5 Stupid Movie Tropes You Always See About Women
As you may have gathered from the never-ending screeches coming from the worst corners of the internet, pop culture is getting more progressive by the day. We're starting to see more minority representation, LGBTQ+ characters who aren't raging stereotypes, and actually well-written female characters. Or at least, mostly well-written female characters. As it turns out, some particularly dumb storytelling tropes have managed to keep flying under the cultural radar and still need to be shot down.
The Disposable Object Who Only Exists To Make A Man Saaad
You're probably aware that women don't get a great deal in superhero comics -- and not just because of the skintight unitards with boob windows. Female characters have a habit of winding up dead, kidnapped, de-powered, tortured, dead (again), and/or sexually assaulted, all for no other reason than to provide an excuse for their male love interests or friends to go punch someone.
It's a phenomenon called "women in refrigerators," after a particularly gruesome comic in which Green Lantern returns home to find his girlfriend bundled up in the refrigerators like leftovers, ostensibly as part of a supervillainous plot to make him feel sad ... or constipated. There's a lot going on in that panel.
In response, writer Gail Simone and a couple of other comic readers started drafting a list of female comic book characters who'd suffered similar or worse fates. They found over one-freaking-hundred examples, ranging from that Green Lantern issue to Batman to Spider-Man to Superman. As much crap as Bruce Wayne gets for treating Robin as disposable, that's nothing compared to how many female sidekicks he burns through, from Batwoman / Kathy Kane (murdered) to Robin / Stephanie Brown (tortured with a power drill and murdered) to Batgirl / Barbara Gordon (shot, sexually assaulted, and paralyzed).
As it's been noted, the issue lies in how their deaths are framed. When Robin got his in the A Death In The Family Batman arc, for instance, it was a huge multi-issue affair that changed the dynamic of the entire series. Meanwhile, when Batgirl got shot in The Killing Joke, it was sudden, brutal ...
... and only happened as part of a plot to drive Commissioner Gordon insane. If even Robin gets treated with more dignity than you, you're in trouble.
Male characters make meaningful, heroic sacrifices, while female ones (for the most part) get "fridged" so the main character can get sad and angsty because he couldn't defend them, as if he's the real injured party. Well, him and the readers who won't get to see those unitards and boob windows anymore, of course.
The Woman Who's Only An Adventurer Because Her Kids Are Dead
Even in sci-fi movies, women have to face a huge obstacle if they want to get ahead in the world. No, it's not institutionalized sexism or anything like that -- it's their loving (and living) kids. To put it bluntly, the only tried and tested method of getting your heroine moving is to off her offspring.
You probably saw this trope in The Cloverfield Paradox with Ava Hamilton, who loses her two kids in an accident before blasting off into the great void that is the Cloverfield franchise. After entering an alternate dimension where her kids survived, however, we see that she never went into space, because life is an either/or choice. You can either have children or awesome space adventures, not both. If you're a woman, anyway. When Matthew McConaughey or Richard Dreyfuss ditch their kids to explore the cosmos, they're simply badass.
This was also the case in Gravity, in which the Sandra Bullock character was given a backstory involving a dead child to explain why she'd be reckless enough to undertake such a dangerous assignment (in George Clooney's case, that's because "he's George Clooney"). Aliens, meanwhile, has a deleted scene wherein Ripley finds out her daughter is dead right before signing up to go fight a bunch of dick monsters. In Arrival, the dead girl happens after the mission, but her mom (Amy Adams) is motivated by future memories of the tragic event, giving her the impetus to kick alien ass ... with linguistics and dry-erase boards.
This might seem like an equivalent to women in refrigerators ("kids in coffins"?), but in that other cliche, most of the men are already superheroes when their loved ones die. That initial desire to live a life of adventure is portrayed as something born out of positive, noble reasoning (truth, justice, etc.). Meanwhile, any woman who wants to do the same is automatically portrayed as only doing it because they're self-destructive and angsty -- a feeling of "Screw it, my child is dead, what else am I good for?"
And hey, speaking of babies ...
The Sexy Woman With The Mind Of A Toddler
Our culture puts a premium on women being both hot and young. It's typical, therefore, that writers can't stop making things weird. Hence "Born Sexy Yesterday."
