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Never a Self-Made Woman
Everybody knew you as the wife of a famous man,
Everybody who knew said, "There goes Dixon's girl again."
Dessa, "Dixon's Girl".

This is a subtrope of The Smurfette Principle:

In a cast with many characters or a Five-Man Band, there is a tendency to give any female character of importance a male character to thank for her position.

If she's The Chick in the team, then she's usually someone's sister, girlfriend or love interest. If she's a military or political leader of some sort, then you can bet that she got the position with help from her father or another male relative. The author or the characters have to choose who gets to join in on the hijinks or know the secrets; chances are, most of the people they choose are going to be men. Women who join in are most commonly there as a "bonus" to someone else, often as a love interest or a family member.

There are shades to this. We may have the Action Girl who has achieved a lot and gone up in society, but whenever her background is brought up, it is always a man in her family (father, uncle, older brother or husband) who is prominent as her predecessor or a key to her success. It will be strongly implied that she would never have gotten into this Business if she hadn't been motivated and trained by her powerful male relatives who are active on the same field. In short, a personal, emotional relationship with a mentor is needed, not just a professional one driven by her own independent ambitions. She might have grown into her own badassery, but the story will continue to define her as the more important male character's apprentice or heiress.

Another variation is when a female character who is already powerful or who has an important role without male aid meets her lover. Since prominent women usually require a partner who is at least as interesting and powerful as they, the story will often start revolving around him once they meet. Suddenly, the conflict doesn't seem as important to her anymore. If things quiet down and they get married, he usually has a great career ahead of him, but she's content to slow hers down to be a wife or mother. From the moment they become an item, no one mentions her previous accomplishments anymore; they just talk about her only as half of a couple. Her partner's heroism is still remembered and talked about, but she is lucky if she even gets mentioned a few years down the line.

A perceived "barrier between the sexes" may be to blame for this — specifically, the notion that women and men can't socialize without justifying it with a sexual or familial bond. Writers use this trope to justify to viewers (presumed male) why they should care about the female character at all.

In short, this is another example of Double Standard. Of course, this tends to lead to a double bind situation in which people will discredit a woman's accomplishments because she is connected to a man.

Please note that this trope is more subtle than Dungeonmaster's Girlfriend and other similar tropes. Chances are that most of the examples here do get some credit for being Action Girls; that doesn't negate that their fathers, boyfriends, etc. are more important than they are. Also remember that male characters owing their success to more powerful women are generally not inversions of this trope, as they rarely carry the same implications.

Going hand with this is Men Act, Women Are, which is about what comes from the man, and where the woman comes from. Compare Lineage Comes from the Father, which deals with bloodlines. I Have Brothers is a more mild version of this trope that nonetheless associates a woman's less traditionally feminine interests with a male influence rather than her own volition.

Not to be confused with Self-Made Man where a person gains importance on his/her own. See also Most Writers Are Male.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In the original Yu-Gi-Oh anime, Serenity's only real part to play was Joey's helpless blind or captive sister. She also owes her part in the show to the fact that the love triangle between her, Tristan and Duke Devlin is played for laughs
  • In the first anime version of Hellsing, part of Integra's backstory was that she had to fight the stigmas that she was a woman doing a man's job, and that she more or less fell into the role after her father died and was forced to kill her uncle in self defense when he tried to usurp control. In the manga and second anime there was no such stigma and she was recognized as the legitimate heir of the organization... except for the usurping uncle.
  • Naruto averts this trope for the most part, save for one rather infamous panelnote . Kushina never really wanted to be Hokage, she just said it to get attention. Tsunade becomes Hokage because she's the student of the Third Hokage, as well as being descended from the Senju clan which the First and Second Hokages (her grandfather and granduncle respectively) came from, but the emphasis is thankfully put in the legacy of this clan and its influence in Konoha, not in her being a woman. Konan seemed to be this at first, but then we learn that she was never romantically involved with Nagato, is a very strong fighter in her own right, and only joined Akatsuki to help Nagato. That said, Kurenai can be said to have fallen victim to this trope as she loses the one fight she has ever been in.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist plays with this in various ways, primarily averting it. Lan Fan plays it straight, having been raised and trained by her grandfather to continue the family business of guarding the Yao Clan's heir. Riza Hawkeye made her own career, but story wise she's mostly defined as Roy's right hand. Especially incriminating is that Roy was her father's apprentice and he was the one who learned flame alchemy, whereas her part in it was to act as a living document of the technique. Izumi Curtis and Oliver Mira Armstrong both avert this completely, having gained everything through their own efforts. Izumi goes on to become the Badass Teacher of the Elric Brothers, while she acted as the young brothers' guardian. Meanwhile, Oliver is the daughter of a retired General.....but as a Social Darwinist, she actively rejects connections having value over personal ability. In a comical moment, it's revealed that the famous Armstrong Super Strength and size comes from their mother. Finally, Winry Rockbell is another example that averts the trope. The Rockbell Automail business was founded by Pinako, who continues to run it while training her granddaughter everything she knows. Her son chose to become a doctor, leaving Winry as the heir to the business.
  • Inverted by Kaitou Saint Tail. The eponymous thief actually takes more after her mother who was a thief, more than her father, who is an illusionist (although she takes a few traits from both of them). Asuka Jr, the boy detective on her trail is never the sole focus of the story, and when they grow into their relationship, the show continues to focus more on her story than his. And in the end, when they're older and she's no longer a thief, the name Saint Tail is still mentioned as the town's protector.
  • In a Pet Shop of Horrors: Tokyo story, the widow of a murdered gang leader is introduced and the protagonists assume that she got her own position at the head of the gang because of who her husband had been. It's actually subverted though, when it's revealed that she was the highly respected head of the gang and her husband had been the one to marry into a high position.
  • Inverted in Jackals where Alligator Nichol, the main character, owes the mastery of his massive two-handed blade to his mother, Roxy the Grim Reaper. Yes. He's total Badass but he's been trained by a woman. In fact, the whole story seems to make it a point to subvert this trope to hell and back when it comes to female characters. Only the resident Distressed Damsel plays the trope straight.
  • In Bubblegum Crisis 2032, Sylia Stingray was able to create the Knight Sabers and fight Genom thanks to the hardsuits her scientist father invented.
  • Averted in Devil Hunter Yohko. Yohko comes from a long line of all-female Devil Hunters and if men play a role at all, they're treated as sex objects.
  • In Dragon Ball, the only three female main characters are Bulma, Chichi, and Videl. Bulma's father is a brilliant scientist and the owner and president of Capsule Corporation (although Bulma herself is also a brilliant scientist and was introduced long before he was), Chichi's father is the Ox King, and Videl's father is Mr. Satan (Hercule in the American version), a former world martial arts champion, superstar, and the #1 human fighter who doesn't use Ki. There is also Android 18, who provides an example of the other variety, being introduced as an independent villain alongside her brother, then receding into the role of Krillin's wife and more-or-less retiring from fighting.
    • Videl's not quite a standard example. She was mainly introduced in the story due to being Mr. Satan's daughter, but she explicitly points out that he doesn't let her train with him. Despite this, she's still managed to become stronger than he is, and had the sense to go to Gohan to get him to teach her some of his abilities, like flying.
  • Sailor Moon is a notable inversion. There are two regular male cast members, one of whom is a cat mentor on equal footing with a female cat mentor, and the other is mainly significant for being the main character's love interest and Distressed Dude. The Silver Millenium and later Crystal Tokyo societies where the main characters have their powers are matriarchal, and the manga eventually comes right out and states that only women can take advantage of power on the scale that the Sailor Senshi possess. Of course, this series was also conceived of and the manga maintained by a female writer, so perhaps there's a reason this inverts the trope.
  • Kaoru's main role in Rurouni Kenshin is to serve as Kenshin's love interest and Yahiko's teacher. She only fights in one battle throughout the entire manga, where she is assisted by Misao, for whom this is also her only major fight (The third female major character is The Medic and doesn't contribute in battles at all). The main proof of Kaoru's skill is that she was able to train Yahiko to be able to successfully confront grown men who have been fighting longer than he's been alive.
  • The entire named female cast of Fist of the North Star can be summed up as: Kenshiro's love interest, young girl who is always following and/or thinking about Kenshiro, the battle-hardened Action Girl who falls for Kenshiro and is secretly loved by Rei, and some powerful warrior's sister/mother/daughter.
  • Deconstructed with Mirai Yashima from Mobile Suit Gundam. At first, she appears to be a subversion, taking on the important role of first mate and helmsman of the White Base, while ignoring her Yashima family name. However, when she reappears in Zeta Gundam, we find that she married Mr. Bright and started a family with him. She is willing to stay on Earth for the good of her children. However, most people remember Mirai more for being able to get a huge spaceship to dodge laser blasts than starting a family and is in fact still perfectly competent when under fire, even with her children.
  • Subverted in Bamboo Blade. Tamaki mentions the strongest kendoist she's ever seen, and her teammates assume she's talking about her father, but she actually means her mother.
  • Played with in Neon Genesis Evangelion with Ritsuko Akagi, who actively resents that her mother Naoko's position at GEHIRN helped her get hers, and despite her attempts to defy Generation Xerox (including bleaching her hair blond) Ritsuko comes to realize over the series that she's standing far more in her mother's shadow than she'd like to acknowledge, to the point of sleeping with the same man.
    • Yui is an even more interesting case, being an inversion of the trope. Gendo was her husband and is the head of NERV now, but didn't really start taking his studies seriously until he got involved with Yui. It appears at first that Shinji is involved because he's Gendo's son, but it turns out that him being Yui's son is much more important, since his EVA is also Yui in a way. Rei is a sort of clone of Yui. Fuyutsuki was Yui's mentor; he's kind of only still in it out of loyalty to her. All in all, Yui is definitely the central person in the series, even though she'd been dead for years when it starts. One indication of this, though we don't find it out for quite a while, is that "Ikari" is her family name; Gendo's family name was Rokobungi, but when they married he took her name rather than the other way around.
    • Asuka's characterization also plays with this. Her mother Kyoko was another scientist who worked on the EVA project, and her father is such a minor character that we never even find out his name. After her mother was involved in a contact experiment that drove her insane Asuka ran joyfully to her mother's room to tell her that she'd been selected as an EVA pilot, only to find Kyoko's dead body hanging from the ceiling along with the doll she believed was Asuka in a murder suicide. As a teenager Asuka desperately craves validation, having already graduated from college and frequently taking great risks to show her skill while piloting an EVA. While wanting to be out of her mother's shadow is never explicitly given as a motivation for her it's pretty easy to see that it affected her.
  • In a similar way to the Evangelion example, Oriko's backstory in Puella Magi Oriko Magica plays with this. She's the daughter of a politician, and was extremely popular, but people tended to think of her as Hisaomi Mikuni's daughter first and foremost. When her father was accused of corruption and committed suicide, Oriko was abandoned by her classmates, in large part because they didn't want to associate with someone related to Hisaomi. Despairing and realizing that people merely saw her as an extension of her father, Oriko contracted with Kyubey, making a wish to understand the true meaning of her life.
  • Katekyo Hitman Reborn! both the anime and manga suffer this in spades. We have an almost all-male huge cast of bishounen with only six women as recurring characters, all of whom are diminished in some form or another:
    • Kyoko and Haru are normal people who only serve as love interests for the main character. Neither of them have any ability except cooking and taking care of children.
      • Kinda averted in one Future Arc episode where all the girls go on strike and everything pretty much crumbles down.
    • Pison Scorpion Bianchi started off as a pretty capable hitman who could turn everything into poison. But was mainly introduced as the titular Hitman Tutor's lover and by the Future Arc she is reduced to an older sister figure for the girls.
    • Chrome Dokuro, whose powers really come from her being a vessel to the powerful illusionist Rokudo Mukuro she has lost pretty much every fight she's been in and she has to let Mukuro posses her in order to win.
    • Lal Mirch is probably the manliest character in the series, she has strength, agility, incredible weapons and she even 'trained0 one of the Strongest Seven, being chosen for his position initially. And yet everyone just recognized her as one of the arcobaleno's Love Interest and as one half of the token het couple. And she spends most of her screentime either wounded or unconscious.
    • And finally there's I-Pin, who was trained by the strongest martial artist on earth and is a truly talented hitman, despite being only five years old one would expect her future self to be even more lethal but turns out she vowed to give up on martial arts when she was fourteen. Her child self is relegated to only provide comic relief.
  • During Macross it's revealed through Character Development that Misa Hayase didn't care for the military, but joined because her Colonel father expected it of her, because she comes from a long line of military relatives. Also we find out that her childhood friend she had a crush on, was another reason why Misa Hayase joined in hopes of reuniting with him. She discovered he died on Mars and temporarily became suicidal.
  • Macross Frontier: Cathy Glass is a ranking officer in the New U.N. Joint Chiefs of Staff and the correspondent between the Frontier government and S.M.S., but she's still the daughter of the Frontier president, former girlfriend of the S.M.S. commander, and fiancee of another prominent government figure, and few of her scenes or motivations don't reference at least one of these.
  • Sky Girls squad chief, Eika Ichijo, got her impressive resumé trying to get the approval of her father, a General in the army in their Air Force division.
  • Attack on Titan zigzags this left and right. Eren only develops into a capable fighter when Annie takes him on as a student. However, Annie herself dismissively notes that she learned to fight from her father, who also instilled in her a very negative view of the world. Mikasa first discovered her raw potential and acceptance of the harsh realities of life thanks to Eren, but outshines him on all fronts and acts as his primary protector. Sasha is shown to have learned archery and tracking from her father, but like Annie and Mikasa she learned almost all her skills in boot camp. Krista completely avoids this, as her father has no bearing on her becoming Little Miss Badass. Instead, Ymir is to thank for her placement in the Top 10, as she held back in her own training to give Krista a better shot. Hange, Petra, Lynne, Rico, and all the other female soldiers avert this by not owing any particular person for their status and abilities. Instead, they became respected veterans through basic training, inherent ability, and their own hard work.
  • Naomi Misora of Death Note only gets in on the plot because she's Raye Penber's fiancee, despite being an ex-FBI agent and part of the team L uses and being a very talented investigator (albeit one who often lets her emotions compromise those talents). Light eventually has to eliminate her because of it. It's slightly more grating because of Raye's Stay in the Kitchen attitude towards her, even though she's actually more skilled than he is.
  • Zig-zagged in Tokurei Sochi Dantai Stella Jogakuin Koutouka C 3 Bu. Rin and Sonora were both trained from a very young age by a male soldier—but then he died, and they both became much more skilled on their own. Yura gained a large skill boost from the advice of a long-deceased warrior prince, but she also saves his life in the process.

