man-killer
Tag: opinion

A look at the misandrist villain in comics

Contributed by
Aug 6, 2018

Many female villains in mainstream superhero comics are defined primarily by their hatred of men.

In fact, in the early days of superhero comics, female supervillains were very rarely motivated by anything besides misandry. These characters were primarily written by men as warnings of what might happen if women banded together, and their underlying, perhaps unintentional purpose, was to villainize feminism as extremist and reactionary.

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Trigger warning: There’s a great deal of discussion in this piece about violent misogyny and its many manifestations in fiction.

There’s no way to compare misandry and misogyny. While both might be unpleasant, misandry can’t begin to hold a candle to the sheer oppressive force of misogyny. Every woman, no matter who they are or their standing in society, is subject to misogyny. It so deeply permeates our culture that you cannot avoid its effects. It exists in every part of our civilization. This is not true of misandry, which is more often than not simply an anticipated mindset imagined by men, another way of viewing women that attempt to exist outside of male-dominated society as predetermined to be criminal or at the very least unbalanced.

Comic books haven’t had all the fun; there are misandrist villains all over fiction and mythology, dating back as far as the beginning of recorded history. Many “man-hating” characters struggle to find happiness and are plagued by mental illness. Sometimes, they’re remorseless murderers, devouring the souls of men at will; their misandry drives them to defy their common sense or even their own best interests.

Alternately, although there are misogynist male characters in comics, they’re viewed with more sympathy. For instance, the Comedian in Watchmen, who beats and murders women, is absolved of his horrifying crimes later in the story when his daughter is forced to empathize with him. This chance at atonement might not have saved him from being brutally murdered at the start of the story, but the uncomfortably sympathetic view of this character grants him depth and urges us to reconsider our stance on him. Misogyny in comics is often played up for laughs, or to help define the viewpoints of characters that are curmudgeonly or “set in their ways.” At its worst, it appears as a tool for male writers to show how truly bad a villain is. Gender-specific violence against women is presented as a teachable moment for characters and readers alike, while gender-specific violence against men is considered completely out of left field and thus “insane.”

In almost every mythological grouping, there is a misandrist; a sneaking, conniving woman who wishes to rob men of their happiness out of spite. Early examples include Hera, Morgan Le Fay, Circe, Pandora, and Lilith. When you ask anyone even slightly familiar with Greek mythology what a defining trait of Hera is, likely they’re going to talk about her jealousy and her spite, which manifests in nearly every story ever told about her. There aren’t many people in this world that I would describe as simply “jealous,” but this millennia-old character is often reduced to that description. She is the god intended to represent motherhood and family. Despite the fact that the Pantheon of Gods harbors many rapists, Hera’s jealousy begets much of the most graphic violence of legend, and her acts of vengeance and pettiness include attempting to slay Hercules, torturing several young women, and deviously attempting to steal power from her husband. She also invented peacocks.

Meanwhile, Morgan Le Fay, Circe, and Lilith are most guilty of wishing to be equally as powerful as the men around them and are thus often defined as hating men. Although these women cause a great deal of trouble for the male characters in their vicinity, that doesn't especially set them apart from any given male villain throughout literary history. It seems odd to insist that misandry motivates them rather than much more likely motivations like lust for power, disdain for being treated like second-class citizens, or vengeance for any number of wrongs committed against them by their heroic counterparts. In short, even if they do hate men, it seems kind of reasonable in these specific cases.

Even in children's comics, there are characters like Magica De Spell, whose disdain of Scrooge McDuck and obsession to gain his symbolic “number one dime” and thus his power crosses into a mutual attraction on some occasions. The trope of the woman hating men because she envies their apparently inherent and non-negotiable power is consistent with many if not all misandrist villains, even those that are lesbian or bisexual. It is implied that the hatred of men is directly linked to wanting to control men and failing, which, again, is more consistent with misogyny than misandry.

The theme continues with characters like Lorelei and her sister the Enchantress, both of whom are Thor villains and are known for their manipulation, seduction, and hatred of male characters. Seldom fully explained as anything more than spitefulness and jealousy, the sisters use their beauty to ensnare and destroy unsuspecting men. It was the Enchantress that possessed the Valkyrie in her first appearance, heading up an all-female branch of the Avengers simply to attack the male characters. The story ends with Goliath dismissing feminism as a pointless waste of time.

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Meanwhile, Wonder Woman is interesting, because her writers time and again go out of their way to completely dispel any trace of misandry from the character. The implication is that if she begrudged “the world of men” in any way, she would fly in the opposite direction of female supremacy and fascism. For instance, in the Flashpoint reality, we are introduced to an especially evil Princess Diana, who has no qualms about committing mass murder simply to get back at men that have mildly annoyed her. The idea that, if she had stayed on Paradise Island, she would have eventually become a man-hating killer is the theory. On the other hand, the women of Themyscira are absolutely misandrists. Their origin story and their isolation on the island are both attributed to them fleeing men that abused and raped them. In the comic Amazons Attack! the Amazons attempt a full-fledged war on mankind under Circe’s control. In most fiction, all it takes for women to want to completely wipe out all men on the face of the planet is to hang out with each other too much. Besides that, when Diana discovers Steve Trevor, washed up on the shore, most of the other Amazons are more or less happy to let him die.

Misandrists in fiction are often garbed in furs or have a connection with animals, symbolizing that their sexuality is somehow more bestial and animalistic than a “normal” woman’s. This has its beginning in characters like Le Fay, often shown with the fur of a cat draped on her body in some way, or Circe, who can turn men into animals at will, but it is seen perhaps most intensely with the Wonder Woman villain Cheetah. The first two incarnations of Cheetah were simply unfortunate debutantes with undefined mental illnesses. The third, Barbara Minerva, was an explorer who “went too far” in her search for power, only to get more than she bargained for when a misogynistic god punishes her with a conditional power set, condemning her to a life as a monster barely in control of herself. The underlying message of a character like Barbara Minerva is that her ambition was not only inherently criminal but also worthy of punishment. There will never be an equal punishment for the God that cursed her, and its hatred of women comes across as incidental in comparison to the focus behind Minerva’s taste for human flesh.

Women being given power only to become completely overwhelmed and corrupted by it is an article, or even a book, in and of itself, but the primary point is that the female character affected by an abundance of power will almost invariably either die a saint, or, as was the case with Cheetah, live a hellish life. Although slightly updated recently to reflect more on the injustice of the cruel God that forces Minerva into servitude, the fact remains that she has been completely overwhelmed and defeated due to her defiance against men.

Similarly, there is a nonhuman element to Poison Ivy, comparable to other characters on this list for being a woman whose career was placed under the whims of men, who becomes unhinged when her plants are threatened and we discover that she cares more for them than for humans. Unlike most of the characters on this list, Poison Ivy has slowly become a more sympathetic character as writers began to flesh out her distrust of men, giving her an origin and a difference in focus that makes more sense than “hates men, is mad about plants.”

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In the case of Maxima, who attempts to subjugate Superman in order to produce a fitting heir, or Star Sapphire, who is possessed by alien forces, the non-human part of the trope reaches its culmination. Both characters are obsessed with procuring a mate. Women attempting to trap and control men through their suitability for fatherhood is another misogynistic trope among many that lead to the prevalence of this specific brand of villain.

The insistence that female villains are primarily motivated by a level of hatred of men that drives them to a murderous rage inhibits the character growth of many female villains by forcing their entire characters to develop around a single unrealistic premise. Hopefully, all these characters will have a chance to grow and the myth of the murderous man-hating feminist can finally retire.