The Female Character Flowchart

The Female Character Flowchart

Are you there, God? It’s me, Flowchart.

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.

  1. This flowchart focuses on the one- and two-dimensional female characters we see over and over again in modern fiction.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.)
  6. 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.
  7. 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?

202 Comments on “The Female Character Flowchart”

  1. Timothy J Swann #

    Expcetional work – I’ve been feeding a few of my female characters into it… as it were.


  2. glockblob #

    Really interesting setup, this is just too much fun to go through. It’d be also interesting to see the list of the characters who are selected as archetypes for these categories and where you judged them to fall off the top level. The questions up there (“is three dimensional”, “can carry a story on her own”) seem like they’d be subject to more variation than some of the more specific ones.


  3. Alex #

    Excellent and entertaining, but also a useful experiment: By measuring the number of Diggs we can determine whether the internet nerd hegemony’s love of charts outweighs its hatred of feminism.


  4. Alex #

    I love this flow chart. I do think that you think the male characters in, e.g., Christopher Nolan films are more well-developed than they are, though. Take DiCaprio’s character in Inception: emotionally closed-off, hyper-aggressive male who is secretly reliving a trauma. Or Batman: hyper-aggressive, emotionally closed off male who is secretly reliving a trauma. Or Memento: hyper-aggressive, emotionally closed off male (closed off even to himself) who is secretly reliving a trauma.


  5. Alex #

    The 12:36 PM Alex is different from the 11:59 AM one, fyi


  6. Sylvia #



  7. Chris #

    Interesting, and with an appearance from a Lucy Liu-bot to boot. I certainly would be interested in seeing a male character flowchart, just to see a breakdown of that as well. Although, I presume you felt going this route would be more substantive as presumably your contention is that female stereotype characters are more often the result of sexism than simply bad writing. And by “more often” I mean sexism resulting in poorly crafted female characters more often than it does with male characters, which is of course a reasonably safe assumption to make due to the vast majority of movies being written and directed by men, not that bad female characters are more often a result of sexism than just simply bad writing.

    Also, I balanced out the universe by listening to Lil Wayne while reading this. Homeostasis maintained!


    • Patrick #

      Agreed, bad writing is usually at fault for bad characters more than any other fact.


  8. cat #

    This is brilliant. I would say that the “Mean Girl” is sexualized, though. The organization is otherwise inspired though I’m deriving a great deal of amusement from how you’ve chosen to title each category.


    • cat #

      Conclusions That Seem Slightly Suspect…

      “Why Isn’t She Married Yet” —> “Not Human” —> “The Nymph”
      “Changes Her Man” —> “Are They From Different Cultures?” —-> “Noble Squaw” (I think you have to specify that there’s a reason one culture is considered more primitive/less civilized and thus fits into the “noble savage” ideal.

      Also, I don’t think you can say that Lady Macbeth and the Evil Queen aren’t in some way sexualized. True, they lose some of their sexuality “unsex me here!” in order to step into a more commanding, aggressive role. Certainly, they’re not as “feminine” as the shy, sweet female protagonists, but characters like the Evil Queen in Snow White and Maleficent are still depicted in an attractive way with husky voices. They give up some of their sexuality but Lady Macbeth still uses a bit of it to manipulate her husband.

      One trend that’s becoming apparent as you go through this flowchart is that as long as the protagonist or audience believes that the female character is doing the right thing or the protagonist doesn’t resist any “active” behavior, the female character can be aggressive or assertive while still being a “good”, “likable” character. Should this not be the case, you get the “shrew” and the “wet blanket” and they’re labeled with adjectives like “clingy” and “bitchy”.

      I think the stronger elements of the flowchart tend to be topics you’ve written about (not the brown/orange section)…thus, to improve the flowchart more articles on female characters need to be written! :) I look forward to them.


    • spavis #

      sexualization is (likely) supposed to be in terms of the main character. “is this character designed to be sexually attractive to the protagonist?”


  9. Darin #

    awesomeful/awesomeness/full of awesome/great stuff

    I particularly like the “isn’t married yet due to emotional mood swings” = Miss Piggy. Anything with the use of Golden Girls + Muppets + The Fifth Element (Mira Sorvina) is a talented and insightful way is full of awesome.


  10. Valatan #

    I cackled when I got to the ‘what is her flaw’ in the lower right hand corner.


  11. Aaron G #

    are you going to do a similar flowchart for minorities? or is this just going to be another feminist-only-caring-about-white-women thing?

    sorry! didn’t mean to be so snarky, GOD.

    but since he was brought up yet again, i’ll address the chris nolan thing. he’s stated that, for him, noir films should be about addressing your biggest fears and one of his biggest fears is losing his spouse, hence that recurring theme. even still, ariadne in inception is totally non-sexualized and not really subject to much stereotyping. same with ramirez in the dark knight. rachel dawes is killed in the dark knight, but i think that was more of a subversion of the damsel-in-distress trope, underscoring that batman can’t save everyone and that his mere existence is going to have very real costs.

    my point is, it’s fun and whatever to make these sorts of lighthearted j’accuse posts and shit, but there could be reasons that a writer does something that has nothing to do with “gender issues.” i could easily say that you’re just another feminist who doesn’t care about minorities, thus you must be a racist. but that wouldn’t be true. would it?


    • Isarix #

      I followed Ariadne through the chart, and with one tiny bit of fudging on my part (calling her role as architect on the inception team one of a ‘leader’, even though she’s more vice-leader after Cobb – but come on, she *creates the world*. For a little while, she’s like *god*. Definitely a leader.) the chart gave me the stereotype I originally suspected she ought to be: perfect girl. She’s a natural, better at architecting than Cobb was, and Michael Caine’s character can tell before she’s even *done* it. She is the real, pure good female foil to Mal’s artificial, twisted, malevolent one. She is the one who can call out the male lead on his flaws without inviting dislike, and be his confidant when his old friend cannot. Besides, what is to dislike her for? She *has no flaws*. She’s a sweet, smart, pretty girl, and definitely on the positive stereotype end, but she’s still flat. An idea, not a person. I’m not actually sure whether she appeals to males or females more, though, so whether she’s actually an Ideal Woman or a Mary Sue remains undetermined. (After additional consideration, I cast my vote for Mary Sue. But it’s a close call.)


    • r #

      Nolan’s Batman films are definitely problematic for women. Rachel’s death is an example of the trope where the female character is killed/injured because of the man’s conflicts and she legitimises this by saying it’s ‘okay’. Shades of domestic abuse there. Rachel in fact uses those very words when she tells Batman it’s ok that he didn’t save her. Another example that springs to mind is when Gordon’s wife and son are taken hostage. The wife may as well not be there, all Gordon’s focus and worry are for the boy. It may seem like a small thing but it adds up to a male-focus that make it very obvious this is a script written, directed and informed by men who aren’t challenging this kind of male-dominated world view.

      And that kind of male focus is exactly what leads to one-dimensional female characters.


      • SaintCynicism #

        “Rachel in fact uses those very words when she tells Batman it’s ok that he didn’t save her.”

