Promiscuity and the misconceptions
I deal with teenagers a lot and one of the things I've noticed is the more adults work with teenagers the more we start to think like them unless we keep a clear line in the sand. I saw this the other day when we had an assembly around the girls in school and discussing how they can stand up for themselves which then devolved into shaming girls for being promiscuous. My dad was a social worker so we often discussed students' behaviour over the dinner table and so I learnt how to look beyond behaviour to see what really was happening. You see promiscuity in underage kids is often due to trauma of some sort. (Just to make it clear I'm talking about teenagers under 16 years old. Adults - if they are both consenting are often promiscuous for many reasons besides trauma.) Which made me start to think about how we treat promiscuous characters and their counterpart - the ingenue - in text.
We tend to see any characteristics that a villain has must be a bad characteristics. This often isn't much of a problem when we only use a characteristic sparingly for villains but unfortunately there are some tropes that get used over and over with villains that can colour our view of some groups. In the past we have painted the Romany as thieves. That is where the word gypped comes from. Think of all the times that a woman has risked a intimate relationship only for it to make them turn evil. Yes, just writing that makes it sound ridiculous but think of Maleficent. She sleeps with a guy, he steals her wings and she is the bad guy. But pretty much any femme fatale character is like this.
Then we get the more subtle way of making a woman's sexuality a characteristic of her villainy by saying that if a woman rejects her role as an object of men's desire then she is a villain. Otherwise known as the Mean Girl. Okay there are harsher words to call her but any female character that blows off the advances of men often will get the label of villain in text. Regina George from Mean Girls is the one that comes to mind.
If a woman then rejects a man because of her orientation that often gets her painted with the villain brush. A bit like Sarah Michelle Gellar's character in Cruel Intentions. Weirdly we get other female characters that are so obsessed with a man this makes them unhinged. A bit like Misery. It is almost like a woman that allows herself to feel desire is automatically open to corruption and madness. This double standard is prevalent in many places.
In the end this means that a woman is either turned villainous because she has lost some innocence and debased herself or because she rejects men for various reasons or because her whole entire identity and purpose revolves around a man. We can't even say all these kinds of villains are written by men. We are so wrapped up in this kind of villain we often write them automatically. I think this is why we end up with characters like the Black Widow equating herself with a monster because she can't have kids.
Even I have done this with some of my villains. I have one villain in one of my early books that one of her villainous characteristics is that she is obsessed with a man. She lies, cheats and steals to try get him to marry her, taking no regard for his feelings on it. Even when I don't make the cornerstone of their villainy around their sexuality I often fall back on having her corrupted by a man or something like that. Mmm, I might just have to go back and rewrite the villain in my latest Work In Progress.