Vios on Nov 19th 2017 at 10:14:20 PM
Last Edited By:
Vios on Jan 13th 2019 at 11:23:25 AM
Page Type: trope
Title crowner here.
Many ranks, awards, or other achievements in life have traditionally been reserved for people of a privileged gender, race, or other such category. This trope is about characters from a non-favored group who break through such "ceilings" - for example, the first woman to join a previously all-male military unit, or the only black guy on the town council. If they've already achieved their feat, it can be used to characterise them as tough, determined, and/or ambitious (depending on what they achieved and how they did it). If they're still aspiring, it can be used to give them motivation and drive the plot.
Characters like this may have to go through a Jackie Robinson Story in which they face hostility from people who don't believe they should be there. This might involve a Double Standard which requires them to work twice as hard to prove themselves, or they may have to conspicuously save the day in an All of the Other Reindeer moment. Their talents may be squandered on menial jobs ("You, Get Me Coffee") and they'll often be Eating Lunch Alone. Even if the people in charge actually want the ceiling broken, other people may still mutter that the ceiling-breaker only succeeded thanks to Political Correctness Gone Mad.
Alternatively, they may bypass the Jackie Robinson route of proving themselves and find a different means to break the ceiling. People who find their advancement unjustly blocked may not care about the rules - they may try Loophole Abuse, or they may be in a position to simply say "Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!" (via Nepotism or Sleeping Their Way to the Top). If their Ambition Is Evil, they could even obtain their breakthrough via Klingon Promotion. A more subtle approach is to sneak around the ceiling by pretending to be part of the group it doesn't apply to - for example, by employing Sweet Polly Oliver.
Even when characters who break a ceiling are successful and celebrated, however, they're still forging a new path by themselves and may be a Fish out of Water in ways that their colleagues don't understand. If ceiling-breaking characters are Famed In-Story and held up as examples for others to follow, they may be glad to know that they're inspiring people and making it easier for the next generation, but others will find the pressure unwelcome and just want to be treated normally. And just because an individual is accepted, it doesn't mean the overall prejudice is gone: bigots may simply have created a Bigotry Exception by ignoring the ceiling-breaker's point of difference ("You Know I'm Black, Right?") or judging them A Credit to Their Race. Occasionally, ceiling-breaking characters will be called a Category Traitor by members of their own group, having "joined the system" and become "tame". These accusations may even be right - the successful character may be a Boomerang Bigot or The Quisling, and not rocking the boat may be a condition of their acceptance.
May involve Overly Narrow Superlative. See also Stay in the Kitchen, which is one of the attitudes that can make things tough for a character like this. If the ceiling-breaker is a lone woman in a male-dominated physical competition, see also You Go, Girl!. There's also The Smurfette Principle, which can arise from a ceiling being broken.
- In Saiunkoku Monogatari, Shuurei wants to become a government administrator, but the required Imperial Examinations can only be taken by men. She has a roundabout route of achieving this goal, becoming a consort (and unofficial tutor and advisor) to the Emperor first.
- In Top 10, Joe Pi is the first officer from the Ninth Parallel (an all-robot world) to serve in the Tenth Precinct. Since Neopolis still has... issues with its robot population, he initially faces a lot of hostility with his fellow officers.
- Zootopia has Judy Hopps, who's the first bunny to become a police officer in Zootopia (a force normally comprised of megafauna and/or predators). As a result, people initially don't take her seriously.
- In Mulan, Mulan at the end is asked by the Emperor to join his Council. It's downplayed because she refuses the offer because she wants to go home, but even the job offer itself is groundbreaking because up until now the Council was reserved for men.
- G.I. Jane is about the first woman to join the the U.S. Navy Combined Reconnaissance Teamnote . It's part of a program to test the viability of allowing more, but plenty of people don't want her to succeed. Besides the brutal nature of the training itself, she has to deal with things such as accusations of being a lesbian (this being in the days when you weren't allowed to openly be so in the US military). Even things which seem like support are not actually support - she receives preferential treatment in her physical training until she rejects it on the grounds that it undermines the point she's there to prove (and also that it makes everyone resent her).
- In Down Periscope, Lt. Emily Lake is the first woman to serve on a submarine of the United States Navy. Commander Dodge, not having been informed in advance, initially thinks that his crew have hired a stripper, and they do indeed treat her mostly as eye candy to start with (which leads them to sabotage her laundry to make her uniform more revealing). Her lack of real-world experience (and lack of confidence) doesn't help her in establishing her credentials, but when a particularly tricky situation calls for her specialist training, she rises to the occasion and proves her skill as a dive officer.
- Courage Under Fire is all about whether or not Captain Walden, an army helicopter pilot, should be the the first woman awarded the Medal of Honor (posthumously, in this case). Surviving members of the unit paint very different pictures of her, ranging from heroic to cowardly - in the end, the latter claim is revealed to be a cover-up of the accusers' own misdeeds and the medal is awarded. (In real life, Mary Walker had already became the first female recipient of the Medal of Honor in 1865, although she was a surgeon rather than a combatant.)
- In Bright, Nick Jakoby is the first orc police officer in the Los Angeles Police Department, in an alternate Earth where orcs and elves live alongside regular humans.
- From Discworld:
- Equal Rites features Eskarina, a girl who wants to be a wizard and not a witch. Both witches and wizards would mostly prefer that this not occur, but she becomes the first female student at the wizards' Unseen University anyway. Based on her eventual reappearance in I Shall Wear Midnight, she did well for herself - but Unseen University still seems to be a male institution despite having made an exception for her.
