Purdue News

May 19, 2006

Book: Femme fatale in art colors 19th century feminism in France

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A new book by a Purdue University professor examines how men in 19th century France attempted to stop the spread of feminism by using the femme fatale image in art to portray women as evil.

Elizabeth Menon Mix
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"Art was more accessible at this time than ever before because of improved printing technologies in France," says Elizabeth Menon Mix, an assistant professor of art history. "Posters, advertisements, literature and illustrated journals — today's version of a magazine — were all places where male artists could emphasize the evil aspects of women."

Femme fatale is French for deadly woman and usually describes a character that leads men to their destruction or death, Mix says.

"Evil by Design: The Creation and Marketing of the Femme Fatale" ($30) will be published in June by the University of Illinois Press. Mix's book includes 126 illustrations from posters, journals and advertisements showing how women were portrayed from 1865 to 1910. Some examples include women posing with serpents or controlling men on puppet strings.

The idea of the femme fatale is rooted in the biblical story of Eve being responsible for the fall of man. In addition to how Eve is portrayed in art, Mix also looks at how women were associated with fashion, tobacco and alcohol, evil motifs, serpents, and children.

"The important thing to note is that none of these images were drawn by women," Mix says. "Even the fashion industry was controlled by men. Feminists who were vocal in writing did not use visual images to send their messages, and they missed the opportunity to communicate to the masses through art.

"And this is where the French feminists failed. By not producing their own images, they allowed those created by men to dominate the popular press completely."

Mix is not only interested in the history of the femme fatale image, but also how similar images are used today to promote music, television shows and fashion.

"Often it's women who are using these images, and I want to know more about why women artists choose to do so in their work," she says.

Mix's work is supported by the College of Liberal Arts and the Patti and Rusty Rueff Department of Visual and Performing Arts.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, (765) 494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Elizabeth Menon Mix, snappyprof@yahoo.com

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


Note to Journalists: Journalists interested in review copies should contact Michael Roux at University of Illinois Press at (217) 244-4689, mroux@uiuc.edu.


Elizabeth Menon Mix, an assistant professor of art history at Purdue, poses with her graduate students' sculptures and drawings. Mix's new book, "Evil by Design: The Creation and Marketing of the Femme Fatale," examines how men used the femme fatale image in art to portray women as evil to help stop the spread of feminism in the 19th century. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)

A publication-quality photo is available at http://news.uns.purdue.edu/images/+2006/mix-femmfatale.jpg


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