The Smurfette Principle

aka: Smurfette Principle

Take note of the Male-to-Female ratio.
"I'm the only girl."
Marzipan, Homestar Runner, "Who Said What Now?"

The Smurfette Principle is in action when the cast is made up of a group of males and exactly one female. This can occur even in works with Loads and Loads of Characters, so long as each sub-Ensemble (of five or more) contains only one female character. Adding a second female to the ensemble creates a related trope. With the relatively few female-aimed works, contrasting the sheer enormity of works that are aimed at males, it stands out that the demographics of fiction shows a ratio of female to male characters much lower than Real Life.note 

The name of this trope was first coined by an article by Katha Pollitt in the New York Times printed April 7, 1991, called "The Smurfette Principle". The article focused on the trope as it applies to young children, and discussed the negative message: males are individuals who have adventures, while females are a type of deviation who exist only in relation to males. See also Margaret McGowan's Reel Girl column Females 51% of population but minority of imaginary characters and real life power positions.

Compare The Bechdel Test and Two Girls to a Team for similar critiques of female:male proportions in fiction. See Chromosome Casting when there's zero members of the opposite sex present in the work. This is also Distaff Counterpart to The One Guy. Subtropes include Never a Self-Made Woman (women cannot achieve anything without a male mentor or counterpart), Smurfette Breakout (the Smurfette character becomes popular on her own), and Territorial Smurfette (another female is added to the show and the original Smurfette reacts negatively). Contrast Gender-Equal Ensemble.

Sub-pages and examples

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  • Played straight in the Empath: The Luckiest Smurf story series, since it's mostly based on the cartoon show, though the reason for the disproportionate number of male Smurf characters is that Papa Smurf's generation (which consisted of both male and female Smurfs) ended up having mostly male offspring, with only one female Smurf offspring, which turned out to be Sassette.
  • In My Little Heta Stuck MS Ts, Twilight Sparkle is not only the only girl in the riffing group, she's also the leader.

    Film - Animated 
  • In The Book of Life, Manolo's Grandmother is the only female Sanchez bullfighter.
  • The Disney Renaissance films are a bit bad about this, although some are improvements:
    • Aladdin has only Jasmine. Aladdin's mother was originally in the film, but got cut. The protagonist (Aladdin), main villain (Jafar), best friend/mentor (Genie), and sidekicks (Abu and Carpet) are all male. The Sultan rounds out the cast of male characters. Female characters do populate the world so this is arguably faithfully reflecting the kind of world where power games are played out between men and Jasmine's story would revolve around the necessity of her finding a man to marry. It still doesn't solve the diversity/representation issue but it's somewhat logical.
    • Mulan - During most of the film, Mulan is with the Chinese Army, which wouldn't accept females at the time. (Which is why she has to disguise herself as a man)
  • Megamind has a single Brainbot out of hundreds with a pink frill and lipstick. The DVD commentary states that she was an Invoked Trope, and considered "the Smurfette of the Brainbots".
  • Susan/Ginormica is the only woman of the five monsters in Monsters vs. Aliens ("We are in the presence of the rare female monster."). However, she is the main character and has the most Character Development of anyone else, going from The Chick to Action Girl. The human cast is presented in a more even gender split, although not half-half.
  • 7 is the only female ragdoll in 9. There are a total of nine dolls, and the twins 3 and 4 never talk, so their gender is ambiguous. Justified; they all seem to stem from the Scientist's soul, so odds of his soul containing a lot of feminine qualities are very low.
  • For all the praise they have recieved, one major complaint about Pixar is the lack of films that have a notable number of prominent female characters:
    • Toy Story's main cast includes a young boy's toy collection, with predictably male-oriented rather than girls' toys. Bo Peep was the only female in the cast, a domestic woman and Satellite Love Interest with no part in the main action. It's hinted that the sequels would add more female characters at the end by having Mr. Potato Head wishing for a Mrs. Potato Head to opened.
    • Cars: Both films add more than one female to the main cast, but in this world of racing, the principle is still enforced.
      • In the first film, the racecar sponsoring RevNGo is actually the only female competing in the Piston Cup.
      • In the sequel, Carla Veloso, the Brazilian racecar is the only female competing in the World Grand Prix.
    • Ratatouille:
      • There is only one female rat in the film, who speaks to Remy at the end. Remy's family consists of a father and a brother. Plus thousands of additional colony rats.
      • Colette is very much aware that she is the only female chef in the restaurant and in a definite minority in the profession in general. She was forced to claw her way up and as a result, feels that she has to be tough and defensive to succeed in a career she worked so hard for. However, when her protégé, Linguini (and secretly Remy the Rat as well), make it clear that they deeply respect her expertise, she softens to become a good friend and more later on.

