Discussion: Why Don’t We Love Female Villains?

why-don't-we-love-female-villains

Villains are some of the most complex and interesting characters in fiction. It’s no surprise that they can quickly become fan favorites. If you’re in the book community, you’re bound to hear someone talking about The Darkling from the Grisha trilogy, or Warner from Shatter Me, or Aeduan from Truthwitch. Don’t get me wrong–these are some of my favorite characters too, and I’m not knocking them. But my whole purpose for this discussion is to ask the question, Why don’t we obsess over female villains, too?

We love to talk about our favorite male villains. They are part of our favorite ships, or are a damaged character we want to fix, or someone who we just find ourselves drawn to. We love that most of them are strong and powerful. I mean, after all, who would care about a weak villain?

But when we talk about villains, why don’t we talk about the female villains as much? I hardly ever see someone obsess over a female villain like someone would obsess over, say, The Darkling. Maybe it’s because when we favor a male villain, it’s because we’re attracted to them sexually, but I don’t think that’s the real reason why we don’t talk about female villains as much.

Female villains are just as strong, if not more so, than male villains. In most novels–like in real life–males are almost always the person in a position of power. To have a female villain, someone who is feared by others or stronger than most, is an incredible thing. Because of this, they’re typically very cutthroat and harsh. Some people might say that’s why we don’t obsess over them as much, but I disagree again.

Male villains are ruthless, too. All villains are, for the most part–that’s why they’re the villain of the story. I think that male villains definitely get a pass for using violence and force, but we hold these things against female characters. Here’s an example:

 

(fanart credit to their respective owners)

I’ll use The Darkling again for the male villain. He’s killed people, a ton of people. He manipulates one of the main characters in the story. He’s feared by thousands of people. Yet, people, including me, still love him to death and will insist that he isn’t all that bad.

The female villain I’m going to use in this example is Amarantha from A Court of Thorns and Roses. She’s hella ruthless. She cast a curse over an entire court, tortured and killed innocent people, and is an all around terrible person. But. But, she is who she is because of what happened to her sister. Like The Darkling, she has a tragic backstory that can be used as an excuse for who she is.

Except, people don’t excuse her for her behavior like they do The Darkling. Both of them have done pretty terrible things, and yet, no one excuses Amarantha for it like they do The Darkling. When she’s brought up in a conversation, most people would say that she’s terrifying and evil, but when The Darkling is brought up, people defend him to the grave (again, not bashing anyone who does this. I do it).

I’m proposing that we 1) start talking about female villains more and 2) give them the same luxuries we give male villains. They’re all the same brand of evil, and we shouldn’t condemn female villains and not males. Sure, you could argue that some villains are worse than others, which is true, but we should talk about female villains just as much as we talk about the male ones.

But Alex, you’re thinking, I don’t know of any good female villains! Fear not, my friends, for I have conducted a list of some of my favorite female villains. They’re all varying degrees of complex, but I can assure you all of them are obsessive-worthy.

  • Amarantha from A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
  • Astrid Dane from A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
  • The Commandant from An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
  • Queen Levana from The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
  • Mab from The Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa
  • Maeve from the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

Basically, this entire post boils down to this: Love female villains as much as you love male villains! They’re just as great as the guys–if not more 😉

Share the female villain love below! Who are some of your favorites? Have i forgotten anyone on this list? let me know in the comments below!

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25 thoughts on “Discussion: Why Don’t We Love Female Villains?

  1. Alyssa @ The Devil Orders Takeout says:

    OMG YES THIS IS TRUE. I’m guilty of it, too … I was wayyy more intrigued by Rhysand than Amarantha in ACOTAR, and basically died for Holland in ADSOM but kiiinda forgot the Danes. It’s definitely hard to think of female villains that get the sort of attention you mention off the top of my head. The only one I have is Cersei from ASOIAF, but that’s really an unpopular favourite in the fandom. We definitely need to reconsider the reasons behind our preferences in the community.

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  2. Nuzaifa @ Say It with Books says:

    Why don’t we talk about the female villains as much we do about male villains?