    Comic Books 
  • In the first issues of Y: The Last Man, the widows of deceased (male) Republican senators attempt a coup against the remaining American government in order to be appointed to their late husbands' positions. Notable not because they got the positions (they didn't), but that the wives thought they deserved them simply because they were married to the former incumbents. This has precedent, but not legally so, as on many occasions the widows of congressmen have asked to be appointed to finish their husband's term, and so far none have been turned down by their state's governors. Almost none are re-elected, however.
    • And then there's Margaret Chase Smith.
  • Both Silk Spectres of Watchmen. The original Silk Spectre's career was aggressively built by her husband/manager. Laurie/Silk Spectre II inherited her mother's identity, and spends the entire graphic novel dependent on her love interests. Ultimately subverted with Laurie in the end, who expresses that she doesn't want to settle down with a family, but take up crime fighting again. But then again, she seems to be following in her recently revealed father's footsteps in that regard as well based on her description of improvements to her costume...
  • One Silver Age Superman comic has Lois Lane telling the story of how she got her job at the Daily Planet, telling Clark Kent "And I'll have you know I did it without your help!". Through the course of the story, we discover that Superman was secretly helping her all along. Remember, girls, even if you think you succeeded on your own merits, it's really because a man was helping you.
    • Lois is usually an aversion, however: in most versions both before and after that story — including Siegel and Shuster's original — Lois was well-established at the paper (Star or Planet) before Clark and his costumed counterpart ever arrived in Metropolis.
  • Many superheroines with any recognition are a Distaff Counterpart to some more popular male (Supergirl, any given Batgirl, She-Hulk) or gained powers due to their involvement with a male hero (Invisible Woman of The Fantastic Four, Wasp of The Avengers). Wonder Woman, the most notable exception, is one of the few female characters who can maintain a long-running title.
    • Carol Danvers ziz-zags this trope. Her superhero career began when a Kree device, the Psyche-Magnitron, transferred the powers of the male Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell) on to her and she became Ms. Marvel, wearing a costume that looked like Mar-Vell's costume retailored to show more skin. She later got different costumes, powers and code-names (Binary, Warbird), but now, as Captain Marvel, she is once again using the code-name of a well-known (in-universe, at least) male superhero. Also, on a meta level, she started out as a non-powered supporting character to Captain Mar-Vell in his feature, and yet in universe and in some alternate continuities like the Ultimate Marvel universe she averts this trope by being a Badass Normal Air Force Captain whose career is entirely self made.
  • Many of the combat-oriented women in the X-Men owe their fighting skills to Wolverine's training, particularly Kitty Pryde. Storm would be an exception, having learned to fight with a knife on the streets of Cairo as a child, where she however was mentored by a male thief.
    • In the case of Psylocke, her ninja skills were imprinted on her by the Hand, a mostly male clan of ninjas who seem to make a habit out of turning attractive women into assassins.
    • Rogue grew up as the adopted child of a lesbian couple of mutant terrorists, getting most of her early combat training from Mystique. And the absorbed power set that Rogue is most famous for (though not the one she currently has) came from another woman.
  • Averted with Mallory Book, Jennifer Walters' co-worker in She-Hulk, who became a highly successful lawyer entirely on her own merits. Unfortunately, Walters' arrival caused Book to become increasingly overshadowed, and also resulted in her first loss, when Walters convinced Book's client Hercules to settle a lawsuit brought against him by the Constrictor. And then, adding injury to insult, She-Hulk's nemesis Titania attacked the office, and Book was injured so badly that she ended up in a wheelchair.

