As long as there have been fairy tales, there have been female villains. These women are ruthless, cunning, and utterly wicked. Could it be? Did we long ago achieve gender parity in villainy? HUZZAH!
Not so fast, last-paragraph me. Female villains don't exactly get the treatment they deserve. There's an evilness gap, and we demand evil justice.
To this day in Western culture, female wickedness is synonymous with some very specific traits that tend to be gendered: jealousy and vanity. Much of this came to us courtesy of the Brothers Grimm, who made some major adjustments to classic folklore, often replacing patriarchal male abusers and rapists with a conniving older woman out to destroy the youthful, beautiful, and innocent girl at the center of the tale.
As Elizabeth Marshall wrote in her paper "The Daughter's Disenchantment: Incest as Pedagogy in Fairy Tales and Kathryn Harrison's 'The Kiss,'" which references folklorist Marian Roalfe Cox's study of more than 300 variants on Cinderella, the heroine in some versions is mistreated by her stepmother, and in others flees home from her father as he attempts to rape her. While the version we know today is obviously one of the wicked stepmother, the abusive father variant is just as common throughout the history of the story. Only the evil, jealous woman narrative stuck. Patriarchal rape was deemed too unseemly for the Grimms and their efforts to market to children, and the rest is misogynist history.
Yes, thanks to the unkind eye of history making stories more palatable, patriarchal abuse was whitewashed in favor of the villainous, jealous, desperate woman clinging to youth, beauty, power, and attention. But at least that doesn't happen anymore, right? Sigh. Sob.
To recap: For most of our fairy tale villains, we get either jealous bitches trying to take down weaker, quieter, more ladylike heroines out of purely gendered cruelty, or we get victims made to be perceived as evil by some manner of wrongdoing. (Men, as ever, remain fine.)
But with two upcoming Disney adaptations, we have the opportunity to give us what we truly need and deserve: a female villain who is evil just because she f***ing feels like it.
The live-action remake—set to star Halle Bailey to the chagrin of racists and nonsense people everywhere and allegedly likely to star Melissa McCarthy as our favorite Divine-inspired purple icon (or, alternately, Guy Fieri) — has an opportunity to keep a great villain but leave behind the unnecessary aspects. She can try to take the power, keep the curves and the chaos (but forget Prince Eric entirely because he is a bland potato of a boy). This Ursula doesn't need to be threatened by some teenager with a penchant for hoarding, and she doesn't need to covet her skinny, scaly body.
As for Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, we will presumably get the same dragon-with-an-icy-heart-of-gold title character as last time. The chance for renewed greatness comes instead from Michelle Pfeiffer's monster-in-law-to-be Queen Ingrith, who maybe, just maybe — crosses fingers, toes, any cross-able extremity — could be pure evil absent of jealousy or vanity or weird mother-son issues.
And it can totally be done! And has been! By Disney, even! One of the rare examples of a female villain who is a bad b*tch just because she goddamn can is Thor: Ragnarok's Hela. Hela came home to wreck stuff and get powerful, and she did it with unrelenting strength, no schlocky sympathetic undermining, and zero girl-on-girl crimes.
Let's get more female villains who aren't steeped in the misogynistic tropes that have painted them, and, of course, the view of real-womankind for far too long. Let us be evil, but not that kind of evil. It's boring. It's tired. And we are tired of it.
Let bad b*tches be great already.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.