A Study of Fictions Greatest Villainesses

A few days ago, I listed some of my favourite villains as represented by the Seven Biblical Sins in response to a Daily Post. Two things occurred to me while was compiling it. Firstly, that I could think of far fewer female characters representing those traditional seven deadly since of lust, avarice, gluttony, pride, envy, sloth and wrath than their male counterparts. Secondly, when it came to my proposed eighth deadly sin of cruelty, that I could think of many villainesses but far fewer of their male counterparts.

HDM wiki. New Line Cinema. FAIR USE

Granted, in my second choice for lust I put Mrs Coulter from His Dark Materials. Her lust is not sexual as we would understand it, but lust for power. She does know, however, how to use feminine wiles to make men do her bidding – flirtatious behaviour for personal gain I would include as lust, even if sex is not the end game. Mrs Coulter is a charmer but she is also a cruel character.

I also included The Wicked Witch from Snow White as an example of an envious character but she is also vain (which would come under pride). Arguably, modern literature is promoting pride / vanity far more in female villains these days but cruelty still appears to trump it in memorable characters. I included Miss Havisham as an example of a prideful character in her determination of pushing her distorted view of what men are like because of the actions of just one – the one who jilted her on her wedding day.

As well as Narnia’s The White Witch for my proposed eighth sin of cruelty, I was also able to come up with these following cruel female characters: Cruella Deville (obviously!) Dolores Umbridge, Bellatrix Lestrange, both the mother and grandmother from Flowers in the Attic.

That’s not to say that cruelty is never portrayed as a character trait in male villains, merely that it seems to be far more common in female villains. Ignoring for a moment that Bellatrix Lestrange is a sociopath and is highly likely clinically insane, most of the others above are fully aware of their actions and take pleasure in their actions. Bellatrix, in our world, would simply be a life-long patient of Broadmoor.

I think cruelty is far more common as a female character trait because it is the antithesis of the ideals of motherhood: the carer, the nurturer, compassion etc. Is this right? Is the mother instinct – and the distortion of it – the fuel for the motivation of most of our female villains?

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I'm Matt, a freelance writer, writing mostly about education, early career recruitment, tech, B2B and professional services. Dabbling with landscape and nature photography too. For this content , please look at my main site linked below. I'm also a self-published author, creator of the quirky crime comedy book series Salmonweird. If that's what you're looking for, then good news! The village has its own website listed below.

7 thoughts on “A Study of Fictions Greatest Villainesses

  1. It’s an interesting point. I think your right on about it being the complete stark opposite of a nurturing mother. I’ve been trying pretty hard for a few minutes now to come up with a good male “cruel” example. Well, at least without one of the other 7 sins being more prevalent.
    But right off the top of my head I grab many females: Ursula (little mermaid), wicked witch of the west, the queen in Alice and wonderland, etc. these all include other sins but I feel like cruelty is at the top.
    Maybe the Grinch? He coveted and stole but mostly it was just from his cruel heart.
    Maybe Sir Hiss from the Robin Hood cartoon.
    Gargamel from the Smurfs
    Wylie E Coyote, that’s a stretch 😛

    1. Hmmm, the Grinch was bitter rather than cruel and he was bitter (arguably) for a good reason because of the cruelty he had suffered from the townsfolk.

      It is an interesting one and I am open to any more suggestions!

  2. Good question. Maybe it is just a case that women tend to be cruel versus, say, all those other things? Meaning, that’s just more in their nature?

    On a different, but similar note, my husband and I were talking about the differences between teenage boys and girls. I mean, there are differences. Our hormonal cocktails are different and that leads to, in general, different likely behaviors.

    We were watching the final episode of Season 4 of The Killing. There’s a scene where the military school boys are aggressively goading another boy to masturbate over his mother’s picture. It was a ritual, of sorts, and I would say a very cruel ritual, but that’s besides the point. What I immediately noted is that that would be a very unlikely scene with girls.

    I do not deny that girls, or female adolescents, might force another girl to do something horrendous. That happens, of course, but I would argue it is a rarer occurrence. Whereas with boys, it’s almost common.

    So…not sure how that relates to your post…but there it is! 😮

      1. That’s a whole can of worms about violence and gender we can’t even begin to unravel because it is so complex. Slightly related and slightly unrelated, male victims of violence (especially by female partners) don’t report it to authorities for a variety of reasons.


        This study is eye-opening: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/enhanced/doi/10.1002/ab.21499/

        This one by Erin Prizzy opened one of the first sanctuaries for women in the 1970s reveals her experiences: http://www.civitas.org.uk/pdf/cs09.pdf

        Anyway, I hope I have given you food for thought!

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