In Honor of Rude Women

feature image via YouTube/Disney

This winter, I was watching The Grinch when I realized the reason that Martha May (played by Christine Baranski) made me Feel Things as a child: she’s glamorous, sure, and she really does make an adorable Who, but, most importantly, she’s just a little bit rude. Even as she clearly flirts with the Grinch with her eyes, she sides with her asshole husband and has, for her entire life, aligned herself with bad people, preferring unnecessary wealth to goodness. She uses her beauty to get what she wants. And yet, I found her so deeply appealing, not knowing as a child if I wanted to be like her, or if I wanted something else.

There’s a lot of overlap between queer culture and rude women because so many villains onscreen are queer-coded. On all of the various lists on the internet about “if you liked these characters, you’re gay now,” are the villains who grabbed our attention in our youth, or in our current lives: Take Shego of Kim Possible, who wasn’t at all a nice woman, and instead was a snarky character and a literal villain; yet I always found myself drawn to her and her neon green outfit. Halle Berry as Catwoman, and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy in Batman & Robin piqued my interest in similar ways, as I liked the ways they flitted around onscreen, moving slowly and increasingly sensually, making men feel bad and yet keeping them interested. Their niceness was always a farce, a trick meant to make the guys, good or bad, do their bidding. Raven of Teen Titans, though not a villain, is definitely not a typical nice girl, as she’s decked out in all black and wears her hair short and purple, a look of disinterest on her face for the most part, unless she’s looking on at her friends with disdain or frustration (throwing out the only occasional smile). Many of these characters gain their queer-coding as villains, or as women who challenge the norms of what a feminine woman not only should look like, but be like.

Another example that comes to mind is in the hypersexual, why-do-I-find-this-queer Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Angelina Jolie’s character Jane is clearly an outcast in her friend group of sweater-wearing, book-club-loving women. She sits on a floral couch wearing a pink cardigan and pink dress, attempting to play the role expected of her as a wife and a woman, but clearly fails, her dress sliding away to reveal thigh-high black boots and fishnets. She is doing womanhood in the stereotypical, man-approved way, quite wrong. While you can argue that the scene is more male gaze-y than anything else, done to light up the eyeballs of male viewers hoping for a peep of Jolie’s famous legs, it feels more like it serves the character herself and illustrates her inability to, ultimately, fit in. She’s not supposed to be there.

There’s power to be found in women behaving badly—and in women behaving rudely. In 2014, HuffPost reported that a study found that men are most interested in “nice” women, with niceness associated not just with sexual attractiveness, but with femininity. There’s an entire discourse about niceness, and about the ways that women do or don’t, or should or shouldn’t communicate. Every three months a new article comes out about if we should use exclamation points, telling us at first that it makes us look desperate and over-eager, making it easier for our coworkers not to take us seriously and for our emotions to boil over, and then telling us that we’re being rude by not catering to the needs of the people we communicate with, arguing that women’s words come across too cruelly when not punctuate with a rollout of emojis and exclamation points. Memes float through Twitter and Instagram about how many exclamation points we should use; at this point, we have no choice but to laugh about it. Then, of course, there’s, “You should smile,” the IRL version of the exclamation point, the request that demands that women physically illustrate their happiness at all times lest we cause stress to our viewers, strangers or otherwise. In 2012, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh created an art series titled “Stop Telling Women to Smile,” and yet, nearly a decade later, the issue persists, ultimately for a frustratingly simple reason: our cultural expectation that women be nice, and that they be nice in the way that most pleases our individual expectations.

The swirling bullshit surrounding perceived niceness and perceived womanhood feeds my admiration for women who don’t bow to it. Now, at 27, I still struggle with it, maybe even more than I did as a teenager arguing with fifty-year-old men in Target who told me I was pretty and should smile more. It feels easier, sometimes, especially being a queer Black person who is afraid of everything, to just smile and throw in exclamation points and answer the strangers in my DMs who demand my time and energy and expect it.

On my cat’s forth birthday, I described her as terrible lovely, and a friend commented, “I aspire to be described as terrible and lovely.” I also aspire to be terrible and lovely, or maybe to just be terrible, or maybe just to surround myself in love and friendship with terribly rude women who don’t smile unless they feel like it and accept the title of villain if it means they get to experience life and emotion on their own terms.

So, please, in honor of rude women: who are the rude women you know (or don’t know) and love? Can we flirt with/admire/aspire to be ruder, together?

