Social Science

Villainess Protagonists’ Performative Acts as The Representation of Modern Femininity

A Paper Review

Kean Teng Blog
3 min readMar 22, 2024
Image from Unsplash

The Shift In Protagonist Depiction

As a manga or “manhwa” reader, I am seeing villainesses, which is a genre that mainly target female reader with features such as reincarnation and fantasy are being represented more and more in Korean’s long strip manga. “The Villainess’ Stationary Shop”, “Step Aside, I Will Choose The Ending” and “Villains Are Destined To Die” are just a few works under the stated genre. Usually, villainesses are often depicted as the undesirable antagonists with bad ending storyline while the heroines are the one who deserve the good ending.

However, we are increasingly seeing that villainesses are being position as the protagonists of the story as they are more independent and with more power. In contrast, the position of heroines as antagonists of the story, depict them with qualities such as dependent, less power and always dressed and behave in a feminine way. According to the paper, such an act shows a clash of modern vs. the traditional notion of femininity, and it also implies how such representation of femininity are more favorable in the modern context.

The Modern Femininity

In the paper, a study was conducted on two webtoons: “Villainess Reverses the Hourglass” and “It Looks Like I’ve Fallen into the World of Reverse Harem” to examine the meanings and implications behind the represented characters traits and attributes. Result shows that the differences in the femininity of the villainesses can be further examined from the thought, speech and symbolic processes (protagonists and antagonists as carriers of specific values with certain traits):

  • Protagonists: Aria, Yeldyria
  • Antagonists: Mielle, Yuriel

The Processes

Thought Process
Speech Process
Symbolic Process

Since both story are situated in a European monarchy where very few women wear pants, this shows Aria and Yeldyria dominance and courage to look different. From the comparison, Mielle and Yuriel are depicted to be the carries of traditional femininity while Aria and Yeldyria are the carriers of modern femininity, and they are positioned as evil as they do not adhere to the mainstream social norm.

However, Aria and Yeldyria show that they can be independent women that do not rely solely on others to achieve their goals. Such case promotes and emphasizes the modern notions of femininity that allow more social, intellectual and sexual freedom where these qualities are more favorable than the traditional feminine ideals as Aria and Yeldriya success in their endeavors in the stories.

The Changes & Transition

In a nutshell, villainesses’ traits are shifting from the traditional traits they tend to possess in the past. Qualities such as domestic, passive and submissive are being replaced with freedom, empowerment and independent. These qualities are now being celebrated as the new ideal feminine which are in fact aspects that are heavily restricted in Korean traditional beliefs. Admittedly, such a case also serve as a soft critique as traditional femininity are still prevailing in the South Korean culture.

Reference

Chertian, V. G. (2022). Villainess protagonists’ performative acts as the representation of modern femininity. Lingua Cultura, 16(2), 133–140. https://doi.org/10.21512/lc.v16i2.8375

Originally published at https://keanteng.github.io on March 22, 2024.

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Kean Teng Blog

My personal blog page to publish my writing on a variety of topics and ideas.