You’ve probably run into this story too. There are two women. One is gentle, romantic and chaste. The other is sexually active, demanding, predatory. The actively sexual woman dresses in an overtly sexual way and may push her attentions towards the hero of the tale. She may seduce him. She may use her sexuality to hold power over him. By the end of the story, she will probably be dead, and the hero will get it together with the nice girl.
Outside of erotic fiction, the odds of running into a story about a woman who is both sympathetic and sexual, are much reduced. There’s the tart with a heart option – Pretty Woman being the most obvious example. There’s Salma Hayek in Desperado, and I’m struggling now to think of anyone else. It is normal in stories however, to associate enthusiasm for sex with being evil, and I can think of many examples of that. If a female character is at risk of being turned to the dark side, then as in Legend, or Mirror Mask, she’ll get a much sexier wardrobe.
The idea that a sexually potent woman has an unpleasant kind of power over men is with us in all kinds of ways, and not just in fiction. The idea that empowered female sexuality is inevitably disempowering for, and dangerous to men.
Looking back, I can see how much this kind of story got into my head and formed my sense of who I was supposed to be. It wasn’t until I got into the world of erotic fiction in my twenties that I had regular exposure to stories about women who are sexy and good. Stories about women who know what they want and aren’t afraid to go after it, and are still good people. Stories about women with intense sexual appetites, who are also good people. The years I spent reading, and editing other people’s tales in which female sexuality was de-coupled from ideas about being a good or bad person, helped me enormously.
The idea that female sexuality is sinful to the point of being evil, is an idea that comes to us mostly through Christianity. Many of our Pagan stories have passed through the hands of Christian scribes, too, so it’s hard to know how much they have changed. I think about Blodeuwedd, made out of flowers and given to a man, turned into owls. I think about the innate promiscuity of flowers. I think about Aphrodite, and Ishtar and Mabh of the friendly thighs – there are better models for female sexuality out there.
I wonder also if I’d be more at ease with a female identity, and less drawn towards gender fluid stuff, if the evil sexy women who dominate our stories did not still have some space inside my head.