        …you…you do realize she was talking to HARVEY, right? Not Batman? Because Harvey was freaking out that he was being saved instead of her? He worked with law enforcement in Gotham City, he was probably prepared for his own death, but not Rachel’s. In his mind, she should have been saved instead of him, as for Harvey it was just a risk that came with the job. Additionally, I’m not sure what the priority is with hostage rescuing, but I think civilians are supposed to get priority, which is another possible reason for the freak-out. I find it just a bit mind boggling that just because she tried calming him down, it’s a sign of a male-dominated world view. Out of curiousity, what would you have had her reaction be?

        “Another example that springs to mind is when Gordon’s wife and son are taken hostage. The wife may as well not be there, all Gordon’s focus and worry are for the boy.”

        Frankly it’s far more likely that this is just a result of parental instinct than “male focus.” One of the strongest drives for a parent, a good parent, of EITHER sex, is to protect their child. Fathers can be “mama bears” too, you know. And it isn’t like he said “Please Dent, kill my wife and let the boy go,” he tried bartering for the safety of ALL of them.


        • Stella Omega #

          I would have been intrigued if her reaction had been REALLY PISSED OFF.

          See– you can come up with a reason for one action, and you can come up with a reason for another action, and I’m sure that there are good reasons to be found for every action…

          But when all of those actions, no matter how reasonable, result in the dearth and death of many more female characters than male, you have to admit that there’s a possible pattern.


          • SaintCynicism #

            I assume you mean relative to their numbers in regard to that last part, just because it would pose a serious problem in an example like the Dark Knight where a good deal more male characters wind up dead than female ones. ([SPOILER ALERT!] Dent, three crime bosses, a few prisoners thanks to a body bomb, everyone on Joker’s crew in the bank robbery, one mob driver, the overseas money launderer, at least one cop, etc.).

            I’m not saying that there isn’t an annoying trend of women dying / getting killed off for plot reasons in most entertainment mediums, though I wouldn’t say that itself is a sign of sexism or a male dominated view, though in my opinion it does count as an indirect result. “Kill the significant other” is a pretty thoroughly used plot device (though it definitely would get to the main character), I just think that women are usually the victims because of a general reluctance to make (or the more likely scenario, to accept) a female character as a protagonist. At least in Dark Knight, Nolan was a bit limited with what he could do, which should grant him at least some reprieve. Not a total reprieve of course of course, since now that I think about it, Alfred could have merited just as severe a reaction from Batman as Rachel did (as he was more or less an adopted father figure), and I personally hated the movie’s take on Two-Face and his origin (“Waaah my girlfriend died” vs. “long history of worsening mental illness” ).

            I mean, using the movie’s fandom of origin as an example, in Batman’s universe there’s just an abundance of male characters, and the rare female ones seem relegated to plot devices or the “psychotic villain” role (and it’s getting a bit worse, since the latest Ventriloquist actually has a sexual relationship with Scarface, the puppet). I at least have to applaud Nolan in the sense that he at least took a step in the opposite direction of the previous Batman directors, in that he actually kept Rachel for more than one movie (remember all the ones that came before the reboot? There was a new love interest every single movie, and the previous one was lucky if they so much as got a name drop in the sequel).

        • Stella Omega #

          I can’t reply to your reply!

          first of all, you’re right; when there’s a cast of fifty men and ten are killed there are still forty men in the cast. When there are two women in the cast, should we feel grateful that one of them was spared? Or should we try to get four women into the next film?

          And I LOVE the idea that Albert gets fridged. I would get a vicious but very sincere kick out of to watchseeing the ambulances arriving at every local ER, full of fanboys who had fainted at the horror.

          See, I don’t care about Batman fandom’s origins. Y’all want to celebrate the very primitive thought process that comics authors undertook back in the day– go for it. I don’t care to promulgate it now, though. I get killed before I can have any fun.


          • SaintCynicism #

            And you probably can’t reply to this one either! Mine is an evil laugh! (seriously, this site couldn’t just be like LJ and collapse the replies when there gets to be too many?)

            Anyway. The answer to your first question is no, the second is a “it depends.” If you can get more female characters into the next few films (because you know there’s going to be more than one, this is Hollywood), ones that actually have a reason for being there beyond ‘something pretty to put on the posters’ or ‘another disposable love interest,’ by all means go for it. As much as I hated the series, The Batman did this by adding Detective Yin to the roster, though she was eventually removed. Not by death, surprisingly, but promotion, and I was kind of sad to see her go after two seasons. It’s just something that’d have to be done carefully, in my opinion, just because I’m of the belief that if you’re going to make a movie based on something, you should actually base it on the source material rather than borrowing the names and going nuts (see: Transformers). Same reason I’d be against unnecessary male characters thrown into the mix for no reason, before that comes up. I didn’t like a lot of Dark Knight in general because of that; they meddled too much, especially with Two-Face and Joker. Though once I learned who the sole female cop was supposed to be, I was definitely annoyed she didn’t have a bigger role (in both comics and the old animated series, she started off as one of the most frequently appearing GCPD characters, second only to Gordon and possibly Bullock, and then actually became the new Question). She was also one of the “uncorruptible” ones, which also made it a little annoying that they decided to have her be in on the plot to kill Dent and Rachel. There was so much more they could have done with her, and Bullock too (I believe his role was the unnamed detective Joker took hostage to get out of the interrogation room).

            Also, it’s Alfred, and surprisingly the old animated series had the gumption to actually try to off him. He didn’t die, but Mr. Freeze did attempt to kill him, only to be stopped by Batgirl before he could finish the old guy off, so only the newer fanboys would be likely to have a heart attack. Although, DC did actually kill the first Robin at one point, after Joker beat him to near death for a while, and dear lord the backlash was awful against them. I’d have kind of preferred he stay dead, but they wound up bringing him back as a villain, so, so much for that.

        • Stella Omega #

          if you’re on lj, click on my handle. This a funner convo than most…

          IMO, the worst problem with the Joker and Twoface was Jim Carrey. I NEVER want to see Jimmy chew the scenery like that again.


    • Lisa #

      I found Rachel to be a fairly uninteresting character, so her death didn’t really have a huge impact on me. Of course, I was apparently watching a different movie than everybody else, so I felt like Batman’s choice to attempt to save her and its failure were actually the POINT of the movie, and all the stuff that happened after that (which took a LONG TIME) was rather pointless.

      Hmm, I might take a crack at a minority stereotype flowchart. Though you get again at least somewhat into the question of gender there, too. Yet it could be interesting. *puts on thinking cap* I wonder if I have Visio at home…


  12. Chris #

    You know, as I further ponder this I find myself finding issue with portions of it, though I feel that it is most likely merely a matter of semantics more than anything else.

    If a character avoids all the, let’s say “pitfalls,” of your checklist, they end up in the category you call “Strong Female Character.” This, naturally, indicates to me that you feel a couple of things:

    A character must exhibit all of these characteristic to be a “Strong Female Character.”

    None of these character types, or the characters you use to provide visual representation of them, are “Strong Female Characters.”

