I’m sure at some point you’ve stumbled upon some of the most dreaded, but horrifically common misogynistic tropes while reading. The a little too detailed description of a female character’s breasts, or the villainization of strong female characters, or the stereotypical archetypes, etc. Either way, you know what I’m talking about. There are gross amounts of sexist undertones (and, let’s be honest, blatant overtones) in media today, in practically every medium you can find. From both viewers and creators alike. So let’s address why that’s dangerous, how to spot it, and how to change it the best we can.
Why I detest misogynistic, stereotypical, and insensitive content:
Little girls are inevitably going to grow up surrounded by stories. We can’t change that. But when those stories tell them to be a certain way, we are allowing the misogyny that is so ingrained in society, that women for generations have fought so hard to tackle, to corrupt minds that have yet to even be developed. We are letting societal pressure into our homes before education, support, and experience.
The reason why there is so much controversy around subjects such as slut-shaming today is because of this very type of harmful media. Seeing so much of something as a young, impressionable person is going to leave a mark on you in some way, right? That is why so many women struggle with internalized misogyny. Thinking of themselves as lesser than men, tools only useful as sex objects to men comes from the very tropes that have become so popular.
I don’t doubt that most people reading this can understand, but in case you don’t, please keep in mind that representation is important in all forms, for all people, especially when it is accurate. Because, on the other hand, when I leave movies like Birds of Prey and Hustlers, I feel so empowered and inspired, like someone looked me in the eyes and told me, “yeah, you can do it”. I once heard someone say about feminist media, “after consuming it, I feel like I can eat the world raw”, and yeah, it’s true. But think about it: men feel that way all the time.
They feel like the world is for them, because it is. They get to feel strong and powerful and confident, while it’s looked down upon for women to do so. Stories that have strong female characters give us the chance to feel amazing and not be guilty for it, don’t rob us of that.
If you aren’t well versed in feminism, here is a quick list of horribly normalized misogynistic tropes. I make this in the hopes that in the future you can call out other creators for using them, and perhaps cut them from your own work if they are prominent. See if you can spot any commonalities.
The girl dies in order to fuel the man’s journey.
I know you’ve seen this before, in fantasy and drama-centric stories, this is a common trope. Girl love interest dies, hero dude becomes motivated to save the day.
Women are treated as 2 dimensional characters, or even villains, in queer stories.
As much as I love queer romances, sometimes writers see the chance to make women evil, standing in the way of two men. Sometimes even going as far as to invalidate their feelings completely. Woman and guy are together, guy secretly gay. He cheats on her with another guy, she gets upset and suddenly becomes evil.
Women are seen as “bimbos” for being sexually active and/or different from the awesome main character.
My main issue with the Mary Jane trope is that women who are fundamentally different than the MC, have different interests or ideals, are immediately seen as shallow, boring *insert slur to describe a sexually active woman here*. Main girl is “not like other girls”, doesn’t put on make up or have sex because she’s so cool. Suddenly make up and sex are shameful things.
All female characters are killed off and/or only relevant to assist the male characters.
Pretty self explanatory, women aren’t seen as important, or even people, they could be replaced with smartphones or dogs and it wouldn’t matter. These aren’t characters, they’re tools. Woman help man because man so awesome.
Women getting saved by men. Constantly.
Please stop with this trope. Please. I want to see a badass woman save herself, or save other people. I want female characters bonding and fighting together. Female connection is so much more important than it seems. Woman is helpless and vulnerable, big sexy man come to save the day!
Woman gives up life, goals, friendship, etc to be with a guy.
Yes, the Little Mermaid trope. Female characters should not have to give up everything for a guy and have him do nothing in return. Not only is it unrealistic, unfair, and a horrible way to treat your character, but it’s also super cheesy. Just don’t do it. Woman surrenders all hopes, dreams, ambitions, and loved ones in order to be with man.
Woman criticized for her weight or sexual history as a means of comedy.
Being overweight or sexually active is not funny, nor is it helpful. Stop trying to belittle female characters with the excuse of “helping them” or “it’s just a joke”. A woman can do whatever she wants with her body. She doesn’t need a male character to save her.
Strong, independent female characters being called slurs or hated simply for being her own person.
Now, this is more a problem with viewers than writers. We get it, strong women scare you, when we are confident in ourselves you see that as a threat. Because women aren’t allowed to be independent, right? We need to rely on men or die trying, right? But let’s face it, there is a clear double standard. Male characters can be completely violent, disgusting people and be seen as sexy and “complicated”, meanwhile a female character can’t raise her voice without begging called dramatic or stupid or an array of other things. Not to mention, women of color are especially targeted.
Could you make out any similarities in these tropes? Yup, you guessed it, the female characters are being treated as less than human! Every time. Whether that is invalidating their feelings, making them lesser than men, or belittling them, these tropes are teaching people that women are objects. Nothing more. Don’t tell me that doesn’t disgust you.
How we can change this:
Write twists on these tropes! Defy expectations. As long as they don’t target any group of people specifically, I’d love to see these tropes put into different perspectives or changed in less offensive ways. For example, a girl who is given the time, space, and respect to figure out her feelings? Love that. A heroine with a supportive boyfriend? Give it to me now. You don’t need to rely on these tools for angst or drama, I know you can be so much more creative than that.
Call other writers out! Even if you see a friend writing one of these tropes, please remind them of what is at stake. The point is not to limit creative liberties, but to spread awareness and understanding. Please try not to support writers who frequently use these tropes either, that should be a huge red flag as to who they are as a person.
Try to be aware of the direction your own writing is going in, does it have the same themes as the problematic tropes above? Is there a way that you can change it and still have the story you want, without being offensive? How can you empower female characters through your writing?
Support feminist media and female creators! I get it, not all of it is good, but if you find a movie or show or book with strong female influences that you enjoy, share it! If you stumble upon a female creator who you like, buy their stuff, share their work, whatever you can to lend a hand. Especially right now, I know it would be much appreciated.
Follow Aña on Instagram: @ana_anne_writes