You’re watching a series. There’s a good female character in it that you enjoyed all last season. She made sense; she had flaws; she had strengths. She didn’t bang her male boss. They were true colleagues. It rocked.
Then the man who played the her boss left the show, and they brought in a new boss character for her. Upon their first meeting, she tirades at him about how he’s slept with all his female assistants, but that won’t be happening with her. Then her whole personality changes over the next few episodes. Notably, her feminist sympathies for female victims disappear.
There are other things happening to – things you can actually not notice consciously, but you do notice them unconsciously. She and her boss touch each other a lot – fleetingly, but this never happened with the old boss. Often they stand too close each other for no reason. And the camera frames them intimately. Consciously, all you remember may be, “I hate that stupid woman character now.” Without meaning to, you “blame the woman”. The affair between the newly annoying woman character and her male boss is kept out of the text until she leaves the show in a body bag, and you suddenly realize you have a whole new reason to be glad she’s dead.
Sound familiar? I’m talking about Claire Kincaid of the very old Law & Order, but it’s happened on so many shows. A female character is awesome, until suddenly her entire role and personality are reshaped around a male character. Which makes her look like the sort of woman who changes her personality to nab herself a man. No wonder we hate her, when we should be hating the producers.
But that’s something we can work on, right? Blaming the male writers instead of the female characters? When I first started this site, there was a lot of debate about whether the producers of Stargate meant to imply a sort of romantic “understanding” between the female lead and her boss. After reviewing season 5 of L&O, I have no doubt: those camera shots and that actor positioning the producers swore was totally coincidental? Not.
I’m nicknaming this the phenomenon the Kincaid Effect, after a character I really, really liked one season but struggled to watch the next. How many other shows have you observed this phenomenon on, where a female character changes her personality to get it on with a male character and ends up looking like an ass?