One of the most basic steps in avoiding the use of female character tropes and stereotypes may sound obvious. It’s to know what the prevailing stereotypes even are!
I’ve gathered 19 female character tropes that tend to bother me as a reader, and many of these I’ve heard complained about from others as well. That’s a bunch, while hardly being a comprehensive list. You may start to feel like it’s impossible to avoid them but really it’s about going beyond them.
Are Female Tropes and Stereotypes Really So Bad?
Yes, because using them is lazy! Stereotypes are usually focused on a trait that can be part of your character; it just can’t be all of how you’ve written her. For each of the tropes on my list, you could therefore add the statement, “And that’s all we know about her.” That’s what makes it a poorly-written cop-out.
As you’ll see from this list, stereotypes can be positive or negative and for protagonists or antagonists.
- The Kick-butt Action Girl – Likes to punch, kick, and be tough
- The Mary Sue – Written to fulfill the author’s fantasies or concept of self-perfection
- The Crone or Hag – Old woman who can curse or harm others, literally or socially
- The Perfect Wife – Ideal suburban 50s housewife, for example
- The Manic Pixie Dream Girl – Exists solely to inspire men through her quirky nature
- The Damsel in Distress – Helpless and waiting for rescue rather than attempting a solution
- The Queen Bee – Alpha type in business, adolescent social groups, etc.
- The Evil Queen or Matriarch – Female monarch whose motivations are purely evil for no discernible reason
- The Spinster or Cat Lady – Woman without children or romantic relationship
- The Benevolent Hooker – Misunderstood lady of the night
- The Slut – Defined by her interest in sex
- The Shrew – Nagging, angry woman
- The Evil Fiance or Ex – Written as ‘bad’ primarily because she has what the protagonist wants
- The Final Girl – The last girl alive in a horror movie, whom we often know very little about
- The Valley Girl or Spoiled Rich Girl – Shallow and affluent
- The Gossip – Talks about others without being a character herself
- The Ingenue – An overly innocent girl
- The Girl Next Door – Wholesome and average through and through
- The Mother Hen – Shepherds and coos over people without any other defining motives or qualities
Any character can be subject to stereotypes but this list has focused on female stereotypes because it is part of my recent series of posts on How to Write Well-Rounded Female Characters.
Have you got some other pet peeve stereotypes? Or, any thoughts on stereotypes and writing in general? Feel free to comment!