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Gender Incompetence
Bob, Jen and Griff are wandering through the woods in their quest to defeat Monster X and recover the MacGuffin of the week. All have great weapons, are hailed as seasoned combatants and are generally viewed as heroes. It looks like we may have a fantastic fight on our hands.

The fight begins as soon as our heroes reach the cave, but Monster X is so tough that he trounces Bob and Griff without breaking a sweat. Clearly, we're in trouble. Only Jen can save the City of Adventure from the monster, and she proceeds to do so with a new technique she learned in record time.

Of course, we don't think anything of it at first. Jen was lucky to have that new technique, even though the boys each have cool techniques as well. There's nothing suspicious about one lucky victory.

Then, the next time the group enters a battle, they fight an even bigger monster from dimension Z alongside another group consisting of Mary, Lee and Amy.

When the dust clears, Mary, Amy and Jen are the only ones standing. Noticing something here?

There wasn't any reason for Bob, Griff and Lee to fail. Their Power Levels are the same as the girls; maybe even greater, but for some reason, they just can't seem to measure up when the chips are down.

Whether he knows it or not, Bob and his pals have just been bitten by the Gender Incompetence bug; the tendency of one gender in a story/movie/show/game/etc to fail when the going gets tough even though there isn't much reason for it. It wasn't that only one gender could master the Dangerous Forbidden Technique. It wasn't that all the awesome superpowers belonged to the gender that saved the day. Just, for some reason, one sex seems to come out on top all the time. This can take a few forms.

  • Fortune Favors One Sex: In this instance, one gender loses all the time, just by really bad luck.
  • Dumb Blond Gender: Here, an entire gender is treated as being as dumb as a collection of granite chunks, causing them to screw up all the time through sheer lack of intelligence.
  • Gender Baggage: This is for when all members of a gender are treated as being overly emotional, or conversely, too logical, causing them to fail when greater strength/compassion is needed.
  • Customary Incompetence: For instances where the failure of one gender is due to the way they're treated by members of the other gender. For instance, male characters encouraging equally-capable female ones to stand back and let them handle it, so that the males don't have to protect them. The females may go along with the plan because it's expected, reducing their effectiveness regardless of any spells/techniques/special training they may otherwise have. Depending on how far towards its extreme this is taken, this one has been Truth in Television in many periods of history.

In all cases, one gender is made effectively useless throughout the course of the fiction, while the other is not. Could be considered a Sub Trope of Double Standard. Compare to Gender-Restricted Ability, Faux Action Girl and Women Are Wiser. Contrast with Positive Discrimination.

Note: If one gender has all the superpowers, skills, weapons and/or magic, and those powers cause them to succeed, this trope does not apply. This is only for instances where the reason behind the failure of one gender and the success of the other is due to something other than a physical, tactical disadvantage.


Examples

Advertising
  • Extemely common in modern advertising, usually with a stupid, immature husband married to a smart, very competent wife who of course uses the product being advertised.

Anime
  • Shonen anime seems to suffer from this frequently, having any girl being useless in the long run, except for the one or 2 episodes they're given in the spotlight, before they go back to being useless. They often attempt to balance this out by throwing in one tough competent female side character.
    • Even a fairly real Action Girl will almost always wind up fighting another girl when the two teams come up against each other, rendering it 'the girl fight.' It is almost never really important to the plot/battle.
    • Soul Eater being a possible exception in this respect. Even ignoring the Action Girl Heroine, it's harder to name a female character in the cast - main or otherwise - who isn't either an Action Girl or in some other way competent.
    • Series that have an Unwanted Harem component (Such as Rosario + Vampire) also avert this, since it'd be bad both if the guy was useless (Misandry, and why would the girls like him if he's The Load?) and the only useful one (Misogyny, and he'd have less reason to care, too.).
  • The anime OVA of Read or Die was very good about the balance between gender effectiveness, but not as much with the TV series, even though the vast majority of the series' main characters were female. During the final chapters of the series, they seemed to do a lot of losing, crying and getting captured, despite the fact that they are physically capable of killing the bad guy at any time with their awesome superpowers.
    • To be fair, there was emotional manipulation involved on the Joker's part, the kind which has one go into existential crises (and even Junior, who is a guy, goes through it and is captured). And he has henchmen briefed on the Paper Masters and their powers and are equipped accordingly (check out what Drake could do just from fighting alongside one), although the characters manage to fight them after resolving their crises. However, this would still more or less qualify as Gender Baggage, if not for the fact that Junior falls for it too, to an even greater degree.
      • On the other hand, Junior isn't the most masculine of characters.
  • Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu is made of this. Almost every male character (Except teachers) is dumb or suffers from The Worf Effect. Some Take a Level in Badass to compensate, but even then they're still mostly Butt Monkeys. Women tend to be super-smart and have Abuse Is Okay When It Is Female on Male at full strength, and the only one without good scores has a good excuse (She studied abroad and doesn't know kanji).
  • The first season of the Super Robot Wars Original Generation anime was quite unfair with its female characters, most barely getting to fight or only fighting once for a plot event, then not anymore. The most egregious example might be Kusuha, who only deploys for one fight so she can get captured. Thankfully the second season averts this and makes both guys and girls awesome.
  • Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle: Anime only, Customary variety. Sakura never really manages to become an Action Girl, instead having the party do all the fighting while she is reserved for situations needing a MacGuffin solution. The other women in the anime are also basically told to Stay in the Kitchen.

