Confession: I like a good revenge story.
I mean, who doesn’t love a twisty tale of personal justice? In fact, my current work-in-progress has a significant revenge theme. And as with any manuscript I write, I tried to think of revenge stories (books or movies) that had a similar thread for comparison.
As I pondered the options, I began to notice a concerning trend. Most of the stories I could think of featured male main characters, some of whom are avenging female family members (Taken, e.g.). The ones with female main characters are centered on how they’ve been wronged by a man (First Wives’ Club, The Lauras), and more often than not, they’re humorous in nature (Fried Green Tomatoes). Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies comes close, but I’d consider that more self-defense than calculated revenge.
With a little research, I found more woman-led stories, but most of the women are teen girls (True Grit, Carrie) or highly trained professionals (a detective or assassin, like Kill Bill). The average-Joe-gets-revenge narrative seems limited to men, for the most part. You know the theme I’m talking about, the one where the totally normal guy is wronged in some way and starts doing his research, creating a murder board with pictures and strings connecting them, gathering evidence as he plans his hit list.
I couldn’t find anything like that with a woman in the lead, so I asked my husband what he could think of. He mentioned Orphan Black and Killjoys, which are closer, but they’re sci-fi tales. They’re already squarely beyond reality, set within the realm of imagination. Is that the only place to find female revenge-seekers? Does a woman have to have special powers or live in an alternate universe to enact revenge?
I’m sure there are stories out there of average women getting revenge for an injustice not involving infidelity. I don’t claim to have read every book or seen every movie with a revenge theme. The problem is, those stories are harder to find. They don’t represent the revenge themes you find in popular tv shows and movies. In those, serious revenge is best left to the men.
And that bothers me. Of course it does.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for an “I’m gonna take out his cheating self” narrative, and I love a good sense of humor. But is that all women get? When it comes to mystery/suspense fiction, women are already more likely to be victims than heroes, more likely to need rescuing than to be the rescuer. The suspense world is full of books with that same old trope of the the pretty dead girl who needs a man to get justice for her. Yes, women tend to be more physically vulnerable, but statistically, men are more likely to be victims in every crime except rape. (Check out these stats, especially page 9.)
Maybe that’s why I feel compelled to create strong, intelligent female characters. I want women like me to be able to embrace a narrative in which women aren’t simply the victims but are the heroes of their own story. They say write what you know, and an intelligent woman at the helm of her own ship, that’s a reality I know.
The truth is, I’m lucky enough to have some incredible, strong women in my life. If I ever needed justice, my money’s on them to get it for me. Sure, there are some awesome men in my life too. But when it comes to taking care of business, there’s one thing I know for sure: don’t ever underestimate a woman.