Hello, everyone! I’m Marta and today I’m going to talk about tropes that are the absolute bane of my existence – sexist tropes. As the title suggests, I’m also going to attempt to find books that smashed those tropes and recommend them to you.
I’m mostly going to focus on female characters because in my opinion, most harmful tropes are about them, but it’s worth mentioning that there are obviously sexist tropes when it comes to male characters as well (toxic masculinity has a lot to do with it).
Now that we’ve settled everything, let’s get into the actual post!
#1. Damsel in Distress
If the role of a female character is only to be rescued by the male character and admire his force and strength, we have a serious problem. I don’t even think I need to explain why. Women are more than that. Do they need help from time to time? Yes. Do they need a man to rescue them every damn time and fight every battle for them? Nope. Plus, it’s very unrealistic that the female character does nothing to impact the plot besides getting in trouble so she can be saved. She must have some ideas of her own, she surely can kick ass on her own, she must be able to do SOMETHING.
I’m going to have a hard time narrowing down the list of books that smashed this trope because it’s been highly criticized and I haven’t seen it in a while, at least in YA.
#2. Girls Always Have To Compete With One Another
I’m not sure if this one has a name, but I’m certain you’ve seen it before. Usually it happens when two girls are competing with one another for the attention of a guy, they get all petty and insult each other, fight and just act extremely irrationally for no reason at all.
This trope feeds on the idea that we hate our sisters and instead of supporting each other, we always fight and try to bring one another down. I mean, why do these female characters have to fight to get the attention of some guy? Can’t they just accept that they like the same person and be cordial about it? It doesn’t seem like a big deal to me.
I loved how Madeline Miller smashed this trope with the relationship between Circe (who hooked up with Odysseus) and Penelope (Odysseus’ wife) – there’s even a more complex situation here than what I’ve mentioned before because cheating is really hurtful and just ugh. But Miller handled it amazingly well, there was definitely tension between the two women and they took time to warm up to each other (so it was realistic), but Penelope was rational enough to know that Odysseus was mostly to blame for the cheating since he was the one attached to her, owing her loyalty while Circe didn’t owe her anything.
They were both very aware of the qualities that the other had and they didn’t try to undermine them because they had both loved the same man. I stan two smart women.
#3. The Tomboy
This female character is usually one of the boys, she likes sports (
because that’s only a guy stuff, y’know) or science, she doesn’t like to dress up and wear make-up. Bonus points if she got so awesome and acquired all those skills because she grew up with 10000 brothers who made her so cool.
Sometimes this trope can be okay, however it gets very sexist when the female character who’s a tomboy hates on every other girl in the book, especially those who wear make-up or are interested in fashion or whatever is seen in our society as feminine. And usually she sees herself as being superior for her hobbies or for being friends with guys. I always die inside whenever I hear a female character say “it’s so much easier being friends with guys because they are drama free while women are so petty”, I’m pretty sure you can be friends with guys without shitting on fellow women. Try it.
I think the existence of this trope is kinda sexist to begin with. It’s like once a woman is interested in sports or science, she becomes this superior being, so much better than a woman who’s into her girly things. WHAT? Women should be allowed to be interested in whatever domains they want and the same can be said about men, they aren’t inferior for wearing make-up or liking fashion or whatever. Just let people live and enjoy themselves.
I chose Kestrel and Sansa to smash this trope because the first one is into arts (music), but also loves war strategy, she reminds me a lot of Athena (but without the Medusa victim-blaming mess). She doesn’t need to choose one, she loves wearing beautiful dresses and also being in the midst of war. Sansa is a character who’s known for being feminine and also surviving, I haven’t watched more than a season of GOT and I haven’t read the books, but she seems like a character who went through a lot and gets so much unnecessary hate for being feminine and whiny from what I’ve seen. I like her a lot, she’s very emotionally strong and she’s highly underestimated which ultimately seems to be an advantage for her.
#4. Women in Refrigerators
This is a trope where women have to die for the male protagonist to get his shit together and finally be heroic or sometimes just for male pain. These women have no purpose other than to spurn the story forward or provoke some anguish in our hero. Most of the time we don’t even know a lot about them, sometimes not even their names. They are there just to be killed. You can probably say ‘men get killed in movies as well, it’s no biggie’, but how many times have you watched a movie or read a book where the male love interest died for the plot to move along and the female heroine to get ready for the fight? Yeah, thought so.
Now, this trope is smashed by every book out there who lets women live and thrive, where women are more than just love interests that get caught up in a revenge plot between the villain and the hero.
Besides that, Margaery Tyrell from GOT apparently has lots of dead husbands, which is a great spin on this trope. I’m not sure if she can smash this trope since I’ve heard some spoilers about how she might not be exactly thriving, but eh, a nice spin nonetheless.
#5. Love & Motherhood
I don’t know how to name this trope, it’s not only a trope in media, it’s a problem in real life as well and it’s quite hurtful. You can see everywhere those things about how you are basically nothing as a woman until you’re a mother, which is awful, really. Not everyone wants to have children, not everyone wants to be a parent and we should respect those decisions. Women that aren’t mothers are still important, they can still contribute in so many amazing ways to our world and it’s not your business whether they decide to have children or not. It’s that simple.
Then, there is this perception that single women are somewhat less than women who are in relationships (usually in heterosexual relationships, LGBT+ women are a different story altogether). There are so many sexist tropes about single women from the one where they are represented as being desperate, not good enough to get a man, crazy and the list goes on and on. While men who stay single for a long period are seen as living their best life, prioritizing their businesses, keeping their options open – just positives, really. Why the discrepancy? I don’t know.
Alice Oseman has amazing books that focus on platonic friendships and whatever makes a character tick without romantic relationships ever taking over their whole lives.
I love how their single characters are never stereotypical, they either never discuss their reasons for being single (why is that such a big deal after all???) or they have reasonable motivations (not being crazy or too desperate).
What are some sexist tropes that you hate?
What are some books that smash the patriarchy that you’d recommend?