|Who needs a knife, when you have pointy earrings?|
In Loving with a Vengeance: Mass-Produced Fantasies for Women (1982, 2008), Tania Modleski suggests that soap opera villainesses function as the "negative image of the spectator's ideal self," the symbolic representation of the spectator's "resentment at being constituted as an egoless receptacle for the suffering of others" (88-87). The anger a good girl feels at being endlessly told to be nice, to be good, to sacrifice for others, returns in the form of her repressed opposite, the egotistical, greedy, evil woman. Cunning, powerful, and sexy, the evil woman proves adept at using what Modelski terms the "aspects of a woman's life which normally render her most helpless"—pregnancy, motherhood, loss of a child—and use them to manipulate the hapless men and good girls around her (87).
In the post-feminist world of twenty-first century romance, a genre which purportedly celebrates female desire rather than feminine self-sacrifice, is there a need any longer for the figure of the villainess? Though she served as a standard trope in the Harlequin and Silhouette books of my early teen years, the greedy, heartless, self-absorbed woman who cares far more about her own needs than those of her swain has proven far less common in the romances I've found myself reading of late (though the lack of category romance in my daily reading fare may throw doubt upon this claim--any category readers out there have thoughts?)
What do you think—can there be any such thing as a villainess in a feminist romance?
Joan Collins as Alexis Carrington: The Telegraph
Next time on RNFF
The first openly gay pro athlete in m/m romance