"If I am presented with a reasonable opportunity to save the day myself, I will at least try, and not wait for The Hero to do it."
The hero and the villain are having a Sword Fight
or similar one-on-one altercation.
Meanwhile our lovely heroine, who the narrative will insistently claim
is physically capable, is just standing around... and doing absolutely nothing
. This isn't a case where she's trapped, incapacitated, physically impaired, or any less experienced than the hero, himself. This is an able-bodied woman with some established ability who is just standing around on the sidelines, helplessly watching while the men do all the dirty work.
So no trying to improvise
to assist the hero. No calling for help. No making any attempts to stalk off while the villain is distracted; anything that could possibly enable the hero's success. Not even cheering the hero on to boost morale. You could replace her with an inanimate prop
for all the good she's doing.
The situation doesn't necessarily have to be Hero vs Villain. It can also apply between good guys, especially in terms of romantic competition
. The point is that the girl is still
not helping either of them nor doing anything to stop the fight, not even by saying something that could
settle everything between the combatants.
There are cases where her inactivity or lack of involvement in a fight can be justified. As stated above, she may be injured or Bound and Gagged
and thus unable to move. She could be lower on the Super Weight
scale or lack experience
. Another reason could be This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself
of the hero's allies help him) or the hero insists on an honorable one-on-one duel.
What differentiates her from a regular Load
is that it's established she has abilities or has choices at her disposal but when confronted with duking it out among the boys she's suddenly rendered inept by virtue of being female
. Compare to Damsel in Distress
but with a case of Faux Action Girl
; which often serves as both the source and result of this trope. Also compare Standard Female Grab Area
which is where being caught by the wrist is enough to impede her. Both tropes are often caused by the writers' unwillingness to have a woman fighting (and thus being hit by)
a man. Contrast Defiant Captive
, which is defined by their refusal to be neutral and/or passive.
Not to be confused with
characters with a Neutral component to their Character Alignment
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Anime & Manga
- Parodied in the first episode of Slayers, when Lina is attacked by bandits and Gourry comes to her aid. Lina is preparing to blast the bandits into oblivion, but then realizes that she's supposed to be all passive and distressed in these situations.
- Haruhi Suzumiya: Mikuru Asahina fits this trope because she doesn't help in the fighting. This is because she's ordered to be neutral by her time-travelling superiors, namely her future self, which means the poor girl literally has herself to blame for her helplessness.
- Shigure from Ninja Scroll (the series, not the movie) spends a fair amount of time standing around and watching while the villains massacre the people whose savior she's supposed to be. She then proceeds to angst about it: "They're all dead and it's all my fault!"
- Mai-HiME has Yuuichi as an understandably neutral male when his superpowered best friend starts trying to kill his also superpowered love interest. He's not the only one, though: Mai's little brother Takumi also does that at least thrice And the third one happens just before he dies, when his tomboyish girlfriend Akira's CHILD is destroyed.
- Bleach plays with this trope:
- Anthy Himemiya from Revolutionary Girl Utena can be seen as this for roughly 90 to 95% of the series. In fact, the series could be seen to deconstruct the trope that women ought to ultimately obey their 'prince' and have no life of their own. As punishment for being a witch, Anthy was cursed to be in the role of the Rose Bride, passed around from person to person based on the outcome of a duel. As Anthy saw herself as an empty shell with no heart, she went along submissively. Only when she became friends with Utena who encouraged her to obey her own will did she start to try doing what she wanted.
- The girls of YuYu Hakusho, barring Badass Grandma Genkai, are this, more often than not because only Genkai has spiritual abilities. This is justified in the Dark Tournament arc; they're only at the tournament as spectators in the crowd and support for the Urameshi team.
- Averted by Snow in the anime ending of MÄR. Ginta would not have been able to beat the Orb without her merging her soul with Koyuki, thus allowing him to use the stone that was trapped inside of her all her life.
- Sakura is infamous for spending most of the time in battle just standing with a kunai in defensive position while her teammates do all the actual fighting (it made sense in the Bridge Builder arc because she was left as the only one actually guarding the person they were supposed to be guarding). If they had indicated that she's supposed to be a non-combatant, this would have been more acceptable, but the fact that she's supposed to be a highly trained ninja makes this all the more insulting. It isn't until after the timeskip that she does anything else.
- A couple girls in the series lapse into this at times, like in Team 10's fight against Kakuzu where Ino's only contribution to the fight was locating him. A few arcs later, she makes up for it big time.
