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Ways Female Villains Are Done Dirty In TV And Film

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JUSTICE FOR BADASS VILLAINOUS LADIES!!!

Sexism in TV and film can often be really apparent. Like when there are no female characters.


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Or the female characters only exist in relation to men’s pain and arcs. Or women are portrayed as less capable than men. Or assault and abuse of women is portrayed for drama and shock value. Or when the female characters are put in revealing clothing while the male characters aren’t. I could go on all day.

But oftentimes it can be a lot more subtle — yet still just as damaging. One example of subtextual sexism in television comes with the handling of male vs. female villains.


The CW

I am ALL FOR female villains! But unfortunately, a lot of the time they aren’t handled super well.

Below, let’s look at different ways that female villains are just done dirty in TV and film!

1.

Most supposedly “legendary” or famous villains are male.


Lucasfilm

As writer Kelsey McKinney pointed out in a Vox article on the subject, most famous villains are men. Think of the most famous villains of our time: Voldemort. Hannibal Lecter. Darth Vader. Walter White. Thanos. The Joker. As McKinney says, women can be just as complicated and corrupt and even evil as men — that deserves to be portrayed onscreen.

2.

Male villains are often three-dimensional, while female villains are two-dimensional.


United Artists

As McKinney points out, when female villains do exist — such as Nurse Ratchet from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — they’re two-dimensional compared with the men, who are given clear motivations and backstories — like, say, Killmonger from Black Panther. Famous male villains like Darth Vader and Walter White get entire series (film or otherwise) devoted to their layered personalities and pain.

3.

Going even further than that: Female villains often don’t have any real justification or explanation for their actions.


Warner Bros. Pictures

Male villains have a strong goal and sense of (twisted) morality, while oftentimes, female villains are just mean for no real reason. One great example of this is Harry Potter. The two main female villains are Professor Umbridge and Bellatrix Lestrange, while I would say the two male villains are Voldemort and Snape (more on Snape later). Voldemort is given a really strong backstory and is shown to be layered and complicated. The only real justification for Umbridge being evil is that she likes order, which is more of an ideal or trait than a justification. It’s the same with Bellatrix: She seems to prize cruelty and loyalty to Voldemort, but that’s really all we get.

4.

Many times, two villains (one male and one female) are introduced together, are presented as equally evil, and share a common goal; but as the show goes on, it’s the male villain that is redeemed and further developed, while the female villain remains the same.


Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

There are SO MANY examples of this…Jaime and Cersei on Game of Thrones, Cha Cha and Hazel on The Umbrella Academy, Spike and Drusilla on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In each of these cases, the villains are introduced as a pair that are practically synonymous. But the female character often gets written off or tossed aside or becomes even more evil — while the male character eventually gets redeemed. In each of these cases, the redeemed character could just as easily have been the woman — but it’s not. (Don’t @ me saying these examples are just going off their books/comics — the criticism still applies to written media.)


MTV

Not every villain needs a redemption arc. There are some great examples of complicated female villains that don’t get redeemed — think Elena from Little Fires Everywhere, or even Cersei. But when the male villain ALWAYS seems to get redeemed, while the female villain NEVER does, there’s a problem. Teen Wolf is probably the best example of this. Deucalion, Theo, Ethan and Aiden, Peter…basically all of the male villains were redeemed except Gerard. The female villains, like Jennifer Blake, Kate Argent, and Malia’s mom, weren’t.

6.

And oftentimes, the female villains aren’t written in a way that makes us want them to be redeemed.


ABC

Shows and film don’t usually give you any reasons to root for the female villains. With male characters, they’re often developed more, given more humanity, or even given a love interest to humanize them (think how Damon and Klaus almost immediately had sweet women who saw the good in them on The Vampire Diaries, whereas villains like Katherine and Rebekah didn’t get that, or didn’t get it until much later). This makes us root for them to become better, while we don’t usually get to that point with female characters, or it takes far longer — think of Rumple versus the Evil Queen in Once Upon a Time.

7.

When the female villains are redeemed, the arcs are much shorter and sometimes go backward…


The CW

Avatar spent seasons on a redemption arc for Zuko, whereas Mai and Ty Lee got basically two scenes. I know they were minor characters, but still — even Jet got more of a redemption arc than they did. Even when women do get redemption arcs, they’re often later thrown away — like with Rachel on One Tree Hill.

8.

…or the female villains are brought back seasons after their arc is over to serve as another brief Big Bad, showing that they haven’t changed or developed at all (and, in some cases, have gotten even worse).


