You love books and you bought a new one. You are excited about reading this novel and start reading it in the comfort of your home or you open it while traveling for work/college. You start reading the preface and begin to read the first chapter, sounds interesting, you reach to a point where they are describing the characters, how they look like, how they behave, what do they do but something is off-putting for you? The characters with female sounding names are described differently, they rarely have a purpose other than to exist for male protagonists. They are described in a lewd manner, catering to the male gaze. How does that make a womxn feel? Grossed out, annoyed. You read the book anyway expecting that something better will come with the storyline but it rarely happens. Common character types include-
1. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl
This character is often found in Imtiaz Ali films apart from many “romance” novels. This character’s purpose is to help the protagonist, who is most of the time a cisgender heterosexual man, his life’s purpose or achieve his life goal. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl has no life goal of her own and her life seems to revolve around the male protagonist. She is often a love interest and could disappear when the goal is met.
2. The “Tomboy” Friend
The second most common character type is the tomboy friend. The term tomboy is itself sexist as it defines women who have interests that of a man and divides hobbies and interests in the gender binary. Either she ends up getting friendzoned (another sexist term) and gets blamed for it while the protagonist finds another lover, often a woman who is “hot” or “feminine” or the tomboy ends up getting a makeover, changing herself completely to get male approval.
3. Damsel In Distress
The Damsel In Distress is often a womxn protagonist saved by the man who is hailed as a hero. She is often used as a prop in storylines. Common examples include childhood stories of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, etc. She always needs help or a solution to a problem which is provided by a male protagonist. It’s the oldest character idea and has been used over decades now.
4. The Love Interest
Do you want to add a woman’s character in your book or movie? Make her the love interest! This is the mantra that many authors go by. Often the love interest has no career of her own, focuses on the love story of her life. Could have a family which is demonized or have no family at all.
5. The Hot one without brains- Its 2020 but still male authors believe that womxn cannot be smart AND beautiful. They want to put womxn in separate boxes. She is often objectified and hypersexualized by the male author in his work. This character can be found in many Bollywood movies too.
How these characters are harmful
Our books, movies, etc form popular culture. One gets into the process of socialization (learning of social norms) through popular media. When these characters are repeatedly depicted everywhere, they get embedded into the minds of the people. Womxn are made to believe that their value lies in how useful they are to men and men follow these beliefs along with queer people. It becomes social norms all over again and gets practiced by generations.
The characters create a set of stereotypes about womxn and create expectations from womxn which are unattainable and dehumanizing. Putting women in a different category is harmful not only for entertainment but for real-life womxn too. Often male authors and script writers forget to humanize the womxn characters written by them. It affects everyone in the long run as men start expecting womxn to focus solely on them forgetting their careers, taking care of themselves. The hot one without brains troupe has created a problem for womxn by asking them to choose between following beauty standards and having a successful career. The tomboy troupe creates problems for not only women who like video games, sports, etc but also for lesbian women and transmen as they are often erased by being referred to as a “tomboy”. Manic pixie dream girl troupe has been overused and is an example of lazy writing. One can try to have a bechdel test while writing to prevent these issues.