Saturday, March 16, 2013

Wicked Women

Posted by: Jane Kindred

An article on the Ms. Magazine blog about the movie Oz the Great and Powerful caught my attention today. I was looking forward to seeing this movie, but I was disappointed to read about its negative messages (or at least a lack of positive ones) about women. According to Natalie Wilson at Ms.:

The film speaks neither to the many strong female characters that populated L. Frank Baum’s books nor to the feminist, progressive leanings of its author. Instead, it trades in the notion that women are indeed wicked—especially those women not “tamed” by a male love interest or father figure, as well as (horror of horrors!) those women who lack nurturing, motherly characteristics.

Oh, dear.

It seems to be a disturbing trend in fantasy right now—certainly among fantasies making it to the big screen. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, and Beautiful Creatures are two other recent movies whose premises seem to rely on a rather medieval concept of women as the ultimate bad.

Sure, there are one or two good women in these stories, but the evil they’re battling is epitomized by those women who’ve chosen to embrace the qualities that are depicted as unfeminine—notably, a hunger for power. It’s the woman who chooses not to act on her power, not to “give in” to it, who is seen as the righteous woman.

On a similar note, it’s been bothering me increasingly that the heroines in urban fantasy, the branch of fantasy I read most often, are often seen as “one of the guys,” and rarely have more than one female acquaintance—whose role usually consists of two-dimensional “you need to get laid more” conversations. If there are any other women in the story, they’re generally conniving and, let's face it, wicked. It’s as if there isn’t room for more than one strong, positive woman in the heroine’s world. I can’t think of many urban fantasy heroines who have strong female friends—though there are a couple of notable exceptions that both happen to be television series: Lost Girl and Once Upon a Time. I think if it weren’t for these two series depicting a full range of strong women, I’d be despairing of any hope for the future of women in the genre.

All of this got me thinking about my own series, and how I have not one, but two “wicked” women whom my heroine must battle. I remember when I originally chose to turn it in this direction that I was consciously thinking about how I didn’t want a typical “bad guy,” so mine would be female, but I wonder if I just fell into the same trap. Do I now have a typical “wicked woman” instead?

I can only hope the additional female characters in my trilogy round things out. The heroine has one close female friend who isn’t strong in the physical sense, but who endures a great deal for her and has a strong heart, and she also has a kickass female Nephil second-in-command who was in the Russian special forces and teaches my angelic heroine Russian martial arts. There are a couple of additional female characters, as well, who start out on the wrong side but end up making some positive growth by the end of their story arcs.

It’s too late to make changes in that story now that the final book in the trilogy has just finished its last round of edits, but it’s definitely giving me something to think about as I work on my new WIP. So far (about 35K in) I have a heroine with no female friends, and the other female characters are all somewhat antagonistic in nature—the very thing that’s been bugging me in the books and movies I’ve been noticing. Looks like it’s time for me to stop and reexamine where this story is going.

Thanks, L. Frank Baum, for the century-old reality check.


  1. Excellent post! I've been seeing the word going around about this film, and I'm disappointed too at what I've been hearing about its handling of women. I'll probably see it at some point on Netflix but I'm not going to rush right out and see it, I fear.

  2. Interesting and thought-provoking (as usual, Jane). You've managed to get me thinking about my female characters before, and that's always a good thing. Thankfully, I don't really have any 'wicked' females.

    Are you watching Vikings (the new series from The History Channel)? Interesting treatment of female characters there. The jury is still out, but I like where the producers say they're coming from with their females. Thanks for keeping me on my toes with my female characters!

    1. I've been meaning to watch that. It sounds fascinating. I hope it's something I can catch up with on Netflix eventually.

  3. We just got back from seeing "Oz The Great and Powerful." I've been a fan of Baum's stories (I read them all as a child and have read them all AND Ruth Plumly Thompson's to my own children)

    ~Spoiler Alert~

    I understand where the idea of "negative messages about women" comes from...

    In the movie, both "Evil" witches are still alive since this is the Prequel to "The Wizard of Oz." One of them fights against it, but fails. She begins as a rather naive woman who sees the wizard's flirtation as a declaration of eternal love... in the way a 15 year old girl might. When she realizes he was just flirting with her, her heart is broken and she gives up fighting against her "evil nature."

    But the movie isn't spewing "negative messages about women." This is one character. Yes, there's another evil witch as well, but that's simply the story. Glinda is not only good, but strong, caring, and in many ways an admirable character.

    1. believe the point of the quoted article was that so many other Oz stories could have been told, but a choice was made to tell one that presented the least amount of admirable women characters. But since I haven't seen Oz, you're probably better off having that discussion with the author of the article on the Ms. blog. It was really only a jumping off point for my thoughts about the way women seem to be portrayed in magical fantasy. (Interesting typo: just wrote "betrayed" in place of "portrayed.") Too often, there is only one good woman, while the rest of the women come off as wicked.

  4. Those type articles always have me frantically counting my female characters and rating my own books, too. My latest is slightly out of proportion with more male characters because it has military scenes and a patriarchal society, but I'm pleased to report I have one woman leader, and two female warriors. No wicked women--though I did have one in book one.


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