Video Games
  • Final Fantasy IV, early on in the game, features a battle to try to protect a castle that focuses on fighting hoards and hoards of bad guys, which wouldn't be so hard except that just before the battle, you're robbed of all your most powerful spellcasters, seemingly just because they're women. The rest of the game isn't bad at recovering from this, however.
    • More likely, though, that they were just moving the party members who knew white magic to the back lines in order to treat the wounded.
    • The end of the game averts this. Cecil tells the female party members to stay behind while the men go off to the final dungeon on the moon. Upon landing on the moon, they realize the ladies simply hid on the ship. Based on how hard the last dungeon is, Cecil should thank his lucky stars.
    • The scene is semi-replayed during Yang's chapter in the sequel; it's just about the only point in the chapter (after she joins you) where Ursula isn't either fighting alongside her father or searching for him.

Western Animation
  • In most animated sitcoms, particularly Futurama and The Simpsons, the female characters are depicted as being far more competent than the male ones, to the point where male characters are rendered as bungling idiots (Fry, Bender, Homer, sometimes Bart) while female characters are rendered as innately clever, cunning, wise or even good in a fight (Marge, Lisa, Maggie, Leela.)
    • Lampshaded in one The Simpsons episode, where it's revealed that it's a genetic trait for Simpson men to end up as stupid losers. Simpson women, on the other hand, are invariably geniuses.
    • But subverted by some characters, like Amy Wong or Ned Flanders.
      • In all fairness, Amy has shown some intelligence throughout the series. Some. Very, very rarely. She is, however, competent enough by season 6 for the Professor to trust her with helping him work on and test his inventions.
      • She has also earned a doctorate and singlehandedly came up with a plan to save Earth from superintelligent cats. With science.
    • Although Homer and Bart are usually shown as being less intelligent than Marge or Lisa, they're perhaps more likeable (at least until Homer's Jerkass tenancies went into orbit) and socially adept, balancing things out somewhat.
    • Futurama plays this trope sort of straight-ish with Fry and Leela, at least in the sense that Fry is functionally retarded, while Leela could technically be considered the most responsible of the cast. As the series went on, however, it became much more obvious that Leela was just as crazy and immature as the rest of the crew. With the rest of the show's main characters, it's even less clear-cut however — Hermes is genuinely competent, Bender is quite intelligent but totally amoral, the Professor has a brilliant mind, but one afflicted by senility and borderline insanity, Amy is a Genius Ditz with heavier emphasis on the ditz, and even Zoidberg occasionally shows signs of being a good physician, mostly when he isn't working on humans.
      • While it is clear that Leela is the most competent fighter and pilot in the group (despite a tendency to crash through billboards), those are the only areas where she is particularly exceptional. She mainly comes off so well because Fry is incredibly incompetent in almost every way.
      • For example, it should be noticed that Fry is (for some reason) successful at getting women in the series, while Leela only picks losers and leads an exceedingly lonely life. There are different types of competency.
      • He's also very flexible most of the time, adapting quickly to changing conditions, cultures, etc. Most normal people would have a much harder time coping with skipping a thousand years of history even if they weren't leaving much of a life behind them.
      • Lastly, Fry has the problem of lacking a Delta Brainwave, which is a straight inconvenience whenever the Brainspawn aren't a factor in whatever the current plot is. In spite of this, he frequently acts only about as dumb as the other characters around him.
  • It often seems this way in Kim Possible, where pretty much all male characters are either incredibly annoying, evil, useless in a fight, or some combination of the above. Slightly subverted in that many of them do get at least a few instances where they get to shine, and many of them are Techno Wizards.
    • Kim's dad and brothers seem perfectly competent (and her brothers' future selves are buff ass-kickers), though.
  • Generally averted on Archer. Most, if not all, of the characters are at about the same level of (in)competence. Pretty much everyone is screwed up emotionally or mentally, with no overt correlation between level of competence or emotional state and gender.
    • Except Carol. But that's not because she's a woman, that's just because she's Carol.

Literature
  • In Dune, it seems to be something of a theme to have an all-female society with strange and terrible powers suddenly have to deal with a man with those exact same powers, only several jillion times stronger. According to certain throwaway lines regarding Norma Cenva in God-Emperor Of Dune, there have been genderswapped variants of this in the past as well.
    • It's stated that the limit of the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mothers was that their training to particularly feminine/maternal instincts meant that they couldn't access their male ancestry in their Other Memory. The Kwisatz Haderach was intended to overcome this weakness (as well as having other capabilities), which would require a male trained in Bene Gesserit ways. Note the fact that the Gesserit wanted to have a Kwisatz Haderach, but he ended up coming a generation too early for their plans.
      • Then again, men didn't become Bene Gesserit because they kept failing the final test which killed them. Apparently, the depths of the male psyche is just that scary.
  • The Wheel of Time series has this. Men are widely regarded as weak, mainly because they can't really work together in channeling, and most of those that can channel get sealed up pretty quick.
    • On the other hand, most of the male characters are portrayed as fairly sensible, while the women are typically sniffing, arm-crossing Tsundere who won't listen to reason. Men as a group become more and more powerful over the course of the series, while the women become less powerful (and often less competent), and even supposedly powerful and capable female characters end up in distress a lot.
    • This troper disagrees - it seems that almost every character has a low opinion of, or is simply baffled by the opposite gender. There are major imbalances of power both magically and politically, but those aren't covered in this trope.

Gender Equals BreedGender and Sexuality TropesGender Is No Object

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