Never a Self-Made Woman

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Everybody knew you as the wife of a famous man,

Everybody who knew said, "There goes Dixon's girl again."
—Dessa, Dixon's Girl.

This is a subtrope of The Smurfette Principle:

In a cast with many characters or a Five-Man Band, there is a tendency to give any female character of importance a male character to thank for her position.

If she's The Chick in the team, then she's usually someone's sister, girlfriend or love interest. If she's a military or political leader of some sort, then you can bet that she got the position with help from her father or another male relative. The author or the characters have to choose who gets to join in on the hijinks or know the secrets; chances are, most of the people they choose are going to be men. Women who join in are most commonly there as a "bonus" to someone else, often as a love interest or a family member.

There are shades to this. We may have the Action Girl who has achieved a lot and gone up in society, but whenever her background is brought up, it is always a man in her family (father, uncle, older brother or husband) who is prominent as her predecessor or a key to her success. It will be strongly implied that she would never have gotten into this Business if she hadn´t been motivated and trained by her powerful male relatives who are active on the same field. In short, a personal, emotional relationship with a mentor is needed, not just a professional one driven by her own independent ambitions. She might have grown into her own badassery, but the story will continue to define her as the more important male character´s apprentice or heiress.

Another variation is when a female character who is already powerful or who has an important role without male aid meets her lover. Since prominent women usually require a partner who is at least as interesting and powerful as they, the story will often start revolving around him once they meet. Suddenly, the conflict doesn't seem as important to her anymore. If things quiet down and they get married, he usually has a great career ahead of him, but she's content to slow hers down to be a wife or mother. From the moment they become an item, no one mentions her previous accomplishments anymore; they just talk about her only as half of a couple. Her partner's heroism is still remembered and talked about, but she is lucky if she even gets mentioned a few years down the line.

A perceived "barrier between the sexes" may be to blame for this—specifically, the notion that women and men can't socialise without justifying it with a sexual or familial bond. Writers use this trope to justify to viewers (presumed male) why they should care about the female character at all.

In short, this is another example of Double Standard. Of course, this tends to lead to a double bind situation in which people will discredit a female's accomplishments because she is connected to a male.

Please note that this is trope is more subtle than Dungeonmaster's Girlfriend and other similar tropes. Chances are that most of the examples here do get some credit for being Action Girls; that doesn't negate that their fathers, boyfriends, etc. are more important than they are.

Going hand with this is Men Act, Women Are, which is about what comes from the man, and where the woman comes from.

Not to be confused with Self-Made Man, where a person gains importance on his/her own. See also Most Writers Are Male.

