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Female Antagonists. Where are they?

While trying very hard to get some sleep, I came to a realisation. I don’t tend to write female villains. Now, I already knew that I’m not good at male protagonists, but I’d never noticed the lack of female antagonists before. So I thought about my stories one by one.

Terey Isabella: Three out of seven Opakiyn members are women. Main antagonist a man. In series overall, Gwynnie and Tiyn are important antagonists. Primary antagonist overall is Mardek, a man.

Lu’Mi: Primary antagonist male, with posse of male cronies. All females in the story positive characters.

Story no one knows about: Single definitive antagonist. Female.

Dido Darke: Dido is the antagonist, but she is also the good guy. The narrator is evil. Doesn’t count as villain.

Emily the Pirate: If I have to pick an antagonist, I pick one of the women, but it barely counts.

The Story About Stories: Entirely archetypal, so obviously evil Stepmother.

Patience: No antagonist in current or any previous incarnation. Least positive character male.

The Man in Room 13 The Man is male, obviously.

Not as few women as I thought, but negative characters overwhelmingly men overall. But what about LorF, you ask?

All: We didn’t.

Rebecca gave us Sabrina Mayson and Jen gave us Chantal (who has a very small role, proportionately). We all know Mrs. Ymene to be a shifty bitch, but that’s backstory and never seen in canon. Male antagonists are many: Ymene, Egis, Joubert, Shevris, Cameron, Beenym, Hellys, Yrgna and even Colonel Finch. Unless you’re writing as Enemy, in which case, you would easily have vicious antagonists in Cassandra and Cate. Gender bias here is obvious. And we’re not sorry.

But then I realised that female villains are, on the whole, missing from my influences as well. I thought about my favourite books, films and TV shows and looked for female villains or antagonists.

Star Wars: Two major villains (Vader and Emperor). Both male. Minor villain (Grand Moff Tarquin), also male.

Lord of the Rings: Only one fleshed out female character. All villains (Sauron, Saruman) male.

Obernewtyn: Major villain (Ariel) male. Minor villains include two women (Vega and Erin) but many more men (Malik, Jude, The Druid, the entire Herder Clan and the Council). Two villainous organisations, both exclusively male.

Harry Potter: Major villain (Voldemort) male. Lesser villains (Quirrel, Barty Crouch, Jr., Draco, Lucius, Dudley, Mr. Dursley) primarily male. Female villains (Umbridge, Bellatrix and perhaps Petunia) wildly outnumbered. All death eaters are male, except Bella.

Shrek: Villains, major and minor, largely male in all three films (Faarquad, Robin Hood, Prince Charming, the King), plus one female (Fairy Godmother).

The Princess Bride: Three villains (Humperdink, Count Rugen and Vizzini), all male.

Casablanca: All villains male.

Singing in the Rain: Antagonist (Leena) female.

Buffy: One Big Bad each season (Master, Drusilla and Angelus, Mayor, Adam, Glory, Willow, First). Glory definitely counts, as does Dru. Willow is evil for three episodes and good for seven seasons, so I don’t count that. Memorable lesser villains largely male (Spike, gangster with a shark head, musical demon, the Judge, Warren, Jonathon’s negative energy, the Gentlemen) but some female (Faith, Maggie).

Firefly: Four villains seen more than once (Niska, Badger, Blue Hand Men, Yosaffbridge). One female, though extremely awesome. Serenity villain male, obviously.

V for Vendetta: Two major villains (Sutcliffe and Creedy), both male.

Philadelphia: Antagonists are large line of male lawyers. Their own lawyer is a woman, but she also shows sympathetic traits.

Pride and Prejudice: Three antagonists (Miss Bingley, Wickham and Lady Catherine). Two for one female. I don’t count Mr. Collins as an antagonist as he isn’t a threat, in my opinion.

Jane Austen, if you examine all six books, has an excellent male to female antagonist ratio.

Sense and Sensibility: Willoughby is a victim of his own folly, not an antagonist. Thus only two antagonists (Fanny and Lucy), both female.

But then, take a look at Fairy Tales! Here are some of the major ones we tell children.

Snow White: Female villain.

Cinderella: Three female villains.

Rumplestiltskin: Male villain.

Sleeping Beauty: Female villain.

Rapunzel: Female villain.

Witches and evil stepmothers abound.

So, where am I going with this? Nowhere in particular. Draw your own conclusions. Who are some of your favourite female villains/antagonists? Looking at your own writing, do you randomly discover the same gender bias?



( 1 comment! — Make Remark! )
Jun. 15th, 2009 02:05 pm (UTC)
I actually think it reflects the male dominance in literature, film, etc. as a whole rather than just in the villain department. If you take a look back at what you mentioned, quite a few are male-dominated full stop.

There's also the infamous dichotomy of patriarchal culture: women are pure angels or vile demons - there's not much in between. And don't forget the common theme of good women needing to be protected by men, especially in fairy-tales, and that the evil women are simply envious of the purity and beauty of good women (i.e. Snow White / Cinderella / Sleeping Beauty).

One of my favourite female villains is Cruella de Ville from Disney's 101 Dalmatians (cartoon version only) - this freaks people out for reasons I cannot understand. (Hell Hall is AWESOME.) But then, I have a habit of quoting Scar from the Lion King rather frequently, so maybe there is something odd about me.
( 1 comment! — Make Remark! )

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