- Women on TikTok are using a “female manipulative” trend to praise the behavior of fictional villains.
- They say their posts are ironic and the humor helps them cope.
- Critics worry that people will take them seriously, leading to a damaging view of relationships.
On TikTok, videos recommending books and movies that are commonly thought to feature “problematic” or “unlikeable” female protagonists are a genre unto themselves, and they often feature the hashtag #femalemanipulator, which has racked up more than 77 million views.
The backing track to female manipulative content often includes music by Mitski, Lana Del Rey and Fiona Apple, often referred to as the internet’s “sad girls” since the early 2010s. Characters such as Amy Dunne of the 2014 film “Gone Girl” – which has been described as the most disturbing female villain of all time – is celebrated under the label as relatable and empowering.
Other characters adopted by content from the “female manipulator” include Fleabag from the 2016 TV show of the same name and the unnamed narrator from Ottessa Moshfegh’s 2018 novel “My Year of Rest and Relaxation”, all two widely seen as flawed and unlovable, and users encourage their followers to emulate their behavior.
Many creators say that “manipulative” jokes are a tongue-in-cheek way to play with “bad guys” stereotypes, but some TikTokers and pundits have expressed concern that this type of content could glorify unhealthy relationships and make light on emotional manipulation.
Designers say the ironic trend is a way to reclaim their power over men
Alexandra Carmona, a 22-year-old Californian who posts videos of manipulators, told Insider that her content was “kind of an ironic thing.”
She defines a manipulative woman as the “kind of girl who’s just mysterious and way too cool. Think of a maniacal pixie dream girl, only she’s not there to save the male protagonist, she’s there to make a living. a hell.”
Alexandra thinks the tag isn’t about promoting manipulation, it’s about “getting noticed and dealing with our own issues as a joke”.
Alaska Brumbaugh, a 16-year-old from Virginia who uses the pronouns “they” and “them,” described the manipulative TikTok as “a safe space for the perverted women who are often the problem,” in a post with more than 48 000 likes. Brumbaugh told Insider that they also participate in the trend “mostly ironically, but there’s always a bit of truth to it.”
“I gravitated towards it as a teenager who felt pressured by men. It’s like a silly way to take power back. It’s all fun,” they added.
Critics of the trend fear it normalizes damaging behavior
Jules Johnson, a 22-year-old TikTok user in South Carolina, said she often sees “feminine manipulative” content on TikTok, but finds the trend “nihilistic” and “hollow”.
“In the manipulative women’s space, there’s a lot of focus on getting back to men when you can direct that energy towards loving other women,” she told Insider.
Johnson said she didn’t disagree with women joking about “the nasty sides of their personality”, but added that, “once you get to a point where you encourage this culture of doomerism and cynicism and you’re focusing all of your energy on negativity, instead of creating a more positive space for women to speak up, that’s where I have a problem.”
Scottish psychotherapist Ruth Michallef told Insider that joking about emotional manipulation could “downplay its importance and become an unnecessary mode of coping”, potentially normalizing such behavior and becoming detrimental to our relationships.
Couples counselor Dr. Akua Boateng told Insider that manipulative female content could particularly influence already vulnerable young viewers, leading them to see it as a viable way to manage relationships.
She said, “Without proper education and guidance from parents and authorities in their lives, it could be harmful for them to believe this to be the truth.”
Despite his concerns, Michallef doesn’t think criticizing this content is helpful.
“Instead of calling on women to use this mode of coping, I think it’s more important to call on them, to encourage them to receive the love and support they need to heal from trauma and adversity. that probably brought them into this space,” she said. said.
For more stories like this, check out Insider’s Digital Culture team coverage here.