    I think it boils down to the fact that we hold women and men to different standards of behavior (even wrote about these silly standards on my blog couple of days ago). Yes, we do have villainous heroines but we make sure that they aren’t too villainous. Tough but not too tough, cruel but not too cruel. Male villains on the other hand can get away much more villainy and yet be sympathized with because of some tragic backstory. But if female villain were to behave in the exact same way as say the darkling then are deemed just plain evil and reduced to a mere caricature of the irredeemable baddie.

    This is why I adore Maeve – unapologetically evil yet worthy of redemption. 😉 I have read Lunar Chronicles so I’m aware of Levana but I’m pick up her novella soon. Brilliant post, Alex. 😀

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  3. Bhramori says:

    This discussion is totally on point. We prefer our bad boys waayy more than the bad girls — it’s downright favouritism! 😛 Off the top of my head, the only female villain that I have truly ever admired is Jeanine from Insurgent. And, uh, also Commander Jameson from Champion (Legend trilogy) — but I’m not sure myself why I admired her. She didn’t have any redeeming qualities or even a tragic backstory, as far as I remember. I guess I simply liked her intimidating element. *shrugs* But female villains do deserve more appreciation. Great discussion! 🙂

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  4. yourkucing says:

    OH HOW I LOVE THIS POST. Yes, I definitely agree that we do tend to love male villains more, because of their sex appeal. Yknow, evil dude = sexy. But in my opinion, I do take into consideration their background too. Like, whether it can be justified. For me, I do love the female villains that you stated, EXCEPT Levana. *shudders* I tried loving her, but after reading her back story, girl, I don’t wanna have anything to do with her HAHAHA.

    But I really do love this post, to be honest.

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  5. Geraldine @ Corralling Books says:

    Interesting discussion, Alex! I don’t know any of the examples you’ve put down, sorry! 😦 However, based on my reading experiences, I personally think that it’s all down to how the author writes the villain. I know that I love Ursula from The Little Mermaid, because she is actually so badass imo. However, I also know that in Harry Potter, I don’t love Umbridge, and for me, that’s because she represents how twisted the law can be. Similarly, I love Draco Malfoy as a villain because a) yes, the sex appeal and b) the idea of redemption. Despite this, I don’t rave over Voldemort because he creeps me out personally xD
    Furthermore, we might not rave too much about female villains because there are less female villains in popular books? Impossible to quantify, but that might be a possibility?
    Anyway, really interesting post – we definitely need to love female villains as much as male ones! Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Thissi says:

    You make a great point! Female villains are totally underrated as they are still strong characters… Maeve and Queen Levana are great examples! I may not love them as people (I never really do when it comes to villains in general) but they are awesome characters!

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  7. Sara @ freadomlibrary says:

    Definitely agree with you on this! I haven’t read a lot of the books you mentioned but the conversation itself is important. Subconsciously we give free passes to men all the time, it’s a condition from our society. But it’s so important to be aware that were doing it so we can change it. Amazing post!

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  8. Tamara @ Tamaraniac says:

    I don’t love some of the villains as much a most people (which is funny, because I love many main characters who are anti-heroes/criminals/do some questionable things) but yeah, most of the ones I do like are guys… I do wonder if maybe the female villains aren’t always written to be as sympathetic? To use your example of The Darkling, he’s obviously meant to be a somewhat sympathetic character. We start of liking him, and at the end of the series there is a lot of tragedy in his storyline. But with say, Levana, she doesn’t have a lot of sympathetic moments (if any?) even in her novella really all she does is make you hate her. She doesn’t have any true moments of humanity.

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  9. lostwithinwordsx says:

    This is such a great discussion! I definitely think female villains deserve the same attention that male villains get 😀 Some of my favourites are Queen Levana and The Commandant! They are both villains I love to hate ❤

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  10. Kenzie says:

    Thank you, for totally slamming me in the face with an idea I have never pondered. You’re so right!
    Definitely agreeing with The Commandant. Probably Levana from The Lunar Chronicles. And I’m going to go classic and say the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. She set a standard for dastardly female villains.

