"Samson Was Betrayed By A Woman"

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I was reading a roleplaying supplement describing a fictional history when I read this:

“Like Samson, [this character] was betrayed by a woman…”

Now, the “betrayed” part isn’t what I have an issue.  Lots of people betray others.
The problem is that it’s “a woman” who betrayed this guy.  Because if we flipped that script, it wouldn’t be “betrayed by a man,” as though all men were cut from the same cloth; no, it’d be “betrayed by his trusted Lieutenant,” or “betrayed by his best friend,” or “betrayed by someone who was described in terms of something other than his gender.”
This is another example of Smurfette Syndrome, where the “woman” is effectively a character class: you have the fighter! The thief! The wizard! And the woman! And that unconscious smearing (“betrayed by a woman”) implies that all women are alike, they all do this, and we need no further demarcation aside from “woman” to describe someone.
Which is a problem in both directions.  In this case, all women are subtly implied to be betrayers.  Because the only thing we know about this character is that she is a woman, not “a Lieutenant” or “his wife” or “his physician.”  If the betrayal is from “his lieutenant,” we can imagine all sorts of lieutenant-specific reasons to betray: power, “frag the lieutenant”-style incompetency on the part of the hero, shifting alliances.  If the betrayal is from “his wife,” then we wonder what issue was so great that it sundered a marriage.  But nope; it’s a woman, and what are women in that case but generic betrayers?
On the other hand, if it’s a positive syndrome – “was helped by a woman” – then we imply that all women are nice just by dint of being women, and so Madonna/Whore syndrome is raised.
Like I said, it’s a subtle thing – so subtle that a lot of people would miss it.  But men get to have positions and motivations.  Women are women.  And it’s rare to see men not given a profession or a relationship, because we know men have tons of different reasons to do things.
Women?  They’re just women, man.


  1. Anna
    Nov 29, 2013

    I love the fact that you actually noticed the subtle issue there. If you don’t keep up with Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency channel on youtube (and, more importantly, her “Tropes vs. Women in Video Game series she’s been putting out recently), you’ll certainly love that she brings up very similar points to yours in the video “Ms. Male Character” seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYqYLfm1rWA
    She similarly brings up the whole use of “female” as the entire description of a character in some manner is done and how it basically restricts female characters greatly since we don’t get to know if they’re into sports, into fashion, into science, into literature, etc; they are women, and that is all they are. Men get to be, as you pointed out, Lieutenants, best friends, doctors, etc.
    I wanted to point it out to you in case you haven’t seen it because I think you’d really enjoy it. Part of why I love reading your blog is because of your awareness of what so many people don’t seem to notice as being issues. Thank you for being a voice against such things!

    • TheFerrett
      Dec 3, 2013

      Honestly, I can’t say I wasn’t influenced heavily by that video, as I’d just watched it the week before.

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