Tropes for women: why The Crown’s not the only one show needing an urgent reset

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  • The Crown's portrayal of Diana as a one-dimensional victim is the latest and unsurprising example of tired tropes for women. Author and performer, Anneka Harry, says it's time for accurate representations of imperfect female characters

    While our creative industries wait for the government to locate a braincell and remember we contribute over £113 billion to the UK economy every year (approximately £112,985,000,000 more than grouse-shooting), we’ve got some time on our hands to consider how to come back stronger than ever. I’ve had it with tired tropes for women and here’s why. Our mass media is lauded world-over but it’s long overdue an agenda reset. And you can bet my viable, tax-paying arse that the more true-telling, accurate representations of and stories about women we start to see, the richer we will all be. 

    Tired tropes for woman de-power us 

    We need to go back to basics and bust apart the dead horse female character tropes and appropriations that are still tirelessly trotted out. We need less censorship of female behaviour. We need more women and we need raw women. We need not for personalities to be depicted by skin or hair colour alone. We need for women to stop being used as props or reduced to slabs. We need to say buh-bye to binaries, to mythical beauty standards and to being ‘nice’.

    We need plots that don’t revolve solely around women’s rape, exploitation and/or death. We need women to no longer be outnumbered by penises or have been written only to have one symbolically, or in actuality, thrust toward her. Bring on the new, strong, dynamic, multifaceted, fully rounded and imperfect female characters! (Stop talking about me reader, you’ll make me blush).

    tropes for women

    Author Anneka Harry

    Stereotypes and received ideas about women creep into our everyday and unconscious bias… The Femme Fatale! The Manic Pixie Dreamgirl! Token Asian Friend! Sassy Black Woman! Iron Lady! The Inspirationally Disabled Love Interest! The Whore! You can picture them, can’t you?

    Meanwhile, men are allowed to play The Hero, Prince Charming, The Knight in Shining Armour, The Alpha Male, Cool Dad, Chick Magnet, Lovable Jock, Breadwinner and Hunk. They are celebrated for their flaws whilst we are vilified. It goes without saying that male tropes suck too but the majority have had guys feeling like they can unremittingly swing stuff their way (and just look where that’s got us). 

    Stop the virtue signalling 

    There’s an obnoxious amount of white-knighting and virtue signalling going on as the world slowly wakes up and recognizes that the only distress the damsels are experiencing is as a result of how they are being portrayed. I’d enrage you with some statistics but there’s far more to authentic representation than percentages and big cheeses who bandy about BAME and LGBTQ+ type acronyms at any given opportunity in the hope of a quick-fix. We may be finally being treated to more characters with opinions and less who aren’t simply walking female reproductive systems – but the need-for-change-clock is ticking far more ferociously than our ovaries. 

    In my latest book called Lady Sidekick: 50 Tired Tropes for Women, the case studies are twisted representations and oversimplifications of truths because tropes are meant to de-power women. As the current climate changes, far too many of our tropes do not (the fact this book felt like such an easy write is a ‘go figure’ rather than an own horn toot).  If any of the language, terminology, character descriptions or illustration doth offend, spike your blood pressure or ruin your enjoyment, please remember that it’s sort of the point

    Until we can laugh at the mess we’re in, we’ll never get out of it. Hope you enjoy this trope from my book.

    The Damsel In Distress  

    An oldie but a goodie. We’ve been raised on them, we’ve been raised to BE them! Apart from creating her own brand of helplessness, she’s so run of the mill and nondescript it’s tricky to pin the damsel down but, NEVER FEAR – a man will be along to do so shortly. 

    Once upon a time, lost and alone in a wasteland of patriarchy, our time-honoured classic DAMSEL IN DISTRESS waited resignedly atop a tower for her knight in shining armour to show up. The fair maiden’s dismay leaked from her eyes as she daydreamed of becoming one of these ‘Modern-Day Damsels in Distress’. The type that, despite centuries of chauvinism, have adapted to need rescuing from fixes as simple as being too weak to open jars instead.  How liberated women have become!

    tropes for women

    * Lady Sidekick: 50 Tired Tropes for Women by Anneka Harry and illustrated by Laura Dockrill (The History Press, £9.99) is on sale now

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