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  • Juliana Piesco

    Read this article a few days ago, and it is so true. Some authors also classify it as the "minority feisty", although I think the Trinity Syndrome is sort of the next step.

    In the past, the studios would incorporate a token female character. At first, she was usually an object of a prize the hero would win. When that wasn't appealing to the female audiences, they started the "minority feisty" – a single female, but she would be tougher, smarter, a "feisty" type of girl. Not that it made her any more important to the story. There are plenty of examples of this... We can see this in Rio (Jewel), Ratatouille (Colette), the first "How to train your dragon" (Astrid)... I even think Nala, from The Lion King, is totally a minority feisty.

    I think they took that idea a little further, turning it into the characters that suffer from Trinity Syndrome. They are not so peripheral to the narrative as the minority feisty, they seem to be strong female protagonists, but they are only strong female characters, not being allowed to protagonize their own stories. =/

    • Jelena Woehr

      I hadn't heard "minority feisty" before, but it totally fits! I agree with you on Nala, sadly... she had so much potential to be a great character but she is relegated to just using her feistiness to advance Simba's ambitions. (Lion King is still a classic, though!)

      • Juliana Piesco

        I borrowed the term from a blogger I really like Margot from Reel Girl ( She has some awesome stuff about lots of these "minority feisty" characters, but I think she also includes the Trinity Syndrome ones in her classification.

        About The Lion King, it's a classic and sometimes I work to the soundtrack (most. awesome. songs. ever), but it's also – in my opinion – one of the Disney movies that sends the worst messages to kids.

        Focusing only on the female character's issues, which is what we are discussing in this thread, we have the fact that Nala is a feisty female character that only serves to advance Simba's own plot. But that's not all!

        In the beginning of the movie, we are shown over and over again that Nala always wins in fights. Nala is shown as stronger, tougher and even smarter than Simba. It seems like Simba prefers to be brave, while Nala is more genuine when it comes to her own feelings and capacities. And when they are adults, we receive lots of evidence that all of this is still true – Nala still wins their play/fights, and she's the one that talks Simba into going back to beat Scar.

        And that's where the weird stuff comes: why does Nala or any of the other lionesses need Simba to come back to save them? They are clearly stronger than Scar and the hienas... Why do they need a man to come back and save them from another man?

        People may argue that it's just the way that lion societies work. Well, I wouldn't regard The Lion King as being exactly accurate in depicting savanna life, with all the zebra-kneeling, baboon speaking to lions, regal stuff going on. The point I'm trying to make is: what message are we sending to girls when we show them that even if they are smarter and stronger than their male counterparts, they will be helpless without them?

  • Ben Goldhirsh

    agree much with the thesis of this piece and it's troubling and frustrating. One alternative example that is pleasing - aria stark, from Game of Thrones. Certainly passes the aspirational test on all counts.

    • Christy Heyob

      So far in the HBO series, but she’s started worrying me in the books awhile ago. ;)

  • Tom Maybrier

    This is a really interesting point they are making. Lately i've been watching a lot of Miyazaki films - a hallmark of his storytelling is young, strong female characters owning their own destiny and having something to do - and doing it well. An interesting counterpoint to "Trinity syndrome".

    • Christy Heyob

      Definitely, and thanks for sharing! It’s actually quite interesting to highlight directors or films that are working as a counterpoint to the “Trinity” trend.

      Too, a similar thing I’ve been personally looking for in both films and books, are examples of a group (let’s say 4) of women working together to solve a problem (that’s not about dating/men/etc.). I’ve asked a lot of friends and everyone tends to name the same six films or books - which is sad when you consider the amount of work there is out there to pull from.

      If you have any other directors, films or books that you can think of that address these points, I’d love to create a list to stew over. :)

      • Tom Maybrier

        Sounds awesome - I'm sure you're familiar with the Bechdel Test then? If not, check it out - great way to find discussion relating to films/television that fits that description.

          • Jelena Woehr

            I have a "personal Bechdel test," too! I love yours about groups of women -- so often we do see groups of women solving the "one of us doesn't have a man or has problems with a man" problem, rather than anything else. Mine is, "Is there a female character whose actions develop her own character more than they develop a male character?"

            I just finished Luther, and while I LOVED the acting in the series, I noticed that the only female character who seems to have a purpose beyond either challenging or supporting Luther was a psychopath! It's funny how men seem to find it easier to write independent female villains than independent heroines.

            • Christy Heyob

              Hmm. "Is there a female character whose actions develop her own character more than they develop a male character?” Do you mean characters outside of protagonists? I haven’t seen Luther, but I’ll have to check it out now that you’ve mentioned it. :)

              • Jelena Woehr

                Yeah, I use this mostly for shows with male protagonists -- and even for secondary characters in those with female protagonists. For instance, I liked about The Closer that a few women with their own agendas were introduced, especially one of the primary antagonists, the woman who worked for Internal Affairs. Or in Sherlock, I find Mrs. Hudson very compelling in that she only enters the story as essentially someone who is there to "be of service" to Sherlock as his landlady on Baker Street, but her character develops to become a really interesting and comedic presence in her own right, and there's a nice scene where she berates Watson for failing to think of her feelings while he was too wrapped up in his own to call her. She exists in the show only because the books call for her to be there, and she could easily have had a character entirely based on "what does her reaction to X reveal about Sherlock Holmes's character?" but instead she manages in a very minor role to establish her own desires and feelings as her primary motivator, just like a real human being, rather than the hollow women of TV who are only motivated by how they can affect men.

                • Christy Heyob

                  Gotcha. Thanks for expounding! I can think of several other forms of media that support what you’re saying. For instance, I remember feeling excited when Claire Underwood became more of an equal character in "House of Cards” this past season.

                  • Jelena Woehr

                    I have GOT to watch House of Cards... I'm afraid it'll suck me in so much I won't leave my house until I've seen all of it, though! I also think Dexter was surprisingly good (in the first four seasons) at writing female secondary characters around a male protagonist without making them entirely driven by male character development. Even Debra, whose whole character is based on her extremely close relationship with her brother, develops through the first seasons largely through differentiating herself from her brother and making her own way in Miami Homicide. And Laguerta, despite existing as a romantic partner to TWO different men as well as manipulating multiple others for career advancement, manages to be a complex personality and a strangely sympathetic antagonist to Deb in those first seasons. And Dexter's love interest, Rita, again is largely defined originally by men (Dexter and her ex) but branches out -- my favorite season involves her rescuing a puppy and helping a female friend (though her help to a female friend involves a man, even if he only appears deceased in the show).

                    (That being said, let's just forget about the women in seasons 5-8, please.)