This is a trope that appears with startling regularity in sci-fi. A loner, antisocial man meets a woman who needs his help, because not only is she involved in some twisted shenanigans, but she's also got the mind/naivety of a toddler -- while being smokin' hot and biologically mature, so it's OK to stare. It's the perfect package for your creepy uncle: a bangin' bod, a dependency complex bordering on psychosis, and, oh right, enough badassitude to kill anyone who gets in her way.
The most famous example of this is Leeloo from The Fifth Element, a lab-grown woman who escapes her confines and lands (literally) in the cab of a flying taxi operated by Space John McClane. They then embark on an adventure packed with shootouts, learning who she is, teaching her social mores, and enthusiastic fucking.
There's also Quorra from TRON: Legacy, a sentient computer program who takes everything literally because she doesn't know any different, but winds up embarking on an adventure packed with shootouts, learning who she is, teaching her social mores, and enthusiastic f- you get the idea. This also applies to most of the female aliens in Star Trek, or at least, the ones who have seen the inside of Kirk's bedroom. They're not born yesterday, but the vast majority have no comprehension of human culture, which gives them a severe disadvantage at recognizing when someone is trying to Enter their Prise.
It's important to note, however, that this trope doesn't just say a lot about the women; it also speaks volumes about the men. Namely, the fact that they're antisocial losers who are so damaged that only some magical being who doesn't know any better would be attracted to them. The video that coined this term also makes the point that this trope would be a little less weird if the movies didn't feel the need to age up the women. That might, however, get in the way of magical space titties time, and the shareholders wouldn't like that.
The Woman Who Can't Stop Thinking About Her T&A
It's hard to write about something that you've never lived. Without that experience, there's a big chance your work is going to be at best a surface-level basic-ass reading, or at worst a bizarre pastiche of misunderstandings and just ... wrongness. That's why whenever you read a book written by a male author from a female perspective, the lead character is often so hyper-sexualized and narcissistic that it's a miracle if the first chapter doesn't end with her getting turned on by every inanimate object in a five-mile radius.
You might have recently heard some discussion about this trope, triggered after a male author attempted to position himself as living proof that men are as good as women at writing from a female perspective. His writing soon went viral, although not for the reasons he would have liked. If your heart goes faint, it isn't because all the blood in your body suddenly rushed to your now-engorged junk. It's a sign that you don't have your cringe shields set to "maximum."
Once you notice this sort of writing, you can't stop seeing it everywhere. It's as if every male-written novel takes place on a planet inhabited by red-blooded men and dick-hungry fembots. It's not just terrible amateurs, by the way. As one Twitter user noted, this type of writing appears in everything from Philip Roth ...
... to Hemingway ...
... to Jonathan Franzen.
Hell, the first time George R.R. Martin introduces 13-year-old Daenerys Targaryen in A Game Of Thrones, he feels the need to point out that "her small breasts moved freely" under her vest. Though, to be fair, the TV show did attempt to balance that out by including roughly 500 swinging dicks.
"She's A Strong Female Character!" (Without Any Strength Or Character)
In the early days of the film business, as well as the medium days, and much of the later days, women could play any role they wanted on the big screen, as long as it was "kidnapped," "dead," or "kidnapped then dead." After collectively realizing how much this sucked for at least 50 percent of humanity, screenwriters started creating better-rounded female characters, like Ripley, Princess Leia, or Buffy Summers, to name a few. They could still wind up kidnapped, sure, but they were also badass, intelligent, fearsome, flawed, and integral to the plot -- you know, like the dong-havers were all along.
In recent years, however, the term "strong female character" has become a half-assed shorthand for "girl with guns," and it's pretty sad. The archetype example is Trinity from The Matrix, for the fact that she doesn't really have a role in the movie beyond blowing stuff up and shooting that one guy in the head. In terms of character, she's as deep as a puddle, and just as warm.
And there's a lot of characters like her. There's Valka from How To Train Your Dragon 2, Mako Mori from Pacific Rim, Wyldstyle from The Lego Movie, Tauriel from the Hobbit movies, and Pepper Potts and Lois Lane from the MCU and DCEU -- again, to name a few. They're all introduced as being competent, well-rounded badasses in their own right ... and then they drop out in order to let the main dude have his moment. Contrast that with Leia, who makes decisions that move the plot forward and has no need to tell us she's hardcore; she just proves it, one dead slug at a time.
In short: Fewer Trinitys and more Leias, please, Hollywood. (Minus the incest. You can skip that.)
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For more, check out 6 Bizarre Assumptions Movies Make About Strong Women and 6 Obnoxious Assumptions Hollywood Makes About Women.
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