    Film 
  • Anna Valerious of Van Helsing is introduced as a daughter and sister, is motivated by the absence of the brother, and her function in the story is as a Love Interest to the male lead. And she's a Faux Action Girl to boot!
  • The Day After Tomorrow has three women in it; one whose purpose is to worry about the two main characters, one hot scientist who isn't of much use except to create sexual tension, and one Designated Love Interest
  • The female lead of the Transformers movies, whose life revolves around the male lead.
  • Crops up in the Bond movies every now and then, Though there's a bit of a subversion in The World Is Not Enough. Electra may talk a lot about her father, and becomes the owner of his oil company through heritage, but then it turns out that it was her mother's family that built up his wealth in the first place.
  • Also prominent in the fourth Terminator movie, which has three major female Characters; Marcus' love interest, John's girlfriend, and a mute little girl who is treated like some kind of pet for Kyle.
  • Female Survival Is Family in Saw VI, in that the three women William chooses to spare, when forced to decide which of his co-workers will live and which will be killed, are saved because he knows they have families who'd be devastated by their loss. A fourth woman claims to be pregnant in an attempt to benefit from this trope, but is not spared, as William believes she's lying.
  • In Quest for Camelot, there is an entire song devoted to the heroine talking about how she wants to be a knight because of her father, titled, On My Father's Wings. Then she gender-flips it, dragging a guy she meets into the quest. Of course, whether she could have survived without him is...debatable, since she's never been a half a day's ride from her village.
  • In The Princess and the Frog; it's obvious to the viewer that Tiana achieves her goals with hard work, sacrifice, and dedication to her dream, but every character in the movie that knows about Tiana's father constantly links her success to his influence, including Tiana herself. Eventually this is even added on to as shown at the end, when she finally does set up her restaurant it is shown to be green and frog-themed and named "Tiana's Palace", clearly based off of her experience as a frog that she spent with her prince. In an earlier scene where she imagines her restaurant, it is done up in the yellow style her father had planned on using.
  • Sherlock Holmes (2009) has all of two women as more than one-shot characters: Watson's fiancée and Holmes' Love Interest, Irene Adler, who is demoted from being one of the few people ever to outwit Sherlock to being Moriarty's lackey. After being Stuffed into the Fridge in Game Of Shadows her replacement is involved in the plot because of her brother.
  • Mary of Hancock is introduced to us as the manager's wife, but later turns into a subversion as she has her own personal characterization. When she explains the background behind her powers however, it turns out that their relationship was problematic because someone needed Hancock to go on being immortal and save the world (The Physical Gods are Brought Down to Normal when two are close together), and that he and Mary were only paired up by convention - he is the important one making it a double subversion. Why Mary, who is more powerful than him, doesn't have the responsibility that he does is never explained beyond the whole "hero" thing being part of his nature/personality.
  • In West Side Story there were girls in the Jets, but they were only there as the girlfriends of some of the more important male characters, with the exception of Anybodys, who wants to be a Jet and fight alongside the rest of them but is treated as an Annoying Younger Sibling. After the rumble she seems to be accepted into the gang.
    • Her name is the definition of this trope. "Whose is she?" "She's anybody's."
  • In The Young Victoria, the Queen is pretty much treated as a puppet of her (male) advisers, and when she calls her husband out on undermining her as a queen, the whole movie starts to work against her - all her other advisers want them to reign together, and he is finally shot, causing her to back down. Later on this turns out to be an inversion, as all the men try to play her as a puppet because, ultimately, a great deal of their power rests solely on Victoria liking them. Albert goes behind her back because he feels useless and knows that every iota of his respect in the British court stems from his relationship with Victoria. In the end, the solution isn't for either of them to ignore or manipulate the other, but for Victoria to rule with Albert serving as a trusted, competent advisor, in a partnership that requires both of them.
  • The Sorcerer's Apprentice has three women in it all in all, with two of them serving as love interests for the main characters and a Big Bad with a total of two scenes.
  • In Lost in Space we meet Dr. Judy Robinson and no surprise, she's the daughter of Professor John Robinson.
    • In the original series' backstory, Judy was and gaining success as an actress/singer in a family of scientists, so from that she averted the trope. However, it turned her into The Chick with little to do in a scifi setting.
  • Justified in period pieces like The Duchess and The Mask of Zorro where historically the woman could not have been important unless related to an important man.
  • Stella Bridger of The Italian Job is the safe cracker and a necessary part of the team, but she is also Charlie's love interest and his mentor's daughter.
  • In The Sinking Of Japan the heroine's sole motivation to become a firewoman is because her father was one. Although it turns out that her mother only made this up, so the girl would have someone to look up to.
  • Winnie Wall Street Money Never Sleeps is one of the more extreme examples; she has no other purpose aside from being something that Jake and Gekko barters with. Might cross into Deconstruction territory since the entire point of the movie is to show how corruption works.
  • Averted in The Phantom Menace where Amidala is ruler of Naboo. By Revenge of the Sith it's played straight as she's given up the throne, and while still a Senator it's all about Anakin becoming Darth Vader, though there are three deleted scenes of her actively trying to stop the Chancellor from taking over.
    • Similarly averted in A New Hope where Princess Leia is a Senator and member of the rebellion with no man by her side. Her (adoptive) father was a Senator before her and is the chief executive on their homeworld, but it's implied that any influence he had on her getting her position was tangential at best.
  • Mrs. Brisby in The Secret Of Nimh would not have gotten any help for her situation if she wasn't, as they keep calling her, "Mrs. Jonathan Brisby." Though she ultimately succeeds based on her courage and inner strength, the sequel effectively demotes her to extra to focus on her son.
  • The Bowler (aka Baby Bowler) from Mystery Men happens to own a bowling ball haunted by her murdered father. He can levitate himself just fine, but needs her to carry him around to get from place to place without disturbing anyone. It's especially glaring because, while the rest of the heroes have to come to terms with their true powers and learn to believe in themselves, she doesn't actually have any powers to believe in, and specifically joins because her father made her. She'd rather go back to school.
  • In the 2010 Alice in Wonderland, Alice Kingsley doesn't have an identity until she claims herself to be her father's daughter. This realization allows her to hold the Vorpal Sword while it fights the Jabberwock (she's even referred to as 'The Insignificant Bearer' by the Jabberwock and told that the sword and not she is the true opponent). She then goes on to run her father's company according to his vision instead of accepting a wedding proposal, so while it looks like sister's doin' it for herself, there's still a man (or at least a phallic symbol) to thank for her position).
  • Iron Man:
    • Pepper Potts in Iron Man 2 is the main character's love interest. She also becomes CEO of Stark Industries, but only because Tony gives her the position. At the end of the film, she says she's going to quit, but as of the third Iron Man movie, she still is.
      • In Iron Man 3, she is the one who defeats the Big Bad. However, she does this because the Big Bad (a man) gave her superpowers, and the tools she uses were made by Tony.
    • Averted, though, with Christine Everhart, who is a highly assertive journalist and appears to answer to nobody.
    • The highly competent Natalie Rushman could be played straight or an aversion. She follows the orders of a male party, but appears to have a high degree of initiative and does not lose agency after her relationship with Nick Fury is revealed.
  • Averted in the Peggy Carter short, and lampshaded: after Steve crashes in the Arctic, Peggy is left working in a small agency where the gender politics of the day have her treated like an undervalued secretary whose smug jerk of a boss thinks she only has the job due to being Captain America's former girlfriend. Of course, he's ignoring the fact that she just accomplished a violent mission recommended for a team of agents by herself.
  • In Wild Wild West, Salma Hayek's character is only in the plot to be drooled and fought over by men, and to find her father, but is otherwise useless through the entire film. And the man the two man characters assumed was her father is actually her husband.