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  11. Isabella @ GryffindorBooks says:

    This is so true, and I hadn’t even thought if it before! Even for female protagonists — it’s often a lot easier for us to call a female protagonist “annoying” or “dumb”, but when there’s a male protagonist with the same traits, we call him “cute” or “realistically flawed” or something like that. For villains, if it’s a guy and he’s evil, he’s got that whole “bad boy” vibe that we dig, but if it’s a girl, she’s just a (excuse my language!) bitch.

    The most evil female villain that comes to mind for me is Bellatrix Lestrange from Harry Potter. Voldemort’s evil, but Bellatrix is a different kind of (ruthless! awesome!) evil.

    But bottom line, I think we need more ruthless, evil female villains, and we need to change our mindset towards them. Awesome discussion 🙂

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  12. Lois says:

    This is such a great topic of discussion; one I hadn’t give much thought to until now. I definitely understand why people are so fixated on the male villains, we just love our bad boys. However, I must admit there are plenty of female villains that I think are equally if not even more badass. Take Levana, she was despicable from the moment we met her. She’s cunning, ruthless and makes even the strongest men cower at her feet. She’s unapologetic in her actions and that’s why she was such a formidable foe. Astrid Dane was similar in many ways but I feel like because she didn’t get as much page time as Holland did we tend to forget about her and her twin more.

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  13. SERIESous Book Reviews says:

    Fantastic topic! You know, I never really thought of this before you mentioned it.

    I really enjoyed Levana as a villain. I liked that she was a bad person and you didn’t really get much sympathy for her once you get her full backstory. Whereas with The Darkling, when you read his back story you understand why he is the way he is and garner some sympathy for him.

    My other theory on this topic is that male villains are of the opposite gender, thus igniting the love from female readers who like boys. There’s a romanticism there I think. But you’re absolutely right, there is a double standard there, especially for girls against other girls. (ugh, and I hate that that is the mentality!)

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  14. Mara @ Mara Was Here says:

    I haven’t read much female villains lately but the first one that came to mind was definitely Queen Levana. I always love reading books with female villains because I think it’s something new. Male villains are always so common from other books, so I’d love to read more female villains in my future reads. 🙂

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  15. madilynquinn01 says:

    Wow.. I’ve never thought about it, but I find that I do the same! Damn, that sucks. And I can’t even think of a female villain right now, either. I’m so frustrated at myself lol

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  16. SJ Bouquet (@SJBouquet) says:

    YES YES YES YES THIISS! I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because usually, my favorite characters are the villains. Regardless of gender. I just love quality wickedness (that sentence made me giggle xD). The whole time I read this post I was thinking of Levana. She is so wicked, but she does it so well. And Regina from Once Upon A Time is my FAVORITE female villain. She’s so complex and SMART. Dorothy in Dorothy Must Die (she is nuuutts and leans towards the macabre), THE WHITE WITCH FROM CHRONICLES OF NARNIA!, Cersei from A Game of Thrones… i’ve come to the conclusion that i want more female villains in YA literature pls.

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  17. Sarah Cone says:

    Ya know, this is one of the reasons why I so enjoy your posts, because you bring up great discussion topics that you don’t usually see/hear about in the bookish community. I never really thought about it before but you’re definitely spot on with your assertion of male vs female villans and how they are percieved. I think that the female villans don’t get the same understanding/acceptance/pass that the male villans do because it’s so engrained into everyone that women are always, no matter what, supposed to be the loving, maternal, selfless care-taker. So when we see the opposite of that, it automatically triggers a sense of anger&disdain& we just can’t get out heads around why/how a woman would/could be that way because it’s so un-natural & inexcusable for a woman to do so. There are several female villans that stand out in my mind. They are: Queen Red from the Splintered series, The Winter Queen from the Iron Fey series, Dorothy from the Dorothy Must Due series and worst of all (imo), Levana from the Lunar Chronicles

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  18. kjellmeijer1988 says:

    I definitely love female villains. Love them more than male villains, really. My all-time favorite villain is definitely Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones. Another villain I quite enjoy watching is Melisandre from said Game of Thrones. Not really a villain but Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind and some very unlikeable character traits and I love her. Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s Misery is another terribly frightening villain.

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