Femme Fatal or an Angel: Which woman would you choose?

Gone with the wind

Do you remember the movie “Gone with the wind”? I watched it a long time ago with my parents; it captivated me back then. With time, I forgot most of the details, but the resilience of Scarlet, the heroine, stayed with me. I still remind myself when things get rough “that tomorrow is another day.”

I watched the movie again a few days back, nostalgia for old films seems to be prevalent during the COVID19 days.

This time, I had a totally different reaction to Scarlet. I was pissed off!

Scarlet was a beautiful young woman with a zest for life. Playful and confident, she knew how to play the games of seduction to capture young men’s hearts. When the war left her and her family devastated with no money nor power, Scarlet fought for her survival and to provide for her family. To do that, she reverted to a skill many women mastered over the years – borrowing power from powerful men through seduction and manipulation. She was the embodiment of the Femme Fatal archetype shadow.

Men worshipped her and were happy to provide her the life she dreamt of -a life of money, power, and extravagant luxuries. Her needs and desires were met; however, her heart was shielded, and she never experienced true love with another.

I kept asking myself: Why am I angry?

In her excellent book “The Dark Side of The Light Chasers,” Debbie Ford provided us with a simple tool to get in touch with hidden parts of our psyche. She invites us to look carefully when someone triggers a highly charged negative reaction within us. That visceral response might be a reflex to something profound that we have buried and that we neither want to look at nor to bring to awareness or light. The person who triggered us might be mirroring back one of our shadows. A shadow that is alive in our subconscious and directs our behaviors and decisions without us being aware of.

After a bit of reflection, I finally realized what was happening within me. 

I was relating to the other heroine in the movie, Melanie.

Melanie was a woman with a pure heart and high moral standards. She was an embodiment of the Angel archetype. Melanie enjoyed a simple life with devotion to her family, God, and the service of others – no big adventures nor extravagant luxuries. She sacrificed personal ambitions to be of service to others.

Melanie wore simple colorless dresses and her kind face rarely experienced makeup. The community respected her, though, unlike Scarlett, she exhibited no external power.

Melanie resembled the model of a “good” woman advocated in the society I grew up in with cultural moral norms that tend to be much more restrictive for women. 

If, as a teenager, I had to choose between growing up to be like Scarlet or Melanie, I would select Melanie. Morality mattered to me. However, I didn’t aspire for Melanie’s vanilla life.

Watching the movie again, brought back the frustration of that teenager who thought she only had one of those two choices, the angel or femme fatal.

My anger with Scarlet was a mix of moral rage and jealousy.

Was Scarlet a villain, or a victim?

For centuries, women surrendered to rules from higher patriarchal authorities that taught women not to explore their personal agency. Women were deprived of the means to have financial and personal independence. Young girls were conditioned to wait for the knight on his white horse to come and give his princess a life.

Many ambitious women had to do what our shadow heroine Scarlet did out of survival.

Was I mirroring Melanie or Scarlet? Which woman did I choose to become?

I was lucky that I was born fiercely independent. That trait created new choices for me.

Being fiercely independent, I found myself unintentionally bordering on the sacred ground of creating my own destiny and reclaiming my power of choice.

Back in my twenties, I didn’t think of myself as a rebel nor a feminist. I was just eager to learn, experience, and explore the world. So, I entered the corporate world – the world of power and money. I was committed to excel and willing to put the effort needed to thrive, and I did.

Yet, my real challenge was letting go of the image of the “good woman” that I was indoctrinated into. It took me time to rebel against the gender-based societal norms that framed a “good woman” and to craft my own version of “good”. Releasing my subconscious belief that “good women” don’t have power was hard.

Gradually I started replacing values dictated by the society with ones to that I personally wanted to live by and that I thought made me a better human being – more accurately, a more “conscious” human being. A human being that contributes to the wellbeing of myself and others. I held myself accountable for living according to the values I chose. 

I discovered that being a conscious human being doesn’t require denouncing life’s worldly pleasures. I chose a life of color, beauty, and ecstatic.

I found out that self-sacrifice is not a pre-requisite for morality and that the win-lose situations that I used to create, where I lose to make others happy, lacked imagination. I committed to honoring my own needs and I found my way into a better balance of giving and receiving.

I realized that I have the freedom to pick and choose from the characteristics of both Melanie and Scarlet and from many other role models.

My freedom came with a new belief that morality is subjective and that my integrity is a better compass to live my life rather than society’s norms and expectations. 

I also experienced  the value of owning my personal power; it gave me the freedom of choice to design the life I desired and to have a positive influence in the world.

For women to live freely and fully express their potential, they need to embark on their personal Hero’s Journey. When a woman answers the call to reclaim her own agency, she will find herself setting on an adventure away from her comfort zone and into unfamiliar territories. She will need to risk challenging the spoken and unspoken societal rules and to pay the price that comes with that. Her path will be full of obstacles and tests. Those obstacles are learning opportunities for the woman to gain new skills and new insights not only about the external world but, more importantly, about who she is. She will discover her own talents and uniqueness. 

If she commits to the journey, the woman will come back home, probably wounded and exhausted, but also transformed. She will be a free woman to craft her own destiny and to choose how to bring value to the world. 

She will be a guide to other women showing them the way to their personal hero’s journey.