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Tropes vs. Women

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Tropes vs. Women

Postby spacefem » Sat May 14, 6:12 2011

Feminist Frequency is doing a series of posts about common TV/movie themes ("tropes") that are unfair, damaging, and just unfortunate to women. The posts are all very good, especially if you aspire to put into words why a sexist movie bothers you or why a TV show seems trite and painfully stupid to watch. Remember my old philosophy about how good writers can be recognized by the good female characters they write? Bad movies always repeat the same overdone weak women characters, it's easy to copy the past, it's a cop-out. But it happens all the time.

Their first three tropes:
#1: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl
http://www.feministfrequency.com/2011/0 ... ream-girl/
AKA, the side kick, the cute bubbly white blonde, here to get you to lighten up. Think Austen Powers. These characters have no real substance and are only there to be caregivers. Women back up the men, men fix the world.

#2: Women in refrigerators
http://www.feministfrequency.com/2011/0 ... igerators/
Mainly a comic book trope, women with super powers are disproportionately subject to violence, mainly so we can sympathize with their comic hero boyfriends who now have a cause of vengeance.

#3: The Smurfette Principle
http://www.feministfrequency.com/2011/0 ... principle/
When you can't write interesting women, just have them not be there. This principle is named after the one female smurf in the popular cartoon series from our childhood. Women couldn't just be normal people, they couldn't just have smurfs that happened to be women. The one woman on the series had to be The Woman, representing all of us, expressing every important trait of femininity and having no female friends. Women may make up 50% of the population but not 50% of the important, interesting population worth seeing, right? yeahich.

So anyway there are more tropes promised in the series but so far it's very good and I wanted to post it up here to see what you all thought. What other overdone hallmarks of sexism do you see in pop culture? Are you particularly tired of seeing these? I am.
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Re: Tropes vs. Women

Postby rowan » Sat May 14, 8:34 2011

The mom is always dead/killed/offed and if there is a replacement (step-mom) they're always evil. Stone Soup (the comic) mentioned it yesterday. And though I've noted it frequently to other people in the past it brought it to mind again.
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Re: Tropes vs. Women

Postby helium » Sat May 14, 11:47 2011

Hmm, they have a totally different definition of manic pixie dream girl than I've always heard (and different from the one on TV Tropes >.>). The Manic Pixie Dream Girl as I know her is the frail, crazyily flawed yet high-on-life "quirky" beautiful brunette that the boring/depressed male character runs into. Then she teaches him how to live through her adorable craziness! She's inexplicably obsessed with him (or rarely vice versa) and pretty much exists only to teach the boring hero how to live, and has no personality other than adorably-quirky-yet-flawed. Like a lot of Zooey Deschanel or Amy Adams. Still pretty flawed, since her role is basically just to support/change the male hero, and she rarely has an actual personality.
Last edited by helium on Sat May 14, 13:40 2011, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Tropes vs. Women

Postby spacefem » Sat May 14, 13:06 2011

I will say that I'm the one who slapped "Austen Powers" on the pixie dream girl, not them, so it's possible I don't have it quite right.

Oh and I just realized, they haven't gotten to my most hated trope... the incredible weakening woman! Why was Trinity kicking the asses of a dozen cops in the first scene of The Matrix, but reduced to "ohmigod i did fall in love it was youuuu" in the last scene? And then outright dead by the last movie? In Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, why was the maid Marian besting Robin in a swordfight when he first met her, then shrinking back in a corner window screaming his name as he defended her against the Sheriff in the last scene? It's all too common to see women fight just hard enough in the first scenes to be admired, but then they get taken back a few hundred notches by the end of the film so they need saved.
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Re: Tropes vs. Women

Postby rowan » Sat May 14, 13:08 2011

Ooo I HATE that SO MUCH.
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Re: Tropes vs. Women

Postby Meperidine » Sat May 14, 14:24 2011

Yeah there's pretty much endless examples of that. For me the quintessential is Zooey Deschanel, or anyone exactly like her, or anyone playing a female lead in a movie with a dream girl.
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Re: Tropes vs. Women

Postby Butterfly North » Sat May 14, 16:24 2011

That's weird, I haven't seen it but my friends were telling me about 500 Days of Summer, and there was this big debate they had over who you're meant to be identifying with and what the message is. A couple of them said they felt like it was a film about an enigmatic character (i.e. her). From the sounds of it she actually makes him totally miserable, and at the end admits that he was right all along. So he teaches her, not the other way around.