Examples of Never a Self-Made Woman include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In the first anime version of Hellsing, part of Integra's backstory was that she had to fight the stigmas that she was a woman doing a man's job, and that she more or less fell into the role after her father died and was forced to kill her uncle in self defense when he tried to usurp control. In the manga and second anime there was no such stigma and she was recognized as the legitimate heir of the organization... except for the usurping uncle.
  • Naruto averts this trope for the most part, save for one rather infamous panel.[1] Kushina never really wanted to be Hokage, she just said it to get attention. Tsunade becomes Hokage because she's a good leader and a total Badass, as well as being descended from the Senjuu clan from where the First and Second Hokage came from, but the emphasis is thankfully put in the legacy of this clan and its influence in Konoha, not in her being a woman. Konan seemed to be this at first, but then we learn that she was never romantically involved with Nagato, is a very strong fighter in her own right, and only joined Akatsuki to help Nagato. That said, Kurenai can be said to have fallen victim to this trope, though she is a skilled fighter too.
  • Inverted by Kaitou Saint Tail. The eponymous thief actually takes more after her mother who was a thief, more than her father, who is an illusionist (although she takes a few traits from both of them). Asuka Jr, the boy detective on her trail is never the sole focus of the story, and when they grow into their relationship, the show continues to focus more on her story than his. And in the end, when they're older and she's no longer a thief, the name Saint Tail is still mentioned as the town's protector.
  • In a Pet Shop of Horrors: Tokyo story, the widow of a murdered gang leader is introduced and the protagonists assume that she got her own position at the head of the gang because of who her husband had been. It's actually subverted though, when it's revealed that she was the highly respected head of the gang and her husband had been the one to marry into a high position.
  • Inverted in the Manhwa Jackals where Alligator Nichol, the main character, owes the mastery of his massive two-handed blade to his... mother, Roxy the Grim Reaper. Yes. He's total Badass but he's been trained by a woman. In fact, the whole story seems to make it a point to subvert this trope to hell and back when it comes to female characters. Only the resident Damsel in Distress plays the trope straight.
  • In Bubblegum Crisis 2032, Sylia Stingray was able to create the Knight Sabers and fight Genom thanks to the hardsuits her scientist father invented.
  • Averted in Devil Hunter Yohko. Yohko comes from a long line of all-female Devil Hunters and if men play a role at all, they're treated as sex object.
  • In Dragon Ball, the only three female main characters are Bulma, Chichi, and Videl. Bulma's father is a brilliant scientist and the owner and president of Capsule Corporation (although Bulma herself is also a brilliant scientist and was introduced long before he was), Chichi's father is the Ox King, and Videl's father is Mr. Satan (Hercule in the American version), a former world martial arts champion, superstar, and the #1 human fighter who doesn't use Ki. There is also Android 18, who provides an example of the other variety, being introduced as an independent villain alongside her brother, then receding into the role of Krillin's wife and more-or-less retiring from fighting.
  • Sailor Moon is a notable aversion. There are two regular male cast members, one of whom is a cat mentor on equal footing with a female cat mentor, and the other is mainly significant for being the main character's love interest and Dude in Distress. The Silver Millenium and later Crystal Tokyo societies where the main characters have their powers are matriarchal, and the manga eventually comes right out and states that only women can take advantage of power on the scale that the Sailor Senshi possess. Of course, this series was also conceived of and the manga maintained by a female writer, so perhaps there's a reason this averts the trope so hard.
  • Kaoru's main role in Rurouni Kenshin is to serve as Kenshin's love interest and Yahiko's teacher. She only fights in one battle throughout the entire manga, where she is assisted by Misao, for whom this is also her only major fight (The third female major character is The Medic and doesn't contribute in battles at all). The main proof of Kaoru's skill is that she was able to train Yahiko to be able to successfully confront grown men who have been fighting longer than he's been alive.
  • The entire named female cast of Fist of the North Star can be summed up as: Kenshiro's love interest, young girl who is always following and/or thinking about Kenshiro, the battle-hardened Action Girl who falls for Kenshiro and is secretly loved by Rei, and some powerful warrior's sister/mother/daughter.
  • Deconstructed with Mirai Yashima. At first, she appears to be a subversion, taking on the important role of first mate and helmsman of the White Base, while ignoring her Yashima family name. However, when she reappears in Zeta Gundam, we find that she married Mr. Bright and started a family with him. She is willing to stay on Earth for the good of her children. However, most people remember Mirai more for being able to get a huge spaceship to dodge laser blasts than starting a family and is in fact still perfectly competent when under fire, even with her children.
  • Fate/stay night has this trope in play with its Masters in Tohsaka Rin, Matou Sakura, and Ilyasviel von Einsbern. While it's justified, being that the Grail War is meant to be a competition between three families, they're the only ones who actually owe their success as mages to their lineage. Shirou bumbles onto his role in the War and has to struggle to make up for his lack of magical skill over the course of the series (because his adopted father didn't teach him more than basic tricks), Shinji Matou is a failure, Kuzuki is an assassin and not a mage at all despite being a formidable Master, and Bazett Fraga McRemitz, Lancer's original Master, is dead before the show begins so Kotomine can gain control of Lancer.
  • Subverted in Bamboo Blade. Tamaki mentions the strongest kendoist she's ever seen, and her teammates assume she's talking about her father, but she actually means her mother.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • In the first issues of Y: The Last Man, the widows of deceased (male) Republican senators attempt a coup against the remaining American government in order to be appointed to their late husbands' positions. Notable not because they got the positions (they didn't), but that the wives thought they deserved them simply because they were married to the former incumbents. This has precedent, but not legally so, as on many occasions the widows of congressmen have asked to be appointed to finish their husband's term, and so far none have been turned down by their state's governors. Almost none are re-elected, however.
    • And then there's Margaret Chase Smith.
  • Both Silk Spectres of Watchmen. The original Silk Spectre's career was aggressively built by her husband/manager. Laurie/Silk Spectre II inherited her mother's identity, and spends the entire graphic novel dependent on her love interests. Ultimately subverted with Laurie in the end, who expresses that she doesn't want to settle down with a family, but take up crime fighting again.
  • One Silver Age Superman comic has Lois Lane telling the story of how she got her job at the Daily Planet, telling Clark Kent "And I'll have you know I did it without your help!". Through the course of the story, we discover that Superman was secretly helping her all along. Remember, girls, even if you think you succeeded on your own merits, it's really because a man was helping you.
  • Most superheroines with any recognition are either a Distaff Counterpart to some more popular male (Supergirl, She Hulk, more indirectly Elektra) or gained notice as a member of a team (Jean Grey of the X-Men, Wasp of The Avengers, the latter also being married to a similar-themed hero). Wonder Woman, the most notable exception, is one of the few female characters who can maintain a long-running title.


Film[edit | hide]