    Film - Live Action 
  • In Big Game, the unnamed woman in National Security Vault (referred to as chief of CIA in the closing credits) is the only female being in the entire film.
  • Bimbos in Time inverts this by having only one male character in the hero team (referred to as "the male Bimbo"); indeed, the only other male character with a major role in the story is the villain.
  • In Fight Club, Marla Singer is the only major female character — Fight Club itself is entirely male, with an unknown number of members across the country. On the commentary track, Helena Bonham-Carter talks about how she was glad when the support group scenes were being filmed because it was effectively the only time there were other women on set.
  • Galaxy Quest parodies Star Trek: The Original Series by having only a single female character on the show, whose actress was constantly annoyed that her only roles on the show were Fanservice and repeating the computer. At the end, when the show is revived, Laliari joins the cast, moving the In-Universe series to Two Girls to a Team.
  • The Hobbit trilogy adds a completely original female character, Tauriel, so that there would be at least one prominent woman in a story with dozens of men.
  • In Immortals, Athena is the only female god seen in the entire film. Amoung humans, Phaedra is also the only female travelling with Theseus.
  • Inception has a crew of around six guys and one girl. There is one other important female character, but for most of the film, she's a projection of the main (male) character's subconscious.
  • Other than her mother's brief appearance early on, Isabelle is pretty much the only female character in Jack the Giant Slayer.
  • Joyeux Noël, set during the Christmas Truce, has soprano Anna Sřrensen. Justified, of course, by the film's World War One setting.
  • In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Mina Harker is the lone female in an otherwise all-male league. In the movie it's made clear early on that she's a vampire who can kick all the other League members' collective asses. Alan Moore said he titled it "Gentlemen" to reflect the sexist tendencies of Victorian times.
  • In Marianne, Marion Davies, playing Marianne, is the only female with a speaking part.
  • Margaret Dumont is affectionately known as "The Marx Sister" by many fans of the four Marx Brothers, since she was the one female actor who consistently appeared as a leading lady alongside the Brothers in nearly all of their films. Notably, just like each of the Brothers typically played variations on the same character (with different names) in all of their movies, Dumont managed to cultivate a Straight Man persona that turned out to be nearly as iconic as that of Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo. The iconic role is a feisty, wealthy Grand Damealways known only by her last name—and inevitably seduced by Groucho's character.
  • In Mean Girls, the two Mathlete teams we see each have a single female member, presumably because of the double-funding incentive Kevin mentions.
  • Men In Black has the titular organization with a lack of female members. The end of the first film shows the mortician become agent L, J's new partner. However she is neuralyzed between films and given a Written-In Absence to make way for the return of Tommy Lee Jones.
  • In Mystery Men, the team has one female member, The Bowler, who carries a male bowling ball.
  • In The Naked Spur, Lina Patch (Janet Leigh) is the only female in the five-person Minimalist Cast. Her obvious sexual desirability is used by the bad guy, a fugitive who's been caught by a bounty hunter, to sow tension between the bounty hunter and the two partners the bounty hunter got stuck with.
  • Ocean's Eleven zig-zags through the films. The first (Eleven), has Tess, Love Interest to Danny Oceans. The second (Twelve), averts it by bringing in Isabel Lahiri, and the third (Thirteen), plays it straight by dropping Julia Roberts and Jones and bringing in Ellen Barkin. It should be noted that all three of these women were a love interest for one of the main (male) characters.
  • Pacific Rim has roughly 9 major characters, only one of which—Mako—is female. She's more assertive and plot-relevant than most examples, has her own story arc, and isn't presented as a Love Interest despite some Ship Tease with Raleigh. Sasha could have made the movie an aversion if she'd had more screen time.
  • In Predators, Isabelle is shown to be the only female cast in the entire film.
  • In Predator, the cast was made up of a bunch of battle-hardened marines and one female prisoner-of-war whose primary function was to create an Enemy Mine situation.
  • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time has princess Tamina as the only female character in the movie.
  • Bob Hope/Bing Crosby made the "Road to ..." movies (Road to Morocco, etc), which included one woman in the cast: Dorothy Lamour. A trope related to the Smurfette Principle was named after her; Roger Ebert referred to "Dorothy Lamour Syndrome" in his Little Movie Glossary; when two men and one woman have a dialogue in a movie, the woman is usually reduced to looking back and forth between the two men as they talk. Lamour had an excuse, as Hope and Crosby were frequently off-script and adlibbing.
  • Sometimes found in Military and Warfare Films where there isn't a realistic opportunity for more female parts. One example is submarine film Run Silent, Run Deep, in which the only speaking part for a woman goes to Cmdr. Richardson's wife, who appears in one scene.
  • Salt had the titular character operating as the only known female CIA agent and only known female Russian spy.
  • The Scribbler inverts the trope; the character of Hogan is the only guy in an otherwise all-female psychiatric halfway house.
  • Star Wars: During the original trilogy, Leia is the only named female character, although others appear as extras.
    • The Smurfette Principle affects the merchandise. Toy producer Hasbro has always been reluctant to make action figures based on Padmé's various gowns, but have settled for releasing one a year.
    • After the There Is Another line in The Empire Strikes Back someone suggested to Mark Hamill that the mysterious second Jedi might be Leia. Hamill joked that she had too much power already. "She's the only woman in the universe! If you don't make it with her, you're a monk!" An early draft of the script for Empire, written by Leigh Brackett, included Luke's twin sister — who was not going to be Leia, but instead another Jedi, already in training on some remote planet. This idea was never developed, though the "There Is Another" line might be a reference to it.
    • Return of the Jedi was originally to include shots of several female Rebel pilots in the attack on the Death Star, with at least one getting a substantial amount of dialogue, but for unknown reasons these shots were all removed from the final cut. The one line of female dialogue that remained in the scene ("got it!") was over-dubbed with a male voice.
    • This is Lampshaded in the Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales adaptation of Return of the Jedi. Luke surmises that Leia is his sister because she's literally the only woman he's ever met in the trilogy (aside from his dead aunt).
  • In the 2011 J.J. Abrams' film Super 8, Alice Dainard is the only female in a group with 5 young boys making a film and navigating their way through their adventure. In fact, she's pretty much the only female in the entire movie, other than one of the boys' mothers.
  • In the 2010 film, The Traveler, Jane Hollow is the only female police officer present in the film, and the only female who took part in the assaulting of the drifter 1 year prior to the story.
  • In Wanted (2008), the sociopathic female killer-for-hire Fox (played by Angelina Jolie) is the only female member of an ancient fraternity of assassins, and (what else did you expect) the top-ranking member.