    Literature 
  • Pick a book titled after the template The [Person with X Career]'s [Relative]. The relative will always, always be female. (Though if the person they're related to is also female, e.g. The Virgin Queen's Daughter, it's obviously not an example of this trope.)
  • Lily in Harry Potter is a complicated case (see the now archived Discussion), and Tonks (while starting out independent) becomes a mere Love Interest in the last two books. Fleur starts off as a competent female, but then gets reduced to the role of Bill's wife. Even minor characters fall into the trope: The seven known burn marks on the House of Black's family tapestry fit this trope. The four males were stricken from the family tree for various reasons, the three females were all stricken from it because of who they married (a Muggle, a Weasley and a Muggleborn, respectively). It should be noted that Bellatrix and McGonagall, the two main female characters who don't have children, do become successful in their chosen fields; Bellatrix is Voldemort's Dragon and one of the most formidable Death Eaters, while McGonagall is Head of Gryffindor and later Head of Hogwarts. We are told through Pottermore how she inherited her magical powers from her mother and shared many of her mother's favorite activities when she went to Hogwarts. While her father was mentioned a few times, very little is given on his influence for her. However, most of Bellatrix's actions are driven by Fantastic Racism and her obsessive love for Voldemort.
  • Dracula gives the ladies the same treatment: the only women in the the main cast are the fiancees to others in the team. Also something of an an inversion in that most of the team is composed of 'Lucy's suitors' and in most of the bits of the book happening after Transylvania, Jonathan appears as 'Mina's husband' rather than the other way around, even though Mina does first appear as 'Jonathan's fiancee'.
  • Juliet Butler in the Artemis Fowl books could be an example of this trope - as well as the related trope if she were more of a character. She is characterized largely as "Butler's little sister," and the great majority of her physical skills and knowledge of bodyguarding comes from her brother/familynote . She doesn't seem to have a problem with this - in "The Eternity Code," she takes on Artemis as her Principal because she's explicitly trying to fill her brother's shoes. She does utilize her own ingenuity (as well as some awesome tricks she picked up from Professional Wrestling and lucha libre) to become her own fighter, but whenever she is mentioned by other characters, it is always in the context of her relationship to Butler.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe plays this to the hilt with the Imperial Natasi Daala, who rose to her position in an Empire that discriminated against women because Grand Moff Tarkin took her as his lover. And honestly, she was a General Failure. In Death Star Tarkin claims that he just allowed her to get past that prejudice and her successes were her own, but this is also the book where he kept having her snuck out to the Death Star for liaisons. And then she got brain damaged, which might explain her Informed Ability in the Jedi Academy Trilogy.
    • It should be noted, however, that Daala's military tactics were said to be genius in land-based tactical combat, and she was then given command of a handful of Star Destroyers and expected to turn in the same results via space combat, which can easily explain her mishandling of the combat situations she was in during the Jedi Academy Trilogy.
    • Marasiah Fel, the first female ruler of the Fel Empire, got her position because, well, she was in the Fel Dynasty. Pretty obvious that this would be how it works in a hereditary monarchy, but still a clear example.
    • Played with in the case of Ysanne Isard, Director of Imperial Intelligence. Her father held that position before her, and she was one of his top agents. She was a bit too good at her job for her father's comfort, who grew paranoid that she might try and take over his job. So he sent her on a suicide mission that would make her look like incompetent, a traitor, or would outright kill her. Ysanne noticed, survived, turned the tables on her dad and had him arrested for treason and executed within an hour of her return to Coruscant (rumor is that she executed him herself), which earned her a Klingon Promotion from The Emperor. Being psychic, the Emperor clearly knew she was lying about her father, but was impressed enough that he let her go through with it.
    • Leia's entire life has revolved around the men in it. She was spirited away to protect her from her birth father, she only got involved in politics and the Rebellion thanks to her adopted father, she first learned of her Force powers through her twin brother, she nearly married herself off to a Prince in order to cement an Alliance treaty, and by the time that she finally settles down with Han and starts a family, her entire life is wrapped around what her husband, brother, or children are doing. She really only comes in to clean up their messes.
      • On the other hand, when she and Han get married, she's the one who continues her career. Han only comes out of retirement for special occassions, while Leia gets elevated to Chief of State of the entire New Republic, thus heading up a government that spans most of the known galaxy.
    • Even Mara Jade, one of the most Badass Action Girls there is, has her entire backstory closely tied to the Emperor. Even after he's dead her only goal in life is to avenge her master. Later she becomes the Number One of Tallon Karrde, Luke Skywalker's Love Interest, and the mother of Child Prodigy Ben.
    • Meetra Surik, the canonical protagonist of Knights of the Old Republic 2, is perhaps the most promintent case that averts it to some degree, if not entirely. While she served under Revan in the Maladorian Wars, for the run of the game everything she does is of her own volition or due to the influence of Kreia, her elderly female mentor for learning the Force. There are certainly men in her life but she wields more influence on them than they wield on her. After the events of the game, she teams up with Revan to try and prevent the Sith Empire from coming to threaten known space. Her actions have a major impact on all galactic civilization and after her death she helps Revan by acting as a Spirit Advisor.
  • Dan Brown's Love Interests are all like this. Vittoria of Angels and Demons and Sophie of The Da Vinci Code are only involved in their respective fields because their father-figures were already in them. They're both competent, no doubt, but from the moment they meet the Author Avatar, that is all but forgotten. Basically, they're the hot scientists who only get to tag along because the key victims happened to have raised them.
  • Conina of Discworld does her best to avoid this, fighting her father's influences as a barbarian, and not always succeeding. Of course since those violent impulses come in handy it's probably a good thing.
    • Lady Sybil has aspects of this while also being something of an inversion. She does come from a powerful family, but up until he met Sybil, Vimes had been captain of the Night Watch, only because no one else wanted the job, and he wasn't getting promoted because his mouth kept running away from his brain. Once he met Sybil, he started his way up the ladder of success.
    • Played straight with Susan Sto Helit. Her being Death's granddaughter is her most defining trait and the biggest reason of what makes her extraordinary and a relevant character... but then Death is somewhat genderless, so...
    • Subverted with Angua, who, despite becoming a Love Interest for Carrot, is still a strong character in her own right. Also averted with all the witches (naturally).
  • Done in-universe in the Robotech Expanded Universe. Miriya was the greatest Zentraedi female ace, and when she got her Heel-Face Turn and married Max Sterling, for the rest of the original series she was his counterpart and got equal screentime with him. Then during the Malcontent Uprisings, the brass made the official decision to turn her into a propaganda piece; "homemaker, mother, former freedom fighter." Miriya abided by it, but still played an important role in the finale (and returned to Badass status during the Sentinels series).
  • Apart from Galadriel, the women of Lord of the Rings fall into this. Rosie, Goldberry and Arwen all function as Love Interests for male characters, and while Éowyn breaks out of the mold eventually, she's introduced as the dutiful niece of Théoden and a potential Love Interest for Aragorn. She also eventually ends up with Faramir.
    • Still, Galadriel is a hell of an aversion, and her husband is something of an inversion. Quick: without looking it up, what was his name? Thought so. The one line the poor schmuck got in the films was to ask where Gandalf is, and Galadriel corrects him without even bothering to make eye contact.
  • This is a big source of criticism for the Twilight series. Among them:
    • Bella Swan has virtually no identity beyond Edward Cullen. The few details we are given about her are there to emphasize her relationship with him (they both like Clair de Lune, they both like Jane Austen, etc) except for her housekeeping skills, which we're told were developed to take care of her mother, but are mostly employed out of necessity because of her incompetent father.
    • Rosalie's defining character trait throughout most of the books is that she is jealous that she does not have Edward's affections. Her backstory, revealed in Eclipse, is that she was gang raped by her fiance and his male friends. In the Twilight Illustrated Guide, we find out that the main reason she became a vampire was because Carlisle had hoped she would be a wife for Edward.
    • Esme's backstory is how she met Carlisle and was smitten with him as a teenager, was abused by her husband as an adult, and was saved and turned into a vampire by Carlisle.
    • Alice was only saved from James and the asylum she was locked in because of a male vampire on the staff.
    • Kim, Claire, and Emily are only introduced in the story to be the imprintees/ Love Interests of Jared, Quil, and Sam respectively. This goes double for Renesmee, who from birth was used as a way to solve the Bella/Edward/Jacob love triangle. Leah also spends the entire series being defined by being the bitchy ex-fiance of Sam.
    • Victoria spends all of Twilight with no identity beyond being James's mate, which also serves as her only motivation for serving as the villainess for the next two books. Similarly, Irena's only identifying characteristic in Breaking Dawn is her grieving for the loss of Laurent, and Jane is always shown as a sister and as Aro's servant.
    • Kate's entire character development in Breaking Dawn centers around her forming a relationship with Garrett.
  • Averted by disciples of Aldur in The Belgariad, with Poledra having achieved her position with the help of no man.
  • Antoninia in Belisarius Series is complex version. She is a High-Class Call Girl who gets Belisarius to marry her. She is certainly not shuffled into the kitchen, but her achievements are only possible because she has "respectableized" herself by marrying a great general who is willing to treat her as an equal partner.
  • The reason the two female protagonists of The Sisters Grimm are important is because they're the descendants of the Brothers Grimm.
  • Deconstructed in The Hunger Games. While Katniss is the protagonist and certainly one of the more competent tributes, the game is really about playing to the audience, something that Katniss is incapable of doing on her own. The solution is to deliberately invoke this trope, and pretend that she is the star-crossed lover of the other tribute from her district, the charismatic Peeta.
  • Vorkosigan Saga centers around an aristocratic society so naturally everyone's success is family. But women are more in the background of vor society, and their main power is influence influence which some vor women know how to wield competently. More odd is Cordelia who in her native land was a Bold Explorer but on Barrayar was satisfied to be a properly maternal if rather eccentric vor woman. Miles is the closest to a self-made character in the series as he made himself a mercenary warlord in an area to far away from his planet for anyone to know about his princely lineage and used that to do covert ops for his native planet until he rose high in power and prestige.
  • Alice Burgess is the only female character in The Saga of Darren Shan not to follow this trope. Of the four other major roles, two are Love Interests, one is a sister, and even the most powerful woman in the series only exists to give the vampires and vampaneze a possibility to have children - the inibaility to do so on their own is given as an explanation why women are ridiculously underrepresented among them, invoking this trope on a collective scale as well.
  • Zig-zagged in A Song of Ice and Fire. The story makes it clear that everybody gets their power from their connections, regardless of gender, with a couple of significant exceptions. Littlefinger, one of the only truly Self Made Men in the series, points out that all of Queen Cersei's power comes from either her family connections or (temporary) youth and beauty and none from political savvy, and Cersei herself openly resents her reliance on male relatives. On the other hand, Olenna, the "Queen of Thorns", is no more reliant on her relations than any of the men other than Littlefinger and Varys, and manages to near-openly rule her House with an iron fist, and Daenarys succeeds or fails despite her male connections as often as because of them.