- Konan, who probably has the least screentime out of all the members of Akatsuki, averts this when she faces down
Madara Uchiha Tobi Obito and forces him to resort to a Dangerous Forbidden Technique in order to defeat her to survive.
- Averted in Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge, which is mostly about a schoolgirl fighting an axe-crazy chainsaw murderer. The main character is a normal guy who wants to help her out. How well does he do? Put it this way: the first fight, he nearly kills her by hitting her in the head with a pork chop he was trying to throw at the Big Bad.
- Rurouni Kenshin: Defied by Kamiya Kaoru during the Kurogasa arc, where she was paralyzed by a powerful hypnotic suggestion by Jineh so the poor woman truly couldn't do anything but watch as she slowly suffocated to death. She used Heroic Resolve to forcibly break through the trance to stop Kenshin from killing Jineh. Since If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him is repeated through-out the episode, this becomes a crucial action.
- Claymore: While Claire is an Action Girl now, she was like this back when she was just a child, often gasping in horror as her mentor, Teresa, fought off the bandits invading the village, and eventually her own fellow Claymores. But this is absolutely justified because she was just a small girl back then. Claymore also has a Gender Flip for this trope as well: Raki. He often stood around, hoping that Claire would save him from the monsters attacking him. But in volume 14, of the manga, he, just like Claire, became more than capable of holding out on his own, or to be more precise, chop Yoma into hunks of meat.
- A very rough example in Neon Genesis Evangelion, during Episode 23: Rei Ayanami struggles with one of the most horrifying Angels - Arimisael - and is losing. Misato deploys Asuka to assist her, but her EVA simply will not move. The show portrays Asuka's ability to combat effectively frequently enough in the previous episodes to justify her warrior status, but her history nearer the present fight with Arimisael tears open very old psychological scars and cuts new ones even deeper. Asuka's shot pride is her only inhibitor: she cannot/will not help Rei. This inaction kills Rei.
- Averted by Videl in the tenth Dragon Ball Z movie. Broly is crushing the life out of Gohan, so Videl throws a crystal shard at him. He breaks it easily, but his concentration is broken long enough for Gohan to kick his way out of the stranglehold and start the Kamehameha Wave that (with help from Goten and Goku) does Broly in.
- Eclair in the Fairy Tail movie: The Pheonix Priestess. Justified in that she not only doesn't practice magic, she also hates it, but it's a little strange to see an example in an endless sea of Action Girls.
- Lucy herself does take an active role in most battles, but she filled this role during the fight with the Lullaby monster. In the anime version, Happy even made fun of this trope.
Lucy: I hope [Natsu, Grey, and Erza] will beat that thing...
Happy: Shouldn't you help them out?
Lucy: Gee, I'd love to, but none of my Celestial Spirits are available right now, and I'd probably just get in the way.
Happy: That's no excuse.
- Erza Scarlet herself even averts this trope at times. For example, at one point during Natsu's fight with Laxus, Erza punched Natsu in the stomach and attempted to take on Laxus herself!
- Sakura of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle is almost always this in the first season. She spends the first few episodes unconscious, and when she does awaken, she often wanders off in a semi-trance and needs to be saved. It's not her fault (she has no memories), but there is one exception. In one world, she is kidnapped and locked away in a castle. Naturally, the guys launch a rescue attempt, but rather than sitting there waiting for them to show up, she resourcefully escapes from her cell, discovers the secret of the place, and has to rescue the rescuers using her often-neglected super power. But considering she is wandering around with three expert fighters, it's not surprising they don't need or expect her help in fights.
- In Pokémon Special, during the first battle with N, Black yells at White to help him out as he's getting his ass kicked. She cries out that all her Pokemon aren't really hers, as they are actors from her talent agency, and that she has never been in a battle in her life. Black promptly goes into a hilarious Face Fault with the words, "Does not compute" over his head. Subverted with Dia's mom in an earlier arc. When there's a Zubat threatening to slit her throat, she manages to squirt some berry juice in its face before hitting it with her basket.
- Zigzagged in Rave Master. Elie helps twice when Haru's in the middle of a fight, but one of those times was accidental, and she sat in the sidelines in all his other battles.
- Sometimes in Sailor Moon. One of the cases was in the end of Season R. After Usagi managed to explain and convince Prince Demand (who was in love with her) that he had been manipulated by Wiseman, the said character appeared to kill her. Demand started fighting him... And Usagi just stood there doing absolutely nothing. To top it, Demand died in this battle when he stood in front of her to protect her from Wiseman's attack. Similar thing happened in Tokyo Mew Mew, when Kishu fought Deep Blue and Ichigo just watched. The manga shows that their fight wasn't as quick as in the anime (and even in the anime, what was stopping Ichigo from getting up and going over there to help Kishu defeat the guy?).