The CW

It’s like as shows near their end, they’re like, “Oh, what female villains can we bring back to be more evil than ever?” When the villains come back, they’ve lost any nuance they had originally — like Katherine on The Vampire Diaries, who was shown to care about Stefan and her daughter before dying a villain, then came back as the literal devil in the last season. Or, again, Rachel from One Tree Hill — the show completely throws away the redemption arcs these characters had and turns them two-dimensional.

9.

Male villains are often shown as just needing love from a woman in order to become better.


Lucasfilm

Allow me to talk about Snape and Kylo Ren (Snape Lite™️) for a moment. Both had complicated childhoods and didn’t receive the care and love they deserved, which drove them evil. Both then returned to the good side because they loved someone on it, and NOT because it was the right thing to do. Not only is this a damaging lesson for young girls, but it also perpetuates the notion that men are entitled to female love, and if they don’t get it, they have an excuse for their actions. It places the power of whether or not a man is evil in the hands of a woman he oftentimes ridicules or even tortures, rather than placing it with the man.

10.

Male villains die heroically, while female villains die in disgrace.


Warner Bros. Pictures

Ah, the eleventh-hour hero move. Let’s stick with Snape and Kylo Ren — both men die heroically and get to live on in canon as heroes, despite the fact that throughout the canon, they have rarely done good. We don’t even know if they actually were good people or just did one good thing. In fact, in Snape’s case, we know for a fact that he continued being a dick after turning to the good side, but since we learn he’s a hero right at the end and then he dies, it sort of masks all of that. Meanwhile, female villains die in disgrace or are completely written off.

11.

The male villains get to be the “fun” villains, while the female villains are just bad.


The WB

There are so many great male antiheroes — Damon Salvatore, Han Solo, Jack Sparrow — but we don’t have nearly as many female ones (though it’s getting better!). It’s even worse with male villains — like Spike, and even Angel, on Buffy, or Loki from the MCU. Meanwhile, a lot of famous female villains are frustrating and even hated, and aren’t shown being funny or cheeky, like Hela from Ragnarok.

12.

And finally, male villains that really shouldn’t be humanized (especially if they’ve committed crimes like rape) often get humanized.


Netflix

Sexual assault is a scary reality in our society, and I think it can be powerful to show survivors’ stories (Jessica Jones is a GREAT example of this). However, many times this is undercut because the show gives the male perpetrator a redemption arc or humanizes him in another way. If they do apologize or “realize their mistake,” it’s treated as just that — a mistake, or a lack of judgment — and not as an actual serious crime (e.g., Chuck on Gossip Girl). Even if they DO pay (e.g., Bryce on 13 Reasons Why), they often pay in a way that doesn’t bring peace to the victims, and they still have storylines that humanize them after the fact.

I want to end on a positive note, so finally, here are some AWESOME female villains that shows did a great job with!


Freeform

Some of my favorites are Villanelle from Killing Eve, the Evil Queen from Once Upon a Time, Maleficent from Maleficent, Mona from Pretty Little Liars, Regina George from Mean Girls, Elena from Little Fires Everywhere, Nebula in the MCU, and Morgana in Merlin!

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18 Movie Easter Eggs You'll Be Shocked You Missed The First Time

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Who’s ready for an egg hunt?


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Rams review – Sam Neill and Michael Caton’s unpretentious sheep farmers will move ewe | Film

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The poster for Rams depicts a perturbed-looking Michael Caton next to a smug-looking Sam Neill, both standing behind a sheep, which, like them, is staring into the camera. Going by this advert alone you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a bone-headed comedy about cack-handed country types and their livestock – something with a tagline like “they’re baaaaaad to the bone” or “just ewe and me”.

How wrong you would be. Rams is a lovely, even-tempered drama about men and rural life, gentle but firm of spirit, with a down-to-earth pith and a way of entertainingly and unpretentiously exploring potentially difficult subjects such as masculinity. Director Jeremy Sims and screenwriter Jules Duncan faithfully remake the excellent Icelandic film of the same name, which won best film in the Un Certain Regard category at Cannes in 2015 and tells the story of two brothers who live on neighbouring sheep farms but haven’t spoken in many years.

In the Australian version, the protagonist Colin (Neill) is the more affable of the pair, a sensible chap with savoir-faire, who gazes upon his cattle with love and reverence, literally telling them how beautiful they are. Les (Caton) is quite the opposite: a stink-eyed “get orf my lawn!” type, with zero patience and a glowering disposition, prone to epic solo drinking sessions followed by marinating while comatose in the sun.

