There are so many types of spiders, and people have such strong reactions to them. But I can think of only one type of spider that has served as inspiration for countless female fictional characters... the black widow.
I did a little reading on Wickipedia about the black widow spider. Turns out she's bigger, stronger, and lives longer than her male counterpart. Oh, and sometimes after mating she'll bite off his head and eat him. (But this is the exception, not the rule.)
Why is this such a popular model for female characters in movies, books, and television? Here's my theory: People like role reversals. The excepted, accepted modus operandi is that in any couple, the man is the strong, stoic one who is isn't quite as sensitive or emotional as the woman. The idea of a woman who can not only take or leave her man, but bite his head off if she so desires, is appealing because it breaks the norm. Keep in mind, I'm deliberately talking in stereotypes here, because in fiction stereotypes are sometimes necessary.
So who are some of the best, or most famous black widow-like characters? Here's a partial list:
- Scarlet O'hara - Her husbands have a habit of dying, although that's not (necessarily) her fault. But to paraphrase Rhett Butler, the most macho guy ever, she can only bring misery to any man.
- Hedda Gabler - If you aren't a theater buff you might not have heard of her, but she is the creation of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. Hedda marries for money, but she's in love with her husband's academic rival. However, jealousy and greediness propel Hedda to literally destroy this man, making her a very unsympathetic character. Is it her fault, or is she a victim of society?
- Lady Macbeth - Although it's her husband who actually does the killing, many people feel Lady Macbeth is the more evil of the two. "I've given suck, and know How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me ; I would, whilst it was smiling in my face, Have pluckt my nipple from his from his boneless gums, and dashed the brains out, had I so resolved, As you have done for this." That's hard core!
- Lolita - Honestly, I've never read it, but the original work sounds like it's actually about a girl who is the victim of pedophilia rather than about a man who is tempted and seduced by a soulless twelve year old. I include Lolita however, because I believe she served as inspiration for lots of other characters who do fit the black widow prototype. Alicia Silverstone in The Crush, Julia Stiles in Wicked, and Kerri Russel in The Babysitter's Seduction. Okay, I watch Lifetime Movies for Women a little too much.