Films — Animation
- In Bambi, Faline just stands against a rock wall and watches Bambi and Ronno fight over her. Justified as in real life, female deer would be fine with the bucks fighting over her.
- Averted in The Book Of Life. Maria takes part in the action at every opportunity, and leads the finale battle.
- Averted in one memorable scene from Shrek where an inexplicably French Robin Hood is about to throw down Shrek and "rescue" Princess Fiona. But it's Fiona who ends up clobbering Robin and his Merry Men with some Wire Fu and Bullet Time moves.
Films — Live Action
- In Babes in Toyland, the hero and the villain are both shrunk down to toy size and then begin to engage in a sword fight while the normal-sized heroine watches them, very concerned. She could have just stepped on the bad guy!
- In The Princess Bride, Buttercup is almost laughably useless in Westley's fight against the Rodent of Unusual Size — she does actually try to fend off the ROUS with a stick, but fails utterly. She's not much better at most other points in the story either, and the one time she does something reasonably useful ("Do you promise not to hurt him?") everyone yells at her for it.
- In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, it's understandable that Willie Scott would be unprepared compared to career adventurer Indiana Jones. But when an 11-year-old child is noticeably more useful and proactive, and given more responsibility by Indy himself, it gets a little silly. Again, as a homage to B-movie tropes, it could be the whole point.
- The climactic fight in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves has Maid Marion stand aside and watch Robin and the Sheriff fight. This is after she was established as a Badass Action Girl in her first scene and after the Sheriff had tried to rape her only a few minutes before. Sure, she does try to burn the Sheriff with a candle, but is otherwise useless the entire fight, even when the Sheriff is about to kill Robin.
- The Mel Brooks parody Robin Hood: Men in Tights has Marion just as inactive as her counterpart, although she is never presented as an Action Girl in this film.
- Examples from films featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000:
- Played straight in The Girl in Gold Boots: in the "climactic" fight Michele just stands around not offering any assistance to the protagonist.
- Played straight again in Cave Dwellers, where the female lead, despite being handy with a sword, suddenly forgets all her combat training and just shrieks as Ator fights a giant snake.
- Inverted and played for laughs in Shaun of the Dead: During the gang's back garden safari to the Winchester, Shaun grapples with a zombie while Ed and David stand by and watch uselessly. Shaun even calls them on it: "Feel free to step in at any time!" Liz and Di are slightly more useful, the former knocking the zombie off of him with a chair, and the latter supplying Shaun with a weapon in the shape of a swingball pole.
- In Jurassic Park, this role is played by Tim. While Lex turns the power back on and Grant and Ellie try to keep a raptor out, he stands ineffectively behind his sister shouting encouragement instead of, say, passing Ellie the gun she's trying to reach with her foot so she can shoot the raptor before it devours them all. Justified in that he's nine and also had his back to Ellie at that point.
- Subverted in Serenity, where Inara appears to do little during the Mal/Operative fight (after her initial attempts to help Mal ended up with the Operative casually tossing her aside), only to be revealed that her earlier "praying for Mal" by lighting incense was actually arming a flashbang.
- James Bond. It would take less time to list the Bond Girls that were NOT useless in a fight: Camille, Jinx, Wai Lin, Certes, Domino (with a harpoon!), Contessa Tracy, Pussy Galore, Melina, Pam, May Day, and Vesper.
- In For a Few Dollars More, the little sister might well have survived if she'd shot her rapist instead of herself.
- Subverted in High Noon, where the hero's wife is built in such a way to expect her to be a Neutral Female — she's a Quaker and a pacifist, and so would supposedly be neutral even if she were male. However, she eventually shoots one of the bad guys, and when the leader takes her hostage, she claws into his face, allowing her husband to shoot him.
- Dawn of the Dead. The actress playing Francine famously refused to be just another Screaming Woman; however during the first confrontation at the airport she just stands there while her boyfriend is fighting with a zombie, neither running nor helping. She does get better though. The 2004 remake gives us Luda, who's entire purpose for being is to 1.) Scream, 2.) be pregnant, and 3.) turn into a pregnant zombie and have a zombie baby. Needless to say, she isn't entirely helpful.
