Femme fatale: Fatal to feminism?

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“Erotic Love in Spanish American Literature.” Or, my final undergraduate Spanish class. It’s not as raunchy as it sounds — no porn (yet), and so far the course focuses mostly on the historical context of each book we’ve read (i.e. post-revolution Mexico in Arráncame la vida and crime-riddled 1980s Colombia in Rosario Tijeras.

This week we finished reading Jorge Franco’s Rosario Tijeras. Rosario is the central enigma of the novel. Nobody knows her age or her surname (Tijeras, which means “scissors,” was given to her after she used a pair to castrate the man who made the ill-advised decision to assault her). Antonio, the narrator — who is obsessively in love with Rosario but watches from the sidelines while his best friend Emilio dates her — often asks Rosario: “Have you ever been in love?” to which she never responds, or coyly changes the subject.

What’s interesting about Rosario is her work as a sicaria, or hit woman. She was raised by her hit man brother, Johnefe, and fell into the sordid world of hired killings through him. One of her preferred methods of man-murder is luring the victim in with her irresistible sex appeal, then shooting him in the stomach. Rosario also works as a part-time prostitute, sleeping with Colombia’s drug lord elites (including Pablo Escobar). Antonio and Emilio are helplessly drawn to this backwards heroine. Rosario bursts with sexuality (as she bursts out of belly shirts and mini skirts), and has an almost spell-like hold on the boys, which apparently makes up for the fact that she could, at any moment, murder Antonio or Emilio without batting an eye.

Rosario Tijeras was a huge commercial success in Colombia, later turned into a movie:

People loved it so much, in fact, that Rosario’s brother Johnefe has been personified via his own Facebook page.

One of my classmates gave a presentation about Rosario as the prototypical femme fatale, and she does fit the description:

A femme fatale (pronounced /ˌfɛm fəˈtæl/ or /ˌfɛm fəˈtɑːl/; French: [fam faˈtal], with all [a]’s) is a mysterious and seductive woman[1] whose charms ensnare her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations.

Then my classmate asked whether the femme fatale empowered women, or objectified women as sex objects.

Hm.

My knee-jerk angry feminist reaction is that a voluptuous, man-eating hit-woman prostitute is probably setting back the feminist movement by about 50 years — we only learn about Rosario through the male narrator of the book, and we only see her through his (horny) eyes. Rosario is emotionally withdrawn, sexually minded and a murderer. The reader never sees a more dynamic character than what Antonio describes.

…but the irrational, whimsical side of me thinks that Rosario Tijeras is a badass.

What’s not to idolize about a woman who’s doin’ it for herself, constantly telling her yuppie boyfriend Emilio to screw off when he gets gets clingy and, on top of that, is markedly attractive? I guess there’s the whole “murder” and “prostitution” and “cocaine trafficking” thing, but whatever, young girls can totally look beyond that and see an idol in Rosario.

The femme fatale isn’t limited to literature and film. Oxygen picked up on its appeal when they started airing Snapped, a crime show dedicated to women who kill (but mostly to women who use antifreeze to murder their husbands only a few hours after upgrading his life insurance policy — so not only are we murderers, but we’re stupid!).

I don’t know how to reconcile the sane side of me that thinks Rosario Tijeras is a sex object, and the other side of me that thinks, “I wouldn’t necessarily hate being like her” (minus the prostitution, murder, and drug trafficking. I would not fare well in prison).

There are surely a few well-read feminists or lady murder experts who could shed further light on this topic for me. If you stumbled upon my blog, please do. Otherwise I’m going to spend the rest of my day listening to that Nico song and debating this dilemma to myself.

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4 Replies to “Femme fatale: Fatal to feminism?”

  1. This seems like a question we come across even in our own society—is it empowering to women to use our sex appeal to our advantage? Not allowing patriarchal society confine us into what is or isn’t “appropriate.” Or are women still playing to the likes of men by getting by dressing in a promiscuous way only to “get what we want” from them?
    Why can’t we just take advantage of people our sweat pants?

  2. Sadly, we’ll probably never be able to take advantage of people in our sweat pants until society defines sweat pants as sexy.

  3. I love Snapped! One episode sticks out in particular when I read this post. If I can find a clip I’ll post it.

  4. I would look into third wave feminism. The ideals of this “third wave” focus more on a woman being able to define feminism for themselves by incorporating it into their own identities. If that means you feel sexiest in sweatpants, then that is your identity. Something that demands complete and total respect. But so does someone who has made the decision that she feels best in a short skirt with make up galore. This generation is all about acceptance of who you are. This is where feminism is right now. This is why feminism is no longer limited to upper-middle class white women, but any and all races and classes, and any gender identity. The feminism of our day even includes men and a fight for their own celebration of individual identities.

    The new and current feminism accepts and welcomes all, and fights for self pride and confidence in who and how we each are. So in that sense, I think Rosario is totally a feminist role model. Regardless of the fact that she was created by a man, because people like you, and I have found something admirable in her.

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