Today is International Women’s Day, and in honor of this auspicious event, Feminist This is here to bring you a list of some of the female characters who have been most mistreated by their writers in recent years. I stress ‘some’ because let’s face it, if I tried to make a comprehensive list of all the female characters done wrong by their creators, I’d never sleep again. Part of the reason our cultural discourse is brimming with gender litmus tests (Bechdel, sexy lamp, Mako Mori) and trope terms (fridging, damseling, smuffetting, manic pixie) is because female characters get a raw deal with such predictable frequency that by now, each of these clichés needs their own Wikipedia page.
For the record, this is not supposed to be a list of female character who are bad or unlikable within their stories. Nor are they (necessarily) the female characters most hated by their fandoms – though badly written female characters do tend to receive more than their fair share of fandom ire. And that’s partly the point: oftentimes, this ire is misplaced. Frequently, our dislike of female characters is the result of poor writing choices on the part of their authors, who are, way more often than not, men. Cultural injustices certainly are not the most grievous injustices suffered by the second sex, but that does not mean they don’t deserve calling out. So let’s do it!
One final caveat: these are in no particular order and represent, to a large degree, media I’ve personally consumed and can therefore speak to with some degree of accuracy. PLEASE feel free to expand the list in the comments section. I know there are a lot more fictional women than this who deserve avenging.
Katrina Crane (Sleepy Hollow)
Believe me, I was never a fan. The moment she came onscreen, suddenly drying paint often seemed like an attractive distraction. She was boring, she seemed to have no real convictions of her own, she was terrible at being a witch and all her character motivation arose from her roles as wife, mother and the apex of a love-triangle between Ichabod and Headless. She had nothing redeeming about her, and was not even delightfully irredeemable. I’ll cop to having indulged in Katrina hate-fests myself, but let’s be honest about the fact that the writers are ultimately to blame for the travesty of a character that she was. It’s like that old Tumblr meme says, “I don’t even think you tried at all”
Betty Draper (Mad Men)
Yes, there are things to dislike about Betty, the way she treats her daughter foremost among them. And while she always had a lot more depth than the cardboard cut-out that was Katrina, Betty got a raw deal much of the time. She was intended as the embodiment of The Feminine Mystique, the woman who seems to have everything and is still profoundly unhappy. There is a reason that book struck a nerve and while one could call her story realistic for the time, she could have had one thing go her way, one thing in her life that made her happy or gave her some sense of value and purpose. She did not have to be quite that much of a cautionary tale.
Cally Henderson Tyrol (Battlestar Gallactica)
I’m not even gonna try to list all the bad stuff that happened to you, Cally, because that would take more space than you traversed in BSG. Suffice it to say that while all the characters on the show got a raw deal, you got the absolute bottom of the barrel. In love with a man who loved another woman, you were always clearly second fiddle for him, even after she turned out to be a Cylon. He only returned some of your affection after he beat the ever living crap out of you accidentally. You married him, only to transform into the hated nagging wife and meet a tragic end after it turned out your husband was also a sleeper Cylon. Those writers sure did enjoy wailing on you, and unlike your husband, they never even seemed to feel bad about it.
Zoe Barnes (House of Cards)
I immediately stopped watching House of Cards when they killed off Zoe Barnes, and here’s why – it was a totally candy-ass way to neutralize the threat she posed to Frank. She knew too much, had too much damming evidence and the writers use a little nudge on a platform to take out the woman who had the goods to bring down the future president of the United States. Frank did not deserve that ‘victory’ over Zoe, because he did not outwit her or out-maneuver her. All he did was check a train schedule and her entire storyline was basically for naught. Screw that noise. I’m not here for it.
Barbara Kean (Gotham)
Gotham hasn’t even been on for a full season and I’ve already witnessed at least one editorial on how Barbara Kean is the worst character on the show. It’s not really her fault. Like Katrina Crane, she suffers from that most tragically common of female character afflictions: being the Protagonist’s Girlfriend™. Over the course of the show, she has jumped from being Jim’s paramour, to being traumatized by a kidnapping, to being Renee’s very messed up paramour, to being, now, a predatory depressive. She’s aimless, addicted, without purpose and in desperate need of either a personality or some narrative function. Both would be nice, but I try to temper my expectations.
Tara Maclay (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Poor Tara. That’s all I can say. You grew up in an abusive family, and then you found a home with the Scooby Gang of Sunnydale only to have the love of your life use her magic against you to alter your memories. Then she gets addicted, gets clean and in the midst of you two making up, you get fridged to further her descent into evil. It’s not quite as bad as being fridged to further a man’s story arc, but it still SUCKS. You deserved so much better, my dear.
Tara Thornton (True Blood)
If you were the stereotype of the “angry black woman” goodness knows, you had a right to be. Your mother abused you and anything good that ever happened to you was always quickly taken away. You started out with an inexplicable crush on a man who was a total moron. Your sweet boyfriend Eggs was killed, you got taken hostage by a psychopath, the alteration in your sexuality never actually got any screen time, you were turned into a vampire against your wishes, found something with Pam, and then of course you got killed because that’s what happens to queer girls. Why couldn’t you have nice things, Tara? You were a good person. You deserved nice things.
