Why we love raging female anti-heroes in cinema

Screencap from Carrie.

As English playwright and poet William Congreve once said, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." But is that so bad?

As all movie lovers know, a good antihero or villain should be a representation of a multi-dimensional persona. Even when you don't agree with their choices and decisions, you may, at times, feel compelled to justify their doings. Everybody loves morally grey characters that walk the line between good and bad. 

If it is a man, audiences especially love it. After all, they serve to fuel our own rage for justice. When it is a woman, however, the character's sentiments resonate differently. 

Antiheroes and sympathetic villains are usually born in movies and TV shows from rage and mistreatment. Think emotionally-charging backstories of characters losing their families, never being appreciated, neglected, and unloved. The central emotion in all these stories tends to be anger. 

Often, girls are told to repress anger and it's reflected in the female characters of these movies. As the narrative progresses, the "conceal, don't feel" approach becomes ultimately tested and failed.

Female villains are born from a place of vengeance but when they do terrible things, the audiences, especially women, get to experience a fictionalised side to themselves.  

Take the horror classic, Carrie (1976), for example. 17-year-old Carrie has an abusive mother and is considered a laughing stock at school. Eventually, she resorts to misusing her telekinetic powers to get back at her bullies, resulting in a lot of bloodshed. Carrie remains an icon of the horror genre to this day, which shows how the audience responds to the appeal of female rage being released.

These characters mirror the image of women in defiance of the atrocities they have endured. This ultimately leads to richer characterisation, more interesting interpretations of the plot, and a female character who appears as a real human being to the audience. Oftentimes, they resonate with the audience because of the past trauma that has been inflicted on the characters. 

Another nuance to the character is added when they finally use their anger channelling it into something productive. At the end of the movie Mean Girls, Regina George finally uses her rage towards her mother coddling her for her good looks into a physical sport – a nice enough character arc for her. However, when she finally learns to channel her anger in the right place as prescribed by her physiotherapist, Regina finds the space to be herself.

These anti-heroes and villains all have one thing in common and that is, the audience wants women in cinema to shatter the image of them being dainty. After all, repressing anger at all times should not be confused with being graceful. 

Shomapty studies economics and reads research papers and fiction books while having an existential crisis every few days. Never reach her at: [email protected]


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