You’re at the movies or 10 hours deep in a Netflix marathon having a grand old time and then it happens. An overused and sexist trope appears on screen, and now you can’t enjoy whatever you were watching because you’re too annoyed that you have to sit through this sort of female character abuse yet again. Although there are certainly a myriad of others, below are some of the TV/movie tropes that I would love to retire.
Women in Refrigerators
Notoriously common in comic books, this trope oftentimes occurs to teach the male protagonist a lesson to remind them that being a superhero is not all web-slinging and shawarma, that being a hero means responsibility and sacrifice. Too bad the one who had to pay for it is almost always the girlfriend/wife/whatever who had so much going for her but in the end will be reduced to only appearing in strangely timed flashbacks and traumatizing hallucinations. In short, the character dies or is otherwise raped/tortured/brainwashed/etc. only to add angst and drama to a hero’s past and further his character development. As such, the superhero girlfriends are horrifically referred to as “women in refrigerators” because, well.
Where you saw this: Comic book readers saw this coming, but everyone else in the theatre had hoped Dear God, Don’t do this to us again during The Amazing Spiderman 2. You can’t talk about dying for man pain without mentioning Gwen Stacy. Other examples from a disturbingly long list include Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight and pretty much anyone who dates Cyclops. We’ve started a prayer circle for Netflix’s Daredevil.
Why it’s a problem: From the disposable female characters in TV’s Supernatural to basically every Bond Girl, this trope encourages the idea that women are expendable both in and outside comics.
What you should be watching instead: Game of Thrones pleasantly surprised me in this regard by serving as a rare example where a man’s death moves the plots of the female characters around him. It is because of his death that Ned Stark’s wife and two daughters begin to develop their own narratives within the plot and becoming strong players in the game, all the while constantly reminding themselves of this traumatic event in their past. All it took was a beheading. Good job Ned.
The Chosen One
Our hero has just discovered that he is the chosen one, or perhaps has just stumbled into a new world, where he is shown the ropes by the female character who, despite being the top of her class and who has usually spent her entire life training in the field the male protagonist has just entered, is quickly left surpassed.
Where you saw this: This seems to be especially common in children’s media, as seen in The Lego Movie and Ratatouille.
Why it’s a problem: There’s just something incredibly frustrating about watching female characters being introduced over and over again as “the top of their class” or “the best at what they do” and having gotten to that point by dedicating their entire life to it, only be rapidly overshadowed by some newbie. I realize this is the sort of thing that just happens when you’re the protagonist (main character privilege), but constantly seeing this happen to female characters shows how females characters have to work much harder to get to the same point as male characters, only to be overtaken after just one training montage. It devalues any female in a high ranking position.
What you should watch instead: Despite sounding like every other YA teen fiction novel (she was an ordinary girl!!! But she’s also the CHOSEN ONE! In SPACE!! And there’s a hot older boy who will see her for how SPECIAL SHE IS), Jupiter Rising has done a great job at inverted many popular movie tropes. Jupiter, despite being a newcomer to her heritage and the new world she has entered, learns overnight to control her powers and the situations around her, rising above her male companion Caine.
“I had Three Brothers”
Our last scenario typically plays out like this:
Female protagonist/love interest: puts together an entire car piece by piece because she is an expert mechanic
Male protagonist : wow. That was amazing. Where did you learn how to do that.
Female protagonist/love interest: I have three brothers 🙂
In this scene, the female supporting character and typically also love interest of the main protagonist has just shown how good she is at a “masculine” skill. The male protagonist is incredibly impressed because not only does she know how to do this thing, she is better at it than he is. How could this be possible??
Where you saw this: Sydney Shanowski in the Transformers movies mostly, and maybe you also remember that one episode of Drake and Josh where Drake dated a girl who knew how to beat him up.
Why it’s a problem: Sometimes this is true, and a girl learns about how to cut wood or beat up men with her bare hands because there was a strong male presence in her life. It’s when this is the media’s only possible explanation as to why a female would demonstrate mastery in a field that is male-dominated that I begin to have a problem, as there is an implication that she would not have been able to excel otherwise. Why, in every movie or TV show, does a girl only know how to shoot guns or fix cars because she’s trying to be the son her father always wanted? Why doesn’t she sometimes just become a mechanic because it’s something she’s interested in doing? Looking at you Michael Bay.
What you should watch instead: I’ve discussed Agent Carter in a previous article, but I’ll continue to recommend it. Watch it. Love yourself.