The History of Seduction – Part II

| June 27, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Miranda Likeman

Following on from Part I we continue our look at the history of seduction by picking up tips from consummate seductresses along the way…
The Tools of Seduction.

Attitude

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It’s a secret – albeit a long-dormant one – that men are drawn to women they don’t think they can ever quite possess. “Women spend all this time chasing down this elusive thing called love,” says Betsy Prioleau, author of Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World and Their Lost Art of Love (Viking).  “All they need is a tiny bit of resistance, a little demonstration of their independence and the next thing you know, they will be worshiped,” she says.

Seduction is “99 percent mental sorcery,” she says, and is achieved through a carefully orchestrated sequence of emotional opposites. “Quiescence and ecstasy, intimacy and distance, pleasure and pain.”
“History tells us that the great seductresses of yore had the nerve to say ‘I’m fabulous … how dare you try to make me into something I’m not?’ And they were completely impervious to public opinion, something we all fear nowadays,” she says. “Women can take back their erotic selves, they just need to be more aware and have some gumption.”

Fashion Forward

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Clothes in themselves have never been considered particularly erotic, says Cox. Instead it is the art of revealing or concealing the body beneath that was paramount in creating a sexual charge – the frission engendered by a chance glimpse of a forbidden part of the body. “Sensuality was conveyed through the outline of a thigh, the exposure of a hint of décolletage, or the sway and bounce of a petticoat,” she says. “Thus the woman presented her body as a delicious package to be unwrapped, seemingly passive yet extraordinarily predatory; stimulating what Freud was to dub the ‘libido for looking’. It is in understanding the arts of titillation, flirtation and tease that makes a seductress, especially in an age suffering from an over abundance of naked bodies.”

Fashion historian James Laver proposed an idea of a shifting erogenous zone to define what is specifically alluring about woman’s fashion at any one time. “Fashionable styles zone in on a particular area of the body that is deemed erotic and women take pains to display it to the delight of men. As men become used to the delicious sight, an entirely new erogenous zone moves to arouse men’s interest once again. Fashion is then an endlessly shifting tableau of eroticism,” says Cox.

Prioleau suggests that the women of today learning from the past by finding their own personal style. “Be a style-setter, dress distinctively. There’s a magnetic field, a wonderful swagger that comes with saying, ‘This is who I am.’ And you can’t get it by rushing down to buy that pair of Manolo Blahniks.”

Words of Seduction

In the seventeenth century, Greene says men became interested in seduction as a way to overcome a young woman’s resistance to sex. “History’s first great male seducers began to adopt the methods traditionally employed by women. They learned to dazzle with their appearance but added a new, masculine element to the game: seductive language, for they had discovered a woman’s weakness for soft words,” he says.
Prioleau agrees. “Sartre said seduction is all about fascinating language. It’s why courtesans studied speech, as well as storytelling and poetry. Words are potent, erotic and powerful. The French have a saying: marry for conversation – it’s the only thing that lasts.”

Scent of a woman

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Those who doubt how powerful the scent of a woman can be should consider the female gypsy moth, whose odour is so powerful that a single molecule can be picked up by a male hovering seven miles away. Indeed it was animal sexual and glandular secretions such as musk, ambergris, civet and castor that were first to have intoxicating effects on humans and remain the fundamental essences of perfumes today. The Greeks and Romans loved to lavish perfume upon themselves, their clothes and their home furnishings. The emperor Nero doused, splashed and sprayed more perfume at the funeral of his wife than the entire country of Arabia could produce in a year.

But such excesses angered the Church, and in the second century church fathers condemned the use of perfume, instantly making it synonymous with debauchery. Its popularity during the Machiavellian 17th and 18th centuries coupled with the rarity of its ingredients made it a purchase only the rich could afford, adding an air of decadence to its lure.

Make up

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Luxury and eroticism are also heavily intertwined with the use of make up. The desire for sexual attractiveness is the primary purpose behind the use of cosmetics – reddening the lips to imitate the appearance of the labia, making the eyes appear larger to increase the illusion of vulnerability. Members of the leisured classes of many societies developed the use of cosmetics as a pastime, passing long days being pampered and painted to retain the sexual favour of men.

Therefore until the 20th century, make up was mainly used by the wealthy, aristocratic and the disreputable. The immoral, usually prostitutes and mistresses of high society used cosmetics as their stock in trade. While the use of cosmetics fluctuates with the social climate of each society, they come into great demand during times of great decadence and permissiveness. The use of cosmetics in the 20th century was a reflection of a relaxation of morals – after all, during the World Wars women were sought for the labour market for the first time and became self-sufficient – often using make up to compete for the reduced number of men. Most women who could not afford a new dress could purchase a new lipstick, rocketing cosmetic manufacturers to the dynasties they are today.

