- They are minions. Whether The Baroness or a Minion with an F in Evil, these characters typically are given little choice by their superiors, and should The Hero invest the proper effort, they are very likely to make a High-Heel–Face Turn.
- They are working alone or are the boss, but have a Freudian Excuse for their actions and they're Never a Self-Made Woman. The typical belief is "behind every bitch, there's a man who made her that way".
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Anime and Manga
- The anime Mai-Otome has very few male characters to begin with; however, most of the ones seen are villains. Both the Big Bad are men and they usually send male monsters of the week to fight the heroines. Also, all the evil heads of state are male while the good ones are female. It is true they all have female WMD but they are Just Following Orders. The main male in the series is Sergay Wang, who is a father figure and love interests of the protagonist, he is also The Dragon and completely loyal to his master. The only good men are the captain of the guard who is the Royal Brat queen's Butt Monkey, a one off prince and the Satellite Love Interest of a secondary character .There are a few female antagonists in the show but almost all of them are shown to be actually be good people and are redeemed by the end of the show (the only exception is a Karma Houdini).
- In Code Geass, most of the major male characters were presented as Anti Heroes at best. As a result most of them are either killed or given a horrible punishment. With one exception the only men who get out of the conflict well are those that are subservient to women; Ohgi is hated because for this reason. The female characters on the other hand all get a "Get out of Jail Free" Card. Other examples include Villetta Nu and Cornelia who get off despite not being any better.
- In the Pet Shop of Horrors manga, although there aren't really "villains" per se, the guys who screw up their contracts normally do so out of greed or ambition (the Chinese mob boss who murders a little girl to obtain her tiger, the drifter whose pursuit of success makes a kitten cry) The women screw up out of more sympathetic emotional weakness (a mother who spoils her daughter, a girl who wants her pet bird to be happy).
- Sailor Moon Zig-Zagged this trope. Both the manga and the original anime had female villains who were just one-dimensional bad guys. However, others were manipulated or misguided and portrayed more sympathetically.
- In Fushigi Yuugi, Yui enters the Universe of the Four Gods with Miaka, and not returned with Miaka, who goes back looking for her. Yui is attacked by thugs, rescued by Nakago who allows her to believe she was raped, and he convinces her that Miaka had just abandoned her to her fate. Yui doesn't believe him at first, but is convinced that Miaka didn't really come back for her when she sees Miaka and Tamahome (Whom Yui also has feeling for) kissing. This spurs Yui to become the Priestess of Seiryuu and enemy to Miaka.
- Also in the Eikoden OVA, it's played with. Mayo enters the book, spurns all attempts to get her back home, spreads vicious rumors about Miaka and tries to steal Tamahome away from Miaka. She does that stuff all on her own. But she is motivated by a male demon posing as Suzaku to pray for the destruction of Konan, in order to save herself from a Traumatic C-Section and get to be with Tamahome.
- In Parasyte, Reiko Tamura is the only important "female" Parasite on the mayor's side, and though The Heavy, she gets more character development than the other villains, because Motherhood Is Superior; she's also the only one who (eventually) chooses not to eat humans. Averted, however, with the Parasite who kills and takes over Shinichi's mom.
- Tintin ran for five decades, and in that time Tintin only met one female villain, who was aiding her husband (and both were quite insignificant even in the book they were in). Of course, Tintin has almost no female characters to begin with.
- The movies added another female villain, who merely spied on the heroes for the Big Bad.
- Of the most famous Batman villainesses, Catwoman varies between being an Anti-Hero and Anti-Villain (and her villainy in Batman Returns is caused by an evil man trying to kill her), Harley Quinn is a sympathetic abuse victim of a far more evil man, Talia al Ghul was reared by an evil father and is noticeably more sympathetic than him. Poison Ivy is less sympathetic but even her origin story has her being experimented on by an evil man.
