Let’s talk about sexist tropes in media. You know, the zombies of the writers’ room that seemingly refuse to die—the lazy, old media tropes trotted out year after year in television and film. These archetypes have the power to inflict real cultural harm by reinforcing stereotypes about gender, race, sexual orientation, age, ability, and other identities.
We’re ready to flip these themes on their head. In this new era where authenticity reigns supreme, characters with more complexity, dimension, interest, and relatability are what we’re all craving. So let’s take a moment to bid a not-so-fond farewell to the top ten media tropes that need to die once and for all.
- The “Damsel in Distress”: “I am a helpless woman, in need of rescue. I exist to make our hero appear big and strong.”
- The “Bumbling” Dad: “I’m lovable and hopelessly incompetent. Everyone around me expects very little of me, so I get a pass.”
- The “Sassy” Black Woman: “I’m the embodiment of a sexist, racist stereotype. I’m curvy, bold, and audacious. I exist to make you laugh.”
- The “Sexy” Corpse: “I’m a dead woman, I’m half naked, and I’m hyper-sexualized. Just what every crime scene needs. Death has never looked so good.”
- Tough Guy Trope: “I use aggression to maintain control of everything and everyone. But yeah, I think I cried once. When I was a baby.”
- The Fighting F**k Toy: “I’m a female fighter, warrior, action hero, but I ultimately exist for the male gaze cause I’m kickin’ butt in a bikini.”
- The “Exotic” Asian Woman: “I am a sensual, erotic, and submissive woman who exists to add intrigue to the men whose story is being told.”
- The “Bitchy” Boss: “I’m a woman, and I’m in charge. So of course that means I’m mean and nasty.”
- The “Slutty” LGBTQ Character : “I sleep with everyone because my sexuality is the defining aspect of my identity.”
- The “Spicy” Latina: “I am a spirited, hot-headed, sexually aggressive woman who exists to be reigned in by men.”
“So what” you might say, “it’s just fiction.” But these tropes are everywhere in entertainment media—we’re looking at you “reality” TV. And all too often, these overused devices jump off the page and follow us into the real world with actual repercussions—inflaming sexism, racism and homophobia which prevent us from achieving our true human potential.
The best way to kill these tropes is with greater gender and race diversity in writer’s rooms.
Studies show that only 14% of show writers are people of color, and only 11% are women. A recent analysis of 4,000 films finds that all-male writing teams include fewer female characters that interact with one another. All too often, writers write women and people of color as accessories to prop up the agency and masculinity of leading white men. Adding even one woman in the writer’s room makes a world of difference in how female characters are portrayed.
We envision a world with entertainment media that reflects the rich imaginations of a more diverse pool of talented minds.