- Subverted in True Lies. Mousy Helen Tasker wants a little adventure in her life, but not if it requires her to cheat on her husband. Later, when she and Harry are both kidnapped, she tries to tell him "let me do the talking". Even later, Helen finds out her husband is a spy, and falls into true Neutral Female territory. Later still, Helen tries to help Harry by taking up a gun she has no idea how to shoot, and drops it. As Helen winces at her "oopsie", the gun falls down the stairs, still firing, and takes out every bad guy in the room. At Harry's look of incredulous awe, she shrugs and smiles. Kidnapped again, though, she smacks her kidnapper upside the head with a bottle of Dom Perignon, and is well on her way to the XP required for her level in Badass.
- Christine does this twice in the 2004 musical movie adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera. In the musical it's based on, both times there was little Christine could do during the scenes; not so in the film. First she just watches worriedly during Raoul and the Phantom's sword fight, and then when Raoul gets the upper hand and is about to stab him she tells him not to.
- Defied in the Alfred Hitchcock film The Lady Vanishes. The male lead, Gilbert, fights a henchman for a bit with female lead Iris watching meekly from the sidelines. Finally Gilbert shouts "don't just stand there like a referee, cooperate!" Working together they easily subdue the man.
- Hilariously subverted in Get Smart with 99. Once Agent 23 is revealed as the mole he takes her captive, and ties her up in the back of his SUV while Max and the Chief give chase. At first she's neutral in the pursuit, but when he makes a comment about how guys like women who are feminine, 99 takes offense and begins kicking the crap out of him while he's driving, incredulously shouting "I'm not feminine?!" the entire time.
- In Twitch Plays Pokémon Crystal, Oxxy Ozworme, the team's Metapod, is the least-used and most under-leveled member of the main party, outclassed by such male Pokemon as Feraligatr, Eevee, and even Togepi! Subverted, however, with Abed the Raticate, who can hold her own against most of the guys in the party, with the glaring exception of Feraligatr.
- Twitch Plays Pokémon Red has an interesting example: Air, the Lapras, was consistently the weakest member of the party, but it wasn't until the game was finished and the party data transferred to a copy of Gold that it was discovered that Air was in fact female.
- Subverted as early as the book version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers; the female lead pretends to be a stereotypical version until she can sneak the syringes full of morphine out of her shirt sleeves and poke the mooks with them.
- Justified and subverted by Chloe in the Darkest Powers series. While they're separated from the other two members of their group, her friend Derek is attacked by a man named Liam. She has a switchblade and desperately wants to help, and keeps trying to — she even lampshades this trope in her distress and frustration at not being able to help:
"I thought of all the times I'd been in an audience, snarking about the stupid, useless girl hovering on the sidelines of a fight, holding a weapon but doing nothing, watching the guy get pummeled."
- The thing is, the two guys in question are 1) werewolves, and therefore have super strength, and 2) moving so fast that every time she attempts to stab Liam, she has to pull up fast so she won't stab Derek instead. However, this trope goes from justified to subverted when Liam has Derek pinned — the second they stop moving, Chloe darts forward and stabs Liam in the back of his leg, thus allowing Derek to free himself and giving them both the chance to run like hell.
- Justified and subverted in The Reckoning as well. This time, though, Derek and his opponent are both in wolf form, so it would be understandable if Chloe did nothing but watch. Even then, though, she manages to avert this trope entirely: She climbs a tree so that Derek won't have to worry about her getting hurt, and then notices that the other werewolf is badly scarred on one flank, meaning that his skin is unprotected there. She yells this down to Derek, and that strategy is what allows Derek (who has never been in wolf form before, and even now has only been in it for about an hour) to win the fight against an experienced werewolf.
- Bella Swan is this trope. Her prime role in the books is to end up in danger so that she can be rescued by Edward, mostly from situations that she senselessly caused in the first place. Even when she's against something, at most, she'll only murmur apologetically before she's quickly dismissed. This even goes as far as being expected to comply and wait passively while she's being assaulted by Jacob or ordered around by Edward.
- This trope is explicitly defied in Mercedes Lackey's The Sleeping Beauty. When the Big Bad is fighting The Hero coming to save the princess, the former's job is somewhat harder when said princess is throwing everything she can reach at his head.
- Brought up in Tales of Kolmar, as Lanen thinks that if this were a tale she'd be expected to do this. A number of the fights around her are dragons versus demons or demon summoners and she just stays out of the way, not even wanting to be on the sidelines, but there's a memorable instant in Song In The Silence where a demon summoner who is immune to dragonfire turns out to not be immune to human fists.
- Lampshaded and defied by Rachel of The Beyonders. She knows that she's in a medieval world where women are told to stay out of fighting most of the time, but she refuses to let it happen to her and becomes the party's Black Magician Girl.
