The Role of Female Characters Within the Stories of Fanboys

“The love interest,” is probably the most insulting role to be cast as in a movie, and these characters still litter what I refer to affectionately as geek culture.  Think of how many super heroes have a cast girlfriend, who predominantly  serves two roles. 

One: She proves the heterosexuality of the lead, because people raise eyebrows about a bunch of men going out at night together in bright spandex.  In this she is predominantly cast as a simple object of lust, or a trophy to be won.

Two:  She needs to be saved.   The line about the hero needing to keep his identity a secret to protect those close to him seems to be bumpkiss as his special lady friend is constantly being taken captive by the arch villain.

penny big bangEven tough, capable female characters seem to be in constant need of rescuing.  Look at Gail in Sin City, helpless until Dwight arrives to rescue her.  And while you may tell me, “Hey M.R. it wasn’t just him that arrived.”  I will respond you are correct, he as an outsider lead the gang of prostitutes to save her. How empowering to women.  I hope that’s a story young girls gravitate towards.

Yes Sin City is less mainstream, but let’s look at more mainstream examples.  Spider-Man marries a lingerie model in need of constant rescuing.  Princess Peach is constantly being taken captive against her will, and in the most mainstream example of nerdery today, “The Big Bang Theory’s main female lead clearly has sexualized the character of Penny.  She is an object to be won by the show’s main protagonist, who was smitten when he first laid eyes on her and pursued her against all sense and logic.  Penny is a woman who he has difficulty talking to, not because he is nervous, but due to his high intelligence and her failures to even pass community college classes on her own.  Penny’s character is sexualized repeatedly and to numbing effect, essentially her entire character is built around her status of as a fetish object of the male cast, as well as Amy.   She and Leonard share no common interests, why is this a cute couple?  This isn’t rhetorical please let me know.   And despite Leonard’s Beta male status he is often rescuing her.  While not from physical superhero danger, but from a myriad of more real life situations.

avengers 189

When an author is dependent on using women for the purposes of sex, it demonstrates misogyny.   In The Avengers 189 Hawkeye fights DeathBird and after beating her into submission kisses her against her will, and despite her protests tells her he knows she likes it.  The concept being portrayed is that he will use her for his physical desires, despite her non consent.  In this instance she is literally tied up and being held down by other man.  And this was under the comics code.  This is during a period when Jim Steranko  had a difficult time getting implied consensual sex into a Nick Fury book.


Anyone out there remember Avengers 197?  This is the issue where Carol Danvers is impregnated without her knowledge.  It is later revealed Marcus, the father used a machine to make her fall for him and after this is explained to Hawkeye, Iron Man and Thor they let her leave with the man who physically impregnated her without her consent (also known as rape) and admits to using a machine to manipulate her mind.  This event was so egregious that Chris Claremont felt the need to address it in Avengers Annual number 10, giving Carol Danvers a chance to let the Avengers know how badly they failed her.


But even Chris Claremont, who I hold in incredibly high regard falls into the pattern of denying woman their basic humanity.  In X-Men #1, one of the greatest sellers in comics History Gambit and Jean Gray are sparing.  Gambit throws an energized card at Jean, defeating her.  Once Jean is knocked down and defenseless, Gambit claims his prize, taking from her what she would not give to him willingly.  Gambit knows Jean is in a long term committed relationship with Scott.  Gambit is also romantically tied to Rogue.  Both of these points make his transgression more severe.  If Gambit defeated beast in the same manner, he would not claim his prize from Hank.  Look at the panel below, notice the way Jean is drawn when Gambit jams his tongue into her mouth.  This is only about Gambit and what he wants.  Jean is no longer a person, but a prize to be won.


If these were the only examples I wouldn’t be writing this column, they are just a few examples of a larger trend.  While many of these problems occur due to the fact that most writing staffs are male, that in and of itself is a cop out.  A female writer can write stories that perpetuate horribly misogynistic views, (I’m Looking at you 50 shades of Gray) just as men are capable of writing stories where each female character doesn’t need to be the receptacle for sexual desire.

If you have got any examples you feel I should have used let me know, Or head over to my blog for an analysis of the rape scene in Revenge of the Nerds

M.R. Gott is the author of Rising Dead, Where the Dead fear to Tread and the super dalyed due to abysmal sales sequel Where the Damned Fear Redemption. You can visit M.R.’s website Cutis Anserina at M.R. lives contentedly in central New Hampshire with his wife, their son and two pets Lucy and Porter. Aside from writing M.R. enjoys dark coffee, dark beer, red wine, and fading light.
  • Michael Moore

    The Big Bang Theory is hardly anything close to nerdery. The only jokes in it are laughing at the nerdy characters because they’re nerds. I wouldn’t expect anything short of sexist rubbish in it anyway. It’s hardly quality television.

  • Marcell Hines

    well to be fair, the female characters you mentioned have gotten much better development these days, especially Captain Marvel.

  • TheGoddamnBader

    Two: She needs to be saved. The line about the hero needing to keep his identity a secret to protect those close to him seems to be bumpkiss as his special lady friend is constantly being taken captive by the arch villain.

    This is basically half of the storylines in Arrow.

    I totally agree with everything you said. It’s not even wrong to have people need saving it’s just that these characters are constantly being used as plot devices to further the storylines of male leads, without giving them an opportunity of their own to really become fleshed-out, complex and significant characters.

    And often times, female characters are treated exclusively as damsels-in-distress despite their long history as feminist icons simply because writers can’t come up with other stories because they suck.