    More to the point, in your introduction you mention that this checklist can help you determine whether or not your character is cliche, which would indicate you find all of these character types to be cliched. However, what I disagree with is the notion that all of your characteristics must be met for a character to be “Strong” which in this instance can only be taken as meaning “Good” but not necessarily in the sense you enjoy the character but in the sense you feel the character is developed in such a way and to such a degree as to be satisfactory.

    For starters, a character can certainly die before the third act and still be a strong character. A character could easily be developed fully and then die before the third act. A character can also “represent an idea” and be fully developed. Even in the clumsier instances of a character being symbolic of something that doesn’t prevent the character from rising above that and still being a strong character. People can’t even agree on what, if anything, Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men represents, and he’s not even three dimensional, but the character is still tremendous and was substantive enough that Javier Bardem was able to win an Oscar for the role, though his own acting prowess helped obviously.

    That’s another issue I have with the notion that these criteria must be met for a character to be “strong.” A character can be two dimensional and still provide plenty of substance within those two dimensions. Characters can also certainly fit into your categories and still be strong characters. You can’t dismiss a character’s merits simply for exhibiting some of these traits, many of which are actual traits that some women have. Is there much substance to “The Trophy?” No, but I vehemently disagree with the notion that Marge Simpson isn’t a strong character simply for playing the role of the suffering wife.

    Marge Simpson meets all the criteria for a “Strong Female Character,” yet you made her the symbolic representation of the “Suffering Wife” archetype. You have a picture of what appears to be Ripley, a female character who was the protagonist and hero of multiple films, under the title of “The Final Girl.” Maybe I’m ascribing more to your picture choices that what you intended, but you made the decision to stick those photos where you did so it isn’t like I’m straining to make connections here.

    While there is a lot of good, valid stuff in here, I feel that at the very least there may be some issues with word choice here, unless you truly don’t feel that any of these character types can be considered “Strong Female Characters.” I think the word “strong” is inapt for what you are trying to say. Unfortunately, I can’t think of the right word for what I feel you are trying to communicate, and of course since I can’t even say with certainty what it is you are trying to say perhaps I shouldn’t even hazard to do so. “Substantive” is the only word I could think of to even approach when I feel the intention of this flowchart is.

    Nevertheless, this is still interesting, and often funny.


    • Isarix #

      1) SFC should not be disqualified if they represent an idea.

      I agree, but I still see some value in the question; perhaps the divergence point “does she represent an idea that supercedes her personal identity” would be more appropriate. Obviously all kinds of well developed characters of both sexes can represent ideas, but a female character who is actually just a stand in for innocence or sexual temptation is not the same as a character who works on multiple levels.

      2) Lots of the pictured characters are actually more complex and three dimensional.

      I agree again; several of the pictured women are nigh iconic SFCs. I suspect Mlawski was using the most well-known characters she could find that fit the archetypes, even if they weren’t constrained by them, for illustrative purposes. Then again, if Mlawski actually thinks Lady Macbeth, Zoe Washburn, Riply, and Sarah Conner and some others on the chart are somehow *not* Strong (and complex, 3D, well-developed) Female Characters, then I may have misinterpreted the term drastically.


      • Isarix #

        Forgot to add:

        And of course, because SFCs are more appealing than flat ones because they are more interesting and contribute to better stories, so real SFCs, even those who may resemble these archetypes, are far, far more compelling than cliched FCs and are more likely to be popular and recognizable to a broader audience.


  13. Chris #

    How is Mystique an underling? In the comics, she’s almost always the leader of her team. And she had her own ongoing series once.


    • Adrian #

      Probably based on the film and/or animated series Mystique. The version most people are familiar with, if not the original.


      • Valatan #

        Well, the caption is the comic Mystique, anyway.


  14. Chris #

    Also, I’m not the Chris with the CMorganExaminer account. Sorry.


  15. Gab #

    Oh, flowcharts. How I love them.

    Thank you, THANK you, for using Usagi instead of Bella for the exemplar “adorable klutz.” But I think coming from the “What is her flaw” thing should, indeed, come an opposite bubble of “angsty klutz” to which Bella should be attached.

    I’m actually cracking myself up by tracing various historical women along the chart. Hillary Clinton, Mother Theresa, Queen Victoria… I’m going to Hell, most likely, but at least I’ll be laughing.


  16. Navatar #

    You should have made the chart in the shape of two giant boobs (you’re pretty close already)


  17. Boosette #

    Are you seriously trying to imply (or, okay, state outright) that no well-developed female character can ever, ever represent an idea? Really?


    • spavis #

      a three dimensional character can have principles they stand for. a two dimensional character would be just a cipher for whatever they represent. presumably the chart refers to the latter.


  18. Jen #

    I’m really incredibly surprised that Hit Girl and River Tam aren’t considered a strong female character. Now granted, I’ve only seen the movie Kick-ass, and her character might be different the books, but in the movie she met all of the qualifications for being a strong female character. The possible exception is that she might not have any flaws.

    It seems like River does too, though I can see why Mlaski says different. River is, admittedly, rather vague, but I mostly see that as Joss creating intrigue. It’s also innate to her character. We know exactly what happened to her, but we still know nothing about her. The way I figure it, her thoughts are just too complex for us to process.

    And I have some indistinct misgivings about Zoe not being a strong female character, but not enough to form a serious fangirly argument

    My fangirling has ended.

    Now onto the stuff I liked! lol M-Rod. Love her to death and I’m always sad (and ANGRY AS HELL) when she dies. In Machete she only got maimed. And got a sexy eyepatch. LUCILLE! I love any mention of Arrested Development and that was perfect. ILOVEMYMANICPIXIEDREAMGIRL AND YOU SHALL TOO! YAY FOR MY MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL AND EVERYONE ELSE BACK OFF SHE’S MINE. lol girl hitler and Harley Quinn. They iz mah buddies.


  19. Tieaiel #

    I’m not sure exactly how to put my thoughts in to words here, but a lot of this chart just…confuses me. The constraints of what constitutes a strong character are so unbelievably narrow that I find it difficult to think of a single person getting through. All these labels your sticking onto the characters…those labels can also be thought as flaws in some chases. Flaws that make a character more believable, more human. And some of the pathways to the labels don’t make any sense. Why, just because you’re the token female in a band, must you be useless? And what if you’re, say, both the token female and the leader? This chart doesn’t take that into account as you follow it.

    Also, considering everyone’s differences I may choose a character and end up at a different place than someone else who chose the same. For example, I used Disney’s Mulan and wound up at ‘Useless Girl.’

    Your choice of pictures for many of these “tropes” is simply, for lack of a better word at the moment, atrocious. It’s true that you may have been simply using images that best represent whatever stereotype your talking about, but…

    This chart, to me, seems to be just as sexist as what it’s railing against. Perhaps it’s just the poor choice of words mixed with the poor choice of images.

    Still, kudos for what you were trying to do.


    • spavis #

      if Mulan isn’t a SFC then I’d say she’s either a mary sue, married to the job, “strong” female character or ideal woman. she’s clearly not the token female of a team, she’s the protagonist.


  20. Whatisthis #

    this is drivel. Faye Valentine is a strong character.


  21. Sam #

    You could have saved time with this: Does she pass the Bechdel Test? Yes, strong female character. No, everything else.