Way too opinionated about some film I haven't watched.
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Re: Tropes vs. Women

Postby Sonic# » Sat May 14, 17:29 2011

^ My interpretation of it was quite the opposite, that she had something to teach him, which is of course the distinguishing feature of the trope.
She realizes that he's not the right guy for her, and so she dumps him. They cross paths again. It takes her some time to reveal that she's dating someone else, indeed that she's engaged to get married. She gets married. She does, I think, learn not to lead him on. But he learns not to entirely throw himself into an idea of a girl based on a few arbitrary coincidences, instead accepting the possibilities of love with more careful whimsy.


Yes, these tropes are out there, and while I can think of some exceptions to the refrigerator one for example (Alys from Phantasy Star 1, where her brother dies in order to instigate her onward in a quest), they are few and far between. In Phantasy Star 2, Nei dies to drive Rolf forward, and in Phantasy Star 4, Alis (an otherwise awesome character) dies to urge Chaz forward.

I would say that a lot of this is due to the narrative choices and possibilities that do exist in our culture, which is why using the language of tropes is strong, and could be stronger. We do often require character death or kidnapping to drive the action forward, and female characters in the usual narrative roles (love interest/wife/mother/daughter) are used more often. The first is a fact that may or may not be problematic, while the second is a result of relying on common roles for women without adequate development, and the tendency to see the female characters as helpless. This also explains why weak writing is often tied to stereotypical thinking. This isn't always true, of course. In the case of movies like Inception, which violate the Smurfette rule, it was because less was expected from the characters in terms of character development, while what was presented didn't explicitly fall under any single stereotype.

Fun fact - the reason why there were few female characters in Renaissance plays is because those were usually played (before the Reformation) by younger boys, which were less common than more seasoned actors. In some companies, where there were a couple of highly talented boys, there might be two or three prominent female characters in a play. While this sort of policy has its own problems, the problems now are not with the availability of female actors, but with the limited scope of writing, where the landscape of tropes involving a balanced cast of actors in a movie, or mostly female characters, is much more limited.
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Re: Tropes vs. Women

Postby Aum » Sat May 14, 19:50 2011

Thanks for this spacefem, it was an eye opener.

One thing I disagree with though is that women can't be inspirations or celebrated. Men are that way for me. It doesn't take away from the fact that they're individuals to do so. But I acknowledge the way it's done is often objectifying.
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Re: Tropes vs. Women

Postby The Other Lizard » Sun May 15, 18:34 2011

women in movies can't have sex without wanting more by the end of the movie.
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Re: Tropes vs. Women

Postby cwbyrvr » Mon May 16, 0:29 2011

The Other Lizard wrote:women in movies can't have sex without wanting more by the end of the movie.

Well who doesn't want more sex?

I am assuming you meant more than just sex and this was my half-baked attempt at a joke.
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Re: Tropes vs. Women

Postby DWH » Mon May 16, 1:09 2011

Speaking of Smurfette and sexism, just wait until you see the marketing they're doing with her for the movie. I die a little inside every time my coworkers send me images.
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Re: Tropes vs. Women

Postby edit the sad parts » Mon May 16, 9:09 2011

This was really interesting, and I look forward to more segments. It's something I haven't really given extensive thought to, aside from the really overt cases of female tropes. In those instances, they apply to movies that I would never be interested in seeing in a million years anyway...for example, Transformers and its ilk.

I am saddened to say that a lot of movies and books that I adore have the smurfette trope and the manic pixie. I love Zooey Deschanel and have just always thought she was kind of type cast based on her actual zany personality. Now I am saddened to see that it is actually just because she is type cast as a weak supporting character to spur on the male lead(in like, absolutely everything she does!). I am hard pressed to think of examples of things that I like that don't. I am just trying to figure out if that's because there isn't really much of any pop culture without these tropes, or because at some level I must buy into this crap. One of the most bothersome aspects of the manic pixie trope, to me, is that this character doesn't seem to ever have a job - and they just flutter in conveniently and flutter out whenever writers get lazy.

Anyway, this made me think, to say the least. Thanks, Spacefem.
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Re: Tropes vs. Women

Postby Neko » Mon May 16, 9:42 2011

Zooey Deschanel's characters always make me cringe and that article pretty much sums up all the reasons why. Although, I loved her Manic Pixie in Weeds because her antics quickly made her a force of chaos for the Botwin family rather than Andy's savior-muse. It gave me a moment of relief and I instantly gained buckets of respect for Jenji Kohan.
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