An antagonist is a character who possesses seemingly different ideas, views, and plans of action than the protagonist. They often tend to be in the wrong, are hostile and even impossible to reason with. They lack a moral compass, are selfish and are too stuck up in their own beliefs to take a look at what is “objectively good”. Some examples of antagonists are Bond villains, Russian dudes with sunglasses and apparently (hyper)feminine women. All films, good or bad, are built on stereotypes. There is no escaping stereotypes because there are only so many character tropes one could possibly come up with. But one that has always intrigued me as an audience is the mean girl. The mean girl is always a bitch who is at the top of the social ladder and hates women with glasses for whatever reason. She is bossy, and obnoxious, and wears lip gloss. The mean girl verbally berates the protagonist and is all over the love interest at all times. A badly written bully, who bases her entire self-worth on her Prada bags and cheetah print skirts, and loses the love interest to the protagonist (post-makeover, of course) at the end.
An easy villain to write, no? An enjoyable one too. But why? Why are these characters so fun to hate? Is it just the bad attitude?
THE "NOT LIKE OTHER GIRLS" PHENOMENON
Growing up, girls are constantly reminded of how weak and silly “being a girl” is perceived as. It's so much cooler to be “one of the boys” and distance oneself from girlhood. Pink is a “girl colour”, dresses are stupid, doing your nails is silly, all girls do is gossip and talk about boys, and girls are too much drama. All of these little things and more come together to form internalized misogyny in little girls. When they are constantly taught to hate womanhood, femininity, and all things associated with it, it's only easy to hate the hyper-feminine, “girly girl” characters. It's easy to write mean girls as women who are deeply in touch with stereotypically feminine activities, with stereotypically feminine mannerisms, because they are already seen as “less than” and aren’t taken seriously.
I believe this depiction of femininity is problematic as it feeds the already present internalized misogyny in little girls and only makes them distance themselves from one another. It also affects the way children of other genders view femininity, making them see it in a negative light, and I would argue that it plays a fairly important role in society’s perception of feminine women, as media shapes our world in so many ways. It is important to understand that femininity isn’t linear. It is subjective, and every individual, regardless of gender identity, have their own definition of what femininity is. However, in this context, I will be speaking about society’s definition of stereotypical femininity and hyper-femininity, and how it is looked down upon.
HOW HOLLYWOOD AND BOLLYWOOD DIFFER IN THEIR PORTRAYAL OF THE HYPER- FEMININE WOMAN:
Hollywood has played a huge role in popularizing the mean girl trope. The classic film trilogy, High School Musical is an excellent example of how movies demonize femininity. Sharpay Evans, the supposed antagonist of the trilogy, is a teen girl with immense drive, ambition and dreams of glamour and popularity. The same factors are what make her the villain, along with her femininity.
It is very common for movies to depict “modest”, and “simple” women as the epitome of goodness, and the ambitious, girly women as the “mean ones”. Gabriella Montez, one of the main characters of the movie, is shown to be a humble, innocent and brainy girl, who is unaware of her own beauty. She is soft-spoken and shy and the audience roots for her because of those traits of hers. Sharpay on the other hand is bold, loud and confident. Her confidence is received as vanity by the other characters.
The contrast between these two characters is also shown through clothes, in the sense, Gabriella wears flowy, cool colours like white, and dresses in clothes that are more low-key, while Sharpay is seen wearing the colour pink, floral patterns, and dresses in a flashy and over the top manner. Gabriella’s quiet and intelligent demeanour is seen as more credible than Sharpay’s boldness because modest, humble women supposedly embody what a good woman should be.
While the boys in the movies are celebrated for their passion, ambition and drive, Sharpay is shunned and hated for the same.
“While High School Musical claims to champion self-acceptance for everyone, if you’re a girl that acceptance extends to you only if you’re not too, well, girly.”- Film Fatales
While Hollywood makes a caricature of hyper-feminine women, Bollywood shuns the "modern woman". The modern woman is a bitch who wears skimpy clothes and enjoys stereotypically feminine things, such as shopping, makeup and boys. She is vile, vain and cunning, and always turns into a poster modest and “traditional Indian woman”. The modern woman adopts ideals of western femininity and is therefore an uncultured woman who needs to be fixed and polished.
Kareena Kapoor’s iconic character, Pooja “Poo” Sharma from K3G, is a good example of this phenomenon. Poo is your typical “modern woman”. She is unapologetically herself, bold and individualistic. Of course, like every female character who is hyper-feminine, poo is arrogant, rude and attention-seeking. She is shown wearing crop tops, mini skirts and make-up, which is absolutely unacceptable and horrendous in the eyes of the characters. However, all of that goes out the window after she meets Rohan, and she transforms into the beautiful salwar kameez-wearing woman we should all strive to be. Why is one way to be feminine criticised, but the other celebrated?
Our world has so many standards for how women should exist. When femininity is tied to the female antagonist and is a huge part of why she is the villain, it can lead to a story that does more harm than good in shaping the views of the world. In the grand scheme of things, it seems like an irrelevant and minuscule nuisance, but at the end of the day, movies are just less dramatic realities of society.