Sexist Tropes and Books That Smashed Them

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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!

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#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.

 

 

Éowyn, Annabeth and Katniss are the first that I thought of, all of them are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves and are pretty inspirational.
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#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.

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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.

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#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.

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#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.

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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.

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#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).

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What are some sexist tropes that you hate?

What are some books that smash the patriarchy that you’d recommend?

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60 thoughts on “Sexist Tropes and Books That Smashed Them

  1. David Boone (moonhawk81) says:

    I’m actually kind of tired of the “beast of burden” trope against men. You know, the one that implies that guys are pretty good for lifting and moving heavy stuff but not much else. Seems they’re just not smart enough. . .

    Liked by 2 people

  2. utopianpages says:

    Omg!!!!!! You’ve outdone yourself on this one!

    Thank you so much for coming up with this list! I can’t come up with anything more to add, ig lol. I must say tho, among the five tropes, #1 damsel in distress is the trope I’m most tired of. I’m honestly thankful there are more emerging books that have smashed that trope. The last one I guess is the one I have the least encounters with? And the most thought-provoking, I might add. Now that I think of it, I have possibly read a book or two and I have never seen it that way! Thank you for letting me see it in a new light!

    Also, thank you so much for mentioning Sansa, BECAUSE THAT IS SO FREAKING TRUE. People shit on Sansa because she is “too feminine” and I’m just so tired of people who undermines her strength because of that. They make it seem like feminine = weak.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Marta says:

      Thank you so much, Ness!
      You’re too kind! ❤
      Same here, I'm so happy that the damsel in distress is rare right now, whenever I find it in a recent book, I get so mad 😦
      I feel like the last trope is more of a real-life issue, while in books/movies it's more subtle and not as straight-forward. It's just that childless adult women seem to be miserable all the time and judged by others.
      I would literary watch GOT only for her, she's a true hero ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Norrie says:

    I agree with #5. Not every women wants to (or can) have children and they are no less than those who do. All those people worrying about the human race getting extinct should realize that it’s very unlikely to happen as we are quite overpopulated so these backwards ideas really need to go.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      Agreed! I don’t think people say those things because they are worried about the human race going extinct though, many of them still think that one of the main purposes of a woman is to give birth and be a mother sadly 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Gayathri Lakshminarayanan says:

    I loved this post. A sexist trope I hate is that the girl exists just for the boy to come to his senses. Sigh, I know there are many books that break this trope but there are far far more books that just fall into the trap that it gets so annoying. Again, loved this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      Thank you very much! ❤
      Indeed, I really hate all books/tropes that make it seem like a woman exists only for a male character to do something/ feel something/get over something. It's just so frustrating when a female character can't have her own plotline and everything about her is related to the male protagonist.

      Like

  5. Cam @ Camillea Reads says:

    Finally! Annabeth is terribly in need of appreciation! I’m so glad to see her on this list.

    I hate how the media tends to put down girls who enjoy fashion and make-up. Why do people wanna shit on things that women enjoy? Anyways, yes to Sansa! That girl is always underestimated and had been criticized as stupid/naive. True, but then again, she was also only twelve at the beginning of GoT. But my gosh, her character development is amazing! I don’t want to spoil anything for you though!

    I love you for writing this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      Annabeth is a total queen, I really love her ❤
      Agreed! I think you can’t win either way as a girl. Because media puts down girls who enjoy fashion and make-up, but also criticize girls who are nerds or geeks. It seems that our hobbies or passions will never be valid.
      It’s so stupid that people except her to be some mastermind at 12 years old 🙈 She’s gone through so much from what I’ve seen and doesn’t deserve all this hate.
      Awww, thank you so much, Cam! ❤ Love you too!

