Female Character Tropes Perpetuate Harmful Ideas

The repeated creation of the same troublesome fictional female stereotypes have made non-fictional life harder for real women.


photo via Piquels under Creative Commons license

A Chilean wall mural of the notorious Femme Fatale, Catwoman. The Femme Fatale is a mischievous woman who uses her seductive nature to get what she wants.

As a young girl, I loved seeing powerful females on my screen. Headstrong women like Princess Tiana inspired me to achieve whatever I wanted in life, just like she did with opening her own restaurant. 

We never know how much positive representation in movies matters to us, especially to younger audiences, until we get older and reflect on the impact it has made on our lives and self perception.

But what comes along with getting older, and living in the mature world, we can start to notice flaws in the way certain characters are portrayed, especially in female characters, seeing them be manipulated to fit entertainment standards. 

When watching movies, have you ever noticed parallels between female characters from other movies? Have they been incorporated to achieve the same goals, have the same dynamic with the other characters, have similar personalities, etc? 

These characters are character tropes, a figurative device used repeatedly in motion pictures to represent something figuratively through a person for thematic storytelling purposes. 

These create more nuanced ideas for the viewer to create about the characters, leaving bits and pieces of the character up to interpretation, as well as keeping them predictable to fit the scope they’re under. 

Tropes are usually never created, just reused or inspired by other tropes. So with this, there are many tropes for women that are similar, and do not shine a good light on us in the industry, as well as in real life. 

The Femme Fatale

One of the longest and most prominent female movie tropes is the femme fatale, originating from classic film noir in the 1940s and 50s. 

A Femme Fatale is a beautiful, seductive woman, using her sexual nature as a weapon to manipulate people (predominantly men) into giving her what she wants.

The things she wants are usually shallow and would add very little substance to her moral being like money, material things, and power, that’s used more for harm than good. 

To reference a Femme Fatale within pop culture, Catwoman and her playful, seductive relationship with Batman is the quintessential one. 

While many can argue that a Femme Fatale can actually be empowering and portrays a powerful woman, we should keep in mind who created the trope, as well as almost every other female trope-men. 

The weapon Femme Fatales often have is their hypersexuality, something created to appease mostly male viewers, and this sexual manipulation doesn’t just destruct men in motion pictures, but woman in real life.

[Femme Fatales]can be fun to watch and aesthetically pleasing, but it’s generally just an excuse for male directors to write poor female characters in skimpy outfits for more views.

— Ellie Winslow

Dallastown Senior Ellie Winslow felt that the trope “can be fun to watch and aesthetically pleasing, but it’s generally just an excuse for male directors to write poor female characters in skimpy outfits for more views.” 

Portraying woman out to be sexual consistently destructs society’s view on women and their role; they are invalidated of their worth, expected to fill the needs of men, and if they are more powerful than men, they are called vindictive and deceitful- female achievement will always be a double edged sword. 


Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Let’s move from an older trope and go to a newer one, the Ramona Flowers and Penny Lanes of the world, the Manic Pixie Dream Girls. 

The term Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) was coined by Nathan Rabin who said that they “exist solely in the fevered imagination of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” 

When thinking of a MPDG, I often picture the girl with the dyed hair, who makes decisions on a whim, with little care in the world, and a reserved, on the edge male sitting on her hip, and her task being to break him out of his shell. 

Dallastown junior Petra Baylin sees the MPDG as empowering, saying “…I don’t think considering certain woman to be free spirited is something that should be viewed as negative; that’s a quality that anyone should be able to have regardless of their sex or gender identity.” 

While, yes this trope can inspire living loose and free spirited, it has its real world implications, seeing a new dynamic created that women solely exist to change and help men grow to become the best versions of themselves. 

We might also find ourselves feeling like they need to act this way to be appealing to males to gain their attention, not acting truly authentic to themselves. 

When it becomes prevalent that we don’t act like this, this can lead men to feeling disappointed and let down from the ideas they created in their head, and can lead to more negative consequences down the road. For example, overt misogyny. 

Much of the population can’t differentiate between real life and fiction, and creating unrealistic, toxic tropes can be damaging to the group of people they target. 

The easiest and most obvious way to fix this is realize this-tropes are fictional, made up themes that don’t represent real life! 

But the main and most effective way we combat negative female tropes in motion pictures is having more female producers and directors. Having them in charge will completely change the role of the woman in front of the camera. 

Once we change what is seen on screen, what happens behind the scenes will change as well, and for the better at that.