From Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent to Amy Dunne’s Gone Girl, the ruthlessness of these characters has defied the familiar landscapes of righteous women and reinterpreted what it means to be a woman. Who is she?
All in all, it vociferously echoes that women aren’t angels or saints from heaven. We are human beings, flawed and fragile. I read a quote on why women should be given voting rights that resonates with these words. It said, “I find it poor logic to say that because women are good, women should vote. Men do not vote because they are good; they vote because they are male, and women should vote, not because we are angels and men are animals, but because we are human beings and citizens of this country.”
Damsel-In-Distress or Anti-heroines?
Somehow, there is an insurmountable pressure on women to be “perfect”, “chaste” and “angelic”. One who can do no wrong, adorned in righteousness, is a beacon in the darkness who is honest and virtuous. If a woman assumes a political office, she has to be morally right, unlike a man, the Prince of Machiavelli, who can be ruthless and clever showcasing dual morality. He will be hailed, she will be cast aside. What are these one-sided expectations?
We love morally grey characters, and praise them for portraying real emotions but with a caveat- they should be our anti-heroes. Anti-heroines aren’t yet in our daily vocabulary. The only vocabulary is we gotta be the ‘pretty damsel-in-distress’, not Amy Dunne or Lisbeth Salander who are vengeful, ready to avenge the wrong. And no, it’s not a righteous battle and there will be no piousness in the revenge, it will be brutal and ugly.
Laura Mulvey, the feminist intellectual propounded the male gaze theory in a 1973 essay called “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” applying the psychoanalytical methodology to conclude how the “male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female figure, which is styled accordingly.” The women, thus portrayed, lack significance and essence and are merely sexual objects to be construed for the pleasure of the male viewer.
Deeply rooted in the patriarchal discourse, women are “the bearer of meaning and not the maker of meaning,” which suggests that women are not placed in a role where they can take control of a scene, instead, they are simply put there to be observed from an objectified point of view. This inequality enforces the ancient and outdated idea that “men do the looking, and women are to be looked at.”
The binary of good vs evil was constructed and sewn into a woman’s identity when we idolized Sita, relegating Draupadi to a secondary status. But, gradually, we are seeing the rise of anti-heroines, ready to defy structural norms and go beyond the binaries.
In ‘Difficult Daughter’, Manju Kapoor’s protagonist is anything but a self-sacrificing woman. Our Viru won’t give up on love, but she will bloody give up her family. She isn’t afraid of being stereotyped or judged for loving and marrying a married man. She is clamorous and blunt. She is not a villain, but she isn’t the ‘good heroine’. She is just a woman in love, navigating the complexities of being a daughter and a lover.
Our anti-heroines are morally ambiguous and a little selfish like humans are. From Hobbes to Marx, we see human nature defined as selfish, and yet somehow this doesn’t apply to women. Why? Is it a way of dehumanising women in the name of glorifying them? Women comedians can’t joke about sex but a man can only get laughs if they throw in some sex jokes.
Why do we need more anti-heroines?
When talking about her book Independence with Vogue, Chitra Banerjee said, “I think it’s harmful if society only portrays perfect, idealistic women, because what is it saying to all of us? Women are wonderful as they are with all their flaws, that is my belief.”
Anti-heroines aren’t flawed beings, they are just beings navigating the tapestry of existence. They are realistic, not elevated personas. We need more anti-heroines because we are tired of being compared to a higher, spiritual level of godliness. We need more anti-heroines because it’s real and relatable. We need more anti-heroines because it’s inspiring. We need more anti-heroines because they are challenging patriarchy, one movie/book at a time.
Anti-heroines defy the male gaze as they are not constructed for the voyeuristic pleasure of men, but for us, women like you and me. They are a means to show that we don’t have to be self-sacrificing, damsel-in-distress waiting for our shining knight in the armour to save us. We are warriors and capable of fighting for ourselves like our foremothers did. We deserve to make mistakes and learn from them, like everyone. We aren’t infallible. We deserve to exist, with all our imperfections and flaws and don’t have to aspire for perfection. We deserve to just be, and there is no shame in being and becoming.
Next time, we shall collectively root and whistle for confused Rumi from Manmarziyaan, and ferocious Aarya from Aarya. We shall stand by our anti-heroines and no, Taylor Swift, this time it won't be exhausting rooting for the anti-heroines because narcissism won’t be disguised as altruism, anymore.
Views expressed are the author's own.