I’ve been reading a lot of urban fantasy lately. You know, I’m following advice to “read in my genre”, which certainly makes sense and it almost certainly implies “Read something besides the books/authors you’ve already read ten times, okay?” So, that’s what I did but I’m finding something that I don’t like. I have yet to meet a true female villain. I’m sure there must be some but, apparently, not in the books I’ve been reading in the last few months. Why?
I need to say upfront I really don’t want to make this political. My problem is with stereotypes. Sure, stereotypes are a favourite target for people following political agendas but I really don’t care about these agendas. I leave them to those who do and live in relative peace. I just want my female villains. Here’s why.
Women are not always nice. I know for a fact I’m not nice and I know enough women to know it’s not just me. I can be so obnoxious I have on occasion appalled myself. There may be women of the formidable-yet-delicate, strong-yet-vulnerable, fair and noble variety somewhere but it is certainly not the default state of all women whatever you read in the media (and in books). Writing this should be proof enough I’m not nice or particularly noble. Neither are most of the women I know, love, and admire.
So why do people write female characters who pose as strong and independent, and capable of taking on the whole world only to end up needing saving by a stronger character, most often male and occasionally female? And the saviors are invariably Good Guys, of course. So not original. And I’m not talking about Bad Man Authors Writing Boring Female Characters.
Women can be evil. And we don’t necessarily need a good reason for it. We would most certainly come up with an excuse that sounds like a good reason but it would be just an excuse for being evil because we feel like it, because we’ve taken disproportionate offence at someone or something, or because we are genuinely hurt. You know, exactly like men because we happen to be the same species.
For the last dozen or so books I read, I only came across one (1) female villain who was, regrettably, only sketched in the book rather than developed into the full, consistent character we all love to read about. She was really evil and she was really strong… and she ended up dead in the blink of an eye basically, done in by another woman, fair enough, but still more a sketch than a real character, more a plot-driver than her own person. Rest in flames, dear villain. You could have been great.
Women can be stupid. Who said stupidity, of the insidious kind that informs all your decisions and eventually turns even the best of people into villains, is solely a male prerogative? Seriously, I refuse to be denied the opportunity to be stupid and make bad decisions that I will regret and then have the luxury of feeling this regret transform into a mix of frustration, sadness, embarrassment, and fury that makes the best villains.
There sure are bad women in urban fantasy. Some are misled (by men), others are bitchy by nature or as a result of emotional suffering but they all seem to have many redeeming qualities or a very good reason they are this way: abused as children, cheated into villainy (by a man). I have yet to come across one who’s bad not because she’s a victim of other people’s treachery or circumstances but because she has chosen this way. I’m sure there are such characters, I just have to find them. Please, share your suggestions if any come to mind. I would love to be proved wrong. In the meantime:
Meet Adelaide. She’s middle-aged and she’s had her fair share of traumatic experiences but unlike other people who cope and move on, Adelaide’s opted for the other way. She’s manipulative, selfish, nearly incapable of feeling remorse because she can rationalise everything she does to herself and she’s the only one whose opinion she cares about, or almost the only one. Adelaide is no psychopath. She is a villain, though, and no redeeming qualities — she loves cats and she genuinely cares for the poor — can offset this. Because she has a monstrous superpower and she is not at all too shy to use it for the common evil.
It’s all about stereotypes in the end, isn’t it? However, the thing about stereotypes is they are like cigarettes. You can’t just quit smoking. You have to replace the habit with another, less damaging one. But with stereotypes there’s no such thing as less damaging. All stereotypes can be harmful if taken too seriously — if taken for facts. Or simply boring if we’re talking about heroes and villains.