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?