    Live Action TV 
  • In NCIS, Tony attributes Ziva's job as being due to her father's high position in Mossad. He's partially correct, in that Ziva's father trained her from birth to do the job she does. In Season 7, she removes herself completely from her father's influence and goes back to Gibbs. It's also shown that while her father has become an important character, he wouldn't be if not for Ziva. Then again, she might not be as important as she is in the story if she wasn't Ari's half-sister and handler in Mossad.
    • We get another unwilling example in EJ Barret. It's strongly implied that her uncle being SecNav contributed to her getting her position, but she doesn't like or accept this.
  • Both played straight and averted in How I Met Your Mother. Robin enters the group as Ted's Love Interest. However, she breaks out of this mold in season 3 (Lampshaded beforehand in the pilot episode, when Ted reveals that the girl being described, who seemed to be the titular mother, was actually their Aunt Robin), and while several of her subplots have to do with her various romantic interests, this is true for all the characters on this show, male or female. Robin is probably the character whose subplots are the least dependent on other characters.
    • This trope is even inverted in season 7, where Barney's character is appropriated as Robin's love interest, and his main significance is to be a source of angst for Robin. This makes the single brief look at his perspective in "Tick, Tick, Tick" all the more heartbreaking, as the audience knows that while Robin is busy going through character development and struggling with her personal conflicts, Barney is miserably and silently Out of Focus, waiting for her to address her relationship with him.
    • Invoked in-universe for Lily, whose reason for her second thoughts about marrying Marshall, and her subsequent decision to leave for San Francisco, is because she's been with him since her first day of college and doesn't know who she is outside of her relationship with him.
  • Mrs Onedin in The Onedin Line. Justified in that the marriage was her idea as a way to seal a business alliance and both parties profited equally.
  • That '70s Show had three major female characters. Donna and Jackie was either dating or fought over by the boys, and Kitty is Eric's mom.
  • In Blue Bloods they are a police dynasty so everyone's success is family including the daughter Erin (who is a DA). However it is less from pulling strings and more from tradition.
  • Criminal Minds plays with this when they introduce Emily Prentiss. The first thing we learn about her is that her parents are diplomats, and the audience (and, it's implied, the characters) assume that this is how she got her job. This isn't the case at all, and she remains an important character, which her parents are... not.
  • The women in The Big Bang Theory are mostly Girl of the Week or long term love interests for one of the boys. A possible exception is Amy, Sheldon's "kinda sorta girlfriend".
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has many women on it: but would Captain Sisko's girlfriend, Quark's mother, or Chief O'brien's wife even be on the show if it weren't for the men they're related to? This becomes most troubling when Jadzia Dax, one of the show's main characters, eventually becomes little more than Worf's fiancee and later his wife. After that, she was only one half of a couple, and definitely the lesser half.
    • Averted with Kira however, whose signficance to the show is mainly about her Bajoran experience and value as a knowledgable crew member with lots of contacts, which continues even after she and Odo get together.
    • Quark's mother is an interesting case because she very much is a Self Made Woman, in fact she's worth more than both her sons combined which is no mean feat in a society where females aren't actually allowed to do business. Then there's her eventual ascension to become the power behind the throne.
      • But her role within the story is still entirely secondary to her sons'.
    • Also played with in that while Kasidy, Ishka and Keiko usually appear in the series as the wives/mothers/girlfriends of their men, they clearly have lives of their own and this is occasionally a side issue (Kasidy being a freighter Captain takes her away for long periods of time, Keiko goes on a long term botany study on Bajor, Ishka's "unconventional" lifestyle). None of these women stand still for their men and while they may compromise in the long run they have their own lives and keep them.
    • Kira, Jadzia Dax, Kasidy and Ishka also excel in male-dominated fields with little evidence that it was any specific man who inspired them or male family member. Kira was a freedom fighter alongside men and women while her father was a farmer. Jadzia and Kasidy have no reference to important male figures and Ishka had to battle to make her status against men.
  • Subverted on Leverage with Parker. "The Inside Job" has her reveal she was adopted and mentored by a legendary (male) cat burglar, Archie, but he's introduced long after Parker's become a well-developed character and only appears in two episodes. Furthermore, she was already a Street Urchin and pickpocket when they met, she having first become a thief at the age of 9. After she's integrated into her crew and her gotten a dose Good Feels Good, it's become quite clear to Archie that's she's fallen far from the thief he made her into.
  • This is played so straight in Telenovelas, it hurts. Most heroines are defined exclusively for the relationship they have with the male hero, even if the soap is named after her. Some play with this trope, through; for example, in Simplemente María, the titular heroine's success as a fashion designer is thanks to her own hard work.
  • The recurring women in Grimm are as follows: Juliette, Nick's girlfriend, Aunt Marie, Nick's aunt who kicks the bucket and Adalind, Renard's right-hand woman. Since her return in season 2, she seems to be doing a lot more on her own. However, her motivations all center around her hatred for Nick for taking her powers.
    • In season two there is also Rosalie, Monroe's Love Interest, who joins the plot as a result of her brother's murder.
    • Then there's Nick's mother, who shows up for a few episodes and leaves.
  • Almost all female leads in Kamen Rider are a sister, close friend or love interest of the hero. If not, they'll have something to do with a plot-centric male figure, such as Akiko in Kamen Rider Double (the daughter of the hero's mentor) or Yui in Kamen Rider Ryuki (the sister of the man responsible for the Rider War.)
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All Rory Gilmore, for the most part. While her mother Lorelai was pretty much a Self-Made Woman.
  • Averted in Game of Thrones. The story makes it clear that everybody gets their power from their connections, regardless of gender.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit spends a lot of time reminding us that Olivia is the child of rape, which informs a lot of her unique ability to connect with victims and the reason she joined SVU in the first place. Her mother is never forgotten in the discussion of her past, but the search for her father and his impact on her life gets much more attention.
  • This is one of the things often brought out when accusing Doctor Who of sexism: no matter how cool the (generally young, attractive and female) companions get to be, they are always dependent on the Doctor's affection for them - he calls the shots, and their job is to be The Watson, provide Parent Service, and catch the Distress Ball with no ability to influence the Doctor's flights or go on their own adventures, reducing them to Satellite Characters. The revival series took note of this by making it so the (generally young, attractive and female) companions quite often ended up saving the Doctor (both his life and his morals), and introduced an attractive female companion of whom the main appeal point was that she was going on her own time-travelling adventures, and so gets accused of sexism for different reasons... one being that the (generally young, attractive and female) companions now only get their special qualities in service to saving the Doctor and become Satellite Characters. The truth is probably that either application of the trope is something of a Necessary Weasel (the whole premise of the show is the Doctor's unique powers and lifestyle), and the perceived sexism of Doctor Who is probably due to other tropes stemming from its use (Screaming Woman, Male Gaze, Mother Nature, Father Science, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, etc) rather than the trope itself.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Exalted varies on how good it is with this. On the one hand there are characters like Lilith, one of the most powerful of the Lunar Exalted, who was initially introduced as having spent centuries in isolation after the death of her husband, and only returning to humanity when she senses his reincarnation. On the other hand, many prominent characters such as the Scarlet Empress, Mnemon, the Roseblack, Anys Syn, and Raksi are quite powerful in the setting, as attained wholly in their own rights (the consorts and husbands of the Empress and Mnemon, although a necessity in their dynastic politics, are basically footnotes, with the latter's ones not even receiving names).
  • Warhammer has comparatively few significant female characters in its background (mostly elves, thanks to their more gender-equal societies), but those it does have tend to avert this trope. Alarielle the Radiant, Everqueen of Ulthuan, inherited her position and power from her mother's line, as did every Everqueen since time immemorial. Such might be expected of her traditionally feminine earth-goddess aspects, but Alarielle's idiosyncratic belligerence and dynamism in protecting her people seems entirely her own too, and not owed to anyone. Morathi the Hag Sorceress was the wife of Aenarion, first and mightiest of the Phoenix Kings, but her magical prowess, political ambitions and the hold she has over her son Malekith are entirely down to her own dark obsessions and abilities. Indeed, Malekith owes much to his mother's influence. Ariel, Queen of the Wood Elves, is arguably more influential and powerful in Wood Elf society than her husband, King Orion. They maintain separate courts, and she in no way owes her power to him - both having been invested with divine kingship by the spirits of the forest at the same time. Moving away from the elves, Tzarina Katarin of the human nation of Kislev may have inherited her position as Tzarina from her father, Boris Ursa, but she is only coincidentally remembered as his daughter, and became a far more competent and clever ruler than he was. The Vampire Queen Neferata was far more influential and self-made than her husband, the fairly ordinary King Lahmizzar, and most of the other vampires in her court owed their condition and position to her, not the other way around.