  • Anna Valerious of Van Helsing is introduced as a daughter and sister, is motivated by the absence of the brother, and her function in the story is as a Love Interest to the male lead. And she's a Faux Action Girl to boot!
  • The Day After Tomorrow has three women in it; one whose purpose is to worry about the two main characters, one hot scientist who isn't of much use except to create sexual tension, and one Designated Love Interest
  • The female lead of the Transformers movies, whose life revolves around the male lead.
  • Crops up in the Bond movies every now and then, Though there's a bit of a subversion in The World Is Not Enough. Electra may talk a lot about her father, and becomes the owner of his oil company through heritage, but then it turns out that it was her mother's family that built up his wealth in the first place
  • Also prominent in the fourthTerminator movie, which has three major female Characters; Marcus' love interest, John's girlfriend, and a mute little girl who is treated like some kind of pet for Kyle
  • Female Survival Is Family in Saw VI, in that the three women William chooses to spare, when forced to decide which of his co-workers will live and which will be killed, are saved because he knows they have families who'd be devastated by their loss. A fourth woman claims to be pregnant in an attempt to benefit from this trope, but is not spared, as William believes she's lying.
  • In Quest for Camelot, there is an entire song devoted to the heroine talking about how she wants to be a knight because of her father, titled, On My Father's Wings. Then she gender-flips it, dragging a guy she meets into the quest. Of course, whether she could have survived without him is...debatable, since she's never been a half a day's ride from her village.
  • In The Princess and the Frog; it's obvious to the viewer that Tiana achieves her goals with hard work, sacrifice, and dedication to her dream, but every character in the movie that knows about Tiana's father constantly links her success to his influence, including Tiana herself. Eventually this is even added on to as shown at the end, when she finally does set up her restaurant it is shown to be green and frog-themed and named "Tiana's Palace", clearly based off of her experience as a frog that she spent with her prince. In an earlier scene where she imagines her restaurant, it is done up in the yellow style her father had planned on using.
  • Sherlock Holmes (2009) has all of two women as more than one-shot characters: Watson's fiancée and Holmes' Love Interest, Irene Adler, who is demoted from being one of the few people ever to outwit Sherlock to being Moriarty's lackey. After being Stuffed Into the Fridge in Game Of Shadows her replacement is involved in the plot because of her brother.
  • Mary of Hancock is introduced to us as the manager's wife, but later turns into a subversion as she has her own personal characterization. When she explains the background behind her powers however, it turns out that their relationship was problematic because someone needed Hancock to go on being immortal and save the world (The Physical Gods are Brought Down to Normal when two are close together), and that he and Mary were only paired up by convention - he is the important one making it a double subversion. Why Mary, who is more powerful than him, doesn't have the responsibility that he does is never explained.
  • In West Side Story there were girls in the Jets, but they were only there as the girlfriends of some of the more important male characters, with the exception of Anybodys, who wants to be a Jet and fight alongside the rest of them but is treated as an Annoying Younger Sibling. After the rumble she seems to be accepted into the gang.
    • Her name is the definition of this trope. "Whose is she?" "She's anybody's."
  • In The Young Victoria, the Queen is pretty much treated as a puppet of her (male) advisers, and when she calls her husband out on undermining her as a queen, the whole movie starts to work against her - all her other advisers want them to reign together, and he is finally shot, causing her to back down. Later on this turns out to be an inversion, as all the men try to play her as a puppet because, ultimately, a great deal of their power rests solely on Victoria liking them. Albert goes behind her back because he feels useless and knows that every iota of his respect in the British court stems from his relationship with Victoria. In the end, the solution isn't for either of them to ignore or manipulate the other, but for Victoria to rule with Albert serving as a trusted, competent advisor, in a partnership that requires both of them.
  • The Sorcerer's Apprentice has three women in it all in all, with two of them serving as love interests for the main characters and a Big Bad with a total of two scenes.
  • In Lost In Space we meet Dr. Judy Robinson and no surprise, she's the daughter of Professor John Robinson.
  • Justified in period pieces like The Duchess and The Mask of Zorro where historically the woman could not have been important unless related to an important man.
  • Stella Bridger of The Italian Job is the safe cracker and a necessary part of the team, but she is also Charlie's love interest and his mentor's daughter.
  • In The Sinking Of Japan the heroine's sole motivation to become a firewoman is because her father was one. Although it turns out that her mother only made this up, so the girl would have someone to look up to.
  • Winnie from the Wall Street sequel is one of the more extreme examples; she has no other purpose aside from being something that Jake and Gekko barters with. Might cross into Deconstruction territory since the entire point of the movie is to show how corruption works.
  • Averted in The Phantom Menace where Amidala is ruler of Naboo. By Revenge of the Sith it's played straight as she's given up the throne, and while still a Senator it's all about Anakin becoming Darth Vader, though there are three deleted scenes of her actively trying to stop the Chancellor from taking over.
    • Similarly averted in A New Hope where Princess Leia is a Senator and member of the rebellion with no man by her side.
  • Mrs. Brisby in The Secret of NIMH would not have gotten any help for her situation if she wasn't, as they keep calling her, "Mrs. Jonathan Brisby." Though she ultimately succeeds based on her courage and inner strength, the sequel effectively demotes her to extra to focus on her son.
  • The Bowler (aka Baby Bowler) from Mystery Men happens to own a bowling ball haunted by her murdered father. He can levitate himself just fine, but needs her to carry him around to get from place to place without disturbing anyone. It's especially glaring because, while the rest of the heroes have to come to terms with their true powers and learn to believe in themselves, she doesn't actually have any powers to believe in, and specifically joins because her father made her. She'd rather go back to school.
  • In the 2010 Alice in Wonderland, Alice Kingsley doesn't have an identity until she claims herself to be her father's daughter. This realization allows her to hold the Vorpal Sword while it fights the Jabberwock (she's even referred to as 'The Insignificant Bearer' by the Jabberwock and told that the sword and not she is the true opponent). She then goes on to run her father's company according to his vision instead of accepting a wedding proposal, so while it looks like sister's doin' it for herself, there's still a man (or at least a phallic symbol) to thank for her position).