    • Valatan #

      Mean Girls totally passes the Bechdel Test. Does that make them strong female characters? (I actually liked Mean Girls, but its strength wasn’t really in the characterization)


  22. Shadow Phoenix #

    I find it strangely and inexplicably funny that when I use this to analyze my characters (skipping the beginning for the sake of entertainment when necessary), it only gives results similar to their actual personalities when I say they’re villains.


  23. michelle #

    Thank you for this! It’s gonna come in handy for this year’s Nanowrimo. My basic, basic theme is the relationship between a Prude and a Femme Fatale. They influence each other so that the Prude becomes a bit less Prude, and the Femme a bit less Fatale. There’s also a dude, but I haven’t really visualised him yet. Gotta make sure he doesn’t end up terribly clicheed – I suppose if I was a male writer, I’d have two males and one female that hasn’t been really visualised yet…


  24. This Is Me Posting #

    You keep using this word “stereotype.” I do not think it means what you think it means:

    FROM WIKI: A stereotype or “stereotypes” is a commonly held public belief about specific social groups or types of individuals. The concepts of “stereotype” and “prejudice” are often confused with many other different meanings. Stereotypes are standardized and simplified conceptions of groups based on some prior assumptions.

    You have over 70 different possibilities and many characters pictured whom have gone all the way through your opening (or optimal) tree branch. That’s hardly “standardized,” “simplified” nor based on “some” prior assumptions. That’s very, very specific focusing.

    By definition, that can’t be a stereotype. A stereotype is an oversimplification based on prior assumptions: Americans are dumb. Stereotype. You can’t say that women in media aren’t portrayed with variety and depth and then proceed to list over 70 different permutations. That’s like saying there’s not a lot of water in the ocean… and then showing me the ocean as your proof.

    If you’re arguing that women characters ONLY have over 70 different permutations (and an incomplete list at that), including most in your own examples that have run the optimal line, your argument is actually proving against your case rather than for it.

    Now, don’t get me wrong here: I’m all for writing strong female characters that go above and beyond what we predominately see, but there does come a time when two points occur: 1) That you’re fighting against what you’re fighting for and 2) That you’re missing the forest for the trees.

    I look at this chart and I don’t see an argument proving women stereotypes, I see an argument proving against them. Furthermore, I see a lot of selective editing and choosing: For example, I don’t see any section linking to the Carrie Bradshaws, Elizabeth Gilberts, Stella Paynes or almost any other “chick flick” heroine: Women who carry entire movies/storylines on their own and yet whom are essentially the same character or idea (often women who gain/discover great person strength through emotional [often due to romantic heartbreak] tragedy) erroneously boiled down to “Biological Timebomb” to the best of my knowledge on your flowchart.

    Lastly, your forced line is inherently flawed as a number of the women listed or pictured aren’t “perfect.” A number of these characters have massive personal or character flaws and ignoring them for the sake of proving your chart kind of makes the whole exercise run false.

    Again, interesting idea, but not very well thought out.


    • Josie #

      I agree with you. Spot on.


    • lala #

      You’re missing the point. If you read the questions along the top line of the chart, you should understand. The point is that writers typically fail to write women as well-developed, three-dimensional characters. The fact that they have over 70 different types of cardboard cut-out characters does not stop them from being cardboard cut-out characters.

      Also, a major part of the point is that the things that separate different characters are very simple questions, usually answered with just a yes or no. Don’t you think that a writer is failing to make complex characters if the only difference between two characters is that they have different answers to a couple yes or no questions?

      Besides, 70ish ways of portraying female characters, when repeatedly used in thousands and thousands of works, is still not variety.


  25. Ranai #

    These five questions are good. I find the five main questions much more important than the manifold which-trope-is-this determinants, because the main questions can be useful for creating fiction with interesting female characters. (Actually I know hardly any of the characters pictured here, but then I don’t exactly immerse myself in North American TV and movie culture.)

    I find the expression ‘strong’ character somewhat misleading. I’d probably rather say ‘interesting female main character’.

    Expanding this flowchart:
    Stories need side characters too. A female character can be a secondary (not main) character in a plot and still be interesting and not a trope.

    Does she carry her own story? No. (Not a main character in this plot.)
    Is she three dimensional? Yes.
    Does she represent an idea? No.
    Does she have any flaws? Yes.
    Is she killed before the third act? Usually no.
    -> How to create an interesting female side character.


  26. Nitpicker #

    You have Mom from Futurama as the picture for “Evil Queen” (the primary divergence point being ‘no family’).

    Except Mom does have three sons. She isn’t particularly affectionate to them, but she has a family.

    Still, very entertaining overall and it does make one think.


  27. Amelia #

    Let me introduce you to Tropes Are Not Bad. This kind of seems like the *opposite* of what you say you’re trying to do. You say you want people to write nuanced female characters, but you reduce all these nuanced female characters into stereotypes. It’s just another way to say that female characters aren’t good enough, no matter how they’re written.


    • Lynn #



    • Loralie #

      Bingo. This list is just another way to validate female character hate.


    • Varnani #

      I know. This flowchart is full of fail. Just try to switch them with male characters in a similar situation for one.


  28. Yenzo #

    That flowchart is absolutely amazing. Although I don’t write much (at least regarding fiction), I tried to get a little screenplay off the ground when I had the chance (the whole process is kind of a long story that doesn’t end in success) in which I specifically didn’t give the male lead character any love interest (because it wasn’t necessary in the first place and it would’ve had to be a damsel in distress based on the story’s structure). This lack of a love interest was criticized by the movie’s producers and I had to introduce one. Since I absolutely *hate* the damsel in distress model (I’m a guy, btw), I changed the structure in order to accommodate a strong female portrayed as a loving companion in the first act, being abducted in the second and subsequently pretending to be a damsel in distress as a deception for the main antagonist while actually keeping her cool all the time and eventually being at least as instrumental in his defeat as the main guy.

    I just realize that I have no idea why I would write all this as a comment for the flowchart. I guess I had a point somewhere along the way but I lost it.

    Anyway, I’ll submit it just to waste some internet space. Love your website and the podcasts!


  29. Timothy J Swann #

    I’m surprised by some of the negative response to this. As much as I accept tropes are not bad critiques, (and oh wait, so do you), this is interesting, fun and makes us think about our characters or the characters we enjoy, with illustrative (rather than definitive) examples.

    And I find that if I’m thinking ‘oh no, does my character pass the Bechdel test?’ whilst writing, then I’v become almost tokenist rather than writing characters as characters. These things, I think, should be applied retroactively, over a sufficiently large corpus (i.e. Christopher Nolan, as mentioned).


    • Stella Omega #

      My advice? Be tokenist. If you do tokenism really well, forcing yourself to write one conversation between two women that has nothing to do with men– per story– it just might become natural to you, and your female readers will never know it wasn’t.


