19 Female Character Stereotypes or Tropes to Avoid

One of the most basic steps in avoiding the use of female character tropes and stereotypes may sound obvious. It’s to know what the prevailing stereotypes even are!

I’ve gathered 19 female character tropes that tend to bother me as a reader, and many of these I’ve heard complained about from others as well. That’s a bunch, while hardly being a comprehensive list. You may start to feel like it’s impossible to avoid them but really it’s about going beyond them.

Are Female Tropes and Stereotypes Really So Bad?

Yes, because using them is lazy! Stereotypes are usually focused on a trait that can be part of your character; it just can’t be all of how you’ve written her. For each of the tropes on my list, you could therefore add the statement, “And that’s all we know about her.” That’s what makes it a poorly-written cop-out.

As you’ll see from this list, stereotypes can be positive or negative and for protagonists or antagonists.

  1. The Kick-butt Action Girl – Likes to punch, kick, and be tough
  2. The Mary Sue – Written to fulfill the author’s fantasies or concept of self-perfection
  3. The Crone or Hag – Old woman who can curse or harm others, literally or socially
  4. The Perfect Wife – Ideal suburban 50s housewife, for example
  5. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl – Exists solely to inspire men through her quirky nature
  6. The Damsel in Distress – Helpless and waiting for rescue rather than attempting a solution
  7. The Queen Bee – Alpha type in business, adolescent social groups, etc.
  8. The Evil Queen or Matriarch – Female monarch whose motivations are purely evil for no discernible reason
  9. The Spinster or Cat Lady – Woman without children or romantic relationship
  10. The Benevolent Hooker – Misunderstood lady of the night
  11. The Slut – Defined by her interest in sex
  12. The Shrew – Nagging, angry woman
  13. The Evil Fiance or Ex – Written as ‘bad’ primarily because she has what the protagonist wants
  14. The Final Girl – The last girl alive in a horror movie, whom we often know very little about
  15. The Valley Girl or Spoiled Rich Girl – Shallow and affluent
  16. The Gossip – Talks about others without being a character herself
  17. The Ingenue – An overly innocent girl
  18. The Girl Next Door – Wholesome and average through and through
  19. The Mother Hen – Shepherds and coos over people without any other defining motives or qualities

Any character can be subject to stereotypes but this list has focused on female stereotypes because it is part of my recent series of posts on How to Write Well-Rounded Female Characters.

Have you got some other pet peeve stereotypes? Or, any thoughts on stereotypes and writing in general? Feel free to comment!

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5 thoughts on “19 Female Character Stereotypes or Tropes to Avoid

  1. hannahgivens

    I think the stereotype that bothers me the most is “the woman with whom the protagonist is in love.” I’ve been watching Supernatural and it shows up there a lot, as well as in lots of thriller type movies, etc. Basically she’s a woman with no particular personality or activity in the story, but the protagonist is IN LOVE with her and HE WILL PUNCH A LOT OF PEOPLE to get her back and/or will be VERY SAD if she’s been killed. But why does he love her? No idea, she’s just some woman whose defining character trait is being married to the protagonist. So maybe it would be called “The Wife” or “The Love Interest,” or just “See, There IS a Female Character.”

    I may be slightly bitter, especially since I verge into this trope sometimes myself and am struggling with it in my current WIP. Funny how that works. 🙂

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    1. cindygrigg

      Hi Hannah, sorry I missed this earlier in the week! I totally concur! It gets really old to not get to experience why the protagonist likes this person.

      I also got a kick out of how self-aware you are about it as a writer. The one I’ve tended toward in the past is the Mary Sue because I tend to want to ‘write what I know’. With Aviatrix, my heroine addresses issues I’ve had to address as well but she doesn’t always make the choices I have made or would make to this day, for better or worse! It’s hard to get away from that trope because you have to be into a topic to write hundreds of pages about it.

      The tricky thing about the love interest trope you bring up is, they usually don’t get as much ‘screen time’ as the protagonist so it becomes an art of getting the audience to know them in very little time. It is super hard! I like you have found it challenging to be choosy about what scenes, mannerisms, or conversations will show the most about the person in the least amount of time. Not easy. So not easy!

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  2. hannahgivens

    No problem! 🙂

    Yep… not easy at all. And it’s funny you mention that about the Mary Sues, because I was running my two main female characters through that flowchart you just posted, and they came out Annoying Overachievers, which is totally me. 😉 (It varied though, I tried them with multiple answers for some of the choices because they didn’t exactly fit.)

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    1. Janice Davis

      This list of female tropes to avoid is excellent.
      Was wondering, should #18 be Girl Next Door? (it says Store!)
      One other thing–how about #20: Know-It-All/Pain In the A** Female Editor with Glasses! It’s a definite trope out there which I’ve seen in TV and movies, and when I get pegged as one of those because I happen to be a female editor/proofreader who wears glasses, I know this person has watched too much TV and seen too many movies!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. cindygrigg

        That is so funny! What a weird typo on my part. Thanks so much for mentioning it so I can fix it! I love that addition of the editor with glasses. 😀 People are so funny…Thanks again, Janice!

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