In fandom, there is a lot of hate for the “girlfriend” character. I have discussed this before in a post I did on sexism in Supernatural, where I criticized fans for hating on female characters because they get between their favorite male/male ship, or because they somehow think that the actor or (weirdly) the character belongs to them, the fans. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: hating female characters because of a ship, or because you think you are this actor’s/character’s “true love”, is just silly.
I can’t preach on this topic enough, and I often get annoyed with other fans for immediately hating on a female character after one episode. That being said, sometimes it is okay to be wary of or dislike the girlfriend character.
Let me explain.
Any time I hear “[Insert male character’s name here] may be getting a girlfriend this season”, I cringe just a little bit, but I attempt to remain hopeful. Why the initial cringing? Sexist tropes and stereotypes have plagued male characters for ages, but none more than the stock girlfriend character that only exists to further the male character’s plot.
Think about those few times there has been a leading female character in a movie or TV show. For example, let’s take Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Every boyfriend (long-term boyfriend anyway) that Buffy has had contributes to the plot himself outside of Buffy. Hell, Angel eventually even got his own TV show. When male characters are cast as the boyfriend of a leading lady, they tend to still actively participate in the storyline and contribute to the overall plot, regardless of the fact that they are a love interest. When female characters are cast in the role of the girlfriend, they rarely do.
The girlfriend character is always sexy and usually has the personality of a wet mop. She is just practically perfect in every way. She never contributes to the main storyline. She is really just there to look pretty. One example of this we can see in the most recent season of Supernatural. Amelia literally serves no purpose to the overall plot of season seven, to the point where by the end of the season, the viewer kind of forgets she even existed. Amelia was just there to be Sam’s girlfriend for a while and maybe provide some emotional manpain.
So here is a hint: If you can remove the girlfriend character from the show entirely and nothing changes, then you have a legitimate reason not to like that character.
Sometimes the girlfriend character does contribute to the plot by being killed or kidnapped, thus providing fodder for the male character’s plot. Sometimes these girlfriend characters exist only to help our male hero realize something about himself, and then once their purpose is fulfilled, we never see them again.
Where would Mario be if he didn’t have Princess Peach? Without her constant kidnapping, his plots would revolve around finally fixing some leaky pipes. Then there are characters like Gwen Stacy who are killed off to create a more tragic and broody storyline for Spider-Man. And of course there are characters like Charlie, Hiro’s girlfriend from the TV show Heroes, whose entire storyline existed only to teach Hiro that he can’t always change the past and that his destiny is bigger than just saving her life.
So another legitimate reason not to like the girlfriend character is when she is only there to further the male hero’s plot.
But it’s important to give these characters a chance. For every Princess Peach, there may also be an Allison Argent, so please don’t immediately hate a character who is set up as a male character’s girlfriend. Let’s all try to remain a little hopeful about female representation. And let’s be critical of a character for the right reasons and not merely because the girlfriend character interferes with shipping or your fictional boyfriend.