- Judge Dredd does this in a couple of ways. There have been all manner of criminals across a whole spectrum of sympatheticness, but only three major villains have been women. Of these, only the Sisters of Death, creators of the Dark Judges, were outright evil; the others were Judge Edgar, who was a knight templar, and America Jara, a hero antagonist. Within Justice Department, there is a tendency for women to be more sympathetic and kind as foils to Dredd himself, most notably Anderson, Hershey, and more recently Beeny.
Films — Animated
- Inverted in Minions. Scarlet Overkill, the Big Bad of the film, is a frighteningly unhinged master criminal who makes it clear that she will not hesitate to have her own minions horribly executed should they fail her and blows up her hairdresser for mocking a drawing she made when she was five. Her husband, Herb, on the other hand, despite going along with her every command, is otherwise a generally nice guy, and shows barely any malice at all-and even when he eventually does, it may only be because he thought the Minions had tried to kill Scarlet with the chandelier earlier. Even then, he doesn't really do anything. The Minions themselves, meanwhile, are sort of trying to be evil, but are so horrible at it that they end up being more of a danger to the villains they serve than anyone else.
Films — Live-Action
- Zigzagged in the Saw film series. The only "original" villains are John Kramer and Hoffman, who are both male. The only woman who can seriously be counted as a villain is Amanda Young, who only became John Kramer's apprentice because she was "rehabilitated" by him and sincerely believed that the experience "helped" her. On the other hand, many of the female victims were Jerkasses including a thief, a loan shark, a woman who pimped out younger girls, and several con artists.
- Frequently happens in the Lifetime Movie of the Week, as well as in the 'Rape and Revenge' style flicks like I Spit on Your Grave.
- The Bourne Series enthusiastically embraces this trope. To date no female character has been portrayed as truly villainous; at worst they are simply misled by evil male superiors about the true nature of Bourne and Treadstone.
- The Baroness's film incarnation's sins in GI Joe The Rise Of Cobra are apparently all attributable to brainwashing. Can't a lady just be a bad guy anymore?
- V for Vendetta features a long series of defiantly awful male villains for whom V has no sympathy at all, plus one completely repentant female minion whom he treats almost tenderly.
- However the original work does feature the power-hungry, treacherous, manipulative, heartless and completely rotten to the core Helen Heyer, Conrad Heyer's horrible wife, whose goal is taking over Norsefire as the power behind the throne by using her husband as a puppet. She's presented as a serious threat on her own, so much so that V himself feels he needs to put her out of commission for good, lest his own plans be ruined. And while he doesn't kill her, he eventually has her reduced to a homeless street hooker. which is quite the humiliation for a former Rich Bitch Socialite. But the trope is still in play since she's presented as being unnaturally evil compared to all the other evil men around her and, without these men, she's nothing.
- The Dark Knight Saga:
- Of all the traitors in Gordon's unit in The Dark Knight, the only one with a sympathetic motive is Anna Ramirez who was on the take because she needed money for her mother's hospital bills, and she is the one who lucks out and survives Two-Face's judgement.
- Played straight again in The Dark Knight Rises with Selina Kyle but averted with Talia. Selina royally screws Bruce Wayne out of his wealth and throws him to the wolves, yet he forgives her. Talia tried to nuke Gotham City, and he wound up inadvertently killing her.
- Subverted in Escape from Planet Earth—the female villain, Lena, is manipulated by her fiancée Shanker, and the movie seems to set her up for a High-Heel–Face Turn. When push comes to shove, though, she refuses (either refusing to believing that Shanker is tricking her or just planning to take over the galaxy without him), and Kira stops trying to help her and takes her down instead.
- Inverted in Basic Instinct. All female characters in the film are either sociopathic, homicidal, manipulative, obsessed, or some combinations of the above.
- The Trope Codifier would probably be Sherlock Holmes, who never brought any woman to justice. He would always either allow her to escape or make sure no charges were filed against her. He would also come up with sometimes ludicrous explanations on why it was not her fault, like something must have hit her hand, causing the load stone of a structure to collapse, killing her ex-fiancé and she just took the money because she might be pregnant. This courtesy was sometimes extended to men if they had a female accomplice.
