We are protagonists

Yes this is what it is.

From Arthur Chu’s Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds at the Daily Beast.

(It’s about nerd sitcoms and the trope in which the “awkward but lovable [male] nerd has huge unreciprocated crush on hot non-nerdy popular girl.”)

He discusses some problems with that but then dives to the heart of it.

…the overall problem is one of a culture where instead of seeing women as, you know, people, protagonists of their own stories just like we are of ours, men are taught that women are things to “earn,” to “win.” That if we try hard enough and persist long enough, we’ll get the girl in the end. Like life is a video game and women, like money and status, are just part of the reward we get for doing well.

That. The failure to realize that women really are protagonists of their own stories, and the failure to give a shit even if you do realize it.


  1. Stevarious, Public Health Problem says

    “The difference between PUA’s and confident guys is that PUA’s think of women as NPC’s.”

    – Someone on the internet whose name I wish I’d noted.

  2. tuibguy says

    Sometimes, sometimes I want to be the reward. It’s getting less likely as the years go by, but the point is that misogyny sucks for everyone.

  3. tuibguy says

    NOTE: I don’t really want to be a “reward.” I would rather be in a sustainable, rewarding adult relationship.

  4. dukeofomnium says

    But males have also been objectified in the same manner. How many stories have a Prince Charming as the reward for the virtuous female?

    If you want to say that the objectification is less toxic or is somehow more desirable for the male, that’s another argument entirely.

  5. chigau (違う) says


    But males have also been objectified in the same manner. How many stories have a Prince Charming as the reward for the virtuous female?

    Do you really see that as the same?

  6. dukeofomnium says

    Do you really see that as the same?

    Frankly, yes. Literature is full of males that are won by feminine virtue or hard work or perseverance or successful tax evasion. Sauce for the goose, and all that.

    There’s probably a PhD thesis in all this — heck, there probably have been several any number of theses on this — but this is one of those times when the sword cuts both ways.

  7. latsot says


    No, Prince Charming pursues The Princess(*). It is assumed that she wants this – regardless of her words or actions – and will eventually submit. Cinderella runs off at midnight but the prince decides to hunt her down like an animal declaring – without ever asking her – that he’ll marry the woman the slipper fits. If the prince wakes the princess with a kiss, it’s perfectly clear that she should be grateful to the point of *ahem* ‘marriage’. Then there’s the princess who only qualifies for marriage to the prince if she can pee through a dozen mattresses or something (**). He’s always the one setting the conditions and at the same time always assuming that the princess has no say in the matter. The reader is supposed to share that assumption.

    Counter-examples? Well, the princess kisses the frog…. but the assumption is still that the princess automatically requires a prince. To the extent of going around kissing frogs. Which she presumably wouldn’t otherwise do.

    I’m not convinced the counter-examples you’re thinking of are really counter, but by all means prove me wrong. Maybe it’s Beauty and the Beast? After all, The Beast is characterised and even *named* after his appearance and a person would have to be shallow not to see his inner beauty, right? Except that he *kidnaps* Beauty – who is also named after the one attribute that’s apparently important – until Stockholm Syndrome sets in, after which yet another ‘marriage’ occurs. I haven’t seen the movie but from what I understand, even the fucking candlesticks are complicit in this grooming and eventual rape.

    But it’s just possible that fairy tales aren’t representative of literature and culture in general. Are there works of wider literature in which men have been objectified?


    Is this relevant to the discussion?


    We’re talking about the default. We’re talking about the bias we don’t notice but should. We’re talking about the biases people try to defend by citing (or in your case not even citing) exceptions as pertinent counter-examples.

    Objectification in literature isn’t automatically bad. But I think it’s pretty much automatically bad when the bias in fucking fairy tales is indistinguishable from the bias we see in real life, don’t you?

    (*) Interesting that the prince gets a name and the princess doesn’t. The prince’s name is about the attributes that are supposedly desirable to the princess. She wants a ‘charming’ prince, does she? She never said so. He told HER she did and his name exemplifies the attributes HE thinks SHE should value.

    (**) H/T Terry Pratchett.

  8. octopod says

    Actually I agree. The parallel seems fruitful: how are they the same and how different? Gotta think about it. Marrying into money/aristocracy is definitely held up as a goal for protagonists of either gender but is it done differently?

  9. chigau (違う) says

    The Prince undertakes heroic quests, slays dragons, kills demons, climbs mountains, etc.
    The Princess is virtuous.

  10. Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD says

    Traditionally of course women married into money if they could because they rarely got to inherit any, or do any work that allowed them to support themselves that was work that they were interested in doing. If you were of the ‘upper classes’ then a woman actually doing paid work was, I get the impression, Not Done.

  11. Merlin says

    To add onto Latsot’s point (at 7 & 8):
    The Beast and the Frog are both externally unappealing. The frog is slimy and stinky, the Beast is a hideous rage monster. The people who reject them are described as shallow, cowardly, and/or wicked. Ah, but the one woman pure of heart and noble in deed, they will accept these two, the slimy, stinky dude, and the abusive, raging hirsute guy. And the woman who accepts these guys finds out that these men are really “Princes” and they live happily ever after.
    So, to wrap up:
    The Beast and the Frog are both nice guys lamenting the fact that no one can see the their inner beauty beneath the unappealing awfulness they show the world. The women who reject them are shallow and wicked. If only some woman would take one for the team, they’d see how wonderful they are.

    Now where have I heard that before?

  12. johnthedrunkard says

    Pop culture has no time or space for the real nature of human relationships. Every category, from family, to ‘Best Friend’ to Romantic Ideal, is pre-fabricated and has no plausible connection to real life.

    Princes and Princesses are certainly annoying tropes. But the root problem is that they are entirely notional and have no connection to the way REAL human beings might actually form REAL relationships.

