Blog PostsSpinoff of the Smurfette Principle

On Friday night, I finally saw The Avengers at a late-night showing with my boyfriend (who wore a Batman shirt, because of course). We both enjoyed it immensely, I was able to follow along with the story without having seen any of the previous films, and as a Joss Whedon fan, I was thrilled to see that he had his name attached to TWO well-received movies in the same summer. (Now can someone PLEASE release his version of Much Ado About Nothing?!)

Anyway, because I’m me, I started thinking about the Black Widow’s role in the film and how much I enjoyed her character. She’s the least supernatural of the six Avengers whose powers are less flashy than the others, but no less important or helpful to the group. She comes across as a real human being instead of an Action Girl stereotype that’s so typical of “ass-kicking” women in action films, a master of interrogation who still shows genuine fear of the Hulk (because who in her right mind wouldn’t be afraid of the Hulk?) She wasn’t my favorite Avenger – unexpectedly, my favorite might have been Captain America with his innocent, boyish charm and excitement over understanding the “flying monkey” reference – but she left a good impression, was an important part of the film, and I would love to see a Black Widow/Hawkeye movie somewhere down the line.

In short, the Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff is a pretty cool character, which is why I was confused to see her labeled as a Smurfette. Yes, The Avengers has been mentioned as a film that uses The Smurfette Principle.

If you’re unaware of The Smurfette Principle, TV Tropes has a good explanation of the trope. If you don’t want to get sucked into the too-entertaining-for-your-own-good world of TV Tropes, though, here’s a brief summary: The Smurfette Principle is at work in male-dominated texts where a female character is thrown in for the sake of having a female character. She’s a token female with very little personality, she’s the only girl or woman in the story, and she doesn’t exist except as an extension of the male characters or to be a romantic/sexualized interest. (Smurfette in particular doesn’t have a personality attached to her name – she’s just “Girl Smurf.”)

On the surface, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow seems to be an example of the Smurfette Principle at work – she’s the only female Avenger. But the other aspects of the Smurfette Principle don’t apply to her. She’s not a female extension of a male character, she’s not overtly sexualized or a love interest of any of the male characters (although, again – I want her to have a movie with Hawkeye right now), and she has a personality and a fairly compelling backstory. She may be the only female Avenger, but she’s treated with the same respect and care as the male superheroes.

Another character who has been pinged as a Smurfette is Miss Piggy from The Muppets, which I find completely unfair to the character. Yes, Miss Piggy is the only prominent Muppet who isn’t a member of Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, but she has the most dominant personality of the entire cast and is arguably the most complex of the group. Miss Piggy is the best – don’t you dare call her a Smurfette.

This has me thinking that we need to create a spinoff for the Smurfette Principle, because describing characters like Black Widow and Miss Piggy as Smurfettes is just plain WRONG and inaccurate. We need a name for a trope that describes a lone female character in a male-dominated text who nonetheless has good characterization and isn’t held up as an example of the Exceptional Woman.

Any suggestions?

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5 Responses to Spinoff of the Smurfette Principle

  1. Maybe the Miss Piggy principle?

  2. SweetMollyMalone says:

    The Hermione Exception? it’s difficult to think of any individual women in groups of men who aren’t smurfettes

    • Gareth says:

      I like the name Hermione exception but I think it would be better suited for the geek girl trope, as she is only excrptional due to get enthusiasm for reading (plus she clearly has her limits when it comes to the practical side of magic)

      • @Gareth: Need I remind you that the only time Hermione ever appeared to have limitations in practical magic were when confronted with her deepest fears? i.e. Dementors and a boggart pretending to be Prof. McGonnagall?

        Don’t you dare say a bad word about Hermione! And now, back to reality…

        I think the Hermione Exception doesn’t work because Harry Potter is actually pretty heavy with female characters who apply. McGonnagall, Luna, Ginny, Mrs. Weasley, Tonks…

        I like the Piggy Principle, but I think that what you’re talking about isn’t that- where the sole female character is the strongest. What you’re talking about is when the sole female character is on utterly equal footing.

        I would call it the Crusher Principle. Yes, there are two female leads on Star Trek TNG, but let’s face it… Troi doesn’t cut it. Dr. Crusher is complex, strong, and interesting without needing to constantly be involved in “girl drama,” unlike Troi. She holds her own, she has a vivid character, and she’s the only person on board with the authority to give the captain orders. She is a complete equal, and the fact that she is a woman is utterly irrelevant to her place while at the same time being an understood and explored part of her role.

        • Gareth says:

          Sorry when I said had her limits I meant that she wasn’t as capable with the practical side as she was the theroetical side which was where she excelled.

          On a side note I’m going to have to start picking my words better or it’s going to look like I back peddle a lot on what I say.

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