- In Oliver Twist, most of the women are wholesome, decent people (special mention goes to The Ingenue Rose), save for Nancy, who is a Love Martyr for Bill Sykes, someone who is less than pleasant.
- Subverted in A Song of Ice and Fire, of the three Lannister siblings, Cersei is by far the most villainous and least sympathetic, in contrast to her Anti-Hero brothers.
- Legacy of the Dragokin: The only reason the Kthonian knights want to wipe out all the men in the world is because they were horrifically abused by men and so they think all of them are evil. Even Ktonia herself fits this trope; Jihadain, her daughter, attacks Daniar, Kalak's wife, and is killed by him for it. Ktonia watches this happen and thinks everything is Kalak's fault.
- This is constantly used as an argument as to why women need to be shielded from the vices of the world in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Helen vehemently argues against this idea, knowing from experience that keeping women innocent will only set them up for future problems.
- Doctor Who ran for a quarter century and had a large number of Big Bads, yet in that time period only about 10 were women, and only one or two of them appeared in the show's first 15 seasons. The revival series is starting to subvert it with more frequent female villains.
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is an interesting case as they have had enough bad women that that you would think that it is not the case. However, they continually subscribe to this theory, and look for anything that will get a woman who attacked a man off for her actions.
- In Terra Nova, It turns out that the female sixer leader Mira is working for associates of Lucas Taylor, and has more or less been coerced into the role in much the same way as another female "villain", sixer spy Skye Tate. Lucas Taylor, on the other hand, causes trouble for the colony largely out of a sense of Disproportionate Retribution for his father's decision years earlier that led to his mother's death, and the associates are doing it out of pure greed.
- Star Trek: The Original Series:
- Marla McGivers of the episode "Space Seed" is perhaps the prototypical example of this. The episode's writers clearly want us to see her as a weak, innocent victim of Khan and maybe the audiences of 1967 saw her that way. To modern audiences, however, she often comes off as more of a Dirty Coward.
- Dr. Janice Lester of "Turnabout Intruder" is a power-hungry psycho who, among other things, murders her entire research party and shows no sign of remorse for it. She should be considered a serious criminal, but the episode ends with the main characters regarding her with condescending pity. Granted, she's clearly mentally ill, so she could be legitimately pitied for that. However, the pity expressed for her was definitely more along the lines of, "Poor silly girl got too uppity."
- This trend isn't rare in traditional sitcoms utilizing a Women Are Wiser dynamic. Even when it is time for the more rational female character to act Not So Above It All it will still often be heavily provoked by their more bumbling male costar's stupidity or arrogance.
- Definitely a common trope in older westerns, such as Bonanza.
- In the pilot of Supernatural, Sam tries to explain the actions of the Woman in White by saying the woman was temporarily insane because of her husband's infidelity when she killed her children.
- A popular Cliché of Telenovelas is an inversion of this, where a taken man is wooed by a woman and the whole situation is treated like if the guy was a blameless victim who was seduced by an evil vamp, even when almost every time said guy is a completely sober, full grown adult that could have just pushed the girl away. Is also very common that other characters feel bad for the "poor innocent guy" that was fooled for ulterior motives and his girl treated like an unfair, resentful woman. It makes no sense since the main demographic of these shows are women and sadly, not yet discredited.
- Averted in Investigation Discovery series Deadly Women. As the title suggests, the show is all about female killers who usually have no sympathetic or justifiable motivation for their crimes.
- Bones averts this with the The Reveal of Heather Taffet as the Gravedigger.
- Callisto from Xena: Warrior Princess is an aversion. She became a warlady because she believed Xena killed her parents.
- Once Upon a Time:
- Females playing this straight include Regina - who was once kind and good but was purposefully corrupted to become the Evil Queen by Rumpelstiltskin, and eventually undergoes a Heel–Face Turn. Additionally Ursula the Sea Witch was once good but became evil after years of abuse from her father, and Captain Hook stealing her voice was the last straw. She too gets redeemed. Ingrid the Snow Queen is a borderline case as although she had a sympathetic backstory, she was still presented as evil. She likewise got Redemption Equals Death.
