The hard-boiled man-hating chick trope

She’s introduced with a surprise reveal shot, in that our intrepid TV protagonists have just come upon a bounty hunter, sheriff, military officer, etc. and surprise! Jaws drop – she’s a woman. She scowls or smiles ironically at our heroes. What’s that on her shoulder? Why, it’s a huge chip! Now she’s rolling her eyes and making a wisecrack about how they need to pick their jaws up off the ground and get over her being a woman. Soon, she’ll be lecturing us on how worthless and useless men are.

But she does also prove to be kick-ass at shooting or some other manly endeavor, and the entire rest of the episode will be a series of ironic gender essentialist asides and behaviors that defy gender stereotypes, so it’s a good thing, isn’t it? Our writers sure think so. They’ll be patting themselves on the back all the way home.

Except there’s one small problem: whether our guest star’s complaints about “men” have any legitimacy or not, she will turn out to be a Man-Hater who was Wrong To Hate Men, at least insofar as concerns our heroes (who are of course male because the industry requires it). In some instances of this trope, all her complaints turn out to be Just Plain Silly as she becomes enlightened to the fact that These Menz Are Different (or at least that’s what we’re told in dialog – often, evidence is in short supply). In other instances, her complaints are legitimate (i.e., we’ll find out she was indeed mistreated by her daddy or lover or some other man or men) but she will still come to understand it wasn’t very nice to blame all men for that. Shame on her.

She’s a strawperson – the woman who unreasonably hates all men – and it’s much easier to set her up and tear her down than it is to address the likelihood that if our heroes were faced with some chick doin’ a man’s job, they’d probably react in a perfectly sexist manner.

Both versions of this trope induce vomit. The first fails to explore any legitimacy behind her claims of sexism and misogyny, leading us to the conclusion she just hated men for the fun of it. This is ridiculous: humans of bother genders are trained from birth to glorify the least little good-doing from men and make excuses whenever men do evil. Even women and girls who’ve been thoroughly abused by men frequently buy into their own oppression and blame themselves rather than the men responsible. Where would anyone get the idea to hate men, if not from observing men behaving badly and having the nerve to defy her entire society and blame them for their own bullshit?

The second version, in which her complaints are legitimate but not her hatred of men, suggests there are only isolated incidents of men harming women and no institutionalized sexism for sensible women to be complaining about. It also furthers the pop psychology cultural meme that all women who are harmed by men immediately lose all reason and hate all men. Actual incidents of misandry are far less common than incidents of women not being doormats and men confusing this with boiling hatred.

These stories are almost never about how our heroes need to get over themselves and their sexism.


  1. Jen says

    YEAH! I thought it was an interesting use of the stereotype in the film Silent Hill. Even though it’s not a great film, I liked the fact it had the mother and the female cop team up for a good chunk of it, I like seeing tough women interact with other women rather than just showing them as ‘ball-busting’ or shrews in need of a good taming or whatever. in fact there were mostly female-female interactions in that film rather than female-male or male-male.
    Of course the big bads were all female too. Would it have been too close to reality to make the witch-burners male? sorry off topic… good post!

  2. AmyMcCabe says

    And you know, the sad thing is that by admitting that the hero(s) of the show have a weakness and having them realize it, that’s character growth!

  3. sbg says

    These stories are almost never about how our heroes need to get over themselves and their sexism.

    Well, of course not. As far as character flaws go, unreasonable hatred of men (including the hero) is much more dire and in need of repair. Things can’t be right until the man-hater reveals a sudden, heretofore unknown (because of all the irrational hate) love for the hero.

  4. SarahSyna says

    I hate, hate, hate the first part of that trope the most. Almost invariably the character goes ON and ON and ON about how men suck and ‘ain’t it’s so shocking that I’m a woman’ until I want to kick them in the back of the knees. It’s just so patronising they way they write the characters, the little smirky ‘Ha! Bet you didn’t guess that I have a vagina!’

    I do have characters who people in-story are surprised to be female, however, they don’t bang on about it like it’s the meaning of life and there’s usually a damn good reason (the main one is a tiny, bubbly, blonde teenager who runs a Resistance and uses a codename that conveys the image of a big, strong guy so they won’t suspect her). I don’t make a bloody song and dance out of it.

    Not to mention the only message I can get from those are ‘remember kids, this is what a woman with equal rights and her own opinion acts like, so keep them under lock and key because all feminists are jerks!’


  5. Red says

    Ah, I’ve seen thi trope before. It is, to put it mildly, wearing on the senses.

    One example that, IMO, defies this trope? Arcee from the ‘Transformers: Prime’ animated series. In my view, it does a VERY GOOD job of showing a kick-ass female character who is not a ‘man-hater’. Far from it; her being a female is NEVER an issue. Why?

    Because her teammates (admittedly all male) see her as an EQUAL. She is respected as a fierce warrior who is the second-in-command of the Autobot team. She is also wonderfully snarky (not overly so, I think), loyal, fearless and is always there for her teammates, whom she views

    Other female characters include;

    Miko, a Japanese transfer student. She defies the typical ‘Japanese schoolgirl’ trope. She is LOUD, assertive, loves Metal music and is an adrenaline junkie. She’s rebellious and reckless (running into things without thinking, wanting to watch Bot/Con battles up close) and doesn’t choose her words carefully, but she’s fiercly loyal to her friends, creative, compassionate and can be extraordinarly observant.

    June Darby, nurse and mother of one of the human protagonists, Jack Darby. She’s a single paremt (her husband left her) and has raised her son since. She had to be BOTH parents to Jack and, as evidenced by his character, has done a great job. She’s over-protective at times, VERY tough and will act in whatever way she believes is right for the sake of the safety of others, especially in regards to Jack and his friemds. Even if you disagree or feel she’s wrong, you understand why she does it. She also has a great sense of humor and takes delight in teasing her son.

    As an addition; I’d like to point out that this show.also defies ANOTHER trope which is all too common; the ‘Single mother of kid with Daddy issues’ trope. All too often, we get a show, movie, etc. that stars a kid (or even an adult) who has some SERIOUS parental issues, mostly relating to the father. We get guys (and girls) who are constantly getting into trouble, fighting, running with a bad crowd, doing drugs, sleeping around and forever worrying and upsetting their mother/aunt/grandparent/relative, etc…. ALL BECAUSE ‘DADDY ISN’T THERE TO STOP THEM OR SET THEM STRAIT’.


    I mean, yeah. I understand. Child of Divorced parents, here. It’s hard and it sucks. But I didn’t act like that. Got into fights, yeah, but that was because I was bullied. Fact is, this is a well-known, oft-used trope. It sends the oh-so-subtle message that a single-mother is somehow incapable of raising a child by themselves and if they act out, it’s all because of the lack of a father figure.

    Well, June Darby takes this trope off life supprt, declares it dead, tags it, bags it and buries it, never to be seen again. She defies it in every which way. She demonstrates, without preamble, just what an effective parent she is. She makes no apologies and no excuses. She is tough, fair and leads her son by example. And it is evidenced very strongly by Jack, who is smart, responsible and always strives to do the right thing. All that he is, he owes to his mother. It also helps that they have a close mother/son relationship.

    Also that Micheal Bay has NOTHING TO DO with this series!

    In short, ‘Transformers: Prime’ has some excellently done female leads. Each one awesome in her own way. I,hope more make an appearance in the new season soon.

    Yes, I,know. I rambled about things that had no relation to the subject. It just happened that way and I wanted to share… -_-

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