Behind Every Great Man – The Temptress and The Virgin

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Session 6: Behind Every Great Man explores the traditional roles that women play in modern culture, and the ways in which that leads to mistaken assumptions about women and their part in crime.

We often cast women in one of two roles, the seductive femme fatale and the easily duped ingenue. When women are portrayed as sexual, vivacious, and intelligent beings, often outwitting even their male counterparts, they are by virtue of these very things an untrustworthy seductress. A woman who can beguile their hapless male companions into doing their sinister bidding, even killing for them. When women are seen as the ingenue, she is depicted as pure and virginal and but more often than not completely helpless and dangerously naive. The conclusion for each female is predictable: the femme fatale will ultimately be foiled, the ingenue will be the only one able to somehow overcome the monster.

But these roles in the Western world go back, at least, as far the advent of Christianity, where women were given only one of two roles from which to pick. If we look at it closely, there are only two women in the Bible with any really independent agency: Eve and Mary, and they have since become the two archetypes to which women have been forced to subscribe. Eve is the temptress, who out of foolishness and then seductiveness fell for the serpent’s tricks and then had Adam follow her into the abyss. Mary is the mother of God, and a virgin to boot.

But if we really think about this, women can only ever inhabit one of these roles. Because a virgin mother is impossible, and so what is left for women other than the temptress?

Verity ClaytonComment