There’s a term used mostly (?) in romantic fiction: Too Stupid To Live
(TSTL). It’s a description used for a heroine who engages in risky,
ridiculous, naïve behavior, or who seems frankly, just not that smart about
anything. Men, the workplace, how the world works in general. She can, I suppose, be an otherwise likeable character, but if she does too many “stupid” things to the point of ridiculousness, a disgusted reader will simply stop reading.
It can be tough to write a heroine who engages in risky behavior
without her coming across as Too Stupid to Live. But, it seems to me, if the character is male, the terms for that same behavior might change to “daring,” “brave,” or “courageous.” He becomes swoon worthy when he grasps a rope to swing across a raging river to save our damsel in distress. A female character attempting the same thing? Unacceptable!
What’s likely to happen is she won’t make it, she’ll find herself swinging (terrified) above a swamp filled with hungry alligators. Most likely, a hero will come along in a helicopter, climb down a ladder and rescue her (from her own stupidity).
This seems to be ingrained behavior. Girls are more vulnerable, not
as strong, in short, the “weaker” sex. They must be protected, cautioned,
rescued. A boy, on the other hand, will likely be applauded for attempting
feats of strength or bravery. “Wow, that was impressive,” he might be told.
While his terrified mother is thinking, “Don’t ever do that again.”
Engaging in risky behavior is, by the way, why males die at an earlier
age. Which makes females, what? Survivors?
If you’ve read a Jack Reacher novel or seen a Mission Impossible
movie, you will understand what kind of unbelievably risky behavior the
heroes engage in and survive. If those characters were women? They’d be
labelled “Too Stupid to Live.”
Is Wonder Woman Every Woman?
The movie Wonder Woman, was widely praised for having a strong
female character in the lead role. It got a lot of play because it’s a rarity.
But…she wasn’t an ordinary woman. She had super heroine powers. So
flinging herself into the middle of a battle wasn’t stupid. But if an ordinary
woman had done it how would she have been labeled?
In art we seem to perpetuate the stereotype of the weak female who
can’t think for herself or one who isn’t willing to risk her own safety to save someone else.
Our Own TSTL Moments
I think as humans, regardless of gender, we’ve all had some Too Stupid to Live moments. We may, in fact, be beating ourselves up years later about the dumb mistakes we made.
But was it stupidity? Or ignorance? If we didn’t know the full extent of
the risks we took, can we be forgiven? Can we then avoid the term TSTL?
Tired of the TSTL stereotype? It might be time to try something new.
PHANTOM, Volume One of the Manuscripts Under the Bed Project coming soon.