Mulan (Once Upon a Time)
You were another classic victim of the queer girl curse…and you had such a great beginning, too! In an endeavor to save your beloved prince, you are thrown together with his professed love. You two develop an unexpected bond that could have been such an epic love story, truly the stuff of fairytales. But no, she had to go off and live the heterosexual happily ever after, and you had to be shunted off to the woods with Robin Hood, ne’er to be seen or heard from again. So not okay
Jenny Schecter (The L-Word)
I did not even have to watch The L-Word to know Jenny Schecter was an atrocity of a character from beginning to end. During the show’s heyday, fans rightly complained about how inconsistent her characterization was and how she was often awful for no particular reason, or for profoundly stupid ones. Her Wikipedia page’s opening paragraph pretty much lays it all out, from a strategic sexual abuse arc designed to make her more sympathetic, to having her opportunistically put down an adopted dog, to just making her generally unlikable so as to end the series on her death/possible murder. Darling, you were a nightmare so unnecessarily.
Irene Adler (Sherlock)
When you are making an adaptation, particularly one with a time-period shift, things must be changed. That is a given. However, making Irene Adler a dupe because of her romantic affections for Sherlock was just beyond the pale. And doing it while simultaneously characterizing her as gay is even worse. Sherlock has not been particularly kind to the majority of its female characters, and arguably Mrs. Hudson, Molly and Donovan all deserve a place on this list. But the undermining of Irene’s legacy in the original Canon Doyle stories – of having outwitted Sherlock – combined with the use of her to erase bisexuality while also perpetuating the lesbians-just-need-to-find-the-right-man myth in my opinion, grants her the top spot.
Bela Talbot (Supernatural)
Speaking of whole franchises that have done their female character’s wrong, Supernatural is another top offender in this arena. Indeed, I had even more trouble trying to decide which SPN lady had the dubious honor of being the most wronged and while it was a tough call, I gotta give it to Bela Talbot. In Dean’s words, she was “Sharp, good enough at the con to play us.” She outwitted our heroes more than once and while she was definitely no girl scout, she did not deserve half the flack she got from the fandom, or the end she came to because of it. Bela has long been a classic victim of our gender double-standards. Had she been male, she would have been perceived as tragically damaged, fascinating, clever, funny, and delightfully morally ambivalent. Instead of having the long-term cat-and-mouse game and eventual redemption arc she truly deserved, she, like so many women before and after on SPN, was sent to an early grave to rot in the pit of don’t-you-dare-get-in-the-middle-of-my-slash-ship.
Mercedes Jones/Tina Cohen-Chang (Glee)
Glee is honestly the new standard against which all past and future TV “train wrecks” will now be measured. Granted they’ve screwed pretty much all of their characters over in some way by now, but two of their female characters stand out to me as having been especially wronged: Mercedes and Tina. Both of them got stuck with in-love-with-gay-men storylines, and while Mercedes’ was at least somewhat sympathetic, Tina’s was just repulsive, entirely OOC and completely WTF? Mercedes was pretty much dropped in season 4 and only got back on in season 5 after Amber Riley won Dancing with the Stars. Tina notoriously never got actual plot-lines of her own, a fact which Glee went so far as to lampshade in one episode. Mercedes was often harangued for being “lazy” though that accusation had no basis in the other content of the show. Both were often outshined by Rachel even though they were no less talented, and were often far less obnoxious and entitled. In short, although almost all the characters in Glee have been done a few injustices over the years, these two ladies caught some of the worst of it, in my humble opinion.
Deb Morgan (Dexter)
A lot of messed up stuff happened to you Deb, but at least you were a well-written character for most of the series. Then came that incest storyline. WTF was that about? Seriously. Then to top it all off, they killed you. I know it’s a show about serial killers. I know a lot of characters bit it. But Dexter should have died for you, NOT the other way around. He should have died protecting you.
Leah Clearwater (Twilight novels)
Here’s your tragedy Leah: You were actually a wonderfully written character. You were smart, independent, damaged, not interested in making everyone else happy or in making other people’s lives easy just because. You were the only female wolf in your pack, and you had to bear all the burdens that came with that. You got screwed over in more ways than one by the supernatural barreling into your life. But you did it your way, and you made no unnecessary apologies. And your story had to be side-lined for the saccharine Bella/Edward love-fest and the third wheel Jacob pity-party. You should have been the protagonist, your story should have been told in your own words, not in Jake’s. You deserved to be the heroine of the piece. You were the most interesting thing about it.
Princess Amidala (Star Wars I-III)
You started out with so much promise. A young queen, 19, wise leader and savvy politician. And then came your downward descent into love with a guy who went darkside and sucked up all your independence and ultimately your will to live. By the end of the Revenge of the Sith, you were transformed into nothing more than a heart-broken incubator for your children, who apparently had way more important destinies than your own. George Lucas: women like Padme do not die from broken hearts. At least, not when they are written half-way decently.
Jean Grey (X-Men movies)
Both you and Raven/Mystique were contenders for this list, but since you never got the redemption arc she did, the honor belongs to you. You were too powerful. Too strong. And of course, because you were a woman, you predictably couldn’t handle it without turning dark. So the menz had to take you out when they couldn’t keep you under control anymore. In the end, it was all about Logan, all about the tragedy of how Wolverine had to kill his great love because he was the only one who could. Poor him? No, poor you. You got fridged for being too godlike, too almighty, and that is just some straight up BS right there. (Yes, I know she got a reprieve in Days of Future Past, but that doesn’t wipe the slate clean in my book)