    Theatre 
  • Explored in Into the Woods, where the name of The Baker's Wife is never said. She eventually defines herself with the words: "I have a baker..." and promptly decides that she wants more than just that in life, a fairy tale of her own. She just chooses the absolute worst way possible to gain a new identity apart from her husband: cheating on him.

    Video Games 
  • Mass Effect 1 introduces Tali'Zorah nar Rayya, whose father is an Admiral of the Migrant Fleet. P Layed with in that it is made clear that being an admiral's child puts a ton of pressure on her to succeed.
  • This is what Miranda from Mass Effect 2 thinks she is. Her father genetically designed her to be "perfect", yet Shepard points out that Miranda was the one who decided what she did with her gifts.
  • The Warcraft franchise has a few of these: For Jaina Proudmoore and Tyrande Whisperwind, their love triangles are more interesting than what they actually achieve in the conflicts. Alleria and Vareesa Windrunner, while capable fighters, lose all attention to their husbands.
    • Jaina offers an even more straightforward example: she achieved her position as leader of Theramore largely due to her father being the Lord-Admiral of Kul Tiras. And then became the most powerful mage in the Alliance and the Only Sane Woman opposing Varian Wrynn's Knight Templar attitude toward the Horde during World of Warcraft.
      • According to Warcraft 3, Jaina was the only human leader to listen to the Prophet and single-handedly hauled what was left of Lorderon over to Kalimdor. As for her father, remember that she fought against him and eventually helped kill him when he threatened Thrall, meaning she wouldn't be relying on his military prowess. That would put her presence in this trope in doubt.
    • As for Alleria, it's arguable that she's better known than her husband, but even then her fame is shared with her sisters.
  • The director's cut of Star Ocean Till The End Of Time added this for Clair and Nel. Their respective fathers used to have the same jobs they did, and this is especially odd since they lived in a matriarchal kingdom.
  • Koei's Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors games do this, although it would be hard to entirely avoid as they are set in historical China and Japan, where few women would be able to make names for themselves without being linked to a man.
  • Similarly, Capcom's Sengoku Basara, with its female cast being mostly defined as being someone's wife or lover and mostly defining their characters around their respective men, until the third game introduced Saika Magoichi as a tough, no-nonsense, badass mercenary woman who is highly regarded by the other warlords. Though the game implies she may have been the protege of the Saika's former (male) leader, who was killed by Oda Nobunaga. Which would make her a Double Subversion.
    • In all honesty though, most notable women from that period in Japan weren't self made, being the wives or daughters of influential men.
  • Eva of the Devil May Cry series could be an example of the trope, if only she wasn't solely spoken of as "mother to Dante and Vergil" or "wife of Sparda", or any variation or combination thereof. She's pretty much a blank slate of a character and no backstory whatsoever is given as to what she did before meeting an over-two-thousand year old devil, bearing his children, and then dying horribly in a demon attack to save said children. She's pretty much defined by those relationships and nothing else, not counting Trish who is meant to be her clone (and acts nothing like her). The Shout-Out in Bayonetta appears to fill in the gap in Eva's story by making her an accomplished dark witch that fought off the forces of Inferno, but she had to make a contract with a 'Legendary Dark Knight' before that happened.
  • Rift mostly averts this, but has one major double subversion in the form of Dacia Ultan, the daughter of a clan of renowned artisans. She first broke her poor mother's heart by setting out to be an adventurer...then brought her family even more honor by kicking more ass than some entire tribes. (It's hinted that the Ultans are now as renowned for their kinship to Dacia as for their crafting skills.)
  • A common complaint about Pokémon Black and White is that Professor Juniper is the first female Pokémon Professor to appear in the games, and she's also the first Pokémon Professor stated to have learned her trade from her father, who goes on to have a more important role than his daughter does. Which is a bit unfortunate, given that the character was originally meant to be a male and still have the whole 'inherited trade from father' aspect.
    • Also played straight by Clair and Janine in the games, Flannery and Skyla in the anime, and Winona in the manga.
    • Thankfully this trope was averted by Cynthia, the first female League Champion, who was a self-made woman all the way through. Lenora presents an interesting inversion, as her success as an archaeologist, museum curator, and Gym Leader means that most people only think of Hawes as "Lenora's husband."
  • Subverted in Infamous with Moya, who introduces herself as an FBI agent and the wife of an agent, John, who has gone missing, who she wants you to find. She's lying for sympathy. She only wants John for the information he can give her about the Ray Sphere.
  • The women of Kingdom Hearts tend to play this one depressingly straight.
    • Kairi is Sora's girlfriend and nothing more. She has almost no powers of her own, and her only role is to be kidnapped by the male villains and then rescued by the male heroes, Princess Peach style. She does eventually get a Keyblade of her own, but instead of manifesting her own like all the boys, she has one literally handed to her, and she uses it for all of one mostly off-screen fight against random mooks.
    • Larxene is the only truly female member of the villainous Organization XIII, and while no one could ever call her personality submissive, her only goal is to follow the plan set out by her superior, Marluxia, and ride his coattails to leading the Organization.
    • Xion is the series' first playable female character, but everything she is and everything she has, from her weapons to her very existence itself, was stolen from Sora. She's an imperfect clone of him, made as a tool by her all-male superiors.
      • In fact, her whole story arc is about explicitly trying to get away from this trope (being Roxas' counterpart) But she kind of fails. The most she can do is die on her own terms, though that accomplishes some good. Because of this, Xion does at least have the distinction of being in all ways more proactive and independent and in most ways more heroic than the protagonist himself. She's also the only person to take initiative and rebel against the evil overlords.
    • Aqua is something of a double subversion. She's a talented and level-headed fighter, as well as the only diligent, responsible and fully-trained apprentice of Eraqus... not to mention the only one among her friends who actually manages to earn the title of Keyblade Master. However, she spends a lot of time dealing with the mistakes made by the brash boys... and those mistakes are pretty big.
  • The newest Tomb Raider title, a prequel that focuses on Lara Croft before she became the Bad Ass Action Girl that was such a staple of gaming culture in the '90s, has Roth reminding her that "she can do it, because she's a Croft".
  • Played straight with Freya but averted with Garnet and Eiko in Final Fantasy IX. Freya's motivation stems from her lover Sir Fratley going off to war and never coming back which is also the reason she's never returned to her home. Garnet is essentially the main hero of the story with the other characters getting yanked into the plot based around the decisions she makes. Her main source of motivation is what's happening to her mother. Her father is dead but she doesn't express much angst over that. Eiko also serves as a sort of surrogate sister figure to Garnet. She mentions her dead grandfather a few times and is motivated by a crush on Zidane (that quickly disappears) but her protector Mog is revealed to be female, thus averting the trope. It's arguably inverted with Zidane whose main motivation is based around his attraction to Garnet. But then subverted at the end of Disk 3 for the poor guy.
  • In Final Fantasy X the female protagonists are defined by their relationships with men. Yuna is the daughter of the previous High Summoner and is determined to step out of this shadow but her other motivation comes from her relationship with Tidus. Lulu's coldness and cynicism comes from the death of her fiancée Chappu and she defrosts by learning to love his brother Wakka. The villainous Yunalesca is the daughter of the male Big Bad and is in her position because of him. Rikku seems to be the only aversion as her motivation comes from wanting to protect Yuna and she's the only girl who doesn't have a definite love interest. Though played straight in the sequel as the only plotline she has outside helping Yuna hunt for Treasure Spheres is a Will They Wont They implication with Gippal. The new character Paine's past is also defined by a group of men.
  • Averted in Phantasy Star and Phantasy Star IV: Alis Landale starts her quest because her brother gets Stuffed into the Fridge, but she's the pink-dress-wearing undisputed leader of a party otherwise made up of males. There are parody comics that poke affectionate fun at how cheerfully Bad Ass she is. In IV, Alys (no relation) is an accomplished hunter whose reputation is earned entirely on her own; the trope is inverted with Chaz, who credits Alys with both his training and his rescue from a life of thievery, and much of his character development revolves around how he copes with her death. He even continues wearing her uniform and inherits her house.
  • In Harvest Moon A New Beginning, a lot of Dunhill's dialogue mentions the player character's father, who once ran a farm on the same land you're using now, as being the source of their success. It also makes it pretty clear that the male farmer is the default; it's not very flattering as a girl to hear that, from the back, you can easily be mistaken for your dad. Especially if you're wearing a dress and a ponytail.
    • Made even more jarring considering that the developers are well aware that the vast majority of the franchise's consumers are women.
  • Awkwardly played with in Valkyria Chronicles. The Valkyrur are apparently an all-female warrior race/matriarchy, subverting this trope, but the two who actually appear in the game are subordinate to their love interests, too ruled by their emotions to make rational decisions about their powers on their own. Welkin saves Alicia from a wholly-unnecessary suicide attack with a Cooldown Hug and a marriage proposal, and Selvaria goes through with her suicide attack out of love for Maximillian, but only after making sure the only credible threat to his victory is spared.
    • Varrot plays it completely straight: she only becomes a captain because of a former love interest, and resolves not to go through with that motivation because of her current one.
  • Despite being the protagonist, Nilin falls into this, both played straight, and as an inversion. Her special ability to use the Hacking Glove has nothing to do with her personally, she only has it, and can only use it, because of her father. Her relationship with her mother is at the core of the entire game's events, but it's because that relationship is completely devoid of all emotional connection.
  • In Guild Wars 2, Jennah may be the queen of Kryta, but the most important NPC for humans i Logan Thackeray, and his loyalty to the queen is due to him being in love with her and little else - effectively, Jennah is a Love Interest with a high position rather than queen with a love life.

