The internet continually offers up new personas for women to adopt, often with political implications. The bimbo subculture, which rose in popularity over the last four years, has been interpreted as a reclamation of the term, a rejection of “girlboss” feminism and a nihilistic embrace of materialism. The tradwife identity also dismisses contemporary neoliberal feminism and trades it for a commitment to domesticity, rigid gender roles and conservatism. Amid those two subcultures, several branches and offshoots have emerged. On TikTok, the growing “soft” and “dark” feminine movements can be best understood as an amalgamation of both.
On the app, some women are calling for others to lean into the aforementioned soft and dark qualities of their “womanhood” as a sort of power move. There are a few central tenets at play here, the primary among them being treating attractiveness and seduction as skills that can be learned in order to quietly manipulate men to achieve what they want.
While soft and dark may not seem like synonymous qualities and are sometimes treated separately on TikTok, both define femininity according to the same principles, interpreting it according to a Marilyn Monroe fantasy of the soft-spoken, classic beauty who’s able to lean into the submissiveness of her gender for leverage against men. For some, the “darkness” comes in by playing up the perceived manipulative nature of this, or the idea that femininity and women have a sort of “shadow self” they can pull power from.
This isn’t new, of course — many of the people in the community cite the 2001 book The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene as a source of inspiration and guidance, which talks heavily about Monroe’s charm and femininity as implements of power. A lot of women involved in this discourse also believe Cleopatra used her femininity for political power in this way, along with countless others throughout history.
Nevertheless, it’s now being repackaged as a “strategy” on TikTok. One major purveyor is @SecretsofaSiren, who sells a set of e-books and guides on “how to get what you want from men,” as well as style tricks to help accomplish this. It’s here that the dark/soft feminine scene leans somewhat into bimboism, with hyper-femininity, makeup, dresses, perfumes and general glamor being of utmost importance. Her e-books are $13 a pop, though there’s a $29 “Villain Era” bundle, too.
Alexa Demie, Zendaya, Megan Fox and Bella Hadid are often included among inspiration videos, and it’s thought that they knowingly embody their siren personality and dark feminine energy. Obviously, they’re also just extremely hot — broadly speaking, the world of a dark femme is one where conventional beauty and cis heteronormative standards remain the rule.
But it’s not just looks that make a siren — it’s what she does with them. Notably, these e-books and guides discuss something called the “siren gaze,” a popular move in the dark feminine scene. “Lowering the eyelids while simultaneously raising the eyebrows and looking up and slightly parting the lips is a combination that women have used for centuries to show sexual submissiveness,” one e-book on the topic states. “Research has shown that this is the expression many women have before an orgasm, and men’s brains pick up on this subconsciously.” (No sources are cited to support these claims.)
Elsewhere are instructions about how one should suggest sex. The task of the siren and her gaze is to imply eroticism as much as possible, down to making a biological statement of it through her face, yet without ever becoming too forthcoming or overtly sexual. This is the same Madonna-whore bind that women have faced for centuries — the same one that encourages them to conform to men’s often conflicting desires instead of asserting their own.
Regardless, this gaze has become somewhat of a popular trend among members of the siren subculture who believe that embodying it is key to getting men to bend to their will. Men who witness it will supposedly be haunted by the siren’s memory and think of her constantly. Interestingly, though, the TikToks receive little to no input from men to confirm or deny the effectiveness of these tactics. Rather, there are dozens of comments from women “claiming” the message or noting how good it feels to finally “accept” their role.
Why would a woman want this, beyond the ego boost? An unspoken possibility is finding a wealthy husband. The glitz of the persona requires money to maintain, and corporate work doesn’t quite align with the image. Meanwhile, part of the siren identity is said to be a mysterious quietness, and inherent submissive nature that allows men to feel like men. With this, sirens touch upon the tradwife identity, promoting a similar idea of the ideal roles of a woman and how to best fulfill it.
There’s definitely something insidious about this, as it relies upon regressive, centuries-old ideologies about gender and a woman’s place in the world. In some cases, though, the dark feminine is more about honoring one’s own needs: For example, there are several videos on the topic of saying “no” to men who don’t respect you enough or treat you as a last-minute possibility.
Either way, it’s hard not to see dark femininity and the siren character as merely repackaged versions of women’s online identities we’ve been witnessing for the last several years, albeit with a slightly more spiritual component in their emphasis on “energy” and “shadow selves.”
Their gaze, then, is not nearly as remarkable as they think.