      • Timothy J Swann #

        See, I still find that a difficult prospect – looking back over my work, I have some female-dominated stories (for example a female detective hunts a female terrorist with her female sidekick to help her female boss, and there aren’t really any other characters) and some male-dominated stories (two men and their absent wives) and some more equally mixed. It wouldn’t work, and I’d consider it almost insulting, to crowbar in a conversation where it didn’t fit. The same for ethnic minorities or sexualities or whatever – provided your characters overall are mostly representative, then it can be okay for a story to focus in on one and not have to look like the cast of Community (where it mostly works as the ensemble) in every tale.

        It was discussed elsewhere that (at least one argument of) what we need is rounded characters who happen to be female. I find that a far easier concept. I’ll write a detective, or a pharmaceuticals researcher, or a politician and whilst getting a shape of them get some intuition as to gender, name etc. but it’s not the first decision.


        • Stella Omega #

          The bar is very very low for Bechdel; “Did you see the coupons in today’s newspaper?” “Yeah, but I couldn’t use any of them,” is all it takes. And even so it’s astonishing how rare a pass is.

          I betcha that if you have written an all-female cast you probably don’t have to worry about it.


          • Timothy J Swann #

            I’m discussing because it’s interesting, and OTI is supposed to improve my writing (here hopes) rather than because I strongly diagree, but isn’t two women discusiing shopping coupons for domestic goods less empowering than two women disucssing the male supervillain they’re about to go out and defeat, or the male politician they’re investigating for corruption (if you see what I mean).

        • Stella Omega #

          I can’t comment to your reply, dammit!

          yes indeed, when we are talking about scale, two women talking about politics is more empowering than two women talking about coupons.

          But the Bechdel test doesn’t calibrate scale, it asks one single yes or no question. The film might not be feminist in any other way…


  30. Will #

    This is interesting as a pop culture artifact, but I have to ask: isn’t breaking a character down into the answers to a few questions doing far more stereotyping than the actual creative process does? Even a character built from such simple parts is more than that – in TV, at least, a character is the fusion of the writer’s words, the director’s choice of what to show, and the performer’s choices in the moment. More often than not, I feel like that what is created from the fusion of viewpoints is a lot more interesting and nuanced than the analog output of 6 or so questions that characters are reduced to here.


  31. Chris #

    Are you talking about the picture of Lucy Liu? If so, that’s not Lucy Liu, it is a Lucy Liu robot from television Futurama. She does provide an example of a “real doll” as such, since she’s a robot programmed to look like Lucy Liu. The fact that she’s animated and glowing in that picture may have clued you in to something being awry.

    [This comment was edited to remove reference to a deleted comment.]


    • Chris #

      Well now this comment just sees silly without the context in which is was written. It’s like I’m talking into the void, or perhaps former Domino’s Pizza spokeperson The Noid. By the way, putting The Noid into the Female Character Flowchart took me to Annoying Overachiever. I know The Noid wasn’t female, but I’m not here to build walls but to tear them down, and also to point out that any character ever created could probably fit into the ARCHETYPES laid out in this chart.


      • Stella Omega #

        I understand that a writer can avoid making her character into a stereotype by making her “three dimensional.”

        What, exactly, does “Three dimensional” mean?

        I suggest that we need, not only more three dimensional female characters, but also more stereotyped female characters. We need many many more female characters, period.

        By the way, mlawsk is the only woman listed on the overthinkingit staff. She’s the token female. I wonder if she’s the emotional core, or the useless girl?


        • Trophime #

          Maybe she’s both, the streams cross and the chart explodes. I’d like that.


    • Mickey #

      I think Sami was referring to the presence of Yoko Ono. I’m trying to see in their comment where they mentioned anything about “pictures” of actual Asian women, but I’m not seeing it.

      For the record, I agree with Sami.


      • Chris #

        Even if that is the case, “Yoko Ono” has become shorthand for a woman whose romantic relationship with a person causes conflict amongst friends. Hell, it might just be shorthand for that situation in general whether or not it’s a woman causing the issue.

        This is an established phrase based on an actual person who actually caused conflict amongst an actual group of people. It has absolutely nothing to do with her race. Had Yoko Ono been any other race, she still would have the same stigma attached to her, whether or not you think that’s fair is an entirely different matter.

        Should only white people be able to become symbolic of archetypes? Wouldn’t excluding people of minorities from that simply because of their race be, oh I don’t know, kind of racist? At the very least it is patronizing to people of minorities, as it excludes them from something for the absurd reason that using a person from a minority as a negative symbol might be construed as racist.


        • Jou #

          Chris – I hope you’re not speaking for us minorities when you say this, because a lot of us WOC are looking at this list and not liking what we’re seeing, and we’re the ones speaking up and pointing out the very problematic elements.

          We’ll decide what’s patronizing and what’s racist, thanks.


          • Clair #

            Excuse me? Think about that for one second, seriously. Imagine a white male senator or something like that saying that last sentence. Disagreeing with Chris is fine, but discarding someone’s opinion based on their perceived race is just weird.

          • Clair #

            Apparently I didn’t click reply properly, but that was meant for:
            Jou on Thu, 14th Oct 2010 1:36 am

          • jou #

            Yes, seriously.

            Deal with it.

          • jou #

            Oh, and–if you pull out “coloblind!!” or “reverse racism!!” so help me, I will start pulling out Tim Wise links so fast your head will spin. ANd if you don’t know who he is, again I say, as I have told others, google is your friend.

            And also heading off “why are you so mean/if you were nicer about what you say” blah blah blah, I also offer up the suggestion to google Derailing for Dummies before anyone’s time is wasted.

          • Claire #

            I’m sorry. I reread through the comments more thoroughly after your response, and saw that I made the wrong call. I was skimming before (a bad thing to do anywhere but an abhorrent thing to do on Overthinking It) and I reacted to that one sentence, but now Chris’s language reads more dismissive than it did originally, and I see where you’re coming from. Ack, I’m so embarrassed…

          • jou #

            @Claire – No worries! We all misread things some times. :)

    • raj #

      I’m pretty sure the above person was referring to Yoko Ono’s appearance (and not as a person, but as a category) between Lois from Family Guy and Marge Simpson.


      • Joey #

        Still don’t get it.


    • PixelFish #

      PSSST! Yoko Ono. Real human being. Real artist. Real woman with real history. NOT A STEREOTYPE.


    • Lord Henry Wotton #

      No, Yoko Ono is not a fictional character. In case you didn’t know.


    • Cace #

      I think that Sami was referring to Yoko Ono being on the chart.

      And I think Yoko’s on the float chart because she’s become a pop culture reference as a woman who come out of left field breaks up a tight-knit group of men. On top of that there have been fictional characters who based on her, right? The first example that comes to mind is the episode of Powerpull Girls “The Beat-Alls”. So even though Yoko is a real person (who probably can’t really be solely responsible for the break up of the Beatles) she’s become a fictional archetype as well.

      That’s how it took it as at least.


  32. Destructor #

    Isn’t one of the most important themes of Ripley’s character arc that she DOES have a child- she just died of old age while Ripley was in hypersleep?

    Anyway, great flowchart!


  33. Raven #

    Props for including Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender, who is indeed a Girl Hitler.