- On the other hand, out of the three villains shown to be irredeemably evil two were women. Cora plays with the trope as, although her Start of Darkness does involve getting seduced and impregnated, the actual Face–Heel Turn is her abandoning the baby to fend for itself. Completely avoided with Cruella - who is shown to have been rotten to the core ever since childhood.
- Zelena played it straight at first but ultimately subverted it. She grew up with an abusive stepfather who frequently told her she was evil for having magic - and became the Wicked Witch of the West after Rumpelstiltskin rejected her as his student. But as she's the baby mentioned above, most of her problems can be attributed to having an ambitious birth mother. And she's given another flashback episode that serves as a Face Heel Door Slam - showing that she couldn't accept redemption.
- The spin-off Once Upon a Time in Wonderland plays it very straight. There are two female villains - Anastasia and Amara. Both have sympathetic reasons for their evil deeds and both get redeemed. This is in contrast to Jafar, who is shown as irredeemably evil. Likewise the Jabberwocky switches sides and attempts a Heel–Face Turn (that doesn't happen due to getting sealed away again). Also Alice's stepmother is presented as something of an antagonist but appears to be redeemed by the finale.
- In the song "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels", the lyrics state "From the start most every heart that's ever been broken/has because there always was a man to blame". It was written as a response song to "The Wild Side of Life", a song about a man who's fiancee left him for a man she met at a roadhouse
- The song "Daughters" by John Mayer is about a man who is rejected by a girl and so admonishes fathers to treat their daughters well because it will influence how she falls in love later in life - as if the only reason she could have rejected him is because her father was cold or abusive. Becomes a Double Standard in the bridge, which states you can "break" boys and they'll be fine, but don't you dare even raise your voice to a girl or she might turn someone down one day.
Mythology and Religion
- The Bible often averts this with women who initiate the temptation against men: Eve encouraged Adam to bite the apple after she did it first (although, the serpent may count as a male tempter), Jezebel was the driving force behind the persecution of the prophets while her husband Ahab just went along with it, and the "strange woman" of Proverbs 5 is definitely The Vamp seducing a virtuous man rather than being herself an innocent victim of seduction. On the other hand, it's easier to see it as played straight with that other famous Vamp Delilah (it seems she was really led on by bribes from the Philistine); or Hosea's extremely unfaithful wife Gomer, who surely can be interpreted as being more of a low-self-esteem woman who is easily influenced by any man who offers her a gift.
- Modern versions of King Arthur legend seem to follow this trope very much. Most of the important female villains in Merlin have sympathetic backstories and are Well-Intentioned Extremist types; Morgana gets several Being Evil Sucks scenes. Likewise, in Camelot, Morgan gets a rather more sympathetic treatment than King Uther who is just a brutal warlord.
- Debatable as Merlin goes on; not only is there an overwhelming number of evil magical women on the show (compared to good magical men), but the likes of Morgana and Morgause are portrayed as consistently more one-dimensional, whilst King Uther grows considerably more sympathetic.
- Classical Mythology averts this quite a bit.
- Artemis turned a man into an animal for peeping on her and allowed him to be eaten by his own hounds.
- Hera threw her own son off a cliff side because he was ugly/deformed.
- Aphrodite tortured Psyche by sending her on dangerous quests as she tried to be with Eros.
- Eris started the Trojan War because she wasn't invited to a wedding.
- In the game Bully you can seduce any female student to your side no matter how bad she is. True, there are also several boys you can seduce, but the gender ratio is around 6:1.
- In the Yakuza games, you never fight a female enemy (except for an optional encounter in the first and she looks like a man).
- Dragon Age: Origins certainly seems to nod to this trope. Even among the demons, the female "Broodmothers" are ultimately seen as victims, abducted, raped and transformed into Mook Makers. Much the same holds true for many male Darkspawn, but excepting one instance in the Dalish Elf origin, this isn't stressed as much.