Literature[edit | hide]

  • Pick a book titled after the template The [Person with X Career]'s [Relative]. The relative will always, always be female. (Though if the person they're related to is also female, e.g. The Virgin Queen's Daughter, it's obviously not an example of this trope.)
  • Lily in Harry Potter is a complicated case (see the now archived Discussion), and Tonks (while starting out independent) becomes a mere Love Interest in the last two books.
    • Fleur also starts off as a competent female, but then also gets reduced to the role of Bill's wife. But Bill is totally cool, so maybe that's why people don't mind Fleur as much as... well, Lily, at least.
    • It should be noted that Bellatrix and McGonagall, the two main female characters who don't have children, do become successful in their chosen fields; Bellatrix is Voldemort's Dragon and one of the most formidable Death Eaters, while McGonagall is Head of Gryffindor and later Head of Hogwarts. However, most of Bellatrix's actions are driven by Fantastic Racism and her obsessive love for Voldemort.
    • Averted in the case of McGonagall, with the information released for her on Pottermore. We are told how she inherited her magical powers from her mother and shared many of her mother's favorite activities when she went to Hogwarts. While her father was mentioned a few times, very little is given on his influence for her.
    • The seven known burn marks on the House of Black's family tapestry fit this trope. The four males were stricken from the family tree for various reasons, the three females were all stricken from it because of who they married (a Muggle, a Weasley and a Muggleborn, respectively).
  • Dracula gives the ladies the same treatment: the only women in the the main cast are the fiancees to others in the team. Also something of an an inversion in that most of the team is composed of 'Lucy's suitors' and in most of the bits of the book happening after Transylvania, Jonathan appears as 'Mina's husband' rather than the other way around, even though Mina does first appear as 'Jonathan's fiancee'.
  • Juliet Butler in the Artemis Fowl books could be an example of this trope - if she were more of a character. She is characterized largely as "Butler's little sister," and the great majority of her physical skills and knowledge of bodyguarding comes from her brother/family.[2] She doesn't seem to have a problem with this - in "The Eternity Code," she takes on Artemis as her Principal because she's explicitly trying to fill her brother's shoes. She does utilize her own ingenuity (as well as some awesome tricks she picked up from Professional Wrestling and lucha libre) to become her own fighter, but whenever she is mentioned by other characters, it is always in the context of her relationship to Butler.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe plays this to the hilt with the Imperial Natasi Daala, who rose to her position in an Empire that discriminated against women because Grand Moff Tarkin took her as his lover. And honestly, she was a General Failure. In Death Star Tarkin claims that he just allowed her to get past that prejudice and her successes were her own, but this is also the book where he kept having her snuck out to the Death Star for liaisons. And then she got brain damaged, which might explain her Informed Ability in the Jedi Academy Trilogy.
    • Marasiah Fel, the first female ruler of the Fel Empire, got her postion because, well, she was in the Fel Dynasty.
    • Ysanne Isard, Director of Imperial Intelligence. Her father held that position before her, and she was one of his top agents.
      • Actually played with instead of a straight example: She was a bit too good at her job for her father's comfort, who grew paranoid that she might try and take over his job. So he sent her on a suicide mission that would make her look like an incompetent, a traitor, or would outright kill her. Ysanne noticed, survived, turned the tables on her dad and had him arrested for treason and executed within an hour of her return to Coruscant (rumor is that she executed him herself), whiche earned her a Klingon Promotion from The Emperor.
    • Leia's entire life has revolved around the men in it. She was spirited away to protect her from her birth father, she only got involved in politics and the Rebellion thanks to her adopted father, she first learned of her Force powers through her twin brother, she nearly married herself off to a Prince in order to cement an Alliance treaty, and by the time that she finally settles down with Han and starts a family, her entire life is wrapped around what her husband, brother, or children are doing. She really only comes in to clean up their messes.
    • Even Mara Jade, one of the most Badass Action Girls there is, has her entire backstory closely tied to the Emperor. Even after he's dead her only goal in life is to avenge her master. Later she becomes the Number One of Tallon Karrde, Luke Skywalker's Love Interest, and the mother of Child Prodigy Ben.
  • Dan Brown's Love Interests are all like this. Vittoria of Angels & Demons and Sophie of The Da Vinci Code are only involved in their respective fields because their father-figures were already in them. They're both competent, no doubt, but from the moment they meets the Author Avatar, that is all but forgotten. Basically, they're the hot scientists who only get to tag along because the key victims happened to have raised them.
  • Conina of Discworld does her best to avoid this, fighting her father's influences as a barbarian, and not always succeeding. Of course since those violent impulses come in handy it's probably a good thing.
    • Lady Sybil has aspects of this while also being something of an inversion. She does come from a powerful family, but up until he met Sybil, Vimes had been captain of the Night Watch, only because no one else wanted the job, and he wasn't getting promoted because his mouth kept running away from his brain. Once he met Sybil, he started his way up the ladder of success.