    • Gab #

      Heh, ditto! I forgot to mention that, but you’re so right. Azula totally freaked me out…


  34. Nancy #

    This list PRETENDS to be feminist, but in fact tears apart tons of really fabulous female characters in order to stuff them into cliched boxes. News flash: ANY role can be torn down to a cliche. (Hamlet = emo boy. Am I wrong? No. Have I told you everything there is to understand about Hamlet? Also no.) You’re claiming to be this red-hot feminist while playing right into the sexist trap of assuming that any female role MUST be cliched or inadequate because, after all, a woman’s playing it. So why care about female characters at all? I’m embarrassed for you.


    • yfd #

      Thank you, well said.


  35. JonathanWOP #

    This would be a great flowchart if you snipped out the SFC requirements above, because many of the characters whose faces are tagged alongside the “sexist stereotypes” pass those initial requirements with flying colors.

    As it stands, you’re just coming across as self-defeating, ignorant and dismissive of the actual characters depicted in the chart, and yes, appallingly sexist and bigoted.


  36. orange #

    +1 on the zoe washburn correction tip. how is she disqualified?

    (although i won’t stick up for river tam.)


  37. Chris #

    I’ve come to the conclusion that an apt comparison for this flowchart is the Hindenburg. It was fine in concept and it’s purpose was noble. However, key mistakes were made that left it an unmitigated disaster. It does not mean the concept should be scrapped, but improvements to the design need to be made before such a quest is ever ventured upon again.

    I can’t help but feeling that had this just been called the “Female Character Archetype Flowchart” and if it had left the checklist for a SFC off the top of the page there would be much less debate. Yet, somehow, there would probably have still been accusations of racism because the world is an unbearably stupid place.


  38. sbarnes2 #

    Sailor Moon?! Come on. She showed us girls that putting on lipstick and dressing up wasn’t just for looking good in front of boys – it was for fighting-like warpaint-to get psyched up! At least that’s what I got out of it. Also Miss Piggy rocks!


  39. Megan from Lombard #

    IMO this is actually interesting because some characters could fit into many of the tropes. I plugged in Wonder Woman and got ‘useless girl’ (if you consider her the token female in the Justice League), ‘Lady of War’, ‘Strong Female Character’ or even go into a circle with the whole ‘she has a baby and needs a man’ bit.

    To me there are just some characters that you can’t categorize because they are just so multi-faceted.


  40. Yrael #

    This isn’t a chart to determine if a character is a “strong female character”, it’s a chart to classify female characters by trope. A character could be any of these subtypes and still be considered a strong female character.


  41. M. S. Dow #

    The graphic for ‘useless female’ is Lt. Uhura from Star Trek? Seriously? Yes, the character was underused, yes she was marginalized, but she was still someone who did an important and identifiable job, and who sometimes filled in navigation (also important). If you want to twit classic Trek for sexism, you should have picked Yeoman Rand, whose only job was bring Kirk coffee.


  42. Jimmy Havok #

    From your examples, it seems the only thing a character has to do to fall off the top line is be written with tits. Harley Quinn can’t carry her own story? Mystique can’t carry her own story? Ripley (for God’s sake, Ripley???) can’t carry her own story? Are you even familiar with those characters, or did you just grab images at random to fill your bubbles? (Although they are all two-dimensional, since the first two are drawn on paper and the third is projected on a flat screen.)

    You haven’t overthought this, you haven’t thought about it at all. It’s a series of reflexive complaints.


  43. Theresa #

    There are some fine comments to this post discussing the various flaws with the idea and execution of this chart, and I hope that if you’re really interested in seeing more strong female characters in your media and avoid reinforcing old stereotypes, you’ll take the time to address them.

    The setup of the chart itself is flawed, in that there is no way for the reader to follow which of the primary qualifications (“Can she carry her own story,” “does she represent an idea,” etc.) the examples on your chart ‘failed’ in order to get them bumped into cliché territory. I’d be interested to learn more about your process in both creating this chart and choosing the examples pictured. For example, how do you define “three-dimensional” or decide whether a specific character is or not right off the bat? Why can’t a ‘strong female character’ represent an idea? I understand what you’re getting at with this, and it can be problematic if a woman is present as a stand-in for an idea and receives no development or attempt to make her a realistic, flawed human character. But storytelling is about themes and ideas, and yes, sometimes characters stand in for those.

    I read your article “Why Strong Female Characters Are Bad for Women” and was, frankly, relieved to see that you listed both Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley as examples of strong female characters done right. So I’m really not sure why pictures of both of them are on your chart as examples of two-dimensional clichés. In fact, many of the examples pictured on your chart are characters that I would define as well-done, three-dimensional, strong (female) characters.

    It seems to me that you’ve undermined your own thesis through the examples you’ve chosen to illustrate your points. As others have pointed out, anyone can be slotted into one (or more) of the categories in this chart, even characters you yourself have previously defined as ‘strong female characters.’ This is not a list of stereotypes, it is a list of archetypes, and as TVTropes says, tropes are not bad. They are tools we use to tell stories, and while they can be misused, a female character being a love interest or a mother or any of the other characteristics listed on this chart does not, in itself, turn that character into a stereotype (any more than a male character being a love interest or a father or etc. etc. turns him into a stereotype). In the end, this chart, and the idea behind it (that there is some formula to follow to create a ‘strong female character,’ and that characters can be defined and slotted into stereotypes by broad personal characteristics or things that happen to them), is overly simplistic, and, ultimately, insulting to women.


  44. Joe #

    It’s a nice start but it’s missing a lot. Claire from Heroes, Vickie Guerrero, you know Hannah could fit right by “Attention Whore”.


  45. Valatan #

    Also, for everyone complaining about the lack of an equivalent chart for men: watch a Nora Ephron movie, focusing on the male characters.

    that’s how 95% of the writers in hollywood write female characters.


  46. Muccamukk #

    As noted above, Ono and Rodriguez are real people, and shouldn’t be on here. At all. What a shitty thing to say about someone.

    Also, since no one’s mentioned it, I find your use of the racial epiphet “Noble S—-” offensive. Why not just call Uhura “Useless N—–,” while you’re at it?

    If this is feminism in the 21st century, I’m handing in my feminist card.


  47. Muccamukk #

    Yeah, writing off a real woman who has been a victim of misogyny for forty years as a stereotype is totally classy. And Michelle Rodriguez is still alive.

    Also, nice use of racialized epithets with “Noble S—-“! Why didn’t you just go for broke and call Uhura a “Useless N—–” while you were at it?

    If this is feminism in the 21st century, I want to return my feminist card.


  48. docr #

    If this were available in poster form, I would so buy it.


  49. Jou #

    I’m going to take offense at Uhura being on here, because once again, it shows how mainstream feminism is overwhelmingly white, ignores anything outside of their oppressed white woman bubble, and assumes all women suffer oppression ONLY because they are female, because intersectionality, how does that work?

