Previously written for a comparative literature class on Women Who Kill.
The entertainment industry strives to shock people. From inappropriate language to sex scenes, television and film have normalized often taboo subjects and pushed viewers out of their comfort zones, into more artistic and open-minded heights. An example of this creative undertaking is the antihero. As mentioned in all of the articles protagonists such as Walter White from Breaking Bad shocked viewers into a binge-worthy frenzy based on his immoral, unattractive and sometimes revolting actions that were somehow held together with a certain likeability and charm. However, White was not alone in this antihero phenomenon. As this genre of characters began to grow their traits became more predictable and the initial surprise of rooting for the morally corrupt died down. The television industry needed something to keep viewers on their toes; enter the anti-heroine. Due to social norms that dictate women to be feminine, nurturing, loving and delicate the anti-heroine already had one up on her antihero predecessor. Not only would viewers be shocked that they were liking a traditionally villainous character, but they would not be expecting acts of violence, selfishness, manipulation or cruelty to come out of the feminine form. Without having to force too much change on an existing template, screenwriters found a way to keep their shows fresh and exciting.
Of course this shift from [anti] hero to heroine is not a one sided action to increase viewership and revenue. The birth of the anti-heroine was brought on by a variety of social factors and opinions that called for a more complex female lead. The anti-heroine was not born overnight, and her outline can be seen in more traditional television shows. For example, Christina Yang in Shonda Rhime’s Grey’s Anatomy holds the faintest signs of anti-heroin-ism. Her distinctly not nurturing nature, her single-mindedness bordering on selfishness and her intense career drive were all traits that marked her as un-feminine and sometimes difficult to like. Yet viewers, including women loved her. There was something in her imperfect sometimes “masculine” nature that made her relatable and lovable.
With an increase in feminist-minded conversations in the public spheres, the Christina Yangs of television have been able to graduate from supporting characters to lead roles. They have also been given the opportunity to shed some of their likability and rationale for the wrongdoings, growing more multidimensional and human in the process. So while the anti-heroine has been a long time in formation, it cannot be ignored that our increasingly open-minded socio-political environment has helped catapult her to center stage, forwarding the momentum of feminist thought.
The anti-heroine is as crucial to traditional gender equality and women empowerment as young girls having role models such as Michelle Obama and Emma Watson who are intelligent, independent, confident and successful. While I am certainly not suggesting that children emulate television’s murderers and schemers it is important that women are being given roles that allow them to break away from gender stereotypes and hold a torch to traditional masculine portrayals of actions and emotions. The anti-heroine removes female characters from the pretty, crowd pleasing box that they have typically been wrapped in and transforms them into actual. human-like characters. These anti-heroines are complex and dark and formidable, yet they are still charming, engaging and sometimes likable. Just like the real human population they are imperfect and even bad. Unlike real humans, they find support and loyalty from their viewership. Portraying women as capable of the same evils as men on television is an initial step in creating a society that accepts and promotes women not because they are lovely and kind and beautiful, but because they are human beings who are worthy of being accepted and promoted. In the quest for equality of genders it is important to show that women are just as capable of being strong, decisive and in control as men in ways that both harm and benefit those around them- and the anti-heroine does just that.