Written by Rachael Kelly
Illustrated by Molly Davies
The witching hour – many think that it’s midnight, but for young people across the UK, it lies somewhere between 1 and 3am. These are the hours in which we lie awake questioning our sense of self, our careers and our identity. Where do we turn to in these darkest of hours, I hear you ask? Where all self-respecting, insomniac careerists turn – to Buzzfeed!
I found myself down the rabbit hole of Buzzfeed quizzes early one Tuesday morning. I took everything from ‘Which Kardashian/Jenner Are You?’ to the more precise ‘Which ‘Mean Girl’ Girl Are You Based On Your Bubble Tea Order?’.
I tried on every pre-packaged feminine identity there was. Was I the sporty one? Not likely. The cute one? Far from it. The outrageous one? I’m more of a wallflower myself. As I scrolled through the various tropes of femininity, I realised my options were limited. Very limited. I staggered to my DVD collection in a panic, praying my fears wouldn’t be confirmed. But alas, they were.
The heroines of my teenage-hood were lined up on my shelf like shameless mugshots: the ‘cute’ one, the ‘brainy’ one, the ‘sporty’ one. It was like a Spice Girls tribute band, and a bad one at that. All of my favourite fictional females were typecast; they had cookie-cutter characteristics, each protagonist a replica of the last.
My case studies were varied; as a television connoisseur I was able to offer expertise on everything from The Power Puff Girls to Sex and the City.
After a thorough investigation, involving an unhealthy amount of binge watching, I was able to identify some common personality types.
- The Leader (ambitious, driven, commanding)
- The Mother (loyal, caring, wise)
- The Cute One (vain, superficial, frivolous)
- The Simple One (quiet, docile, naive)
- The Brainy One (intelligent, aloof)
- The Sporty One (athletic, volatile)
- The Outrageous One (funny, ambitious, nonconforming)
- The Sexy One (sexualised, domineering)
As far as the fictional female taxonomy goes, the above seemed to cover the lot. Not dissimilar to Grumpy, Happy, Dopey and Bashful, the heroines I’d come to know and love were clearly cardboard cutouts.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at my findings:
How did we get ourselves in this sorry state? Was a vote taken? Who decided heroines shouldn’t be more complex than a toenail? I felt betrayed by Carrie Bradshaw, victimised by Regina George and failed by Jo Marsh.
Don’t get me wrong, there is the occasional character with a little more depth. But sadly, my particular case studies showed these ‘complex’ females to be nothing more than shameless hybrids, boasting the ability to be both ‘sexy’ and ‘cute’.
I soon came to question whether this issue was gendered. I know there are plenty of literary male tropes out there. Take the eponymous Three Musketeers; you have Athos, the leader, Aramis, the romantic and Porthos, the hot-head. There’s also a lot of ‘masculine’ characteristics which are applied carelessly. Male protagonists are often sporty, brave, handsome and daring, for example.
However, it is rare that they are simplified to quite the same extent as fictional females – you’d be hard pushed to find a hero whose role was simply to be the ‘cute’ one.
In my investigation I thought it might be worth looking at works with a bit more gravitas; although Mean Girls is a classic in my eyes, it isn’t quite as respected as the works of Bronte, for example. Nonetheless, it must be said that Jane Eyre seems positively mundane when compared with the complexities of Mr Rochester. Although Daisy Buchanon is sweet and naive, she has the depth of a teaspoon compared to the romantic Gatbsy. And where Sherlock is a mystifying intellect with many hidden vulnerabilities, Mrs Hudson is good at making tea.
Thankfully, we are moving into an age where female tropes are slowly being left behind. Although we all love a bit of Sex and the City, it’s unlikely a script with such limited female protagonists would make it past the pitching den now. Our taste has matured and we’re no longer satisfied with one-dimensional heroines and personality-less clones.
Either way, Buzzfeed quizzes will still be a guilty pleasure of mine.
Edited by Stephanie Kleanthous