    You want to know why Uhura was “useless”? It’s not because she was female, it’s because NICHELLE NICHOLS WAS BLACK IN A SHOW MADE IN THE SIXTIES. There was a lot they wanted to do with her character–the movie didn’t pull the Spock/Uhura thing out of nowhere (and makes all the feminist raaaage that came from them “reducing her to a love interest” all the more painfully ironic); on the original show, they wanted to put them together, but couldn’t because UHURA WAS BLACK. Uhura could never be given command of the bridge even when she outranked people because SHE WAS BLACK and that wouldn’t have flown in the south, to show a Black person in charge of the ship (she only got to take the bridge in one episode of the animated series in the 70’s, which shows how far things had come in a short time). Heck, scenes where Uhura was just frickin’ sitting there were cut from eps aired in certain parts of the country trying to minimize her presence, and the only way they could do “TV’s first interracial kiss” was because it was aliens forcing Kirk and Uhura to kiss (and IIRC, that episode didn’t air in some areas). Her character was made useless because of her race far more than her gender. The makers were completely hobbled in terms of what they could have a BLACK woman doing, and they were making waves just by having a Black character on the bridge.

    This chart, putting Uhura as a prime example of “useless girl” shows a complete lack of understanding of the history of SF and of ST and of plain ol’ US history, and indicates another blind spot so many in feminism seem to have of intersectionality and how it really works.

    There is a reason why Martin Luther King Jr. called Nichelle Nichols to ask her to stay on the show even when she wanted to quit, and it had nothing to do with her being a woman.


    • Brian #

      Wow. Great post (and that’s coming from a white male.)


  50. Jou #

    And also, since I forgot to mention this in my first comment, it is very, very very disturbing that the only two real, live people to make it on this flowchart are women of color (Yoko Ono and Michelle Rodriguez), and the term “Noble Squaw” is abhorrent, even if it is some ridiculous excuse for ironic racism. It’s not OK.

    I think the people who made this flowchart need to take a good, long look at themselves before they point anymore fingers, because there are a LOT of unexamined issues in this.


  51. Trophime #

    I hope you don’t intend to deny that this chart is racist, because it is.

    And it is deeply disturbing that you’re trying to pass it off as feminist, which it isn’t either. You wouldn’t know feminist from a guy who stole all your favorite books and DVDs and burned them.


    • Jou #

      Trophime – Seriously. How is it “feminist” to reduce real, live women into characters, character tropes, and stereotypes?

      More and more the “Michelle Rodriguez” thing is bugging me more. Had it been “A Michelle Rodriquez character” then fine, but actually putting Michelle Rodriquez herself as a character? That’s not on, no matter how it was meant.

      And I think it is very, very telling that the makers of this chart didn’t even bother to try to find a character that fit their idea of a Strong Female Character–that makes it look even more like this chart only exists to rip female characters to shreds.


      • lala #

        Is it not mind-bogglingly obvious that “a Michelle Rodriguez character” is what that means? Michelle Rodriguez is cast in the exact same character, who gets the exact same storyline in every single thing she is in. I thought it was great how the chart pointed that out and drew our attention to the racism and sexism behind it. Pointing out sexism and racism is sexist and racist now?


  52. CF #

    From Roger Ebert’s Little Movie Glossary:

    “Joel Silver’s Law: Women are extraneous to the plot unless Naked, and/or Dead.”


  53. mschicklet #

    Just adding my vote to the “this is freaking awesome” crowd :) Well done!


  54. YAYME #

    Can’t do it with any female companion, in Doctor who. They aren’t the love interest, but they aren’t part of a team for the most part. Yet thee do get saved a lot.


  55. Darin #

    I’m going to wade into this one…

    I rather like the use of “squaw” and “useless girl”. It may be sexist , racist, heteroist, blahblahist, but tropes are by definition, a short hand. Short hands don’t take into consideration of whether Nichelle Nichols was a black actress in a white male show.

    The reason I like them is that we know them to be ‘true’. Sigourney Weaver in Galaxy Quest spoofed Uhuru’s role. We laughed because we could relate to the trope. Our own OTI did an awesome job overthinking the squaw of Pocahantas and Avatar.


    • jou #

      Darin – Way to mansplain there, dude.

      And if you don’t know what that means, google can be your friend.


      • Will #

        What a charming term that in no way harmfully stereotypes an entire gender.


          • Jou #

            Because it calls them out on their privilege, and god forbid some of them should actually have to think about what they’re saying or doing.

            Or something.

        • Jou #

          It “harms men.” Really. Uh hunh.

          Well, since it’s sooooo harmful, when men stop doing it, people will stop using it because there will no longer be a need for it.


  56. Tom Cocozza #

    Not only was Lady Macbeth “sexualized” but she used sex as a weapon. Also, I’d argue that she was a non-complex character, but to each their own.


  57. Phuctifyno #

    Wow. A lot of people seem to have no sense of humor about this chart. I lol’d hard at the abortion bit. I only take it with a grain of salt, but I’m a nerd still… soooo the “represents an idea” thing is bogus because all fictional characters do to some extent, and even following the chart’s logic, Ripley belongs at the top. Bang.


  58. para #

    ZOMG. amazing. like really.

    if this were a work of satire, i would be “\m/ yo go girl thas’ the stuff!” right now, but…this isn’t satire, is it? you’re actually serious.

    up until now i had no clue, none, that every woman i’ve ever known and befriend or admired or looked up to in real full-colour 3d life was a two-word stereotype.

    so thanks, thanks for opening my eyes, blind idiot that i’ve been.

    thank you also for reminding me that WOCs have no bidness being in any sort of media whatsoever. because the moment they do, they are stereotypes to be mocked.

    also, noble squaw? what, too prude to use the n-word now?

    “feminazi”? HA. hilarious. Uncle Tom Feminist, more like.


  59. Chris #

    Hey, remember when Overthinking It was a place for intelligent people to engage in conversation about popular culture?

    What started as a well meaning but flawed entity has grown into a grotesque, unwieldy behemoth that threatens to consume us all. Is this what the rest of the Internet is like (without all the porn, obviously)?


    • petrlesy #

      yep, pretty much
      it reminds me of Douglas Adams’ inside out Asylum
      anyway i just got linked here by a tweeter with >9000 followers so congratulations are in place i suppose


  60. Erin Zans #

    This is the most amazing thing I’ve seen in a long time, and pretty much all true. Awesome!


  61. Katie FL #

    This is brilliant. Any chance of seeing it on a poster? I’d love to buy one :)


  62. ZimMan2 #

    All of the Scott Pilgrim girls (from the comics, not the movie) deserved to pass this with the possible exceptions of Stacey and Roxie. Yet, none of them did. All because of that first question: “can she carry her own story?” Obviously, the women of Scott Pilgrim are not the main character, Scott is. Yet they are still very well-defined and compelling characters (Kim is my favorite, not just from the female side, but in the entire series). Now, if after the “no” for that first question, there had been “is she still important to the plot?” that would have solved the problem, but no. All secondary characters are stereotypes, I guess. Even though in the case of Scott Pilgrim’s conflict: “It wasn’t [his] fault! The secondary characters made [him] do it!”


    • Valatan #

      There’s a difference between ‘can’ and ‘does’. Your argument seems to be that you could write a story around these women, even if that story is not written. Then the answer should be yes. It’s not ‘is she the protagonist?’, after all


  63. Crystal #

    I would suggest that with little effort you could come up with a stereotype for 99% of male & female characters. Most of the the what makes a character 3-dimensional stuff is incredibly subjective.

