Is the ‘dark feminine energy’ trend actually fuelled by misogyny?

Written by Katie Rosseinsky

An internet trend calling for women to embrace their ‘dark feminine energy’ when dating is more misogynistic than empowering, writes Katie Rosseinsky.

“Text him ‘come over’ and don’t reply.” “Manipulation is necessary to come out a winner in the dating world.” “Never show a man you like him, just let him do the work.” During an idle scroll through TikTok, these nuggets of dating advice flash before my eyes, often superimposed onto images of aloof, glamorous women. Have I landed upon the female version of Andrew Tate’s Hustler’s University? Not quite.

My social media algorithm has, it turns out, inducted me into the world of femme fatale coaches, who dish out advice on how to channel your “dark feminine energy” in order to make a man “obsessed” with you.

Archive video clips of Angelina Jolie and Megan Fox tossing their hair proliferate under the #femmefatale hashtag, which has notched up 2.1 billion views to date (#darkfeminineenergy, meanwhile, has just shy of 800 million views). Lana del Rey is, inevitably, the go-to soundtrack, and there are plenty of tutorials on the best way to use your “siren gaze” (which involves narrowing your eyes, raising your brows and opening your mouth ever so slightly) to attract attention and inspire instant devotion. If your interest is truly piqued, you can graduate to a paid e-book or course (because if it’s online, it’s safe to assume that someone has monetised it). 

Embracing the “dark feminine”, it seems, is all about championing the shadowy, less socially acceptable side of the self – and learning how to use that to your advantage, particularly when it comes to romance. 

Some of the advice being dispensed appears pretty straightforward. “Rejection isn’t as personal as it seems” and “Worry less about if they like you and more about if you like them” are pretty solid mantras. Some of the video clips use the ‘Hey ladies!’ speech rhythms of a hen do WhatsApp group; others strike a more mystical tone, name-checking Lilith, the original she-demon found in Jewish folklore. 

Delve a little further, though, and you soon end up in knottier territory. Manipulation tips abound, advocating mind games and borderline gaslighting (“Call him, let it ring twice and then hang up” feels straight out of Toxic Relationships 101).

From The Odyssey’s enchantresses to film noir villainesses, the devious femme fatale is a trope as old as time, the antithesis of the so-called good girl. But are these coaches reclaiming that, or simply dressing up old stereotypes with a dash of 2023-friendly pseudo-empowerment? 

Hope Flynn, the founder of online women’s self-empowerment platform FeedMeFemale and head of content at iPlaySafe, makes a convincing case for the benefits of channelling this “more assertive” energy into your romantic life. “In dating [dark feminine energy], it is about setting boundaries, knowing when to say ‘no’ to people and being able to take control in order to manifest more positive outcomes,” she says. “It’s about knowing exactly what you want, what you will accept and what you will not tolerate.” 

The trend has emerged as part of a rise in “women reclaiming ownership of themselves” by regaining control of their sexuality, Flynn adds. “We are in a world,” she says, “where dating and relationships have become disposable” – and channelling these “dark feminine” vibes might help women boost their confidence.

Setting boundaries, not being afraid to say ‘no’ – these are tactics that can help establish “respect, open communication, mutual negotiation and compromising”, all “key ingredients for a healthy and lasting relationship”, according to clinical integrative psychotherapist Chryssa Chalkia. 

So far, so good. But when the internet’s self-appointed romance gurus start to centre the man’s perspective, we’re beginning to venture into murkier territory (the world of the “femme fatale” is deeply heteronormative –potential partners are always male). Advice that hinges around “making him obsessed” or “getting him back” risks encouraging (female) viewers to see themselves largely as a vessel for (male) attention –or, as Flynn puts it, “tapping into their ‘dark feminine energy’ as a way of becoming more desirable to men”. The ‘femme fatale’ woman starts to become ironically passive, sublimating her personality in order to present herself as a mysterious cypher. 

This, Flynn adds, “definitely has a danger of reinforcing old fashioned dating attitudes – the way a woman should dress, how she should behave… with the aim of getting male attention”. Hardly empowering stuff. Boiled down to base principles, much of the coaches’ advice echoes the tenets laid out in 90s dating bibles like The Rules, which encouraged women to play “hard to get” and let “Mr Right” pursue them. “The essence remains the same,” Chalkia says – to “create a power imbalance and gain control”.

And yet maybe it’s not entirely surprising that apparently old-fashioned tactics are making a stealth comeback. In the era of dating app fatigue, it’s easy to feel totally disempowered by modern romance. Research from Hinge last year found that 61% of its users felt overwhelmed by modern dating, while a study from Singles Report (a US-based data analysis company specialising in, you guessed it, dating data) found that four in five adults have “experienced some degree of emotional fatigue or burnout” while using apps to find love. 

Against this dispiriting backdrop, perhaps some women want to feel like they are doing things on their own terms – that channelling their inner “femme fatale” might give them the upper hand, or at least cushion them from the crushing disappointment of being ghosted.

Digital media sociologist Dr Rachel Katz is an honorary research fellow at the University of Salford, whose research explores how new technologies impact our social relationships on- and offline. App users, she explains, have “differing ideas of what the social norms and etiquette on dating apps are”, while most dating apps “prioritise convenience and therefore make it really to just ghost, get straight to the point or even be rude without any real-life consequences”.

More than a decade on from Tinder’s launch, there are still no hard and fast rules about what’s acceptable behaviour when it comes to app-based dating. Online advice-givers, Katz suggests, “might be taking advantage of people’s confusion about what to do on dating apps, in that they don’t know what their gendered social roles are in this fairly new digital situation”. 

In the past, she points out, “gendered social roles in courtship were stricter – which wasn’t necessarily great, but it was clearer… Now it’s more of a free-for-all.”

Videos, tips, e-books – whatever form it is packaged in, much of this online advice presents “a quick fix, a quick solution to solve our problem without really thinking about the initial cause,” Chalkia notes. Tempting as it might be to buy into the ‘femme fatale’narrative, there are no real shortcuts to meaningful romance. Playing mind games, acting like nothing can hurt you, projecting an ice-cold persona: none of these things are likely to truly pay off in the long run, because they provide weak foundations for a relationship.

Intimacy, Chalkia adds, is rooted in a willingness “to be authentic and true to yourself”. If you’re constantly embodying a role, vying for the upper hand and keeping others at a distance, you’re doing the opposite. “If you are not your authentic self” with a potential partner, she suggests, “then you are investing in a relationship that is doomed to fail”. And doesn’t that sound exhausting? 

Images: Getty

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