The best approach to creating female villains
By Angela Espinoza, News Editor
Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel Gone Girl originally came out in 2012. The book quickly gained momentum as a modern crime-thriller, and as of October 3, a film adaptation is out in theatres. Like the book, the film has been highly praised, with some calling it the best movie of the year. However, both the book and the film have been consistently debated as to whether or not they are misogynistic.
Gone Girl revolves around the disappearance of a woman named Amy Dunne, to the shock of her husband Nick Dunne. Amy has been kidnapped, and as the horrific situation leaves Nick socially numb, reporters begin to suspect Nick as the culprit.
While the film differs slightly from the novel, both works have left many wondering if their development of one female character went too far. The potential antagonist is an unstable, borderline-sociopathic woman. Flynn has repeatedly defended her fictional character, which led me to consider if female villains in fiction are detrimental to female society.
When women villains are used in works of media, the audience should question the character’s development. Is she bad for the sake of being bad? Does she have a history that led her down a dark path? Most importantly if we’re discussing a female character’s treatment, are her villainous ways somehow associated with her femininity, her sexuality, her body, or her defaulted association with caregiving?
Seduction from women and sexual assault from men are two concepts often used in entertainment to clarify just how evil the villain is. The implication is that only truly heartless monsters would commit such atrocious acts—because forcing yourself on another person is totally the same thing as hooking up. Nonetheless, women using their sexuality for gain is a trope still used in villainous female characters today, and it’s a trope that our character in question from Gone Girl exhibits.
Not all female villains are bad though, in that a story can certainly work with female antagonists without being detrimental to women on the whole. Some of the best female villains include the ladies of Kill Bill’s Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, however O-Ren Ishii is the example I’ll use here.
O-Ren is developed; she has a clear history that led to her becoming a powerful leader, despite her beginnings and the disdain from her male cohorts. Yes, she is an antagonist, but the audience does not hate her. In fact, it wouldn’t be inappropriate to say she might be the film’s best character, next to the Bride of course.
In turn, one could use Beth Jarrett from 1980’s Ordinary People as an example of an excellent female antagonist whom the audience is likely to despise. Still reeling from the accidental death of her eldest son, Beth has grown cold and unloving towards her second son, Conrad. However, Beth’s unwillingness to play the role of Conrad’s mother is not what makes her a great villain. What makes her so unlikeable is how cruel she is as a person, which is not defined by her being a woman or mother in the film. In fact, the role could have easily been that of the father and it wouldn’t have changed the emotional weight of the film.
My point is that a great female antagonist should simply be a great antagonist. She should be defined by her actions, actions that shouldn’t be influenced by her gender or the predisposed stereotypes.