    Multiple Media 
  • While Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has a close-to-equal male-female ratio amoung the human cast, there is a tendency for the Greek Chorus of Oompa-Loompas to be depicted as almost or exclusively male in adaptations, even though the novel makes it clear there are females. Only males are seen in the 1971 film and 2010 opera (the latter has an all-female squirrel chorus as a counterpart). While hundreds are seen in the 2005 film only one is depicted as female, though this is partially because one actor plays all of them. Averted in the 2013 stage musical, which has about equal numbers of male and female Oompa-Loompas played by the chorus.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • The Avengers hosts a primary ensemble of eight characters, with Black Widow acting as the lone female of the team. Supporting female cast members were included to improve the gender demographics. Joss Whedon himself was not happy, and has said he added Scarlet Witch to the sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron, partially for this reason.
    • Captain America: The First Avenger has only Agent Carter for female protagonists. Justified, of course, by the film's World War One setting. Supporting cast membership includes some females, to even out the story disparity.
    • The Marvel Universe LIVE! stage show (inspired by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but not canon with it) added The Falcon and Captain Marvel to The Avengers to help offset the racial and gender disparity.
    • Guardians of the Galaxy has exactly one female teammate (Gamora), and her sister (Nebula) works for the antagonists. Loads and Loads of Characters apply here, so there are additional female characters.
    • Thor and sequel Thor: The Dark World have a team of the prince(s) and "Lady Sif and her warriors three", implying that Thor, Loki, and Sif are the only ones who rates a name to strangers. The first film put some emphasis on her success, although people familiar with Norse history or mythology will find this odd, since Scandinavian women enjoyed more freedom than women almost anywhere else in the world during the medieval period, and Norse Mythology features several Action Girls.
  • The Transformers Film Series has a complicated relationship with the Smurfette Principle. Depending on the medium, transformers Arcee, Elita One and Chromia may be one robot, or sisters. The human cast always has several females, even if it isn't usually an even gender split. In Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, they are female Autobots; Arcee gets the most screen time and one line, but the sisters do get a good fight scene with Sideswipe at the beginning. In the novel and comics, Arcee is the central component with Chromia and Elita One as drone units she controls and they can combine into a larger robot.

    Arcee was cut at the last minute from the first movie and was replaced by Ironhide because of negative fan reaction to her. Also, it was decided that there wasn't enough time to discuss why there were female Transformers in the first place (not that it stopped them from appearing in the second movie).