    • Played straight with Susan Sto Helit. Her being Death's granddaughter is her most defining trait and the biggest reason of what makes her extraordinary and a relevant character.
    • Subverted with Angua, who, despite becoming a Love Interest for Carrot, is still a strong character in her own right. Also averted with all the witches (naturally).
  • Done in-universe in the Robotech Expanded Universe. Miriya was the greatest Zentraedi female ace, and when she got her Heel Face Turn and married Max Sterling, for the rest of the original series she was his counterpart and got equal screentime with him. Then during the Malcontent Uprisings, the brass made the official decision to turn her into a propaganda piece; "homemaker, mother, former freedom fighter." Miriya abided by it, but still played an important role in the finale (and returned to Badass status during the Sentinels series).
  • Apart from Galadriel, the women of Lord of the Rings fall into this. Rosie, Goldberry and Arwen all function as Love Interests for male characters, and while Eowyn breaks out of the mold eventually, she's introduced as the dutiful niece of Théoden and a potential Love Interest for Aragorn, and some interpretations attribute her drive to join the army as a reaction to being rejected.
    • Also, she winds up settling down with Faramir. Although given pretty much everybody except Frodo, Gandalf, Legolas, and Gimli seems to get married, and the elf and the dwarf are doing some mysterious Heterosexual Life Partners thing, Tolkien's only other sane option may have been not to tell us what happened to her at all.
      • She could have married a non-character offscreen like Merry and Pippin did. She could have gone traveling the world. She could have not been rescued from her depression by her new Love Interest.
  • This is a big source of criticism for the Twilight series. Among them:
    • Bella Swan has virtually no identity beyond Edward Cullen. The few details we are given about her are there to emphasize her relationship with him (they both like Claire de Lunes, they both like Jane Austen, etc) except for her housekeeping skills, which we're told were developed to take care of her mother, but are mostly employed out of necessity because of her incompetent father.
    • Rosalie's defining character trait throughout most of the books is that she is jealous that she does not have Edward's affections. Her backstory, revealed in Eclipse, is that she was gang raped by her fiance and his male friends. In the Twilight Illustrated Guide, we find out that the main reason she became a vampire was because Carlisle had hoped she would be a wife for Edward.
    • Esme's backstory is how she met Carlisle and was smitten with him as a teenager, was abused by her husband as an adult, and was saved and turned into a vampire by Carlisle.
    • Alice was only saved from James and the asylum she was locked in because of a male vampire on the staff.
    • Kim, Claire, and Emily are only introduced in the story to be the imprintees/ Love Interests of Jared, Quil, and Sam respectively. This goes double for Renesmee, who from birth was used as a way to solve the Bella/Edward/Jacob love triangle. Leah also spends the entire series being defined by being the bitchy ex-fiance of Sam.
    • Victoria spends all of Twilight with no identity beyond being James's mate, which also serves as her only motivation for serving as the villainess for the next two books. Similarly, Irena's only identifying characteristic in Breaking Dawn is her grieving for the loss of Laurent, and Jane is always shown as a sister and as Aro's servant.
    • Kate's entire character development in Breaking Dawn centers around her forming a relationship with Garrett.
  • Subverted with Viola Hunt in Stationery Voyagers. She is the only female Voyager who actually earned her way into her position on her own. But even after earning it, it's on Oceanoe's good word that her achievements are properly credited.
    • Pinkella is only around because a male Xylien rescued her during the massacre at Bubblespeck when Corphel Frank took over.
    • Katrina Mantalone would be nothing if it weren't for Garret Nobee functioning as a surrogate father.
    • Melanie is pretty much only in the story to serve as Rhodney's future love interest. She was only in her position because of Nonpriel's incompetence.
    • Neone might not have survived if she hadn't been discovered by Friar Rubberion.
    • Cindy is a subversion in that she accomplished a lot of her early achievements on her own. But after Liquidon discovered her, she soon couldn't seem to accomplish anything without him.
    • Mitchell is possibly the Gender Flip of this. He owes all his knowledge about Creationism to his father, and would be nothing if not for that legacy. He owes his continued existence to Eliot. He owes his ability to stay in Antia (he's a Braldonian citizen) to Ronda. He owes his ministry cred entirely to Cal Bacon.
  • All the sorcerer disciples of Aldur in The Belgariad are male except Polgara the Sorceress, and she's Belgarath the Sorcerer's daughter.
  • Antoninia in Belisarius Series is complex version. She is a High-Class Call Girl who gets Belisarius to marry her. She is certainly not shuffled into the kitchen, but her achievements are only possible because she has "respectableized" herself by marrying a great general who is willing to treat her as an equal partner.
  • The reason the two female protagonists of The Sisters Grimm are important is because they're the descendants of the Brothers Grimm.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • In NCIS, Tony attributes Ziva's job as being due to her father's high position in Mossad. He's partially correct, in that Ziva's father trained her from birth to do the job she does. In Season 7, she removes herself completely from her father's influence and goes back to Gibbs. It's also shown that while her father has become an important character, he wouldn't be if not for Ziva. Then again, she might not be as important as she is in the story if she wasn't Ari's half-sister and handler in Mossad.