Rachel Charlene Lewis is a QPOC, writer, and editor. She is on Instagram Instagram and Twitter as @RachelCharleneL. She lives in North Carolina with a badly behaved tortie kitten and many almost-dead plants.

Rachel has written 8 articles for us.

28 Comments

  1. Me, I was a rude woman and at times did actually love and honor myself.

    Now you may see that WAS and be like what happened?WelI stopped IDing as a woman but don’t worry I still stand up for myself rather than “be polite” and my preferred aesthetic when femme-ing is villain or at the very least supernatural woodland being.

    While my mother is 10x genteel and diplomatic than I she is a role model for stubborn self preservation rather than bending to the whims of others. She can effortlessly and so politely tell someone to fuck off they squirm and feel guilty.

    But also the way she holds grudges, blows up and throws things back into people’s faces isn’t healthy. She needs a real outlet.

    Oh and trojan skinhead who was a teen mom to my childhood bestie is 100% a rude woman role model. She was like a folded steel blade.

  2. As an introvert with unintentional Resting Bitch Face, I’ve spent so much of my life trying to overcompensate for coming across as cold/snobby/intimidating etc that I have sorely underdeveloped rudeness skills, but on the other hand I’m pretty good at diplomatically putting people in their place when the need arises.

  3. I wouldn’t call her rude, I would call her strong, aspirational, knows her own mind, her own strengths, will use all of the above to her advantage and that of others irrespective of the audience. No matter who the audience is, Emma is herself unapologetically. We need that level of conviction and determination. She has integrity. I am talking of Emma Hernandez in Vida. I have only just discovered this show and I love it, sexuality is complex, colourful and unapologetic, but it remains secondary to the even stronger, more compelling storyline arcs and character development. Emma is a godsend.

  4. As a person who is generally serious I’m often mistaken for rude. Work colleagues are very confused as to why I’ve had a kid and why I’ve worn through several pairs of jeans by crawling about, messing around with her.
    I’m so so very sad about leaving the EU. I cried when they ratified the agreement and paid tribute to all the British politicians who worked so hard to make the EU work. I’ve had to turn the radio off today because I couldn’t deal with the news repeating the same clips every hour. I’m furious. But mostly afraid. And very sad.

  5. I had a huge crush on GLaDOS when I was deep in the closet, both in terms of my gender and my sexuality, as an adolescent. She’s intensely adept at her job, she has little patience for incompetence, and she is single-minded in pursuing her own ends (scientific testing, murdering and belittling humans).

    I also liked that she doesn’t really have a set body, per se, outside of her briefly glimpsed boss fight chassis. She’s really more of the embodiment of an intensely inhospitable place, a malevolent queering of late stage capitalism itself, and you spent all of both games traveling inside her. She rearranges herself around you to push your wits and reflexes to the limit as you search vainly for a way to escape. I realize both games were written by men, and some of the dialogue doesn’t really hold up too great in the cold light of 2020, but at the time, I really identified with someone who wasn’t so much a single figure as a pure force of willpower trapped inside a derelict body, yearning to one day regain mastery over her dominion. (Also, c’mon. Her and Chell? Totally enemies-to-lovers by the end. Feel free to ask me how this works, I have fanfic.)

    • Don’t have to ask I think I’ve seen enough hentai to figure the logistics of that😉

      I heard the voice actress for GLaDOS was trained as an opera singer which means I also harbored a crush, just a lil one.

  6. My old colleague. She wasn’t rude, but that didn’t stop men perceiving her that way. A large percentage of the men were terrified of her. Women either got on with her, or got into terrible, fiery arguments. I am completely in love with her…

  7. Rachel, I want you to know that I have spent the better part of the last half hour searching for this article. I wanted to find it because my boss told me that she appreciates my work because I’m really good at “asking her hard questions”, and at first blush it made me worry that I’m the woman at my company who makes people brace themselves before she speaks. Then I remembered this article, and I wanted to find it for a quick dose of encouragement.

    However, I could not for the life of me remember the title. I was googling “autostraddle in praise of difficult women”, “autostraddle in praise of loud women”, “autostraddle angry women are good” (@ whoever runs the SEO here, I’m really sorry). All of those pulled up lots of great articles, but not the one I wanted.

    Then, finally, I saw it and remembered your perfect word choice: “rude”. I spend so much of every day worrying all the time that people don’t like me. Rereading this article has helped me remember that sometimes, people not liking me is good (and that “being the person who asks hard questions” is usually synonymous with “being the person who doesn’t let bullshit lie”). Thank you.

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