  • Atalanta was the only women on board the Argo in Jason and the Argonaunts. Some myths state that Jason refused to allow a woman on the ship, which meant that Medea would be the only woman on the voyage back.
  • The planets in our solar system are traditionally named after deities in the Roman pantheon, and it zigzags between this trope and Two Girls to a Team (at least depending on whether you want to count our planet, Earth is classified as female in many world religions, including the Roman Terra, which is occasionally used as the "proper" name of Earth): Originally, the six planets were Sun/Sol (male), Moon/Luna (female), Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The moon and sun of course aren't planets, so that changed to the nine planets at some point (adding in Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, which was later demoted from planet status), with Venus being the only one left named after a female. The next planet discovered was named Ceres, also female, upping the count to two...but Ceres was later demoted into an asteroid, returning to this Principle.
    • Dwarf planets avert this. Of the five most recognized, three (Ceres, Eris, and Haumea) are feminine. Similarly, moons are more often female than male, with many of Jupiter's moons being named for his lovers (but there's still some guys in there).


    Professional Wrestling 
  • In WWE, there are far more men than women on the roster with several different divisions devoted to the men while having a separate single women's division. For a while they Averted the Principle by having a women's tag team but did away with it in the 90s. To be fair, the entire women's division as a whole wasn't too far behind but when it was revived, it was with a single title. A second title was created when WWE split into two "brands" (one for Raw, one for Smackdown) but the titles were unified, leaving one again.
  • La Nazi was the only woman in the CMLL version of Los Boricuas, and she wasn't even Boricua, just along for the ride. Zeuxis would join her when they became Commando Caribeno.
  • Initially, Allison Danger was the only woman associated with The Christopher Street Connection and was the only woman in Ring of Honor. Jailbait and Portuguese Princess would later join the connection, while Simply Luscious followed Danger in ROH.
  • In TNA, they have two titles for women; singles and tag team. The number of women who participate in matches is so low, the women often won't stay in the organization for long. For the majority of 2010, the same woman (Madison Rayne) held the singles title and was one of the tag champions. While she was built up as a strong singles champion, the tag titles were mostly forgotten about and three months went by without the belts being defended at all. When new champions were crowned, one of them actually did not appear on TV at all after winning them and left the company a few weeks later while the other appeared once before also leaving.
  • Despite what the name would have you believe, the only biological woman in AAA stable Lucha Libre Latina was Tiffany. The rest were all exoticos, gorgeous Georges and straight male delinquents.
  • Happened again in ROH with the move to Sin Claire Broadcast Group leaving Mia Yim the lone woman on the roster, though more came back around the end of the year.
  • Ashley America argued that business practices of Valkyrie Woman's Pro, the first all women's promotion in New York City New York since Betty Niccoli got the ban on woman wrestlers lifted, unconscionable, accusing them of depriving starving male wrestlers of work and demanding they only run a single women's match(featuring herself, obviously).

  • Dead Ringers featured a primarily male cast, with a single female member. This allowed the male impressionists to stick to the impressions they were good at or otherwise fitted their voices (and on the TV adaptation, appearances), while the sole female impressionist had to be three times better because she had to do ALL the women.
  • I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue has a male cast, only qualifying for The Smurfette Principle when they have a female guest. The role of the five cast members are to have one host, and two teams of two comedians each. When Sandi Toksvig first appeared in the 1990s, she remarked how proud she was to be 'in the long line of women who have appeared on the show' (she was the third, and the show had been running for about twenty years at that point.) This provoked considerable laughter from the audience, and a sort of 'oooh' noise from Tim Brooke-Taylor. Barry Cryer proceeded to make the apologetic comment "Well, they were all in the factories when we started!" note 
  • I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again featured seven members, one of which was Jo Kendall, as the only female cast member.
  • The Burkiss Way had two Smurfettes in quick succession in an otherwise all-male cast: they were... yes, Denise Coffey, closely followed by Jo Kendall.
  • Betty Marsden was the only female performer to appear on Round the Horne and its predecessor, Beyond Our Ken.
  • The Brewing Network's Justin tries hard to make sure there is at least one woman on The Session- usually it's the chat moderator, with the role mostly filled in the early years by Daniela and afterwards by Beevo. Occasionally Suzie Q would join the crew. Listeners have criticized the show as being overly blokey as a result. The other shows are almost always 100% male, though Beevo occasionally makes a contribution to The Sour Hour, as she is working at The Hop Grenade while the show is recorded.

