Society Magazine

My Problem With The “Powerful Bitch” Trope

Posted on the 15 October 2014 by Juliez
My Problem With The “Powerful Bitch” Trope

Blair Waldorf from "Gossip Girl"

Lately I’ve noticed a trend in some of my favorite shows that makes me uncomfortable on a number of levels. From Blair Waldorf on “Gossip Girl” to Sadie on “Awkward” it appears that if you are a female protagonist on TV, mean is the new black and being good gets you nowhere. These protagonists are catty and manipulative. They’ll stab you in the back, make fun of your clothes, and do it all with a smile on their face in a fierce outfit. I’m talking about the powerful bitch.

Disclaimer: I know that historically and currently “bitch” is a sexist term that is often applied to women who have the audacity to speak their minds and have ambition. I’m not speaking in that context. The characters I’m referring to aren’t standing up for themselves: they are gleefully abusing others and are very rarely checked for their horrendous behavior. For example, Blair on Gossip Girl gloated about her “talent” for sending girls home in tears. Cordelia Chase proudly proclaimed herself as, “the nastiest girl in Sunnydale history.” And yet, this abuse is often translated as empowerment and these characters are often hailed as “strong” women.

To be clear I’m not saying that all female characters should be passive, perfect angels that mother everyone, nor am I saying that there should not be female villains because realistically all women aren’t nice people. I am, however, saying that given the problems this country has with bullying and harassment in schools it’s irresponsible for writers to pass cruelty and disregard for other’s humanity as empowerment. This trope equates strength, getting what you want and achieving happiness with putting other people down. It positions being a good person as a weakness and reinforces an age-old idea of women as manipulative and pitted against each other.

We need to imagine a concept of strength that doesn’t rest on intimidation and hierarchy – for female and male characters. Hollywood, I’m begging you: create more character like Irene Adler, who is cunning enough to go toe to toe with Sherlock Holmes. Write characters like the sarcastic and clever Veronica Mars, who always looked out for the underdog. Write characters like the loyal and nerdy (let’s pretend the last two seasons of “Buffy” didn’t happen) Willow Rosenberg – a young woman who transitions from insecure to formidable and confident. Write women like Buffy Summers who emerged a leader from difficult circumstances. Write women who are complicated. Write women who cry. Write women who own who they are. Write women who are assertive. Write women who have issues. Write women who overcome obstacles.  Write women who evolve as characters. Write women who have compassion. Write women who are supportive of other women.

But please stop dressing cruel and vindictive behavior up as feminism.

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