I mentioned to the SO that I had come up with seven stereotypes/damaging/problematic tropes of the Female Badass, that I was interested in writing an article about. Or a series of articles. I read my basic descriptions of all 7 to him, and he purred, “Um, this is a book, darling; you realize that, right?”
Well, this coming semester I will have quite a bit of time on my hands, and not much money to speak of, so. All righty then. It’s a book. It will be a book, that is.
Here’s a basic rundown of the seven tropes I will be analyzing. Some of them are already-established from feminist scholars before me, others I have invented (as far as I can tell; at least the terminology for them). Most have sub-tropes, which I’ll also briefly describe here. Another note: I am not equipped to discuss any non-binary nor POC issues. There’s a lot more here to write about, that I highly recommend those of you who can, should.
And away we go……
1) The Marion Effect
I named this trope off two Marions from cinema: Maid Marion in the delightfully awful Robin Hood, Prince Of Thieves; and Indy’s gal-pal in Raiders Of the Lost Ark. Both Marions begin as total unquestionable badasses (the former kicking Robin Hood’s ass, the latter drinking a dude under a table and still saving the artifact), and both switch to simpering weaklings as soon as it’s a plot point to have them become Damsels in Distress. In other words, they’re completely awesome until the male hero shows up and needs a love interest to rescue.
(Sub-trope: Someday My Prince Will Come) This can happen to any Marion Effect character but it’s mostly seen in the Disney Robin Hood’s Maid Marian. She’s even got a wanted poster of her remote crush up in her closet like a high schooler with a bad boy band poster. Either way, she does nothing to get what she wants, even if she can. Disney’s Little Mermaid is like a combination of both Marion Effects.
2) Wonder Woman
This trope is summed up with one question: does the sexiness of the ass preclude the badness of the ass? James Cameron has recently averred that a female character can’t (or shouldn’t) be both tough and sexy, but regular people of all genders seem to disagree with him. So then the problematic bits come twofold with this trope: either the strong, tough woman is depicted as manly and/or not hot, or sexiness is shoehorned onto a tough character, because she’s female.
3) Down the Rabbit Hole
It’s fun to watch women get tortured!
(Sub-trope: Slasher Fodder) Especially when we don’t have to invest in her as a fully developed character!
4) The Meaning Of (His) Life
The only function of this otherwise intelligent, quirky, and otherwise interesting character is to change the male hero’s perspective, life, etc.
(Sub-trope: Manic Pixie Dream Girl) This is a well discussed trope already: basically, the MPDG is thoroughly disposable once she has been of use to the male protagonist. This sketch sums it up: Underwritten Female Characters
(Sub-trope: The Arwen Syndrome) This sub-trope has been around for a long, long, time: since the troubadours of old. Heck, since the ancient Greeks, let’s be honest. The Arwen Syndrome refers to how Arwen was written in Tolkien’s original books. Or, rather, not written. She’s an ethereal, not-really-there figure that exists purely to keep Aragorn’s gumption up, and is basically given to him as a reward by Elrond and Galadriel for a job well done. The longest passage we have written about her is a physical description.
5) Mother Knows Best, But Hero Knows Better
I’m not sure I can think of a more badass act than giving birth. Oh wait, yes I can: it’s the act of parenting itself. Toughest thing anyone can do. But even the strongest and most badass of mothers are always second-string when it comes to the male hero.
(Sub-trope: All Women Are Maternal) This is the related trope that any woman, no matter how tough or strong she is, no matter what difference she makes or what she survives through, is simply not a real woman unless she’s a mother. The ends of Kill Bill and Aliens are examples of this.
6) One of the Guys
Story of my life, actually. But. This is the female character that isn’t “really female” because she’s pals, not lovers, with the male hero. Or she’s a part of the mostly male gang (think Anybodys in West Side Story). Or she joins the military and subsequently either is treated or in disguise as, one of the guys (G.I. Jane and Mulan are this, as are legendary pirates irl Anne Bonny and Mary Reade).
(Sub-trope: Banter Becomes True Love) Any romantic comedy from the 1980s has this in spades. Win the girl. If she, too, is intelligent, it’ll just take more persistence & work. Remember Moonlighting? The main problematic issue about the BBTL trope (besides idealizing stalking) is that the female is rendered completely uninteresting once she’s finally a love interest.
7) I’m Only Here For My Vagina
The only reason the character exists, and the only thing she’s good at or for, is sex. She can be a bad guy (Onatopp from Goldeneye) good guy love interest (insert your favorite here, pun intended), or a variety of Arwen Syndrome, but she’s just about the sex.
(Sub-trope: Witchy Woman) Circe is the first one of these who comes to mind; the female whose magic superpower is her vagina.
(Sub-trope: Bond Girl) Bond Girls can be any number of things, from villain to brief encounter to The One Who Changed Bond’s Life, but one thing they all are: they are all about sex with Bond. Once that’s accomplished, they go away.
Tell me your thoughts about these tropes and my brief onceovers of them in the comments, and I’ll post updates as I write.