    Visual Novels 
  • Fate/stay night has this trope in play with its Masters in Tohsaka Rin, Matou Sakura, and Ilyasviel von Einsbern. While it's justified, being that the Grail War is meant to be a competition between three families, they're the only ones who actually owe their success as mages to their lineage. Shirou bumbles onto his role in the War and has to struggle to make up for his lack of magical skill over the course of the series (because his adopted father didn't teach him more than basic tricks), Shinji Matou is a failure despite (or perhaps even because of) being descended from a powerful Magus, Kuzuki is an assassin and not a mage at all despite being a formidable Master, and Bazett Fraga McRemitz, Lancer's original Master, is dead before the show begins so Kotomine can gain control of Lancer.

    Webcomics 
  • Deconstructed and then reconstructed in The Order of the Stick. Haley Starshine essentially has her father to thank and to blame for everything in her life; he taught her to be a fantastic thief by teaching her to mistrust everyone, and the only reason she joined an adventuring party in the first place was to raise money to pay his ransom. By the time she resolves her issues with her father, by realizing that Ian's paranoia and trust issues were poisonous and that she needed to move on, because it made it impossible to open up to the man she loves, she's already in a relationship with Elan, and now her personal issues revolve around learning to open up to people (naturally, with Elan's help). Therkla has a similar arc, though it doesn't end quite so well for her.
    • Also tends to be inverted; rather than starting the story focused on a man, they end focused on a man. In Order Of The Stick, a story where Anyone Can Die, there's a notable tendency among female characters to spend (what they think are) their last moments thinking of or mourning male love interests... while male characters tend to spend their last moments trying to figure out a way to live, or at least to get the most out of their deaths for those they leave behind.
  • Allison Carter from Sunstone is a strong aversion; she made herself a fortune completely independently, and although she once had a relationship with Alan, a now mildly successful man, the relationship held Ally back rather than give her support and it was only when she found her independence she started her fortune.
    • In addition, her relationship with Alan consisted of experimentation in BDSM in which both of them took turns being the dom and the sub and through this learned the ropes (so to speak) of the game together, resulting in both of them becoming quite skilled as doms. But as their little game went on, both of them wanted to be the dom, resulting in quite the clash of egos which forced them both to come to terms with the fact that two dominant partners are a quite poor match.
  • Cora of The Trenches, whose father literally wrote the book on the game her studio is trying to build.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Inverted in one episode of The Simpsons. Lisa laments that since her father Homer is kind of an idiot, she fears that she'll ultimately fail in life due to his genes...or something. So, he gathers up relatives from all over the country and finds that the female members of the family, and only the female members, have intelligent, fulfilling careers. Homer and Bart are crestfallen...but then quickly accept the fact that most of the male line are thickheaded idiots. They even participate in a headbutting contest. Yeah, it was a weird episode.
    • One made all the more confusing by the show's Negative Continuity. Herbert Powell, Homer's half-brother, is a flat out success in business twice over.
    • Also, Homer has proven to be a successful song-writer and Bart has been shown numerous times to have potential for success that is usually hindered by his laziness.
    • Marge doesn't seem to understand the idea of a woman being successful on her own merits. In "The President Wore Pearls", when Springfield Elementary School teachers dressed Lisa up, Marge said she seemed so successful and compared her to "the wife of a businessman".
    • Also, when the family went to Africa, they found Dr. Joan Bushwell's chimp refuge and Marge initially assumed Dr. Bushwell was a man who named the place after his wife. She was shocked when Lisa told her Dr. Bushwell is a woman.
    • It's rather ironic considering there was an episode where Marge became a Self-Made Woman by opening an Expy of Curves Gyms.
  • Speaking of The Simpsons, in animated domestic comedies (especially those with a Bumbling Dad and Closer to Earth mom), it is very rare to find a regular or even recurring female character without a familial or romantic relationship to a male character. In particular, the wife in the family (whether she works outside of the home or not) tends to have no friends or connection to the outside world outside of her husband's social circle.
    • Homer Simpson has Carl, Lenny, and Barney. Marge has... Mrs. Lovejoy occasionally?
    • Given her personality it would make perfect sense for Know-Nothing Know-It-All Peggy Hill from King of the Hill to have no friends, but even so, outside of her family, the only people aside from one-off characters she is seen with are Nancy (her husband's friend's wife) and Minh (her husband's sometime-friend sometime-enemy's wife). Anyone else (aside from when she briefly worked for a newspaper, which gave her character to interact with who had no connection to Hank) is a One-Shot Character.
    • Fat Idiot Bumbling Dad supreme Peter Griffin's closest friends are Insufferable Genius Brian, Casanova Quagmire, Hair-Trigger Temper-ed Joe, and Extreme Doormat Cleveland (before he got his Spin-Off The Cleveland Show). Lois's only friends are Bonnie (Joe's wife) and Loretta (Cleveland's ex-wife, who was Put on a Bus and later Killed Off for Real). Lois started off as a freelance piano teacher, which gave her people outside the family to interact with, but this aspect of her character was quietly dropped early on. One could say that Brian and Quagmire are mutual friends, but both of them are in love with her, which fuels most of their Peter-free interactions.
    • Initially averted in the case of American Dad!, as Francine had a friend/secret admirer in Linda Memari. However, along with the show's overall change in direction from political humor to Refuge in Audacity, Linda was phased out after the first season and only appears as a background character in the neighborhood. On the other hand any friends Stan is ever shown to have are just work buddies.
  • Barbara Gordon in Batman: The Animated Series starts out as mainly important because she is Commissioner Gordon's daughter (and later Dick's love interest). The trope is inverted, however, in Batman Beyond, where Sam Young's role as district attorney is mostly just window-dressing for his real role as Barbara Gordon's husband.
  • Inverted in Avatar: The Last Airbender : Katara accompanies Aang because she wants to learn waterbending and Sokka comes along because he feels he needs to a) protect his sister and b) help the Avatar defeat the fire nation. In the second season it's completely averted by Mai, Toph, and Ty Lee as all three are expressly defying their family's wishes by going on adventures (though it could be argued that Mai's relationship with Zuko eventually plays this straight). The only case in which this trope is played straight is with Azula who is following in her father's footsteps, although even this is pretty downplayed, as for most of the series Azula is shown to be a much more proactive villain that Ozai.
  • Futurama inverts it, as both Leela, who is an orphan and the captain of the crew, and Mom, the matriarch of her own company, earned their ranks. Indeed, it was Mom who made the Professor into the success he was.
  • In Daria, this trope is explored a bit when Daria and Jodie go to get a loan from the bank to fund a business project as part of a class exercise. The loan officer compliments their business plan and their presentation, but tells them that teenage girls as "high-risk" applicants. He asks if Daria's father can co-sign the loan (because she's white, despite Jodie clearly spearheading their project), until the subject of Jodie's father (a local inventor) comes up, at which point he declares that business savvy is in her blood and agrees to the loan. Outraged by the racism and blatant attempt to gain her father's favor, they walk out and try another bank. Jodie mentions her father's name upfront this time and they are offered the loan without incident. Later Daria calls her out, accusing her of falling into this trope intentionally instead of earning the loan themselves. Jodie responds that she just used the tools and connections available to her as best she could.