    • We get another unwilling example in EJ Barret. It's strongly implied that her uncle being Sec Nav contributed to her getting her position, but she doesn't like or accept this.
  • Both played straight and averted in How I Met Your Mother. Robin enters the group as Ted's Love Interest. However, she breaks out of this mold in season 3 (Lampshaded beforehand in the pilot episode, when Ted reveals that the girl being described, who seemed to be the titular mother, was actually their Aunt Robin), and while several of her subplots have to do with her various romantic interests, this is true for all the characters on this show, male or female. Robin is probably the character whose subplots are the least dependent on other characters.
    • This trope is even inverted in season 7, where Barney's character is appropriated as Robin's love interest, and his main significance is to be a source of angst for Robin. This makes the single brief look at his perspective in "Tick, Tick, Tick" all the more heartbreaking, as the audience knows that while Robin is busy going through character development and struggling with her personal conflicts, Barney is miserably and silently Out of Focus, waiting for her to address her relationship with him.
    • Invoked in-universe for Lily, whose reason for her second thoughts about marrying Marshall, and her subsequent decision to leave for San Francisco, is because she's been with him since her first day of college and doesn't know who she is outside of her relationship with him.
  • Mrs Onedin in The Onedin Line. Justified in that the marriage was her idea as a way to seal a business alliance and both parties profited equally.
  • That '70s Show had three major female characters. Donna and Jackie was either dating or fought over by the boys, and Kitty is Eric's mom.
  • In Blue Bloods they are a police dynasty so everyone's success is family including the daughter Erin(who is a DA). However it is less from pulling strings and more from tradition.
  • Criminal Minds plays with this when they introduce Emily Prentiss. The first thing we learn about her is that her parents are diplomats, and the audience (and, it's implied, the characters) assume that this is how she got her job. This isn't the case at all, and she remains an important character, which her parents are... not.
  • The women in The Big Bang Theory are mostly Girl of the Week or long term love interests for one of the boys. A possible exception is Amy, Sheldon's "kinda sorta girlfriend".
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has many women on it: but would Captain Sisko's girlfriend, Quark's mother, or Chief O'brien's wife even be on the show if it weren't for the men they're related to? This becomes most troubling when Jadzia Dax, one of the show's main characters, eventually becomes little more than Worf's fiancee and later his wife. After that, she was only one half of a couple, and definitely the lesser half.
    • Averted with Kira however, whose signficance to the show is mainly about her Bajoran experience and value as a knowledgable crew member with lots of contacts, which continues even after she and Odo get together.
    • Quark's mother is an interesting case because she very much is a Self Made Woman, in fact she's worth more than both her sons combined which is no mean feat in a society where females aren't actually allowed to do business. Then there's her eventual ascension to become the power behind the throne.
      • But her role within the story is still entirely secondary to her sons'.
    • Also played with in that while Kasidy, Ishka and Keiko usually appear in the series as the wives/mothers/girlfriends of their men, they clearly have lives of their own and this is occasionally a side issue (Kasidy being a freighter Captain takes her away for long periods of time, Keiko goes on a long term botany study on Bajor, Ishka's "unconventional" lifestyle). None of these women stand still for their men and while they may compromise in the long run they have their own lives and keep them.
    • Kira, Jadzia Dax, Kasidy and Ishka also excel in male-dominated fields with little evidence that it was any specific man who inspired them or male family member. Kira was a freedom fighter alongside men and women while her father was a farmer. Jadzia and Kasidy have no reference to important male figures and Ishka had to battle to make her status against men.
  • Leverage has Parker reveal she was adopted and mentored by a legendary (male) cat burglar. Partially averted, however, in that Archie is introduced in season three, long after Parker's become a well-developed character and only appears in two episodes. She has also fallen far from the thief he made her into after her dose Good Feels Good.
  • This is played so straight in Telenovelas, it hurts. Most heroines are defined exclusively for the relationship they have with the male hero, even if the soap is named after her. Some play with this trope, through; for example, in Simplemente María, the titular heroine's success as a fashion designer is thanks to her own hard work.
  • The recurring women in Grimm are as follows: Juliette, Nick's girlfriend, Aunt Marie, Nick's aunt who kicks the bucket and Adalind, Renard's right-hand woman.
  • Almost all female leads in Kamen Rider are a sister, close friend or love interest of the hero. If not, they'll have something to do with a plot-centric male figure, such as Akiko in Kamen Rider Double (the daughter of the hero's mentor) or Yui in Kamen Rider Ryuki (the sister of the man responsible for the Rider War.)