Biblical Babe

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Salome was the daughter of the Jewish princess Herodias and stepdaughter of Herodias’s uncle, Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee in Palestine. Her infamy comes from causing the execution of St. John the Baptist through her seduction of Herod through dance. The saint widely condemned the incestuous marriage of Herodias and Herod Antipas, as Herodias divorced from Antipas’s half brother Philip. Incensed by the charge, Herod had John imprisoned, but feared backlash too much to condemn him to death. Herodias was not placated by John’s incarceration and manipulated her daughter Salome to ‘seduce’ her stepfather, making him willing to grant her any request. At her mother’s behest, Salome danced for Herod and his lords, high captains and chief estates ofGalilee at his birthday dinner. Entranced by Salome’s seductive movements, ‘the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom,’ (Mark 6:21-29).  Unaware of the power of the spell she had cast with her dance, Salome asked her mother what request she should make of her stepfather, to which the mischievious Herodias replied ‘the head of John the Baptist.’ Herod unwillingly complied. Since appearing in the bible, Salome has appeared many times as a master seducer in literature and art. Oscar Wilde wrote a one-act play about her to shock audiences with its spectacle of perverse passions and Strauss created a one-act opera about her in 1905. Eva Green plays a character called Salome in the latest James Bond, Casino Royale.  In most depictions Salome is portrayed as a seductress and a murderer of a saint, thereby becoming a symbol of the erotic and dangerous woman, the femme fatale.

Walk like an Egyptian

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Cleopatra is the best known of all the ancient Egyptian queens, remembered for her intelligence, political nous, knowledge of literature, mathematics, astronomy, medicine and great talent for languages – of which she could speak several. She ascended the throne at 18 years old to co-rule with her younger brother Ptolemy – to whom she was married according to Egyptian law. As Ptolemy was only 12, Cleopatra ruled pretty much as she pleased. But as her brother grew older many people rallied around his bid for power, and eventually Cleopatra was exiled to Syria. Then Ptolemy made an ill fated move in an attempt to curry favour with Julius Caesar, and when his plans backfired the Roman Leader seized the Egyptian capital and imposed himself as arbiter between Ptolemy and Cleopatra. Eager to take advantage of Caesar’s anger with Ptolemy, Cleopatra had herself returned to the palace smuggled in a Persian carpet. Upon seeing her Caesar abandoned his plans to occupy Egypt and restored Cleopatra to her throne. Despite a 30-year age difference, Cleopatra and Caesar became lovers and following the birth of their child she joined Caesar in Rome. After his assassination she fled to Egypt, aware that she was once again vulnerable to being overthrown. When summoned by one of three possible successors of Caesar, Mark Antony, to question her loyalty – Cleopatra once again displayed her political savvy and intelligence and made plans to seduce her would be inquisitor. In 41 BC arrived on a magnificent river barge dressed as Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Successful in her efforts, Antony returned with her to Alexandria, where they lived in debauchery and eventually had three children together. Throughout history Cleopatra has been remembered as a seductress who fought to be an intelligent, active figure of political power.

The Ultimate Femme Fatale

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In the early 1900’s Dutch woman Margaretha Zelle took the stage name of Mata Hari and became an overnight success as an exotic dancer and mistress of seduction.  Promiscuous, flirtatious and happy to openly flaunt her body, Mata Hari captivated audiences and the public alike. Posing as a princess of Indian birth, the flamboyant Mata Hari claimed to have been taught a sacred dance.  She was widely acclaimed for her carefree, provocative stage act; her free willed attitude, sexually explicit performances and for being a successful courtesan in the upper classes, having relationships with many high-ranking military officers, politicians and others in influential positions. Not known for being remarkably beautiful, Mata Hari was nevertheless a highly desired woman whose spirit overflowed with eroticism.  But as World War I approached she began to be seen as a wanton, promiscuous woman and dangerous seductress. When the war began, Margaretha began to travel across borders regularly and her movements began to attract attention. In January 1917, French intelligence agents’ intercepted messages sent to the Germans and identified Mata Hari as their source.  By February Mata Hari had been arrested and put on trial for being a spy. She was found guilty and was executed by firing squad in October that same year, aged 41. Mata Hari’s status as an exotic dancer working as a spy, using her powers of seduction to extract military secrets from her many lovers, has made her an enduring archetype of the femme fatale.

