What is a femme fatale? Well, she’s officially defined as “an attractive and seductive woman, especially one who will ultimately bring disaster to a man who becomes involved with her.” Throughout history, we’ve seen countless femme fatales immortalized on film – the film noir genre was practically created for the femme fatale. Some actresses, like Theda Bara and Barbara Stanwyck, basically made a career out of playing her.
The root of the femme fatale could be a fear of feminism and female sexuality, or it could be an outright misogyny. (The Biblical femme fatales seem to follow that path – just think about the story of Adam and Eve. According to the Old Testament, women are bad, bad, bad.) Britney Spears even named her (mostly terrible, thanks Will.i.Am.) album “Femme Fatale,” though Britney is as far from a femme fatale as you can get. The ladies below, however, are worthy of the esteemed title.
1. Evelyn Nesbit
Teenage model Evelyn was so beautiful that she inspired the now-famous “Gibson Girl.” She also enthralled millionaires, including John Barrymore and real estate tycoon Stanford White. He invited the young girl to come visit him at his palatial apartment and swing on his red velvet swing, among other things. White fed Evelyn champagne and took her virginity, then became her lover and benefactor despite her young age. However, Evelyn later married the slightly off-kilter millionaire Harry K. Thaw, who soon became obsessed with jealousy over her relationship with White and eventually shot and killed White in 1906. Evelyn was the star witness of the “Trial of the Century,” though she struggled to retain her fame. Evelyn died in 1967. Part of the famous musical “Ragtime” is based on Evelyn.
2. Mata Hari
Exotic dancer Mata Hari was a spy, which basically makes her the female James Bond, right? The Dutch beauty held many men under her spell due to her gorgeous face and swaying hips and became a high-priced escort in the early 20th century. However, she was tried as a spy and found guilty and then executed for her crimes. The equally enigmatic Greta Garbo played Mata Hari in a 1931 film of the same name.
3. Lucrezia Borgia
Beautiful blonde Borgia was the daughter of Pope Alexander IV and an important part of the Borgia family. The Borgias were said to have been incredibly corrupt and ambitious and may have engaged in both incest and poisoning. We’re not sure if this is true, but we do know that Lucrezia had several affairs, including one with her brother-in-law.
4. Biblical femme fatales
What would the Bible be without its femme fatales? It seems a little odd that children learn the story of Samson and Delilah so early, but I learned about it at age four and always wanted to be Delilah, who is so beautiful she entices Samson to abandon his responsibilities and leads him to his demise. There’s also the beautiful young Salome, who asks for John the Baptist’s head on a platter and gets it because King Herod thinks she’s sexy. Really. The Bible is crazy.
5. Amanda Knox
The Knox trial was full of twists and turns and still isn’t finished; it probably never will be. We even got a Lifetime movie out of it – and for good reason, because the story is full of sex and murder, Lifetime’s bread and butter. The American student Knox was living in Italy and when her roommate turned up dead, it was the pretty, party-friendly Knox and her Italian boyfriend who became instant suspects. During the trial, the press dubbed her “Foxy Knoxy” and mentioned her drug use and sexual partners whenever possible. Whether or not Knox was involved in her roommate’s murder, she’s gone down in history as a compelling study in how the media treats women on the stand.