    Whether it’s quiverfull or playboy, ‘The Rules’ or ‘The Game.’ There is no concession to real life.

  13. quixote says

    Tangent — and I know I probably really don’t want to know — but I find myself wondering what an NPC is. Non-Performing Cherub? Nearly Perfect Chief? Nuclear Plant Controller? Hmmm.

  14. Stacy says

    The Beast and the Frog are both externally unappealing….The people who reject them are described as shallow, cowardly, and/or wicked. Ah, but the one woman pure of heart and noble in deed, they will accept these two, the slimy, stinky dude, and the abusive, raging hirsute guy. And the woman who accepts these guys finds out that these men are really “Princes” and they live happily ever after

    And how often do you see the genders flipped? How many stories are there about a handsome virtuous young man who sees through the ugly beastly exterior to the true-hearted, good woman who is really a princess in disguise?

    One of the reasons I loved the first Shrek was that for once, the Princess didn’t have to be beautiful to be loved.

  15. James says


    NPC is a term from role-playing games, it means “Non-Player Character”, to be contrasted with “Player Characters” or PCs, the characters who are controlled by players.

    An RPG will have NPCs of all kinds, some exist just to be killed by the PCs, some give out quests or buy and sell items or just provide background. But what they all have in common is that the story is not about them – the story is about the PCs and the NPCs only exist to make things interesting for the players and their PCs.

    To think of someone as an NPC is to depersonalise them and deny they have agency. Chu phrased it that way as it is a term that will resonate with nerds.

  16. Merlin says

    @Stacy #16
    Howl’s Moving Castle is another. That story actually has the woman starting out old and not-sexy with the handsome man coming to love her in that form before she is restored to youth and beauty. There are other ways the story is pretty not-progressive, though.

    To answer your question, I had to think for a while before I found a story where men were being guided to choose someone who is not conventionally attractive with the promise of (symbolic) hidden inner beauty. I don’t have to think much at all to come up with a story where women were being guided to choose someone who is not conventionally attractive with the promise of (symbolic) hidden inner beauty. Even worse, though, the latter situation often involves the man also acting in an abusive or otherwise awful manner, whereas the former stories usually require that the woman still is kind, and caring and nurturing. That is crap. Awful, disgusting crap.

  17. Sili says

    I suddenly recall how much I used to love Revenge of The Nerds and it’s sequels. Somehow I never occurred to me that the ‘hero’ raped the girl he lusted after. I disgust me.

  18. says

    No small part of me wonders about the impact of the Tolkien/post-Tolkien fantasy novels that we nerdboys immersed ourselves in as preteens and teens. The whole medieval chivalry-and-honor thing can seem quite appealing when you’re a socially awkward 13-year-old (hey, in these books, it’s the moral high road!), and it’s not a big step from the pseudo-historical fantasy to the sort of fedora-wearing objectification that’s become unfortunately endemic in much of geek culture. The fact it’s “literature” instead of a video game or a tv series lends a sheen of false credibility.

    It always starts by putting women on pedestals; except pedestals aren’t for people, they’re for *things*.

  19. latsot says


    I long held the view that Tolkein was at least partly maligned by accusations of sexism. After all, in LOTR, Eowyn defies patriarchy to enter the battle and kill the ACTUAL KING OF THE NAZGUL. That’s a pretty strong female role right there, right?

    And yet, *why* does she do that? Well, it’s partly because she doesn’t want to be shackled by the expectations of patriarchy. She wants glory and renown, which is reserved only for men, and hates the patronising suggestion that her strength would be better served looking after the people left at home. She hates the fact that she’s been assigned a role and is expected to keep to it. Great for her that she doesn’t keep to that role. A plus to Tolkein here.

    But in the end, the main reason she does it is because she’s throwing her life away pining over some man. And then afterwards, when the war is over, she is only and instantly cured of her suicidal tendencies because of…. another man who decides to marry her (although he does ask her permission in this case). And there’s also that tedious pun, isn’t there? The king of the Nazgul can’t be killed by mortal man so Tolkein sends a woman after him. It makes it seem as though she’s just there to add to the mysticism of prophecy. She only achieved what she did because some unknown power *decreed* it. She was a tool of that unknown agency, kind of devaluing the fact that she did, after all, KILL THE KING OF THE NAZGUL.

    Then there’s Galadriel. Her husband is pretty much an arse. I always read Galdriel’s assessment of him as ‘wise’ as a bit of a marital dig because he’s clearly been sponging off her the whole time. She’s the one who did all the work and possesses all the insight and power and magic rings. She’s the one who has been so influential with the White Council at getting things done. But her role is as nurturer and womens-intuitioner and presider over a failing ideal. A strong character, but cast firmly in a traditionally female role. Female strength, not male strength.

    The other few female characters are pretty much expendable:

    Rosie Cotton – A reason to ground Sam in the Shire’s future when he gets home
    Arwen – Aragorn Squeeze, exists to show the failing of elfdom and to supply Aragorn with children
    Goldberry – Extra proof of Tom Bombadil’s other-worldiness, also does his laundry
    Lobelia – grumpy old crone (although her grumpiness (and by extension, Lobelia)) is celebrated at the end because it happened to achieve by accident something everyone later decided was good.
    Ioreth – healer who exists only to be a flibberty-jibbot and to be told off and condescended to by Aragorn for dithering
    Mrs Maggot – wife and nag of Farmer Maggot, therefore also cook.
    Shelob – evil giant spider, no mistaking the imagery there.
    Elanor – Sam’s daughter, a baby, included only for completeness.

    Have I missed any? Oh, and yeah, I’m an enormous geek, now you ask. I do occasionally talk about things other than fairy tales, you know 🙂


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