The Thinker

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Lou Andreas-Salome was one of the founding mothers of psychoanalysis and considered a peer of Sigmund Freud. She sought an education beyond a typical woman’s station for the late 19th century, persuading Dutch preacher Hendrik Gillot to teach her theology, philosophy, world religions, and French and German literature when she was just 17. When Gillot became so smitten with Lou that he announced plans to divorce his wife and marry her, Lou went to Switzerland, where she aquired a university education. By 1912 she was a celebrity author/intellectual and the toast of Vienna. By this time her list of lovers both male and female was in the hundreds and included the likes of Frederick Nietzsche and philosopher Paul Ree, both of whom she lived with in a ménage a trios; poet Rainier Maria Rilke and even Freud. One suitor committed suicide for want of her love, and two others, including Nietzsche, attempted to end it all because their attentions were spurned. What was her secret, being that even at the time she wasn’t considered attractive? Betsy Prioleau, author of Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World and Their Lost Art of Love (Viking) attributes her success to charisma, brains and power.  “She wore no makeup and favoured sack dresses,” says Prioleau. “When she was with Rilke, 15 years her junior, she was often mistaken for his mother. But she was her own woman, realising that wit, brains, empathy and self-sufficiency – the opposite of neediness – were far more important gifts,” she says. Andreas-Salome wrote in one article “women do not need men in any sense!” So of course men lay at her feet. The trade-off might lead to an unconventional life but a memorable one, says Prioleau. “She was called all kinds of names in the press and was never completely accepted. But when she died, even though she was yellow and had lost her hair due to renal failure, she still had devoted lovers who waited on her hand and foot. There are worse ways to go.”

Magnificent Marilyn

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According to Caroline Cox in her book Seduction; a celebration of sensual style (Mitchell Beazley) Marilyn Monroe was the talk of the town due to her infamous lack of undergarments.. “She confided to columnist Earl Wilson in 1952 that she wore ‘nothing, nothing at all – no panties, slips, girdles or bras’ so that she could feel unhampered,” says Cox. In fact she caused a scandal at the 1953 annual Photoplay dinner, arriving in a floor-length gold lame one-piece dress made deliberately one size too small that she literally had to be sewn into it. “Even the designer begged her not to wear the gown, because he felt she was too fat for it, but after two colonic irrigations Monroe made her entrance, making every other female star there appear dull by contrast,” says Cox.. A guest present at the event remembered that ‘because her dress was so tight around her knees, she walked with mincing little steps which emphasized the rotation of her hips. Her curves shimmered in the golden dress as she walked slowly to the head table.” Director Billy Wilder capitalized on Marilyn’s habit of wearing nothing under her clothes for Some Like It Hot. “She came in with her two balconies sticking out… and she always seems surprised that her body is kicking up such excitement. Of course she helps it along by never wearing a girdle or brassiere in a scene, that’s why she is fat around the tummy. I say more power to her without a girdle. So we’re back to the women of Rubens… is that bad?”

Titillating von Teese

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A fashion darling and innovator, Dita Von Teese is the modern International Queen of Burlesque and has secured her place in the global spotlight with her elegance, style and wit. She has been listed on prestigious best-dressed lists and is a muse of haute couturiers. A trained ballerina, Dita’s artful and provocative performances bring pin-up imagery to life and make the erotic fabulous. In 2005, she married alt-rocker/performance artist, Marilyn Manson. Her book, Burlesque, and The Art of The Teese was published in 2006 (Harper Collins). She is one of the latest celebrities to starin the advertising campaign for MAC to promote the new Viva Glam VI Lipstick and Lipglass, of which 100% of the proceeds will go to help people who are living with HIV/AIDS.

Dita’s tips for seducing a man include:

  • Wear something that feels nice to the touch, like velvet, silk or cashmere.
  • Wear your signature scent lightly and make him lean in close to smell it.
  • Apply lipstick in full view of your victim. This is particularly effective when done slowly and with a pretty compact.
  • Adjust your garter or stockings as though you were attempting to do it discreetly.
  • Allow your stiletto heel to dangle from one foot.
  • Touch yourself lightly in places you would want him to touch such as your neck, hair or face. Do this subtly as he talks to you and remember to be fascinated by every word he says.
  • Go to the powder room. Captivate every man in the room by gliding confidently and effortlessly across the room in your stilettos.

Miranda Likeman has been every kind of journalist you could name. At present she writes mostly about fashion and beauty, subjects on which she has much experience, but not in a stuffy inaccessible way. She loves a bargain and making the affordable look expensive.

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Category: Commentary, Inspiring Women

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