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Bitch Characters

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Paul Whybrow

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This article on the Vulture website is a timely demolition of poorly written female monsters in fiction:

The Villainous Bitch Has Become the Most Boring Trend in Literature

I say 'timely,' for though the Me Too movement is doing long overdue work to eradicate and punish sexual assault and harassment, any protest movement engenders excessively contrived propaganda—including fiction.

Hillary Kelly's article made me wonder about which are my favourite bitches in novels...and how I've written about women with a dark side.

In books I've read, some of the most frightening women conform to the traits shown by the Wicked Queen in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in that they're typical of how stepmother figures have been portrayed from the time of legends and fairy tales—insecure, jealous, controlling, self-absorbed and cunning.

I was reminded of this when I first watched Woody Allen's Annie Hall, in which he confesses his attraction to the Wicked Queen:

You know, even as a kid I always went for the wrong woman. I think that’s my problem. When my mother took me to see Snow White, everyone fell in love with Snow White. I immediately fell for the Wicked Queen.” Woody Allen.

She's both menacing and attractive, which makes her even more malevolent. In a 2014 survey, one-third of the 2,000 adults polled named The Wicked Queen as 'the scariest character of all time.'

Classic books: Snow White crowned Britain’s favourite fairy tale & Evil Queen beats Maleficent as the scariest villain - London Mums Magazine

It's important to differentiate between strong characters and bitchy characters. A female character can be empowered with strength and wisdom, without being spiteful. Males who are nasty tend to get called 'bastards'. Having said that, nowadays, the term 'badass' is used to cover a multitude of mean-tempered belligerence.

In fiction, I've been intimidated/angered/ entertained by the relentless ambition of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind, the manipulative falsehoods of Amy Dunne in Gone Girl, the witchy despotism of Lady Macbeth, the worst book fan worship of Annie Wilkes in Misery, and the nutty religious fanaticism of Margaret White the mother of Carrie.

In my five crime novels, nine antagonists are male, while four are female. The bitchiest of them all is a foppish male art dealer, who despises everyone, revering paintings over people. One of the women is a serial killer, alongside her husband, taking hikers as food, while carrying out a campaign of retribution on people they consider to be sinners. She's a horrifying figure because she's a trained killer, inured to death from having fought in the Vietnam War and working for MI5 as an agent. In person, she's shy and withdrawn, self-conscious of being scarred by Agent Orange....but, she'd stab you as soon as look at you...then butcher your corpse and cook you for Sunday roast dinner. In that way, she's an evil bitch! I quite liked her. :rolleyes:

My other three bad women include an ex-forces veteran, suffering with PTSD, a battered wife who kills her brute of a husband's ex-lover, trying to set him up for a fall as a murderer, and a salty mouthed ageing prostitute—who has a nice line in bitchy comments, scathing of men in general, but who's a sweetheart deep down yearning for a quiet life by the sea. A friend, who acted as a reader for the story featuring the tart liked her withering put-downs, asking for me to bring her back in another story:

"She kept moving, putting a sashay into her walk, as his eyes were sure to be glued to her bum—men were all the same—they thought with their balls, pointed with their cocks and talked out of their arseholes."

Who are your favourite bitches from fiction?

Have you created any yourself?

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Carol Rose

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The trend right now in contemporary romance is to write the heroine as a badass bitch. In one way, I'm glad to see the helpless, stupid, I-can't-tie-my-shoes-without-a-man-showing-me-how-to-do-it-first heroine is FINALLY on the way out, but it's swung so far the other way that I can hardly stand to read any of them lately. If I knew most of these heroines in real life, I'd never want to be their friend, let alone work for them or have to deal with them in day-to-day life.

I get that readers want independent women in their stories, and writers want to write them, but what I don't get is why there can't be a healthy balance. Because for me to suspend my disbelief and fall in love with the hero, right along with the heroine (which is a romance writer's goal for me as a reader), I have to first identify with that heroine.

I can't identify with most of these ball-busting women who snap at everyone and bark out orders and statements like they can't speak in any other tone. There's nothing professional or independent about it. It's a form of bullying, plain and simple. And like I said, I wouldn't go near people like that in real life.

And no, I never wrote a character like that, unless she was a secondary or tertiary character, and having her in the story served an actual purpose. But I never wrote a heroine like that.
 

Eva Ulian

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I think Jane Eyre's step mother Mrs Reed, is really spiteful and so are the Reed children. This spitefulness is shown by what she inflicts on Jane. Therefore, basically bitchy people become so or "significant" if they are nasty to a nice and good person, otherwise not much importance is given to such a trait. Also the Superior of the convent where Saint Teresa of The Little Flower was a nun was anything but nice- however, you don't see much of that on official documents... but the cinema does a good job. This is quite a timely topic for me because the protagonist of my WIP is supposedly to be the height of bitchiness, so I'm all ears.
 

Carol Rose

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Exactly, @Eva Ulian. Jane's stepmother and and the Reed children served a purpose in the story. They helped shaped Jane into the woman she became. Their cruelty toward her influenced how she treated others. The last thing she wanted to do was treat anyone how she'd been treated. And they unknowingly brought out her artistic talents that she used as a means of escapism.
 

Susan

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I get that readers want independent women in their stories, and writers want to write them, but what I don't get is why there can't be a healthy balance. Because for me to suspend my disbelief and fall in love with the hero, right along with the heroine (which is a romance writer's goal for me as a reader), I have to first identify with that heroine.

I can't identify with most of these ball-busting women who snap at everyone and bark out orders and statements like they can't speak in any other tone. There's nothing professional or independent about it. It's a form of bullying, plain and simple. And like I said, I wouldn't go near people like that in real life.

Some genres seem to define 'strong' in a certain way. To be strong, women have to ditch stereotypically female characteristics and embrace stereotypically male characteristics. They have to be aggressive and physically tough, be less like women, more like men. But there are so many ways to be strong.
 

Carol Rose

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Some genres seem to define 'strong' in a certain way. To be strong, women have to ditch stereotypically female characteristics and embrace stereotypically male characteristics. They have to be aggressive and physically tough, be less like women, more like men. But there are so many ways to be strong.

Agreed.
 

Paul Whybrow

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Although scriptwriter Dan O'Bannon wrote the characters in Alien in a generic way, not assigning them as male or female, it was originally thought that Ripley would be male. Director Ridley Scott changed her to female, played by Sigourney Weaver. From the Wikipedia article on Ellen Ripley:

'She's not a sidekick, arm candy, or a damsel to be rescued. Starting with Alien, Ripley was a fully competent member of a crew or ensemble — not always liked and sometimes disrespected, but doing her job all the same. As each film progresses, she comes to the fore and faces challenges head-on — she's the hero of the piece, in other words [...] Ripley isn't a fantasy version of a woman. Science fiction film is filled with hot kickass women doing impossible things with guns and melee weapons while they spin about like a gymnast in a dryer. As fun as that is to watch, at the end of the day it's still giving women short shrift, since what they are then are idealized killer fembots rather than actual human beings. Ripley, on the other hand, is pushy, aggressive, rude, injured, suffering from post-traumatic syndrome, not wearing makeup, tired, smart, maternal, angry, empathetic, and determined to save others, even at great cost to herself. All without being a spinny killbot.' John Scalzi, (film critic)

As for who was the biggest bitch on board the Nostromo, I'll let you decide!

 
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Greetings! Greetings

Greetings! Waving to all with a wink for YA

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