“She wears short skirts, I wear T- Shirts”: investigating the Betty and Veronica dynamic

In her first instalment, Aryehi Bhushan explores the intersection between pop culture and feminism in Riverdale

Aryehi Bhushan

It’s a tale as old as time – literally. The trope of two vastly different female characters competing for the attention of the male protagonist has been seen mirrored and re-created through almost every era of history, from The Brothers Grimm fairy tales (Odds and Ends, if anyone’s interested) to the Archie Comics that finally put the name of ‘Betty and Veronica’ to the immortal dynamic.

“The ‘Betty’ is, according to the legendary pantheon of pop culture tradition TV Tropes, a ‘sweet, reliable, girl next door’, while the Veronica is ‘more alluring, exotic and edgy’”

What’s crucial to note though is that these descriptions don’t just stop there: Betty may be kind and dependable but she’s also ‘kind of dull’, and Veronica, for all her worldly experience, is ‘kind of a bitch’. Much like the saturated colour spreads in which they first appeared, Betty and Veronica in their original forms are nothing but laughably two-dimensional caricatures of female characters: when pitted against each other, both of their good traits are diminished and their negative aspects are free to take the forefront.


It would be a stretch to argue that the Betty and Veronica dynamic exists only in regard to a male protagonist, TV Tropes recognizes the ‘Gentleman and the Scoundrel’ setup as a gender flipped version of this trope. What’s notably different between the two, however, is that, more often than not, both the ‘Gentleman’ and the ‘Scoundrel’ have agency outside their roles as opposing love interests to the female protagonist. In Bridget Jones’s Diary, for example, Mark is a successful lawyer and Daniel is head of a publishing house. In the Archie Comics, you would be hard pressed to find an issue in which both Betty and Veronica don’t schedule their entire lives around interacting with Archie. To cut a long story short, choosing between the Gentleman and Scoundrel entails deciding between two different romantic relationships. Choosing between Betty and Veronica entails deciding between two different passive objects.

Also fascinating to explore is the way in which the Betty and Veronica dynamic interacts with issues of race and sexuality. In Marvel’s Daredevil, for example, Matt Murdoch is presented with the choice between the known, trustable (and white) Karen Page, and the dangerous, morally dubious POC Elektra Natchios. In a more sitcom-y example, New Girl’s Nick Miller can either pursue the quirky, friendly (and straight) Jessica Day, or date the closed-off, blunt (and bisexual) Reagan. I’m not in any way trying to suggest that people of colour and LGBT+ people can only be portrayed in a wholly ‘pure and innocent’ light, that would be a ridiculous and disingenuous caricature. However, consistently positioning vulnerable minority groups in the role of the less traditionally popular and stereotypically ‘negative’ Veronica just goes to further toxic issues of alienation and disconnect.


Increasingly present in modern media, however, is a willingness to play with and invert the traditional light/dark, good/bad dichotomy of the Betty and Veronica dynamic. The conception and rise of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) arguably blends the innocence and friendliness of the Betty with the exotic, fun loving nature of the Veronica. Innovative, yes, but not necessarily empowering – the MPDG more often than not ends up even more robbed of agency than her predecessors, relegated to the role of ‘mentor in living life’ to the male protagonist, then forced into the shackles of domesticity or removed entirely from the plot. The ‘Betty- Veronica Switch’, in which the ‘Betty’ gradually begins to exhibit attributes of the ‘Veronica’ and vice versa, presents more of a challenge to the traditional dichotomy by allowing both women to exist as three-dimensional characters divorced from the stiff morality of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ girl. Hideaki Anno’s trippy deconstructionist anime Neon Genesis Evangelion explores the blurring of lines between the Betty and the Veronica intently: Rei (one of the protagonist Shinji’s love interests) is quiet, submissive and familiar – in other words, a perfect Betty. However, she’s also cold, aloof and markedly not human. Asuka, the other love interest, is brash, hot-headed, aggressive and exotically foreign. However, she’s painfully, viscerally human in all her quirks and insecurities in a way Rei is not. By positioning the two characters in such a way, Anno seems to be asking us to question the ways in which we evaluate the ‘safe choice’ and the ‘wild card’ in terms of female romantic interests.


Mountain View

New Year, New You

Arguably the most fascinating inversion of the traditional Betty and Veronica dynamic (and my personal favourite), however, is the one in which the Betty and Veronica fall in love and end up in a relationship with each other. Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino made a bold and ground-breaking decision in the finale of The Legend of Korra to have Korra end up with her former romantic rival Asami as opposed to her ex-boyfriend Mako. Similarly, the controversial and quickly cancelled South of Nowhere positioned the two female leads Spencer and Ashley as a deliberate invocation of Betty and Veronica, right down to hair colour. By the end of the series, they ended up married and expecting a child together. Of all the inversions of the Betty and Veronica, having the two rivals end up together is not only the most genuinely innovative but also the most empowering – acting as a nullification of the toxic influence of the rigidly heteronormative triangle that emphasizes female imperfections for the sake of the male protagonist. One could only imagine that Taylor Swift’s ‘You Belong With Me’ would be a much more interesting song if the heroine was “on the bleachers” waiting for her cheer captain girlfriend as opposed to pining after her clueless childhood friend