Three big budget movies have come out in the last year, with memorable, grotesque, and striking females as the main villain. The films feature Enchantress in Suicide Squad (2016). Rita Repulsa in Power Rangers (2017), and Ahmanet in The Mummy (2017). These representations made me think of the role of “the crone” in Western culture and literature.
Crone in modern America is most often taken to represent an old and unappealing female. The term, in English, derives from Middle English, as a term of abuse, from Anglo-French caroine, meaning dead flesh. The contemporary meaning for the term crone refers to an older woman, such as a witch or hag, and is certainly derogatory and demeaning. The crone is commonly used to describe useless or evil females. The concept of a crone incorporates the stigma of both age and inferior gender into one term. However, long ago it could also mean “wise woman” or “holy one.”
Watching Power Rangers, this week, I was reminded of visual similarities of the villains in the three movies. Taking a look at historical representations of unattractive females we find witches, crones, and hags in fairy tales, and other literature. In the West, these traits perhaps are connected to not being married, or not bearing children. In Great Expectations (1861) the novel by Charles Dickens, the villainess is a woman who was jilted at the alter, and who nurtures a lifelong plan to wreck her vengeance on men. Perhaps the male writers of the past were channeling the cultural role of females as wife, mother, and object of male domination by showing women outside of those norms as evil.
Some scholars believe this schism between wise elder figures and evil elder female figures are a carryover from the change in cultural values after female dominated societies were overthrown by male dominated warrior leaders, as during the Bronze age.
The pattern was formed, and it apparently persists to this day. Enchantress in the Suicide Squad movie is a witch-goddess with a desire to destroy the world. The Squad must defeat her as she uses her power to ravage the earth. Rita Replusa in the Power Rangers movie is an alien entity that wants to end all life on planet Earth, for some unknown reason. Ahmanet in The Mummy is represented as a former princess from the Egyptian New Kingdom era who sells her soul to the god Set for mystical power. The heroes must defeat Ahmanet’s plan to release Set on an unsuspecting world.
Perhaps this year will exhaust the idea of having so many villains who are evil, bitter females with power and a distorted appearance. I hope Hollywood grows tired of its reliance on the crone as a go-to villain in action blockbusters. Let’s reprise, instead, that other mythic character, the wise women, from whom many gifts and blessing arise. But then what will the box-office dictate?