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Perhaps one of the most disturbing examples of this trope can be found in Lilith from Exalted. Long story short: she was a ridiculously powerful Lunar Exalted in the First Age, but all that people remembered about her was that she's Desus' wife, a superlative-exhaustingly powerful Solar Exalted. Desus was a Complete Monster domestic abuser. He had broken Lilith in every way possible, physically and psychologically, down to and including causing her to miscarry. And Lilith couldn't do anything about it, because the Realm cheered them as exemplars of love. Have we mentioned that Desus had a power that makes the average people unable to say anything bad about him? *shivers* Lilith was thoroughly broken when Desus and the other Solars got their comeuppance - she didn't know whether to mourn or rejoice.


Theatre[edit | hide]

  • Explored in Into the Woods, where the name of The Baker's Wife is never said. She eventually defines herself with the words: "I have a baker..." and promptly decides that she wants more than just that in life, a fairy tale of her own. She just chooses the absolute worst way possible to gain a new identity apart from her husband: cheating on him.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • This is what Miranda from Mass Effect 2 thinks she is. Her father genetically designed her to be "perfect", yet Shepard points out that Miranda was the one who decided what she did with her gifts.
  • The Warcraft franchise has a few of these: For Jaina Proudmoore and Tyrande Whisperwind, their love triangles are more interesting than what they actually achieve in the conflicts. Alleria and Vareesa Windrunner, while capable fighters, lose all attention to their husbands.
    • Jaina offers an even more straightforward example: she achieved her position as leader of Theramore largely due to her father being the Lord-Admiral of Kul Tiras. And then became the most powerful mage in the Alliance and the Only Sane Woman opposing Varian Wrynn's Knight Templar attitude toward the Horde during WoW.
    • As for Alleria, it's arguable that she's better known than her husband, but even then her fame is shared with her sisters.
  • The director's cut of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time added this for Clair and Nel. Their respective fathers used to have the same jobs they did, and this is especially odd since they lived in a matriarchal kingdom.
  • Koei's Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors games are pretty guilty of this, although it would be hard to entirely avoid as they are set in historical China and Japan, where few women would be able to make names for themselves without being linked to a man. But that doesn't mean they need to constantly talk about how much they love their beloved, sheesh.
  • Similarly, Capcom's Sengoku Basara was guilty of this, with its female cast being mostly defined as being someone's wife or lover and mostly defining their characters around their respective men, until the third game introduced Saika Magoichi as a tough, no-nonsense, badass mercenary woman who is highly regarded by the other warlords. Though the game implies she may have been the wife/protege of the Saika's former (male) leader, who was killed by Oda Nobunaga. Which may make her a Double Subversion.
    • In all honesty though, most notable women from that period in Japan weren't self made, being the wives or daughters of influential men.
  • Eva of the Devil May Cry series could be an example of the trope, if only she wasn't solely spoken of as "mother to Dante and Vergil" or "wife of Sparda", or any variation or combination thereof. She's pretty much a blank slate of a character and no backstory whatsoever is given as to what she did before meeting an over-two-thousand year old devil, bearing his children, and then dying horribly in a demon attack to save said children. She's pretty much defined by those relationships and nothing else, not counting Trish who is meant to be her clone (and acts nothing like her). The Shout-Out in Bayonetta appears to fill in the gap in Eva's story by making her an accomplished dark witch that fought off the forces of Inferno, but she had to make a contract with a 'Legendary Dark Knight' before that happened.
  • Rift mostly averts this, but has one major double subversion in the form of Dacia Ultan, the daughter of a clan of renowned artisans. She first broke her poor mother's heart by setting out to be an adventurer...then brought her family even more honor by kicking more ass than some entire tribes. (It's hinted that the Ultans are now as renowned for their kinship to Dacia as for their crafting skills.)
  • A common complaint about Pokémon Black and White is that Professor Juniper is the first female Pokémon Professor to appear in the games, and she's also the first Pokémon Professor stated to have learned her trade from her father, who goes on to have a more important role than his daughter does. Which is a bit unfortunate, given that the character was originally meant to be a male and still have the whole 'inherited trade from father' aspect.
    • Also played straight by Claire, Flannery, Sabrina in the anime, and Winona in the manga.
    • Thankfully this trope was averted by Cynthia, the first female League Champion, who was a self-made woman all the way through. Lenora presents an interesting inversion, as her success as an archaeologist, museum curator, and Gym Leader means that most people only think of Hawes as "Lenora's husband."
  • Subverted in In Famous with Moya, who introduces herself as an FBI agent and the wife of an agent, John, who has gone missing, who she wants you to find. She's lying for sympathy. She only wants John for the information he can give her about the Ray Sphere.
  • The women of Kingdom Hearts tend to play this one depressingly straight.
    • Kairi is Sora's girlfriend and nothing more. She has almost no powers of her own, and her only role is to be kidnapped by the male villains and then rescued by the male heroes, Princess Peach style. She does eventually get a Keyblade of her own, but instead of manifesting her own like all the boys, she has one literally handed to her, and she uses it for all of one mostly off-screen fight against random mooks.
    • Larxene is the only truly female member of the villainous Organization XIII, and while no one could ever call her personality submissive, her only goal is to follow the plan set out by her superior, Marluxia, and ride his coattails to leading the Organization.
    • Xion is the series' first playable female character, but everything she is and everything she has, from her weapons to her very existence itself, was stolen from Sora. She's an imperfect clone of him, made as a tool by her all-male superiors.
      • In fact, her whole story arc is about explicitly trying to get away from this trope (being Roxas' counterpart) But she kind of fails. The most she can do is die on her own terms, though that accomplishes some good. Because of this, Xion does at least have the distinction of being in all ways more proactive and independent and in most ways more heroic than the protagonist himself. She's also the only person to take initiative and rebel against the evil overlords.
    • Averted with Aqua, however, who was the only diligent, responsible, fully trained apprentice of Eraqus and the only one among her friends to earn the title of Keyblade Master.

Web Original[edit | hide]


Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • Deconstructed and then reconstructed in Order of the Stick. Haley Starshine essentially has her father to thank and to blame for everything in her life; he taught her to be a fantastic thief by teaching her to mistrust everyone, and the only reason she joined an adventuring party in the first place was to raise money to pay his ransom. By the time she resolves her issues with her father, by realizing that Ian's paranoia and trust issues were poisonous and that she needed to move on, because it made it impossible to open up to the man she loves, she's already in a relationship with Elan, and now her personal issues revolve around learning to open up to people (naturally, with Elan's help). That said, Roy and Elan also have parental and familial relationships that define why they became who they are (Roy takes after his Fighter grandfather, Elan gets his love of stories from his father and Chaotic Good nature from his mother.)


