By Ana Maria Villaveces
Evil is not something that is easily attributed to women. We either get the sexy pseudo-villain (the one men won’t mind looking at too long; see: Cat Woman) or the highly overused catastrophe that is a “woman scorned”. This is not evil. This is not the disgust-inducing-manic-unrestrained wickedness that seems to cling to male villains through the ages. This is malicious at best and petty at worst and in no way a reflection of human nature; in fact, it seems like human nature is portrayed in the evil of men and the tenderness of women as a general rule rather than as a spectrum that bypasses sex and age to contain every shade of what it is to be human.
The most basic of Google searches will easily back up this phenomenon. If you search “greatest movie villains of all times” and click on the first link you will be taken to a list of 25 evil characters that have filled our screens for ages. Out of those 25 only 4 are women. Meanwhile 20 of them are male and one of them is not even human (yes… it’s the shark from Jaws). Let’s change the medium shall we? Search “greatest villains in literature” and click on the first link once again. Out of a list of 40 memorable wrongdoers only 8 are female (this includes Medea, the prime example of the “woman scorned” debacle). Out of the remaining characters 24 are male and 6 are non-human. As you look through the two lists, take into account that the non-human villains are all male, even in all their alien or demonic (or animal; let’s not forget the shark) glory.
I think I can probably count the truly evil women I have found in literature in one hand; out of the five spots three belong to characters penned by Gillian Flynn. Female characters have found a way to merge together in many genres; even the strongest ones seem to be brushes off of the same color palette. In Flynn’s books however, the women hit you like a punch in the gut. Every single one of the women Flynn has written down cries in clashing colors, all too bright to be forgotten lightly. She created females that are not only resolutely within the worst-kind-of-evil spectrum (even more so than many of the most famous male villains of our time) but also on completely varying areas of it.
If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book Gone Girl then I suggest you do so as soon as possible to see one of the characters I’m talking about (normally I would suggest the book above all and though I still think it’s a must read I can be lenient towards the movie knowing that Flynn herself wrote the script). Amy Dunne is without a doubt one of the most compellingly evil characters I have seen on paper. Relentless about having the largest amount of attention she can possibly get, ridiculously smart, alluring, and dedicated to making her plans work seamlessly… she’s a hard pill to swallow. There’s something about the calm undertone to her madness that makes her all the more disturbing. A reckless and impulsive villain is easy to catch onto; Amy catches onto you, and she’s hard to shake off. There are too many words I could keep throwing out there to try and fully encompass the darkness that this character exudes but I don’t think there would ever be enough to get to the depths of it. Amy Dunne is true evil; the disgust-inducing-manic-unrestrained type of it.
If you look through Gillian Flynn’s blog and click on the “for the readers” tab you’ll find a brilliantly written (obviously) blog post about her reasoning behind the characters she creates. In the post titled “I Was Not A Nice Little Girl…” Flynn calls Sharp Objects her “creepy little bouquet” for dark sides, which in females is usually ignored. I would call it her masterpiece. Despite the fervor with which readers come to hate and fear Amy Dunne by the end of Gone Girl, the darkness in that book comes nowhere near the twisted core of the Preaker family. Out of the three women in the family two are completely evil, one is relentlessly self destructive, and all three are utterly messed up. It’s not a nice view of women; that’s exactly what Flynn intended. The last line of Sharp Objects somehow manages to appease you and make your blood run cold at the same time. All in all Sharp Objects is an amazingly written horrible master piece that somehow curls around your nerve endings and hisses in the hidden corners of your mind even after you drop the book. This is all thanks to the female characters that fuel it: a mother so nurturing that she hurts obsessively, a daughter so attention-starved she kills for teeth to pass as marble, and a half sister with words carved into her skin and hatred seared into her bones even as she tries to dig towards an end she doesn’t really want to figure out. It is absolute brilliance… unrestrained, terrifying, exhausting brilliance.
(I should probably end this before it becomes a too long running commentary of everything I love about Flynn’s writing… right).
The fact that there is so little evil put into females in shows, not that female characters wouldn’t be able to cradle and nurture that darkness, but rather that too few have the faith to write the process. Gillian Flynn is the only author I’ve read that creates female characters that are completely real even enveloped in evil that seems too elaborate to actually exist. I guess you could say I’m a fan.
After a childhood starved of true female villains Flynn’s characters got to me like a too large meal: I’m ultimately satisfied but terrified of everything I just ingested and maybe I feel a little bit like throwing up. I love it.