A grizzled looking man holding a trophy in one hand and a beer in the other
Michael Caton as Les, a farmer prone to epic solo drinking sessions followed by marinating while comatose in the sun. Photograph: Ian Brodie Photo/Roadshow Films

Handsomely shot by Steve Arnold in and around Mount Barker in the Great Southern region of Western Australia, with occasional roving drone shots that make the film look a little touristy, much of the drama takes place on the brothers’ farms, the MacGuffin arriving in the form of a terrible disease that infects one of Les’ prize-winning rams. Authorities decree that every sheep in the valley must be killed for the sake of containment, which means, in addition to the brothers losing their livelihood, the potential end of their prized bloodline.

A small group of local farmers meet and spitball ideas on how to react, with Les on the side (illustrating his outsider status) kvetching loudly, while preparing himself a scone. “They don’t know, do they?” he bellyaches, “they just come here and–” then he abruptly stops mid-sentence, upon discovering there’s no more cream left in the bowl in front of him.

Rams, in Rams.
Some rams, in Rams. Photograph: David Dare Parker/Roadshow Films

Les never concludes that line. Sims chops the sentence off and lets it linger; lets the silence take hold for a beat or two. Usually scripts deliver neat lines with neat finishes, film-makers turning the loose threads of real-life into smooth contrivances. The incompleteness of this moment gives it something paradoxically interesting: a special kind of mundanity, and an imperfection that suits the film’s earthy tones. It is indicative of an experience that is not going to rush for you. Like the television series Rosehaven, similarly full of country air and wide open spaces, the audience will adjust to its tone and rhythms – and most likely find that adjustment process rewarding.

It isn’t clear where the plot of Rams is heading, particularly for those who haven’t seen the Icelandic film. That uninspiring poster, and a wishy-washy trailer stamped with a line of text reading “Where there’s a wool there’s a way” (groan) seems to indicate the brothers might do something to please the gods of genre algorithms, joining forces for instance in some kind of sheep-shearing competition and returning home triumphant, lugging a big golden trophy. But that is not the case at all.

Sam Neill in Rams.
Sam Neill in Rams. Photograph: Alex Gott-Cumbers/Roadshow Films

Sims has learned from Grímur Hákonarson (who directed the original) important lessons about containing a film tonally, with few of the stark switches between “happy” and “sad” that made his previous feature Last Cab to Darwin a limited, dictatorial experience emotionally. At the heart of the picture are two very appealing performances from Neill and Caton, who feel even from early moments like real, lived-in characters, well cast to reflect their differences as actors. Caton has always been a bit scruffier and Neill a bit slicker. The former is the kind of bloke who eats rissoles and goes to Bonnie Doon for the weekend; the latter looks good in a leather jacket.

The “neighbouring brothers who don’t speak to each other” setup could have felt like high-concept gimmickry, but it rings true in a funny sort of way. By contrasting geographic closeness with emotional distance, Sims explores a truth we are all confronted with: that there are certain things – particularly those involving our bloodlines and backgrounds – none of us can ever really escape; things that follow us everywhere even if we never move. In this respect I was reminded of director Clayton Jacobson’s dark comedy Brothers’ Nest, another film about starkly different siblings existing in the shadow of their parents – or in the words of one of the characters, another film about “family shit”.

The setup of Rams also develops into an interesting perspective on loneliness and masculinity, with messages blokes in particular may relate to: how men often shrink inside ourselves; how we so easily shy away from expressions of feelings; how we deploy various techniques to shield ourselves from the stabs of memory. See? I told ewe this wasn’t a dopey comedy about sheep. It’s funny at times – but also tender and touching: the cinematic equivalent of a gently moving turn of phrase.

Rams is out in Australian cinemas now


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Best TV Monologues Of All Time

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“Papa Pope and Olivia in the airplane hangar is amazing, especially when he says, ‘You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have.’ Whew, can we just take a minute and just analyze how poignant it was back then and so much more now? This sentiment has been instilled for generations and I always go back to this scene when I want to hear a pep talk. Some would say it’s a dad talking to his daughter about sleeping with a married man, but it’s not that. For any POC, you constantly have to prove your worth, while mediocrity can advance due to privilege. I know every Black home was probably like, ‘Oh, they let that fly on prime time?!?’ It was nothing but the truth. Although Papa Pope has his quirks, he always spoke the truth.”

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Where you can find the monologue: Season 3, Episode 1, or you can watch it here.


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