UPDATE: You can now buy your own poster of the Female Character Flowchart in the Overthinking It Store.
Note: This flowchart was created with extensive help from Carlos A. Hann Commander, a guru of the Adobe Illustrator.
At the risk of being called a penis-bashing dog-faced psycho feminazi* again, I’m going to talk about gender today! (Woo! Gender!) More precisely, I’m going to show off this crazy infographic I made with Carlos A. Hann Commander. Think of this piece as a visual aid for my strong female character article, my piece about likability in fiction, Belinkie’s awesome piece about Chris Nolan’s women, or any of the other gender-related articles on this site. Better yet, you can use this graphic the next time you write your own original female character and wonder if she’s a cliché or not. I know how hard writing original characters can be, and I hope this flowchart can help you out.
Before we get to the graphic itself, here are some explanations and caveats.
- This flowchart focuses on the one- and two-dimensional female characters we see over and over again in modern fiction.
- The graphic does not include every type of female character that has ever existed, but I did my best to focus on the most important tropes.
- Some of the listed tropes might be considered crazy-sexist, and others represent more positive stereotypes. The tropes are subjective, and they exist on a continuum of sexism. Consider Family Guy’s Lois Griffin (who falls under the category of “Perfect Wife”). Lois isn’t a particularly complex female character, and the idea of a fun-loving sexpot wife who stands by her man no matter what he does is kinda-sorta sexist, in that this character is a fantasy fetish figure tailor-made for adolescent male audiences. But as far as sitcom housewives go, I’d much prefer to watch a Lois-type character than a classic sitcom shrew like Debra from Everybody Loves Raymond. At least Lois represents a more positive (and sex-positive) stereotype.
- If you’re a writer and you find that one of your characters fits one of the categories on this chart, there’s no need to panic (or start yelling at me)! Two-dimensional characters are the backbone of fiction, especially fantasy fiction and most comedies.
- However, if you find that all or most of your main male protagonists are well-developed and all or most of your female characters are not, you should probably start worrying a little. (Chris Nolan.)
- When you get to the “love interests” section of this chart, be aware that it refers primarily to heterosexual relationships. It’s not that I’m trying to be heteronormative; it’s that, hey, we’re talking about modern pop culture here. How often do you see homosexual rom/coms or long-term lesbian relationships on TV or in the movies? (Porn doesn’t count.) The exception, of course, is The Wire, but then Kima and her girlfriend were obviously well-developed strong female characters who wouldn’t be found in this flowchart in the first place.
- Obviously, this chart in no way applies that there aren’t male stereotypes out there in the pop culture ether. There are. Obviously. But it seems like Hollywood has a significantly harder time writing non-stereotypical female characters than male ones, so I made this chart to help out.
And that’s it! Enjoy the flowchart-y goodness after the jump.
*Hey, guys, I’m also Jewish. Couldn’t you stick a “Yid” or two in there?