This is continuing on from So What’s Up With Evil Sorceresses?
In that post, I talked about how evil and vanity are frequently embodied in the “vain sorceress” trope and how that’s actually kind of a problem. But that’s not even the biggest problem, in my view.
If I say, “Enchantress”, what do I mean? One who enchants, or is enchanting, of course. And what’s usually enchanting about a woman? Her enchanting looks. She could have an enchanting personality, or a skill that’s enchanting, but if a guy is talking to another guy and says “she’s enchanting,” it’s implied he’s either talking about her looks or the whole package, personality and looks. If looks aren’t in there, it’s generally specified. “She’s hideous, but her [whatever] is absolutely enchanting.”
The other thing about “Enchantress” is that it often comes with the suggestion of a lie. Her beauty is deceptive. If Protagonist is warned about Enchantress before going to see her, he will probably be warned not to be deceived by her beauty. And all too often, the Enchantress doesn’t have to use her magic to manipulate people; she can use her beauty.
Finally, the idea behind an enchantment is that it’s some sort of manipulation or lie. So. What is an Enchantress – which is, remember, fairly synonymous with Sorceress?
A deceptive, manipulative person who deceives and manipulates using beauty or deceptive and manipulative magic.
Cut off the magic part of that and what you have left is an old definition of a woman.
The idea that women were given their beauty by the devil to seduce, trick, and manipulate men, leading them down dark paths and making them their slaves, is a very, very old idea. Heck, even a simplified one that women’s beauty is evil and they use it to trick and manipulate men is still alive today, even if it isn’t always recognized as that idea. Calling all women “manipulative bitches” pretty much is just another way to express this idea.
So the problem that I have with the evil sorceress is that in many cases, she’s the exact embodiment of this ideal, that women are evil, and their dark gift of beauty is her best weapon against men.
Come on. The battle of male vs female is utterly ridiculous. Women are just another mortal like men. They’re not these ethereal temptresses who bewitch men and uuurgh I can’t even type that ideal again, it’s such BS.
Here’s the problem. If you want to have an ethereal temptress woman who is totes evil and wants to lead the protagonist, even men specifically, down to the dark paths of whatever like a beautiful siren…this is writing. You’re allowed to do that. But you have to be mindful of what message you are sending.
I will never tell you that you can’t use a writing element, that you can’t make a specific type of character, not even a Mary Sue. I might say I hate that kind of element, or strongly recommend against it. But you can do whatever you want.
What you may not do is go in blindly. You have to be conscientious as to what message you are sending. You are an artist, and your art affects the people who enjoy it. Think about how some books have shaped entire generations.
You can’t be ignorant to what themes and messages you’re sending. And if you know full well that you’re sending a message like women are innately evil and manipulative, well…go ahead and do that, I guess. I know you are wrong and I think that it’s awful that you think that and would write about it, but I’m not one to say you can’t do something because I disagree with it.
So what if you’d like to have the kind of evil sorceress we’ve talked about but would not like to suggest beauty is the weapon of women who are evil? Here’s a few ideas I can suggest:
- Have more than one woman in your story, and make certain your other women are rounded characters who are more than their beauty or definitely do not use their beauty to manipulate others. Which means that the sorceress cannot be the only pretty person around.
- Do not make the sorceress’ appearance a big deal. It might be nice if for once, a sorceress actually used her magic and just her magic and not her enticing anything for doing whatever it is she does. She could still be pretty but that trait is not an essential part of her character.
- Round out the sorceress so that she is more than just the wielder of beauty; have her use beauty as a weapon without suffering from vanity.
- Make the sorceress a dude and play with gender and gender roles.
There are women who use their beauty as a weapon, who do fit the old ideal that women are evil and they do try to manipulate men, especially with their looks. There are vain, shallow, and petty women. But it gets to be a problem when you see the same sort of character over and over again and not any other examples of different types of characters. So I don’t really have a problem with evil sorceresses as a common female villain; I just have a problem with the tropes and stereotypes that always go with it.
And yeah – maybe the types of [magically] powerful women are severely limited and sorceress tends to be the most powerful and that’s why it was used…
…but that doesn’t make it immune to the underlying messages that can be tucked in the story if a writer isn’t conscientious of them.