- Subverted with Anora. Among all the possible candidates for the throne, she is presented as a Reasonable Authority Figure unless she betrays the warden to Ser Cauthrien or suspects she won't get her way at the Landsmeet. Of course, shrewd doesn't equal innocent.
- Flemmeth can be this depending on who's story you believe. If you believe Lelianna's story, she started out a winsome young bride who escaped an arranged marriage to be with her one true love. If you believe Morrigan's story, she was a shrewd dealer who got screwed over and did what she had to do to survive.
- Valkyria Chronicles Selvaria's body count is in the hundreds of thousands, but it's made very clear that all the bad things she does are Maximilian's fault. All the other generals under him are male; the only one who isn't portrayed as utterly evil is Jaeger, and even he's at least responsible for the actions he takes under duress. Selvaria is a tragic character who, despite being by and large the most powerful being in the game, is doomed by Maximilian's mishandling of her; this is reinforced in her DLC mission, where all she wants to do to thank one of her subordinates is cook a meal for him.
- Fire Emblem Awakening seems to only have one truly evil woman (two if you count a Grima-possessed female Avatar) throughout the game, with any other women merely being antagonists and/or mooks. But if you receive the SpotPass chapters you suddenly find out that she was practically mind controlled for the entire game, she then joins your team. To compare, Gangrel was a genuinely messed up individual, with a long list of atrocities to his name; he joins too, but he actually has to bear responsibility for his actions, instead of shifting the blame to someone else.
- The first official translation for Final Fantasy VI describes Defector from Decadence Celes Chere as having "a spirit as pure as snow" even though her in-universe claim to fame is being the war criminal who burned a city. Celes is a good person (being as she joins the party out of distaste for Kefka's even worse tactics) but the retranslation's character blurb does not repeat the odd assertion that she somehow had Incorruptible Pure Pureness while committing atrocities for The Empire.
- Subverted in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials And Tribulations. At first, Dahlia's tendencies date back to being neglected as a child. But not only was she horrible even as a child (sending her twin sister Iris to a monastery just so she can be center of attention) but her issues go back to the turmoil within the women of the Fey Clan. The series in general averts this, as most female murderers are just as petty and greedy as the male murderers, though they are much, much less common than the male ones, at a ratio of roughly 4 or 5 to 1.
- Family Guy seems to evoke Lois' flawed moments this way. A lot of her more self righteous or aggressive bouts are often provoked heavily by Peter's selfish or obnoxious antics, even if a lot of them are disproportionate. For example, she takes up martial arts and becomes outright abusive to Peter as a result of him belittling her power in the household. She also labels his and her father's objections to her being a model being unjust and opressive, despite the fact she is genuinely acting like a slut and on a self destructive path due to taking drugs. Later episodes seem to just skip the formalities and just make Lois an even bigger Jerk Ass than Peter, even if her losing it as a result of his behavior isn't that unlikely.
- The Karate Kid The Animated Series, "Homecoming": Tina helps her jerk boyfriend Brick steal the shrine, but she clearly doesn't like doing it and tries to keep him from hurting Daniel in the process.
- Thankfully averted in this video discussing female criminals.
- The infamy of one Lizzie Borden is largely due to this trope. In 1892, this trope was widely accepted and thus the public was shocked by the very idea of an upper-class lady committing such a violent crime against her own parents.
- Everyone knows that male betta fish are very territorial and will not hesistate to attack another male betta (and other showy fish, such as male guppies) that's placed in their tank. But what a lot of people don't realize is that although it's certainly possible to keep female bettas together, it's very difficult because they too are territorial. (Remember, bettas are not schooling fish.) The first week is often the worst, as they fight to figure out a pecking order. Some can't even handle being with other fish and need to be kept separate, just like males. If you want to attempt a sorority tank, it's best to have a large tank, with lots of plants and other places for the fish to escape to.