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Harp of Femininity

In fictionland, there are many ways to underline a man's Badassery or his masculinity. But how can you display a woman's femininity in a less vulgar way than dressing like a whore and making a sandwich for a guy? Simple, have her play the harp.

Just as playing the electric guitar is often used as a sign of absolute masculinity, the harp's crystalline and delicate tones, as well as its graceful shape, will emphasize the femininity of the woman playing it. Not to mention that it gives the harpist a definite air of dignity and nobility. As such, harp-playing women in fiction are almost always important to the plot.

This trope is Older Than Radio but not Older Than Steam, and doesn't generally come in to play much in works from before the French Revolution. As such the Wandering Minstrel (a medieval trope) will often be male and play the harp, and playing the lyre also Gender Flips this trope just as often as not (most of the 'inversions' listed below concern hand-held harps and lyres, rather than the sort of grand harp one would see in an orchestra). In the very, very rare occurrences where a man is shown playing the harp, he will be at least a particularly effeminate Bishōnen.

In ancient Western culture, the harp was if anything a masculine instrument. Thus we see figures such as King David and the Greek god Apollo playing the harp (or lyre) without any loss of masculinity.

This trope is Truth in Television, since harpists are mostly female.

Also note who else typically plays the harp: Angels, elves, and people who died and went to Fluffy Cloud Heaven.

Compare Feminine Women Can Cook, for a much less refined way to show femininity.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Pictured above: Pandora in Saint Seiya, who loves playing the harp in her free time.
    • Subverted with Benethosh Mime and the two Orpheus (Lyre from the manga and newer OVA's, Kotoza from one of the non-canon movies), girly-looking but still male Musical Assassins who use small harps and lyres as weapons of choice. In fact, we meet Mime in the Ansgard Saga when Shun finds him peacefully playing his lyre in the snow... and then he quickly uses its chords as Razor Floss to attack.
  • Mimay in Captain Harlock
  • Shin in Saint Beast went to the extent of crafting his own harp to play.
  • In Hidamari Sketch, Yuno saw Hiro planting herbs and asked what she was doing. When Hiro explained, Yuno misheard her as saying "harp" and envisioned a harp-playing Hiro. Now, Hiro is already the motherly one of the group, so the feminine qualities are already there, just enhanced in Yuno's imagination.
  • Yuria in the Fist of the North Star anime, who has come into possession of a harp and nothing else while in Shin's captivity and is playing it in nearly every scene where she makes an appearance. The harp sound plays any time Kenshiro thinks about her.
  • Played with in Sailor Moon. Sailor Mercury uses a lyre as a weapon, but it's still rather feminine.
  • Conis from One Piece likes to play a harp in her spare time and is even known as "the beautiful lady who plays the harp" among the boys of her village.
  • Gunslinger Girl. Jose's memories of his little sister Enrica (killed in a terrorist bombing) often have her playing the harp, as her brother remembers her as Purity Personified (when we actually see Enrica in flashback chapters, she's more interested in playing soccer than her harp). Perhaps because of this Jose's Replacement Goldfish for Enrica — his cyborg Henrietta — is not instructed in the harp but the violin (also the case is useful for carrying her FN P90 submachine gun).

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live Action 
  • The most notable aversion is Harpo Marx. Hell, he's even named after it!
  • The evil matriarch of the girls' boarding school in A Little Princess is shown playing a harp at moments when she's not actively working to make Sarah's life miserable. Her musical ability is arguably the only likeable trait the character has.

    Literature 
  • Aversion: Flewddur Fflam in the Prydain Chronicles was a consummate badass, a king, and a wandering bard. He played a magic harp, which could be more accurately said to play itself, but harping is not regarded as particularly feminine in Prydain.
  • What about Homer? Didn't Rudyard Kipling talk about "When Homer smote his bloomin lyre(not his most inspired passage)?
  • Featured in The Mists of Avalon, which Morgaine (as the viewpoint character) combines with Elegant Classical Musician to assure herself that she could have any man who heard her play the harp.
  • Lyra Belacqua's first name in His Dark Materials is, according to this trope, the single most feminine thing about her.
  • The world of A Brother's Price has a Stereotype Flip for nearly every gender role, as "masculine" in that world codes very close to what "feminine" is in this world, and vice versa. All the same, it's specifically noted in one scene that dulcimers, harplike instruments, are being played by women.
  • In Aunt Dimity and the Duke, Grayson's grandmother played a harp, and its removal for sale prompted the crisis that opens the book. There's also a painting depicting the twelfth Duchess of Penford seated at the instrument, and it is among the items Grayson repurchased after making a fortune portraying crass rock star Lex Rex.
  • Averted in Middle Earth, where BadAsses like Thorin and several High Elven princes are capable harpists.
  • Mary Crawford has quite the skill on the harp in Mansfield Park.

     Live Action TV 
  • In Green Wing the impossibly girly and infuriatingly perfect Angela plays the harp to Grade 7, while her more tomboyish housemate Caroline struggles to get a sound out of her flute.
  • The Big Bang Theory plays with this somewhat: Amy Farrah Fowler plays the harp in spite of being the least feminine of the female characters, but she sees her non-femininity as a result of social exclusion and has a strong desire to become more feminine, making her harp playing possibly represent wish fulfillment or escapism.
  • Rome. Agrippa falls in Love at First Sight with Octavia after seeing her play a stringed instrument, though we're reminded she's hardly The Ingenue when she misses a note and shouts, "Piss and blood!" in frustration.

    Radio 

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 

    Web Original 
  • Totally subverted by this Youtube vid, possibly the heavenliest rendition of the Star Wars Cantina music ever... played by a teen boy.

    Western Animation 
  • Duchess in The Aristocats. Made more impressive by the fact that she's a cat.
  • The Emperor's New Groove: Kronk's (male) shoulder angel carries a harp, prompting his shoulder devil to mock the "sissy, stringy thing."
  • At least one animated version of the "Rapunzel" fable has the title character playing a harp. It's hearing her "special song" that allows the blinded Prince to find her again.
  • Background character Lyra Heartstrings of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has a lyre cutie mark.note  It's assumed she can play one rather well, though she's never shown playing a lyre or harp. Being who she is, it is not known if she plays this trope straight or not. What's sure is that she doesn't avert it.

    Real Life 
  • Samuel Milligan of Harp Column considered the historical reasons for the view of the harp as a feminine instrument. It is believed to have originated from revolutionary France: Marie Antoinette played the harp, meaning that many female aristocrats took it up, and during and after the revolution many women of the newly created middle class also did so because of the association with culture and high social standing. The huge size of the harp was also significant, as the highly visible presence of a harp in a house indicated that the owner had a cultured wife and/or a cultured and possibly marriageable daughter. However, because it was seen as a fashion statement, few of these women learned to play the harp very well, meaning that better composers rarely wrote for it; thus gradually the harp was seen as a mere fashion statement not just by social climbing women but by musicians in general, which reduced men's interest in learning the instrument (after all, budding professional musicians- who, apart from singers, were always men, as any family who could afford the children taking music lessons would consider the wives and daughters working for money a humiliation- would not usually come from especially well-off homes- musicians were considered akin to skilled tradesmen.)
    • In fact, the harp has so little music to truly exhibit skill on that most professional harpists are more likely than other classical musicians to also compose for their instrument.


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