Whether you call it ‘Putting tits on a bull’, a skirt on a man, the Ms. Man trope, or just plain condescending there’s a tendency in entertainment media to take a male character and turn him into a her in order to ‘show diversity’ while not taking the risk of creating something new. There are countless things wrong with this lazy, and real trope, and unfortunately it gets celebrated by a lot of the people who should really be upset by it. It’s like saying the creator, artist, developer, writer, or whatever, doesn’t believe that a female character will stand on her own if she isn’t put in the place of an established male character. It’s a terrible mindset to have, and sends an awful message to fans.
The idea that female characters won’t stand on their own is laughable. One of the oldest and most loved video game protagonists is a woman, Samus Aran, and still to this day sits among top legendary characters in the world of gaming. There are examples of well-written and much loved female leads in comics, literature, movies and television as well so it’s ignorant in the extreme to attempt to make the case there’s too much risk to create something new rather than remake something old in the name of ‘diversity’ or ‘progress’.
Too often this trope also includes the awful writing habit of making the female character really just a man who looks like a woman. Even worse, a female character that is written as an anti-male stereotype whose only defining characteristic is that she ‘doesn’t need any man’ and ‘can fight like the boys’. There’s nothing wrong with an independent woman who can take care of herself, but everyone gets help at some point, and real people just don’t talk like that. If the only point of your character is to make a point, then it’s not really a fleshed-out character at all. Write your characters with flaws, weaknesses, hopes and worries. If you close your eyes and can’t tell your female character from a male, then you’ve failed. Listen to her words. If she sounds like a walking Jezebel automated headline machine, then you’ve failed.
This trope is most irritating when someone asks a question like “Why can’t Link be a woman?“. Sadly this article almost touches on how this question should really be asked but missed the mark. We should ask why a game set in the Hyrule/Link/Zelda universe can’t star a female character? Or why can’t the main character of the next Legend of Zelda be like other RPGs and give you a gender selector and name the character whatever you want? When you take an established male character, and just change his gender, you’re falling back into the safe, but lazy trope we talked about above. We should be asking why companies won’t make new, interesting, three dimensional female leads more often. New characters, new stories, new ideas. Hells, maybe the next game’s protags are twins, descendants of Link, named Link and Lana and you get to choose which one you want to play? All better than just throwing boobs on Link and calling it ‘progress’.
Thankfully we do have creators, writers, and artists willing to take the challenge of presenting good female leads and new stories. Marvel is wrapping up a run on a solo Storm arc that’s been great. Katee Sackhoff is set to write, produce and star in a new series. A fantastic, gritty comic called Wynter was released by New Worlds Comics last year, and I enjoyed it quite a lot. Lady Killer from Darkhorse Comics which is a great book we plan to review. Orphan Black, Lost Girl, Jessica Jones, the list goes on. Successful characters, stories, and art with female leads that didn’t need an established male character to set the stage first. It can obviously be done, with great success, so I can’t understand why some creators still fall back on this trope. Let’s hope that before too long it becomes a thing of the past and we can get to reading, watching, and playing great new stories instead of tired old recycles.