos and red lipstick – year after year, generation after generation.