Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Dangerous Women in A Song of Ice and Fire and in Culture

Why are we so scared of powerful women? 
 by Fadzai Nova

There is nothing more alluring than the iconic femme fatale who lives on the edges of morality and grace; her audience is drawn to despise and love her simultaneously. As an art form, the femme fatale symbolises female liberation from a culture that aims to dominate her.  Through beauty, desire and violence, the femme finds expression and influence.  The French phrase femme fatale translates to fatal woman; she is a woman who exudes intense enigma with an awareness of her amoral nature. She asserts her intellect, sexuality, charisma and fire to whomever she feels can feed her ambitions.

 Depictions of the femme fatale can be seen throughout archaic cultures. Her nature is constantly paralleled to sin. In the Bible, Eve committed the first sin by persuading Adam to eat the fruit of the Tree of knowledge. Jezebel deceived the saints of God into evil by idolatry and sexual decadence.  In Greek Mythology, Zeus commanded Aphrodite to marry Hephaestus, a god who was unpleasant on the eyes so that her beauty would not cause rivalry and war among the other gods; she became an adulteress, having multiple lovers at a time. In Egyptian history Cleopatra was known for her aesthetics, wit and charm. She used these attributes in order to manipulate and maintain her rule over Egypt.

The non-fiction archetypal femmes fatale in modern pop culture are women such as exotic dancer, courtesan and spy, or Mata Hari and erotic novelist Ana├»s Nin, whose unconventional lifestyles have made their names synonymous with the phrase. Celebrities who have adopted forms of the classic femme fatale include Marilyn Monroe, Angelina Jolie, Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johnson and Salma Hayek. In fiction, accounts of the femme fatale are countless: Selina Kyle (Catwoman), The Bride (Kill Bill) and Lulu (the play, Pandora’s Box), to name a few.

A current pop culture portrayal in literature of the femme fatale is in George R.R Martin’s book series A Song of Ice and Fire, adapted as the Game of Thrones HBO television series.  Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen grew up in the shadowy fear of her abusive brother Viserys. Her arranged marriage elevates her to Khaleesi status, queen of the Dothraki tribe.  This new protection helps her gradually learn about herself as her strength and will are tested immensely. Daenerys is beautiful, confident and most importantly strategic; she has power and a hunger for justice, making her a dangerous femme fatale.

In the capital city we find the lethal Queen Cersei of the wealthy House Lannister who conveys the role of the femme fatale by emancipating herself from the conventions of culture that aim to keep her caged. She is a wild fiery lion, and her desires for domination and power are well known in the mythical continent of Westeros.  In retaliation to the laws that forbid her to have equal rights and power as her twin brother, Queen Cersei is cunning, vindictive and feared. Her only redemption is her love for her children.  She is angrily aware that it is also her greatest weakness. 

The young Lady Margery of House Tyrell is a crafty seductress with the ambition of becoming the reigning queen of Westeros; she radiates calm, self-assured beauty and is not threatened by the vile Joffrey Baratheon.  She is not only successful in manipulating him, but is also effective in gaining the popularity of the common folk of King’s Landing.

The Red Priestess, Melisandre, is stunning, dangerous and mysterious. Her witch-like character is a definitive example of the femme fatale.  Even though she is a Priestess to the faith of the Lord of Light, she engages in black magic. This can be associated with the archaic sin we find in mythology.  Martin reveals very little about her background except that she originates from Asshai.  From the east she travels to Dragonstone to preach her faith and becomes Stannis Baratheon’s consort and adviser.

Our fascination with the femme fatale represents a curiosity that is inherently primal.  The moon’s cycle and a woman’s cycle work together conveying the idea of oneness between the female and nature. Mankind is a product of nature; even though society may provide itself with the illusion of dominance through development, science and technology, nature remains the supreme authority and the meaning of life still remains a mystery.  A female’s sexual organs are hidden within her, perpetuating her mystery, while a male’s sexual organs are clearly visible.  A male is exposed, vulnerable and he knows it, thus he tames the woman to feel guilty about her sexuality and manipulates her to be subordinate.

The femme fatale is fully aware that the culture she resides in aims to control her, so she paints her life red to illustrate the colour of passion, seduction, blood and her cycle; the repossession of her  power.  Instead of adopting the masculine she fully embodies the feminine; she is sexual liberty, courage and danger.  She is wildly intense and ambitious, yet oftentimes is coldblooded; the world has ambiguous feelings towards her because of her unusual allure.  The femme fatale does not consciously attempt to be neither virtuous nor evil, she simply exists in all of her complexity.