Tropes vs. Women: #3 The Smurfette Principle

Tropes vs. Women is a six-part video series by Feminist Frequency that explores the reoccurring stories, themes and representations of women in Hollywood films and TV shows.

The Smurfette Principle was named two decades ago by Katha Pollitt, when she noticed that there were a disproportionate amount of male characters in programming aimed at young people. Even in adult programming, when women do appear in the primary cast of a television show or movie, they are usually alone in a group of men. Sadly, this trope has made its way into the 21st century.

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by Anita Sarkeesian
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10 Comments Have Been Posted

The Smurfette Principle

I notice also that Dora the Explorer, who I was pleased to note was independent, bilingual, and knew how to use a map, was dramatically upstaged by Diego. He is also about six...and flies a helicopter, while running an animal rescue business...?

This is definitely a problem:

This is definitely a problem: I know too many young girls who think that only pink and purple are okay colors to like, dresses and make-up are necessary to look good, and the highest position you can hope to hold is as a princess (completely unaware that princesses hold a high social position and what that position entails). Girls who haven't even started school yet think they have to do their hair and put on make-up to be beautiful. I'm sure that's a younger group than the studies they did a decade or so ago that found that 80% of 9-year-olds said dieting was a major concern in their daily activities.

On the bright side, I have seen a little of the Re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series, and I believe about half of the primary cast are females. They also changed Starbuck, originally male, into a female role! And, while still following pretty closely the gender mold and thin body image for image, at least Disney is finally including a slightly broader range of what it means to be beautiful: In "The Princess and the Frog," Tiana is a person of color (while they seem to poke fun at the Southern Belle), and the new "Tangled" portrays Rapunzel with freckles. I don't think the number of female characters is the only issue; the role each of those characters plays is even more important. Even without discussing men, if a female character is the one who causes problems for the males and consistently fails in her endeavors, what does that say about the value of women?

Battlestar Galactica is

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Subverted in 'Veronica Mars.'

Subverted in 'Veronica Mars.' In Season One, she was the only female cast member of the group of six, and the show's only added three other female regulars since (not counting Sidney Poitier's short stint because really, that hardly counts). The cool thing was Veronica was the most important character of the lot! Huzzah!

Big Bang Theory

The big bang theory does have some other recurring female characters. However, their main function is as girlfriends, they don't appear in every episode, and it rarely seems to pass the bechdel test. Koothrappali has developed as the 'girly' one for comic effect and some variety among the boys.


One reason I enjoy the show "Reno: 911" (especially the earlier seasons) was because roughly half the primary cast were women, and two of them were black (as the show progressed other people of color were cast as secondary characters). Not only that, and more importantly, *all* cast members had agency and each episode would pass the Bechdel test. This is so incredibly rare on television. We also don't tpically women characters to exhibit the same kind of humor as men (you know, no female Homer Simpsonism in a heroically-placed, sympathetic, or principal role), but this show did.

I noticed as the seasons went on the jettisoned female primary characters and replaced them with men; the cast got a higher white ratio too.


Excellent take on the Smurfette Principle! I generally prefer tv shows/movies that pass the Bechdel test.

I love the Feminist Frequency

I love the Feminist Frequency videos! I always watch and think to myself, "Yes! Exactly!"

Need more parodies of Smurfette principle.

I love this. Carol Burnett and female Star Trek. -- --- Why aren't there more women doing this - PARODY - with all those "popular" shows and movies? Put yourself in them as the main character and make the men "smurfette." Let everyone SEE it for what it is. Love to just see the same exact personalities and character traits on the screen - ALL THOSE ICONIC CHARACTERS AS WOMEN - Saturday Night Live material right there with all those offending shows and films but with minorities and women acting it all out. Doesn't have to be comic but keeps it light hearted. Female Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, and whatever else - flip them all around without women being the but of the joke and maybe people would GET it.

The thing that most feminists

The thing that most feminists willfully deny, is that the portrayal of Smurfette herself was highly different from her portrayal in the original Belgian comics... in the Saturday morning cartoon, she was highly bowdlerized to have more girl power, and was actually very androgynous in character and mannerism. Vanity Smurf was much more feminine and campy than she ever was. Smurfette was sober, rational, and had a hoarse voice.

In her debut episode, she even dresses up as a Zorro-like male character, does some stunts, tricks Gargamel and saves her fellow smurfs.

Smurfette was often the voice of reason or the moral compass of the village, often at the same time. She was hardly ever wrong.

Besides, there are actually many female characters in The Smurfs. Read and learn:

I highly suggest you call this "principle" by another name, or else find a new scapegoat.

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