Femmes fatale and bad girls

When I posted about bad boys in fiction back in January, I said I wanted to eventually try one about bad girls. So here goes. Focusing specifically on sex and relationships, not the other ways someone can be bad or evil, I think that loosely, bad girls can be divided along the old D&D alignment system: Good, neutral and evil.
The good bad girl is someone like Barbra Streisand’s Judy in What’s Up Doc?. She’s an independent, slightly nutty free spirit who fastens on Ryan O’Neal’s absent-minded professor and slowly drags him out of his comfort zone. And he is very uncomfortable, but he soon discovers it’s more fun on the not-so-dark side (I am fully aware Judy would be a crazy stalker in real life. I still love the movie). Or Sugarpuss O’Shea (Barbara Stanwyck) in Ball of Fire, awakening Gary Cooper to the realization that he wants more than his fusty life of endless research. Catwoman holds the same promise for Batman, the chance of cutting loose and rejecting his self-appointed duty in a way he doesn’t allow himself.
Getting involved with these women is, generally, a healthy thing for the guy. Though as with bad boys not without risk: O’Neal almost sees his career crash and burn, for instance.
•Neutral bad girls. These are the sexually experienced women who may sleep with you, but sex is all you get (and maybe only one night of that)
Faith (Eliza Dushku) in Buffy, for instance, likes sex. But when she’s done, she’ll kick you of bed because she’s got better things to do than snuggle. Pam Grier’s Friday Foster (1975) is polyamorous: She has a steady boyfriend but she hops into bed with several other guys. It’s presented much like Richard Roundtree in Shaft—she’s someone who likes a lot of sex and goes out and gets it and much as Kotto might wish she’d confine herself to him, I don’t get a feeling the movie’s judging her.
The neutral bad girl isn’t looking for a romance, but she doesn’t have ulterior motives either (see the evil bad girl below). She’s out for a good time and she’s happy to have one with you.
•Evil bad girls. Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity (1944) is a classic example, a beautiful blonde who seduces insurance agent Fred MacMurray into murdering her husband and getting double indemnity on the policy. Kathleen Turner in the quasi-remake Body Heat fits the same category.
Noir films are full of countless bad girls like this, women who’ll give you a sexual thrill ride but they’re going to extract something in return, whether it’s money, crime or your soul. In Fatal Attraction, Glenn Close offers a different variant, a woman who drives Michael Douglas to cheat (in the short film it was based on, the guy is much more an initiator) then refuses to let go of him. She’s the insane counterpart to Judy in Doc, the stalking woman who isn’t at all a figure of romance.
I think the evil bad girl is the one we see the most (but I’m making a subjective assessment so I may be wrong), because of how tangled up we get about female sexuality. A good girl who gives us magical sex because she thinks we’re the one true love is fine; a bad girl who enjoys casual sex (even if she’s seriously interested in us) presses a lot of madonna/whore buttons. It’s easy to associate wild and evil, rarer to see an independent, sexually assertive woman as good (for related discussion, see here).
(Bat cover-art by J. Winslow Mortimer, all rights conceded to current owners)


Filed under Movies, Writing

4 responses to “Femmes fatale and bad girls

  1. I love Barbra Streisand in What’s Up Doc! Very cool to think of her as a “Good Bad Girl” archetype.

  2. Pingback: Enter: Manic Pixie Dream Girl! | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: Classifying characters | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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