Katherine examines the feminist redress of films that centre women being physically violent in their pursuit of revenge.
”I don’t believe in the glorification of murder, but I do believe in the empowerment of women” is a bold statement, for sure, and from none other than the iconic Lady Gaga. This quote, in reference to her starring role in 2021’s House of Gucci, alludes to a popular film genre or trope: the “good for her” film. Take Gone Girl, Midsommar, I Spit on Your Grave, Carrie, or Thelma and Louise; all of us will be familiar with a film where we root for a murderous woman, while still perhaps while questioning the morality of this. Is it empowering, cathartic, feminist? Or just a bit sadistic?
Short answer: all of the above. In my experience, films - especially horror films - are one of the few places where women get told that their worries and fears are real, and will be avenged. Generally, “good for her” films are dubbed as such by fans when a woman has a satisfying revenge arc, overcoming something traumatic and, usually, murdering a man or two in the process. I would say this boils down to the issue of agency; patriarchal values are generally upheld in film, so seeing a woman go batshit because she wants to can generate, well, sympathy. Add in being wronged by a man and it can be cathartic to see a woman step outside of her usual role in a film as the victim and fight back.
"Patriarchal values are generally upheld in film, so seeing a woman go batshit because she wants to can generate, well, sympathy."
Now, there is a problem when we just accept murder as part of the all too common shallow, girlbossification on screen. From Disney to dramas, giving a female character a speech about being independent is seen as enough to satisfy those pesky liberal feminists. But, perhaps concerningly, murder seems a bit more satisfying, and for Lady Gaga, perhaps a combination is best; you can be a strong female protagonist and kill people, ladies! Is that agency there? Is that revenge there? These are what will make a character relatable enough to root for, rather than just making her “strong” enough to appease viewers.
Gone Girl is often seen as the epitome of this trope; ruining a cheating husband’s life by framing him for your murder certainly constitutes getting revenge. But I would argue its leading lady Amy is stone cold psychopathic. I couldn't really root for her, and it disturbs me a little how many women seem to online. However, if men can root for Jordan Belfort, James Bond, and the Joker, I suppose we deserve Amy Dunne. After all, rooting for these characters doesn’t mean in real life we support murder, or glorify it, rather that we support seeing whoever we percieve to be relatable and an underdog (i.e. women) have agency and a satisfying ending.
"If men can root for Jordan Belfort, James Bond, and the Joker, I suppose we deserve Amy Dunne."
I would say, instead, that Thelma and Louise has the makings of the ultimate “good for her film”; these two women take their lives into their own hands to get back at the sleazy men who controlled and hurt them. It isn't a happy ending, but it is a satisfying one. Generally, rape revenge films and those similar fulfill this niche to their truest form, but it doesn’t always have to be as literal as many of them are. Carrie is another example, although the agency is largely stripped from her in her rage, it is still a satisfying ending and revenge is had.
Enjoying these films isn't wrong, but loving characters just because they kill people and are female is missing the point. We have all been wronged, we have all been angry, and we have all wanted revenge. That doesn't mean we will go on a killing spree, but it does mean we are right to experience catharsis and escapism, and that is what film has always been about. Don't worry, women won't become sociopaths just because Lady Gaga says it's in, and this isn’t fourth-wave feminism. In fact, it isn't even remotely new.
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