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Inverted, or something, in one episode of The Simpsons. Lisa laments that since her father Homer is kind of an idiot, she fears that she'll ultimately fail in life due to his genes...or something. So, he gathers up relatives from all over the country and finds that the female members of the family, and only the female members, have intelligent, fulfilling careers. Homer and Bart are crestfallen...but then quickly accept the fact that most of the male line are thickheaded idiots. They even participate in a headbutting contest. Yeah, it was a weird episode.
    • One made all the more confusing by the show's Negative Continuity. Herbert Powell, Homer's half-brother, is a flat out success in business twice over.
    • Also, Homer has proven to be a successful song-writer and Bart has been shown numerous times to have potential for success that is usually hindered by his laziness.
  • Barbara Gordon in Batman: The Animated Series starts out as mainly important because she is Commissioner Gordon's daughter (and later Dick's love interest). The trope is inverted, however, in Batman Beyond, where Sam Young's role as district attorney is mostly just window-dressing for his real role as Barbara Gordon's husband.
  • Inverted in Avatar: The Last Airbender: Katara accompanies Aang because she wants to learn waterbending and Sokka comes along because he feels he needs to a) protect his sister and b) help the avatar defeat the fire nation. In the second season it's completely averted by Mai, Toph, and Ty Lee as all three are expressly defying their family's wishes by going on adventures (though it could be argued that Mai's relationship with Zuko eventually plays this straight). The only case in which this trope is played straight is with Azula who is following in her father's footsteps, although even this is a partial subversion, as for most of the series Azula is shown to be a much more threatening villain that Ozai.
  • Futurama inverts it, as both Leela, who is an orphan and the captain of the crew, and Mom, the matriarch of her own company, earned their ranks. Granted, Mom worked with the Professor in the beginning of her career, but there's no doubt she herself had quite a bit of say in how the robots ultimately turned out.
  • In Daria, Daria and Jodie go to get a loan from the bank to fund a business project as part of a class exercise. The loan officer compliments their business plan and their presentation, but tells them that teenage girls as "high-risk" applicants. He asks if Daria's father can co-sign the loan because she's white, until the subject of Jodie's father (a local inventor) comes up, at which point he declares that business savvy is in her blood and agrees to the loan.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Generally speaking, many historical women only ascended to power due to the death of their sons or husbands. Until recently, almost everyone's success was family, so naturally female success would be family, and it still is that way in some places.
  • Averted by Laura Chinchilla and Dilma Rousseff, the presidents of Costa Rica and Brazil respectively, who are the only female rulers in Latin America not to have gotten the position through being the wife of a former president.
    • It's worth mentioning that many of Chinchilla's detractors believe she got the position because former (male) president Oscar Arias and his brother Rodrigo Arias chose her (granted they would believe the same had she been a man)
    • Equally, Dilma Rousseff's predecessor, Lula da Silva, left office with around 80% approval rating, while she won by around 55% voting approval. It was expected that whoever da Silva supported as next president would be elected as his appointed heir to the presidency, and Rousseff's lower (thought still majoritarian, we must remember) approval rating might in fact be because she's a woman. Thus, sadly, her presidency could arguably be attributed to da Silva, and if anything, her gender made her imminent election a bit harder than it woudl have been had she been a man.
  • Played straight, then inverted, by Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India. While she attained her position at least partially because she was the daughter of the influential politician and former Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, her son, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, attained his position because he was her son.
  • James W. Loewen's Lies Across America mentions a hall of fame in Arkansas where most of the women only get in because they're the wife or daughter of a famous man, thus teaching us that "Men make history, while women make wives".
    • He also mentions several influential Arkansas women that the hall of fame noticeably omits.
  • Ching Shih, one of the most famous female pirates (and the basis for Mistress Ching in Pirates of the Caribbean) only took over the fleet after her husband died and she married their adopted son.
    • That said, both husbands seem to have been under her thumb completely—we know more about her than them, especially her second husband whom is not really heard from after the marriage. Presumably, he survived the wedding night, but...
  • It is a simple fact that until quite recently in the West about the only way for a woman to obtain a position of power was through her choice of husband, lover or being daughter, sister, mother of a powerful man. Such was life.
  • Hillary Clinton. Say what you will about her, but were she not married to a President, her chances of being elected Senator (in a state she never even lived in), nearly winning the Democratic Presidential nomination, and later being appointed to a prominent cabinet post would've been slightly better than Ralph Nader's.
    • And then disappointed a lot of supporters of her campaign for presidency through this trope. When asked what her husband's role would be were she elected president, she responded that she was her own woman. This turned off a lot of people who had hoped her presidency would be a back door for Bill Clinton's third term.
  • Alaskan tropers will remember that Senator Lisa Murkowski got her Senate seat when her father Frank Murkowski left the Senate to become Governor and appointed her as his replacement. In the next election, the voters removed the governor's power to appoint replacement Senators, though notably they did give her another term in the same election.
  • Some detractors of Lost in Translation liked to imply this about Sofia Coppola, suggesting that her father had somehow pushed the movie to success. Which might make sense if her brother Roman's movie CQ had experienced the same kind of success.
    • There's an article where a movie critic related how, when talking about Sofia Coppola to industry insiders, they always blame Coppola solely for her failures, but attribute any success she has to either her father or the male actors/producers/etc. she was working with.
  • In general, before women were allowed to achieve higher education, most women taught themselves however they could, which was usually attached to their husband, reading the books in his library, and often working with him as an unofficial assistant or apprentice. Maria Winkelmann is one example.
  • Up until relatively recently, female artists who achieved any sort of fame in their day usually were taught by their fathers. This was certainly true in the Renaissance: Artemisia Gentileschi is a good example. As a bonus, compare how big her article is to her father's.
  • Averted by Julia Gillard, the current Australian Prime Minister, although how greatly is debatable: the political fixers behind her ascension were all male.
  • Inverted historically by women whose success was attributed to their male relatives or husbands. Mary Shelley, for example, whose novel was published under her husband's name.
    • Kind of—it was published with no stated author, but it had a preface by her husband, so most people assumed that he wrote the whole book. (Aside from being a woman, she was also in her early twenties.) She later became a respected author in her own right, though, after her name was put on the second edition.
  1. was the character blatantly sexist or was the author? We don't know
  2. the argument can also be made that family is the only reason Butler has his position too