Gender Incompetence

Stacy, Mark and Grace 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 Stacy and Grace without breaking a sweat. Clearly, we're in trouble. Only Mark can save the City of Adventure from the monster, and he proceeds to do so with a new technique he learned while the girls we're busy getting fighting over their periods and/or boy of the week.

Of course, we don't think anything of it at first. Mark was lucky to have that new technique, even though the girls each have cool techniques as well (Usually relating to their heart! 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 Mark and Lee.

When the dust clears, Lee and Mark are the only ones standing. Noticing something here?

There wasn't any reason for Stacy and Grace to fail. Their Power Levels are the same as the boys; maybe even greater, but for some reason (think double standard, they just can't seem to measure up when the chips are down.

Whether she knows it or not, Grace and her 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 berating equally-capable female ones to stand back and let them handle it, so that the males don't have to protect them. The women may reluctantly 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, as out right misogyny was considered the norm back then (and even now.

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 Most Writers Are Male. 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.


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  • The anime OVA of Read or Die was very good about the balance between gender effectiveness, but not as much with the TV series R.O.D the TV, 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.
  • Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts 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 Double Standard: Abuse, 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.


  • 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.

     Video Games  

  • Final Fantasy IV, early on in the game, features a battle to try to protect a castle that focuses on fighting hordes 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 fact that the women are all spellcasters, of course, stumbles into another stereotype.)
    • 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.)
  • 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.