    Real Life 
  • Generally speaking, many historical women only ascended to power due to the death of their sons or husbands. Until recently, almost everyone's success was family, so naturally female success would be family, and it still is that way in some places.
  • Averted by Laura Chinchilla and Dilma Rousseff, the presidents of Costa Rica and Brazil respectively, who are the only female rulers in Latin America not to have gotten the position through being the wife of a former president.
    • It's worth mentioning that many of Chinchilla's detractors believe she got the position because former (male) president Oscar Arias and his brother Rodrigo Arias chose her (granted they would believe the same had she been a man)
    • Equally, Dilma Rousseff's predecessor, Lula da Silva, left office with around 80% approval rating, while she won by around 55% voting approval. It was expected that whoever da Silva supported as next president would be elected as his appointed heir to the presidency, and Rousseff's lower (thought still majoritarian, we must remember) approval rating might in fact be because she's a woman. Thus, sadly, her presidency could arguably be attributed to da Silva, and if anything, her gender made her imminent election a bit harder than it would have been had she been a man.
      • And Lula's first choice was a man, called José Dirceu. Before he could become a presidential candidate he was accused and eventually found guilty of a huge corruption scheme.
      • That said, basically EVERY SINGLE POLITICIAN on Lula's party had a popularity boost using his image, his successor president would be no different, regardless of gender.
  • Double-subverted by Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India. While she attained her position at least partially because she was the daughter of the influential politician and former Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, she quickly proved to be far more powerful than expected. Her son, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, attained his position because he was her son.
  • James W. Loewen's Lies Across America mentions a hall of fame in Arkansas where most of the women only get in because they're the wife or daughter of a famous man, thus teaching us that "Men make history, while women make wives".
    • He also mentions several influential Arkansas women that the hall of fame noticeably omits.
  • Ching Shih, one of the most famous female pirates (and the basis for Mistress Ching in Pirates of the Caribbean) only took over the fleet after her husband died and she married their adopted son.
    • That said, both husbands seem to have been under her thumb completely—we know more about her than them, especially her second husband whom is not really heard from after the marriage. Presumably, he survived the wedding night, but...
  • It is a simple fact that until quite recently in the West about the only way for a woman to obtain a position of power was through her choice of husband, lover or being daughter, sister, mother of a powerful man. Such was life. Even now, connections are a hugely influential aspect of job applications, which stacks the deck primarily towards those most like the people already in power.
  • Hillary Clinton. Say what you will about her, but were she not married to a President, her chances of being elected Senator (in a state she never even lived in), nearly winning the Democratic Presidential nomination, and later being appointed to a prominent cabinet post would've been at best slightly better than Ralph Nader's, and probably not even that good.
    • And then disappointed a lot of supporters of her campaign for presidency through this trope. When asked what her husband's role would be were she elected president, she responded that she was her own woman. This turned off a lot of people who had hoped her presidency would be a back door for Bill Clinton's third term.
      • More than one US state governor used that trick to get around his term limit. The most notorious example is probably George Wallace, who was succeeded after his first term as Governor of Alabama by his wife Lurleen.
      • Arguably as important as a state governor: The mayor of Las Vegas (Oscar Goodman) was a much beloved mayor and when he hit his term limit, the city promptly elected his wife mayor by a landslide.
  • Alaskan tropers will remember that Senator Lisa Murkowski got her Senate seat when her father Frank Murkowski left the Senate to become Governor and appointed her as his replacement. In the next election, the voters removed the governor's power to appoint replacement Senators, though notably they did give her another term in the same election. Then reelected her again in the next election, despite her name not even being on the ballot.
  • Some detractors of Lost in Translation liked to imply this about Sofia Coppola, suggesting that her father had somehow pushed the movie to success. Which might make sense if her brother Roman's movie CQ had experienced the same kind of success.
    • There's an article where a movie critic related how, when talking about Sofia Coppola to industry insiders, they always blame Coppola solely for her failures, but attribute any success she has to either her father or the male actors/producers/etc. she was working with.
      • This is similar to the unfounded rumors that Kurt Cobain wrote Hole's album Live Through This, because some people can't seem to accept that Courtney Love might be responsible for her own success in music.
  • Lauren Bacall has had a lucrative and long-lasting career in film, but is probably still best known as Humphrey Bogart's wife, despite the fact that she outlived him by many years (she's still around) and has re-married at least once.
  • In general, before women were allowed to achieve higher education, most women taught themselves however they could, which was usually attached to their husband, reading the books in his library, and often working with him as an unofficial assistant or apprentice. Maria Winkelmann is one example.
  • Up until relatively recently, female artists who achieved any sort of fame in their day usually were taught by their fathers. This was certainly true in the Renaissance: Artemisia Gentileschi is a good example. As a bonus, compare how big her article is to her father's.
  • Averted by Julia Gillard, the former Australian Prime Minister who chose other methods.
  • Inverted historically by women whose success was attributed to their male relatives or husbands. Mary Shelley, for example, whose novel was published with no stated author, but it had a preface by her husband, so most people assumed that he wrote the whole book. And then the sales of the book dropped dramatically when its true author was made public, and Mary was widely criticized for writing about such an "unfeminine" subject matter. It would be decades before the book was judged by its own merits, rather than by who wrote it.
  • This was essentially unavoidable for many pioneering women for in order to learn a trade that was considered "men's work" or get higher education before the 20th century, a woman usually had to rely on a male teacher (because there usually would not be a female one around) and often enough on the support of her father and/or husband. Even those women whose mother could have taught them a thing or two about their chosen profession might be unlucky like Mary Shelley, whose mother Mary Wollstonecraft died eleven days after giving birth to her, or Marie-Antoinette of France, whose mother Maria Theresia of Austria ruled an empire, but decided that little Maria Antonia needed less of an education than her elder sisters.
    • Meanwhile, by a not untypical Double Standard, male prodigies, geniuses etc. are frequently celebrated as if their achievements had come out of thin air, downplaying or downright ignoring the important roles played by their parents, teachers, sponsors, advisors etc. A lot of people talk e. g. about the achievements of Alexander the Great as if he had not inherited his kingdom and the best army in the world from his father and a supernatural mystique from his mother (who put about that Alexander had been fathered by a god and also accelerated his inheritance), as if he had not been educated by Aristotle and been surrounded by experienced and highly competent generals. And how many men's reputation was really diminished by the saying "behind every great man there is a great woman"?
  • The modern day girl gamer (and, so far, the only one consistently seen as a positive stereotype) is "that girl who can kick her boyfriend's ass at Halo." The "logic" being that a girl just has no reason to play unless a man coaxes her into the hobby.
  • Hypergamy, or the practice of marrying an older or more established partner is typically associated with heterosexual women.
  • It's often said that the incredible tennis run of Venus and Serena Williams would have never happened if not for their father, Richard Williams, who put a tennis racket in their hands when they were little girls and predicted they would be Grand Slam champions before they started practicing.
  • Although she evolved to stand on her own, Troian Bellisario knows whom to thank for her start.
  • Marie Curie is a strong aversion. She did have some help from her husband Pierre (they originally met because she needed lab space and he had some), but there's no doubt that she was the driving force in their joint research. Also, everyone's heard of Marie, but unless you're in the physical sciences you may not have been aware that Pierre Curie even existed.
  • Partial aversion with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition to the Burmese military junta and prominent peace activist. She accomplished a great deal in her own right, and most people outside of Burma know her far better than they know her father, General Aung San, who is considered the father of modern Burma and was the leader of the Burmese independence movement.


Murphy's LawLaws and FormulasNominal Importance
Infant ImmortalityTropes In AggregateGirls Are Really Scared of Horror Movies
My Biological Clock Is TickingGender Dynamics IndexThe President's Daughter
Nature Adores a VirginGender and Sexuality TropesNipple and Dimed
My Girl Is Not a SlutAcceptable Feminine Goals and TraitsPrincess Phase
Neuro-VaultCharacters as DeviceNever Live It Down
Mother Nature, Father ScienceDouble StandardNo Accounting for Taste
Neutral FemaleAlways FemaleNever Mess with Granny

alternative title(s): Female Success Is Family
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