Maybe it all started with The Bling Ring, but something tells me that the love of devious women began long before Sofia Coppola adapted the true-to-life tale of teenagers grifting Louboutins from Hollywood’s hottest stars.
Whether it’s scamming, cheating, lying, grifting, or straight-up thievery, it seems that history and pop culture can’t get enough of women willing to take a walk on the criminal side, especially when that activity coincides with a little bit of glamour and beauty. Sure, people love all kinds of true crime scam stories, but certain films, shows, and real-life figures to arise of late have alerted us to a very specific phenomenon: we, as a culture, love to watch a badass lady scam somebody.
In Sofia Coppola’s 2013 film The Bling Ring, the term “scam” can be loosely applied to the real-life story of the teens who formed a crew to break into celebrities’ homes while away on vacation. The way in which she captures the break-ins lends itself to scores of romanticisation. It can be summed up as easily as looking at the scene where the girls are picking out their outfits for their court hearing, where they’d eventually be sentenced to prison.
Over the years, especially with the advent of the internet age, people have perked their ears up even more for women who scam the general public. Signalled by half-ironic feminist motivations paired with that classic true-crime morbid curiosity, the 2010s and 2020s have become the era of not being able to look away from glamorous grifters.
Our brains are seemingly wired to be interested in scam artists anyway. Psychologist Maria Konnikova explains: “Con artists are not violent criminals. These are not people who murder anyone. They’re often not even people who break the law in traditional criminal ways because the origin of the term ‘con artist,’ of course, is in the word ‘confidence,’ as in faith, belief, trust ― have you the confidence in me to do this? So oftentimes what ends up happening is certain con artists don’t ever break the law. They ask for things, and people give them.”
Asking for things and simply being given them; that sounds like someone we know — Anna Delvy perhaps? Netflix hit show Inventing Anna is pretty much the poster child for a fabulous girl running away with her bag of cash. In fact, there are even entire Instagram pages dedicated to her courtroom outfits. Throughout the Netflix series, the journalist chronicling her story pieces together the wild means through which she slips into the world of New York luxury. Up until she stiffs a (not rich, and in fact very normal) friend and gets her in mountains of financial trouble, you get the sense that you should be rooting for her.
Especially in cases of women breaking their way into upper-echelon circles where they otherwise would never belong, skimming the fat off the wallets of the uber-wealthy, it’s easier than ever to root for the underdog. Most of the time, it doesn’t feel like a crime at all. It feels like Peter Pan in kitten heels or Robin Hood in an off-the-shoulder number.
Did Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton really miss the Chanel and YSL goodies that the Bling Ring nabbed from their homes? Did the sleazy guys in Hustlers really miss a couple of extra thousands that were charged to their credit cards? The easy answer is no.
However, the women scammers aren’t the only fabulous criminals in the spotlight. In fact, their male counterparts are everywhere, too, albeit in a different light. The Tinder Swindler is a recent example, but even Fyre and The Wolf of Wall Street show off the real-life machismo and toxic behaviour that can result in guys who will do whatever it takes to get whatever they want. But we as a public never seem to love the men who scam and steal the same way we eat it up when a woman does the same.
There are a few clear reasons why this might be. First, there’s the reality of the media’s attraction to women and scandal. Both men and women love to watch beautiful girls kick ass and cash cheques. Whether it’s a good or bad thing, it needs to be considered that without Bonnie, Clyde alone probably wouldn’t have made history. Second, white-collar crimes aren’t really anything new for men — corporate-flavoured toxicity culture has been around since the advent of the boys’ club. And when somebody does do something new or particularly egregious, it’s most often a result of arrogance that takes them both up and down, as was the case with Fyre. You watch them and wait for the other shoe to drop.
When we see stories of women grifting, it almost always feels like punching up, even long after they’ve more than lined their pockets. Take Hustlers, for example, this is a story not just about women, but about working-class women fending for themselves. From the jump, they do what they do with a clear purpose in mind. Taking care of a sick grandparent, fending for oneself after getting kicked out, feeding their children. These needs are so present in the narrative that even when it balloons into designer clothes and penthouse apartments, it’s hard for it not to feel like an earned win.
Of course, there’s a point where it all comes crashing down — as it must, considering the ability to tell all for the screenplay, the article, or the people of the internet. Even when getting wrapped up in a sense of poetic justice, there comes a point where things snap back to reality, where people go too far. Elizabeth Holmes can’t just go around messing with peoples’ medical information. Anna Delvy can’t just lie about funds to trick investment bankers. The Bling Ring, at the end of the day, were still breaking and entering and the Hustlers girls were still drugging and robbing people.
Even so, there’s a lingering sense that once their time is served, things will probably shake out fair and square. In fact, there’s probably a little part of all of us that crosses our fingers in the hopes they kept a few of their Louboutins.