- Subverted/defied in the children's book Zog, by The Gruffalo team Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. The eponymous dragon is going through dragon school, kidnaps a princess, and then a knight arrives to fight Zog to rescue the princess. The princess immediately steps in saying "Stop fighting, both of you. I don't want to go back to wearing silly dresses in the castle." Then the three of them team up to become the mediaeval world's first flying doctors squad.
Live Action TV
- In Dino Attack RPG, as revealed in Greybeard's Pensieve Flashback, the infamous pirate "Bad Luck" Beatrice took on this role while Grisbarba and Anton Gaston dueled in a swordfight, doing nothing but standing off to the side and shouting at them to stop. Justified in that she could not do more because she was unarmed; once Anton was disarmed and Grisbarba prepared to kill him, she did grab Anton's fallen sword and step in, accidentally cutting off Grisbarba's hand in the process. Besides, even if she tried to step in before Anton was disarmed, it would have done more harm than good since Grisbarba was too drunk and would likely have killed her in his stupor.
- Batman: The Animated Series
- An interesting subversion happens in the episode "Two Face Part Two": An employee of the mob boss Thorne was a neutral female up until she tries to hit Two Face over the head with a container, when she is tackled by Two Face's fiancée (another previously neutral female, and a Face, believe it or not). Making it also a straight example of a whole different trope, Designated Girl Fight. Played with in the first part, where Thorne's moll sits out a fight between Harvey Dent (Pre-Two-Face) and Batman vs. Thorne's men, not because she was scared or ineffectual, she was just enjoying the show, describing it as "Wild!", disturbingly excitedly.
- Joker and Harley both avert and play this one straight. Often Joker will tell Harley to sit out and let him handle "Batsy" on his own, in which case she will merrily cheer him on, as if she was watching a TV show. Other times she will help in the fight, often bringing out bigger and badder weapons than the Joker himself (although Joker tends to stay more of the threat since he's a better fighter than she is). In the comics, however, Harley is a much better and stronger fighter than Joker (after getting low level superstrength and agility from one of Poison Ivy's chemicals), although Joker usually carries more lethal weaponry. Regardless, he most often uses her as his strong arm while he stays behind, not bothering to fight unless he is facing Batman himself.
- A hilarious inversion comes in the Batman/Superman crossover World's Finest, where Harley and Mercy, Luthor's assistant, take an instant dislike to one another, and have an all out brawl in the background while Joker and Lex talk business.
- Played straight for Talia Al Ghul, daughter of the infamous Ra's Al Ghul and on-again-off-again Love Interest for Batman. Whenever her daddy and her beau fight, she refuses to take a side. The best she'll do is prevent Batman from actually capturing and imprisoning Ra's after winning said fight. Probably justified, as they are her father and the man she professes to love, which would make choosing a side somewhat awkward.
- Justified and averted by Dana in Batman Beyond. She's more of an Innocent Bystander than an Action Girl, so when the action comes close to her, she usually focuses on staying out of the way. But when she's can't get out of the way, she fights back. She actually successfully protected Batman at one point.
- In another example of Kim Possible playing with gender dynamics, in a number of fights between Kim and Shego, the "neutral female" role is filled by Ron.
- Aelita used to be like this in the early seasons of Code Lyoko. After spending some time at the boarding school with her friends, she gains a little more confidence, and when she gains an energy attack near the start of Season 3 (actually more powerful than her friends' attacks), she became able to kick ass alongside the others. Justified because her powers are mostly defensive and she's the only one who needs to "survive" the fight.
- Played straight briefly, then beautifully subverted in the episode "Jet", of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Male protagonist Aang goes one-on-one with the also male titular character Jet, while Aang's female friend Katara watches from the sidelines. However, after the initial realization that Jet is attacking Aang, pretty much all of the action takes place in the treetops, well above Katara's head. The instant the combatants come back to earth, with Aang clearly getting the worst of it, Katara steps in and proceeds to kick Jet's ass, blasting him back with water before he can blink, and freezing him to a tree! He is essentially defeated after that.
- A literal example could occur during medieval sieges. Depending on how well a castle was fortified and supplied, a siege could last years or even decades, so the leader of the attacking army sometimes ended up bringing all the comforts of home along, including his wife. Since women were considered neutral in all conflicts, the lady of the castle and the wife of the attacker were sometimes given safe passage to come and go as they pleased, and may become friends and even make social visits to each other, with each side forbidden to even touch them. Obviously, they would make invaluable hostages or infiltrators, but no-one would ever do that. It was unchivalrous.