      Like

  6. malanielovesfiction says:

    oh god looks like I need Alice Oseman in myyyyyy life c: c: c:

    there is nothing I hate more than when women have to degrade one another, themselves, or DIE in order to be considered in a male plot. I MEAN.////////////
    ABSOLUTELY NOT.

    this post is so important + v well-done &&&& I praise it highly ❤ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  7. may says:

    THIS
    POST
    SLAYED
    ME

    i didn’t think i needed this post until now but now i realize how MUCH I DO NEED IT!!! i love how you mentioned my queen annabeth 😭😭😭 to see such a strong, beautiful character in ya is great but to see it so normal in middle grade warms my heart.

    i didnt realize how….prominent the ‘women in refrigerators’ trope is but now that i think about it YES THAT HAPPENS A LOT whY???!!! i love love love girl friendships its like the sweetest, most pure thing to exist and im so happy you wrote this amazing post bc i NEEDED it

    ❤ ❤ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      I’m so happy you loved the post, May!! ❤🤗
      Annabeth is everything I needed, she’s strong and smart and I wish I had her while I was growing up.
      Yeaaaah, I feel like it still happens more frequently in comics, but also in fantasy. Probably the reason why it rarely happens in YA is because most of the main characters are women.
      Friendships are everything and I adore them 😍😍😍

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Beth (Reading Every Night) says:

    There are a lot of sexist tropes out there. One of my most hated tropes is girl hate; you don’t see men in books or TV shows needlessly hating other men simply because of jealously or some other petty reason, but I’ve seen it between female characters so many times.
    You’ve featured some amazing characters though; I love how kick-ass Katniss and Annabeth are, and Circe is a favourite of mine. The relationship between Circe and Penelope was quite complicated but I think Madeline Miller handled it really well.
    Great post. 🙂 ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      Agreed, girl hate is the worst! The only reason why I didn’t include it in this post is because people talk a lot about it and I wanted to focus on the competition between girls because it’s a very similar trope, but a bit more subtle with its sexism, in my opinion.
      I remember criticizing a book about promoting girl hate and getting a comment that girl hate happens in real life and therefore, the depiction in the book is realistic :-/ It bothered me so much because girl hate is awful in real life, I don’t understand why we’d want to see those things in books as well – shouldn’t we set up a better example by fiction and then hope that people will apply those principles in real life as well? Idk, I just hate it.
      Thank you very much, Beth! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • Beth (Reading Every Night) says:

        Yeah that makes sense, to be honest it’s kind of a shame that there are so many sexist tropes out there that you had a choice as to which ones you featured in this post you know?
        I mean, I get that girl hate can happen in real life but the way it’s portrayed in so many books it makes it seem like it’s ordinary, and it’s never something the characters are called out about and told ‘actually that’s not right’. It’s just accepted and sometimes if it’s the main character against a typical bitchy popular mean girl it’s seen as all right you know?
        It really bothers me too, in some ways I read to escape so I’d almost like to see no girl hate even if that does make books ‘unrealistic’.

        Like

  9. Camile Souza says:

    Great post! 😊
    Ohh I hate that trope of the female badass character who is only considered strong because she can fight, but god forbid she’s an emotionally complex well rounded character. Ability to fight is not a personality trait, and if that’s all the character’s got going, then that’s not a good character.
    Am I expected to automatically consider someone a badass just because they can punch people in the face? Gimme actual personality and brains along those skills and we can talk.

    Like

  10. Kat Impossible says:

    OMG, I love this post!!! Even when I was little,I always wondered why the girls always hated on each other in books, why the main character either had to be super girly BUT alsi smart OR not into any of the “typical” girly stuff. It was super frustrating and didn’t really reflect my reality. Especially when I was still timid and even more socially awkward than I can be now, I just wanted to be friends with all the girls. And I SO love that you mentioned my queen Sansa. She really does deserve better, because she likes the finer things in life and cares about fashion etc but she is also wicked smart and picks up on political schemes and is generally stronger than people give her credit for.

    Like

  11. Molly A. Tessnear says:

    YES yes yes to your #5. I just talked about this a bit in my 2018 best-books post because I re-read The Awakening. Unfortunately, in classic novels, the trope becomes, if a woman declines domesticity and social mores, she must commit suicide at the end of the novel. Any suggestions for a good novel where a woman chooses to go against the grain of society and is rewarded or happy at the end? Thanks! Great post! 🙂

    Like

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