    But I agree with some other posters. We need more female characters whether they’re stereotypes or not.


  64. Galatea #

    A lot of these endpoints are not tropes, one-dimensional reps, or otherwise actual pitfalls.

    They’re broadly-defined characteristics visible in actual human beings as well as fictional constructs.

    I think the very complexity required of this flowchart defeats the point of making a flowchart, namely, to represent something simple enough to chart out in a unidirectional flow.

    In other words, it was a cute attempt to oversimplify feminine tropes that fell flat because it tried to pigeonhole a broad range of characters, some of whom actually turned out to be (gasp) kind of complex.

    ps, A female character can’t be strong unless she’s the protagonist? Hang on, let me go tell Zoe Washburne.


  65. Zau #

    If the strong female character is the goal (“congratulations”), why does the chart spend 95% of its space with boring clichés?


  66. Kelly #

    Thank you for this flowchart. It is the most Winningest thing I’ve seen on the inter-netz for some time.


  67. brionyjae #

    This flow chart is all kinds of epic. All kinds.


  68. CC #

    There are tons of problems with this chart. First of all stereotypes, tropes, and cliches are all completely different concepts. A stereotype is an over generalization meaning that its a belief held to be true about most or all members withing a group. This chart manages to negate the idea that any of its examples are stereotypes because they are only true for some female characters some of the time. Whats worse the charts basic premise that for a female character to be strong she has to fit an arbitrary set of criteria is itself stereotyping since it requires that all female characters to be written in an identical manner.

    Next comes the writers conflation between being an example of a trope and being a flat stereotypical character. A trope is not a stereotype or cliche. A trope is a writing conviction and a character can have any number of tropes applicable to them. Being an example of a trope has nothing to do with whether that character has a complex three dimensional personality and this chart fails to acknowledge that. Instead it treats female characters that fit into specific characterization tropes as badly written or stereotyped when that’s far from the truth.

    This chart doesn’t succeed at all at telling people how to write good female characters. Rather it just tells you what mlawski thinks a female character should be written as.


  69. Zaratha #

    I’ll take Internalized Sexism for $500, Alex.


  70. hitnrun #

    I think the point of the chart is undermined somewhat by its incredible complexity.

    @Yoko Ono: get over yourselves. Or at least bring the Colonialist school into this thread so we can have the Holy Trinity of Overfunded Academia go at it.


  71. Dianne #

    I haven’t read any of the comments yet but truthfully I find this flowchart more than a little disturbing and not for the reasons the creators deemed it to be.

    Are there any female characters who live up to some sort of ‘perfection’ that you seem to be looking for? And if they are what differs them from the dreaded Mary Sue phenomenon? It puts writers of any genre & characters into a truly damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation. May as well not write any females lest we worry about putting them in SOME sort of stereotypical mold if this is the case.

    The impression left for me is that women have to be written as perfect or not at all. (And yet? The irony of the perfect Female being a … what’s that word again? … stereotype!)


  72. Al #

    Needs yandere.


  73. Dog #

    All right, mlawski… now name a strong female character. If you think all of the characters you included on your chart here are weak or otherwise too flawed to meet your exacting standards, then I want to see who you think is a strong female character.


  74. Alex C #

    “Happy Single Teenage Mom” is missing a picture. I would suggest Juno, but she gave hers up for adoption, right? Which means there’s arguably a missing terminal in your graph (“Happy Teenage Surrogate Mother”).


  75. Brian #

    Having to achieve some kind of imposed gender equality in art, defeats the purpose of art itself.

    Pretty crass demonstration.


  76. Tom #

    Not sure if somebody else has posted this. I really dig this chart and think it’s useful. Do one for male characters???


  77. Fawn #

    All my female protags go straight left to right, but I admit some of my boys are stereotypes. Would like to see someone do this with the guys.


  78. foofoobarbar #

    Define “three dimensional” in concrete terms.

    Also “carry her own story”. Does this mean the ability to create a whole other story for her, e.g. like “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”?


  79. worfa #

    This is a really cool chart, and its certainly impressive, but a few points of constructive criticism:

    First, your flowchart doesn’t exactly impress me with how few archetypes there are to choose from. (That’s certainly not to say that the characters featured on this chart are great female archetypes, though.) Maybe you could consolidate some of the characters, though? In my opinion, some of them aren’t really that different.

    Furthermore, what does “strong female character” mean? What does she have to be in order to be considered “three dimensional”? Because reading this chart, I see a map filled with characters who have a wealth of motivations and purposes. I’d be very interested to see a chart filled with “strong” female characters. Arguably a more interesting, as well as helpful, endeavor. I just wonder if you didn’t start this project with a false assumption, that being that all female characters aren’t well developed, and that the ones that are are somehow anomalous, and therefore not worthy of your attention. I’m just saying that positive reinforcement is probably more effective when it comes to gender issues.

    Also, I don’t understand how you found it appropriate to toss male stereotypes aside by saying that they “obviously” exist, but that it “seems like” male characters are “stronger” than female ones. What you’re essentially saying is that you don’t care that there are male stereotypes, and that no one should waste time trying to correct for them. And, anyway, aren’t female stereotypes often tied to male ones? I’m just saying that stereotypes often compliment each other.

    None of this criticsm makes you a “penis-bashing dog-faced psycho feminazi.” Anyone who says that is full of it. Instead, it really just makes you an ineffective feminist. This is simply to say that, if gender equality really is your ultimate goal, great projects like this one might be a little more comprehensive in the future.


  80. Lance Glassman #

    Seriously! I have been searching search engines all night just for this and i also last but not least found it listed here!


  81. Aritz alvarez #

    Interesting flowchart, but…

    1. Mom ( mom corp. Futurama ) HAS FAMILY, actually 3 sons.
    2. Arale isn’t a “sweet nerd” actually ins’t even human, is a robot. But as character y Naive and a mas destruction machine, but not sweet nerd.
    3. Any thing about Chun-li is pure invention, no character of street fighter has any character development, are just avatar to play. Chun-li is Vanilla action girl as Ken Masters is Vanilla action boy.

    Finally, if your chart says Sarah Connor or Ellen Ripley are not “Strong female characters” you flowchart don’t woks, it’s simple.


  82. Bastette #

    Is it just me? I can’t see anything on the flowchart. It’s too small. But when I zoom in, everything gets blurry. It’s too low-res. But apparently not for anyone else, since there’s plenty of commentary about it. I can’t believe anyone can read this! Any suggestions? I’m interested in the topic (even if I’m *really* late to the party) and would love to be able to see everything in it. Thanks.


    • Bastette #

      P.S. The chart shown as a banner at the top of this page is perfect as far as the resolution goes, but it only shows a part of it.


      • GAKDragon #

        I had the same issue as Bastette, but have finally figured it out.
        Here’s how to view the full-res picture:
        1. Click on the picture at the end of the article. It should open in a pop-up window.
        2. Right-click on the picture in the pop-up and choose “Open Image in new [tab/window].”
        3. When you switch to that tab/window, your cursor should turn into a magnifying glass. Click on the picture, and voila!


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