“Good for Her”: Why the Anti-Hero Protagonist is Now a Cultural Icon and All the Reasons We Love to See It…

Image by @grae_lamb

“Good for her” is now a statement commonly used among the social media-minded masses and a popular exclamation of superficially accepted ‘girl power’. It is a fresh take on established fictious female archetypes – noticeable ones being the ‘Manic-Pixie Dream Girl’, ‘Dumb Blonde’, and everyone’s favourite… ‘The Whore’.

The ‘good for her’ universe is filled with monologues, questionable ethical choices, and an admirable level of toxicity. In the simplest terms, as a ‘genre’ (if one is to call it that), ‘good for her’ is a collection of female characters who overcome great turmoil with a satisfying triumph, using whatever means are available to them. Such characters, despite being morally objectionable, with their unique emotional motivations and nuances, seem to attract and draw in many young women like myself, somehow unsettlingly making us feel ‘seen’. 

There are many versions of ‘good for her’ characters. There are the violent ‘good for her’s, the manipulative ones, the emotionally complicated ones, the sexy ones, and the revenge savvy ones. The aim for these characters is not always getting even, although it may initially seem so. Instead, it’s about not being perfect, it’s about embracing and showcasing the genuine nature of imperfections. This is where their appeal truly lies. 

Never before have women been allowed to be so ugly, flawed, naive, so incredibly unappealing on screen and in literature. When women are unlikeable it becomes a point of obsession in critical conversations. When women flaunt convention and are unlikeable to polite society, an almost cult following emerges among a certain generation of young females. The ‘good for her’ character seems to become an idol telling us it’s okay to misbehave, when all we’ve been taught  is to be well-behaved. And often they do so in a fashionably anarchic manner, wearing a  trenchcoat or a black jumpsuit. What’s not to love?

If I am to discuss this newly popularised, although eternally present and harshly vilified, female archetype, credit must be given where credit is due. That is, to the original ‘good for her’ femme fatale, Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne.

In David Fincher’s 2014 adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel, Gone Girl, Amy Dunne, as played by Rosamund Pike, was a cultural reset – a beautiful, smart (though admittedly psychotic) housewife faking her own death and kidnapping just in order to get even with her husband, played by Ben Affleck. (I do imagine being cheated on with Emily Ratajakwoski would do that to a girl.)  However, despite her actions being premised on being cheated on, it is the infamous cool girl monologue which sets off and signals Dunne’s chain of obsession: “Nick Dunne took my pride and my dignity and my hope and my money. He took and took from me until I no longer existed. That’s murder.” 

Image by @belsillustrations

Amy is a murderer and an awful, awful person – but in spite of being so, the meanders of her character somehow make her, even if distubingly, endlessly fascinating. She embodies the ‘good for her’ woman in being intrepid, proactive and conniving, even if psychotic.

That being said, Amy Dunne is not the universal example for ‘good for her’s. The genre, now, is as expansive as ever, and not just restricted to murderous, violent women. Marta, played by Ana De Armas, in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is a perfect example of another ‘good for her’. An immigrant nurse of fictional acclaimed crime author Harlan Thromby, Marta gains a satisfying ending as reward for her naivety, kindness and blind selflessness. She overcomes the greed and cruelty of the privileged white family – the Thrombys – that mistreats, frames and takes advantage of her for Harlan’s murder. By ending up as the sole inheritor of all Harlan’s fortune, Marta wins. It is nothing but invigorating and triumphant when, standing on the large balcony of what used to be their house, overlooking the lawn at the Thrombys, Marta sips her hot beverage and remarks: “my house, my rules, my coffee”. And, good for her.

The genre includes an even greater multitude of characters than the binary of Amy and Marta, such as the female leads in Kill Bill, Hard Candy, Jennifer’s Body, Ex Machina, The Witch, Midsommar, and Ready or Not. On TV there’s also Fleabag from, well, Fleabag, Villanelle from Killing Eve, and Love Quinn from You. Literature-wise, there’s Ottessa Mashfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Eliza Clark’s Boy Parts, among many, many more. And all of these characters are relatable to young women in their own ‘cool girl’ way – elusive, fashionable, rude, drunk, and free.

This genre does not come from the abyss. Female protagonists have been plagued with one-dimensional writing, appealing character flaws, and clean endings for a long time. Even the push for better characters with ‘the strong female lead’ was incredibly flawed. Gaining impetus in the 80s and 90s, the portrayal of women as a strong and powerful lead was extraordinary. Alien’s Ellen Ripley and The Terminator’s Sara Conner were beacons of empowerment. They were regular women emboldened with rage and a gun. It ignited a litany of movies, grinding out various copies of the same character for guaranteed commercial success. However, their empowerment was simply just how well they could play a man’s role, with long hair – wielding guns, the swear, smoking cigars, and all that in a flimsy, sweaty vest. Their rage was distinctly male – no crying, no insecurities, just punching walls and killing science-fiction creatures.

The change the ‘good for her’ genre presents is most noticeable and is particularly important in horror, science-fiction, and fantasy films. We all know of the stock virgins, Dumb Blonde, and the ‘slut’ who always get killed first. The clearest example of this change is between the two versions of the Suspiria films, where the lead character, Suzy, changes from a Plain Jane final girl to a collected, cold Mother Suspirioum. In the 2018 version directed by Luca Guadagnino, Suzy played by Dakota Johnson, is a calculated witch, determined to gain the position as Markos’ vessel and reveal her true self. This portrayal lies in stark contrast to 1977’s Suzy making a lucky and, in retrospect, boring escape. 2018 Suzy has a complete character arc – satisfying in its deception, twist and turns. 

Other societal shifts are also noticeable due to the rise in the ‘good for her’ genre. The growing appreciation for witty, intelligent female writers such as Phoebe-Waller Bridge and Greta Gerwig has allowed for an honest story-telling that has never overtly been achieved before. So, hopefully, the increase of female-centred movies and the amplification of women’s voices will allow for more artworks which prompt the phrase “good for her”

As a young woman, I’m delighted with new, fresh, truthful narratives about how society – relationships, religion, and systems – can pull and push, manipulate and break women, leading them to unpleasant and impolite measures of self agency (but productively and rightfully so), instead of submission and quiet. Now, popular and engaging stories of women don’t have to, nor do they try to, justify why they present female characters in a certain way. They simply do it, whether the women are presented as horrid, silly, beautiful, or tortured. The characters are unapologetically who they are. Villainous and toxic or not, they are genuinely feminine, genuinely powerful, and genuinely a force to be reckoned with.

Article by Maia Gibbs

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