  • Before becoming an animated series, the G.I. Joe toy line debuted with a single female character (Scarlett). It added a female villain (The Baroness). For a while, G.I. Joe added one woman per year, plus variations on the existing characters.
  • Before becoming an animated series, the Masters of the Universe toy line debuted with a single female character (Teela), and after the debut, added a female villain to the team (Evil Lynn). It eventually spun off an entire Distaff Counterpart franchise, She-Ra: Princess of Power, which featured only three MALE characters amongst an otherwise all-female cast.
  • Across LEGO's various themes:
    • In BIONICLE:
      • Every major Toa team is composed of five males and only one female.
      • The Matoran villages; the story focuses on six One Gender "Tribes" of Matoran but only the tribe of water is female; consequently all but two female characters are coloured blue. More Matoran tribes exist and are mentioned in the Expanded Universe, to avert the trope: eleven male tribes, three female (Water, Lightning, and Psionics), and a tribe of Light composed of both genders (for what it's worth, the tribe of Plant Life was intended to be female, but a typo set the tribe's male status in stone forever).
      • Most villainous groups avert the Principle, such as the Piraka or the Barraki, by being entirely male.
      • When the focus shifted to the Agori race on another planet, it was established that their tribes don't have the one gender rule. In theory, there can be more females than there were before since no one tribe has to be malenote , and said females could be of any tribe. In practice, only one female character was introduced as a set in the one-and-a-half years of this story... and she was still the blue one. Supporting material discusses this somewhat — the story arc in question focuses on arena gladiators with survival of the race as a whole at stake and it's mentioned that female gladiators are generally less common because the villagers are less inclined to put their faith in female gladiators, which they perceive to be weaker. Of course, said sole female gladiator introduced really isn't at all fond of the sentiment.
    • Hero Factory has a core group with a single female character, Natalie Breez. The backstory attempts to even out the ratio, but none of those female characters were added to the toyline.
    • In Life on Mars, there is exactly one female character: Cassiopeia, a female Martian (distinguished from the others by her eyelashes).
    • LEGO's Minifigures series averts by utilizing Two Girls to a Team: each series of 16 figures includes two female minifigures.

    Web Original 
  • Feminist Frequency has made several episodes dedicated to Discussing the Smurfette Principle, and even has a few additional complaints to make in reation to it.
  • With College Humor's Hardly Working skits, Sarah Schneider as the only female.
  • Homestar Runner:
    • Initially, Marzipan was its only female character. The fact that it uses such a Minimalist Cast makes her the only female character in the universe. She lampshades this fact in the page quote, found here. This was spoofed in a special feature on the "Everything Else vol. 2" DVD, Why Come Only One Girl?. The commentary to Why Come Only One Girl? points out that Teen Girl Squad eventually became their "new female outlet".
    • The Cheat Commandos, as a parody of '80s cartoons, do this explicitly with "Foxface", whose action figure boasts "Lady Type!" and "Not One of The Guys!!" The latter is a direct reference to the token females of G.I. Joe.
  • The Nostalgia Chick talks about this in a video titled "The Smurfette Principle". At that point, she was also an example of it, though two other women joined the site since, and That Guy with the Glasses, as a site, has gone on to build a larger female cast. Her hiring was, in fact, an attempt by That Guy with the Glasses to apply The Smurfette Principle: there were no female reviewers on the site at the time, and the site advertised a contest specifically to find a Distaff Counterpart to The Nostalgia Critic.
  • In Red vs. Blue, Tex is very much aware that she's the only girl, until another is introduced in the fifth season.
  • The trope is discussed in GEOWeasel, and referred to as "the law of webtoons". The same episode introduces the main female character, Sapphire, who is the only female character to appear for a while, though some later episodes feature Cass along with Sapphire before the series goes back to Sapphire being the only girl.
  • Noob has a decent number of female members, but the titular guild spent time with just one woman early in the work's run before introducing its female Honorary True Companion. The fact was blatant in the webseries, but the first installements of both the novels and the comic made sure to introduce the Honorary True Companion before the end. The two elite teams both have only one female player and a male Sixth Ranger, plus one of them took in its male Team Wannabe over the course of the series. One of these teams got a second female member, but only in the novel storyline.
  • The Senpai Club has a club made out of boys who dislike girls. The Senpais in the club are Hero-senpai, Bowl Cut-senpai, Gang Leader-senpai, Rock n Roll-senpai, and Lady-senpai. Lady-senpai is, as her name suggests, a girl not a boy.

Alternative Title(s):

Token Girl, Smurfette Principle, Token Female