- Men at Arms sees the Night Watch admit three new officers, each of whom is a "first": Cuddy (first dwarf), Detritus (first troll), and Angua (first woman and also first werewolf). They were explicitly added to the Watch in the name of diversity, since the city is itself increasingly diverse, but Commander Vimes doesn't approve (although his prejudices add up to disliking everyone equally, and he's also annoyed at having the decision pushed on him rather than being allowed to decide for himself).
- In ''Feet of Clay, Dorfl is not only the first golem to join the Watch, he's also the first to be able to choose to do so, as Carrot freed him from his Servant Race status by including his bill of sale along with his chem. What is more important to the rest of the world is that he's the first ever golem to have a voice, as he was rebuilt with a mouth. The religious community are particularly unhappy with it, as their usual trump-card argument is entirely ineffective on a golem made of clay.
- In Thud!, Sally is the first vampire in the watch, but she gets in due to the Temperance League and Vetinari forcing her on Vimes (despite his well-known aversion to vampires). When he discovers she's a spy for the Low King, he keeps her on the force because she is useful, but is happy that this means he won't have any more people forced on him).
- In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, the Empire had a strong preference towards people who were both human and male. However, there were people who managed to overcome this prejudice and achieve high rank anyway.
- One example is Thrawn (appearing in The Thrawn Trilogy, the stand-alone book Thrawn, and elsewhere). As a non-human, he faced a lot of prejudice in his early service with the Empire. However, he was enough of a Magnificent Bastard to get himself all the way to the rank of Grand Admiral.
- The Jedi Academy Trilogy introduced Natasi Daala, who would not have achieved her rank except for the fact that she was sleeping with Grand Moff Tarkin. There seem to be differing opinions as to whether his favouritism promoted her beyond her abilities or simply allowed her to claim her rightful due - but deservedly or not, she was the first woman to make admiral in the Imperial fleet.
- In the Vorkosigan Saga, Duv Galeni is the first Komarran member of ImpSec, the security and intelligence service of the Barrayaran Empire, which conquered his home planet. He gets trouble from both sides - some Komarrans naturally view him as a traitor and a quisling (not least his own militant father), while many Barrayarans don't trust him and are waiting for him to slip up. However, he believes that integration and cooperation between Kommarr and Barrayar is the only way good forward for either of them, and that putting up with the problems will make things easier for those who follow after him.
- In the Tortall Universe, Alanna becomes the first female knight, but this isn't publicly known until after she's done it, because she disguised herself as a boy. As a result of Alanna's achievement, however, Kel is then able to become the first girl to train openly (and she insists on wearing dresses at dinner to ensure people don't forget that she's a girl).
- In Robyn Bennis's Signal Airship series, Josette Dupre becomes the first woman to command an airship in Garnia's Air Signal Corp. The army began accepting women mainly due to manpower shortages, but they're technically only auxiliary officers (so can't command "real" officers) and are supposed to be dropped off before their airships enter combat (which is almost never practical). Josette, contrary to regulations, took command of a damaged airship and did well enough to get appointed to full command of new one, but the general forced to appoint her is strongly hostile (since her heroics saved the day when his battle plans couldn't). He attempts to sabotage her career.
- Artemis Fowl: During a heated discussion with Commander Root, Holly accuses his endless complaints and dressing-downs of being solely based on the fact that she's female. He admits that this is so... but for an entirely opposite reason: As there are two females in the LEP Recon (and one is a bimbo limited to announcements who only got a job because she's descended from one of the fairies' kings), she has to be better than all others so more women will think of joining.
- Honorverse: Lieutenant Abigail Owens is the first native-born Grayson female to ever hold military rank. Though she's more a case of sidestepping the ceiling — while she's officially part of the Grayson Space Navy, she went to Manticore's military academy and so far in the novels has been serving exclusively on Manticoran ships. Officially this is to let her gain experience before she eventually moves back to the GSN, but there's a certain amount of "make sure her eventual GSN superiors can't just shove her off into a more 'appropriate' female posting" going on as well.
- The protagonist of The Helmsman Saga is the first Carescian to finish the Helmsman Academy by virtue of the Lowered Recruiting Standards law.
- In Rex Stout's 1937 mystery The Hand In The Glove, a female private detective is not considered completely outrageous, but when two women try to start their own agency without a man in charge, it becomes a huge scandal, and the Bonner & Raffrey agency is criticized and mocked in the press.
- In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Ray Holt is the first gay man to reach the rank of captain. While the fact that he's both gay and black has exposed him to a fair bit of prejudice, his "rarity value" can still cause him problems even when people aren't being hostile - his long, unwanted spell in Public Relations was at least partly because the department thought he was a good way to show off their strides towards diversity.
- Star Trek franchise (in order of internal chronology):
- Star Trek: Enterprise: T'Pol is the first Vulcan to serve for any length of time on a human vessel (Jossing decades of Fanon that Spock was.)
- Star Trek: Discovery: Saru is the first Kelpian in Starfleet.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: Worf and Ro are respectively the first Klingon and first Bajoran in Starfleet (although Worf was brought up by humans).
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Nog becomes the first Ferengi in Starfleet, uniquely after having been a recurring non-military character for a long time.
- Parodied on Saturday Night Live during the Baseball Strike of 1994 and 1995. They had a series of shorts shot as a documentary on Replacement Baseball. (To those who don't remember, that was when the teams brought in new players to replace the striking ones.) One short shows the breaking of the color barrier... a few minutes after they started hiring players. The gender barrier fell a few minutes later.
- In Trust, one of the things that motivates Paul Getty III's kidnappers is that their boss is planning to have his son Francesco become the first boy from their village to go to university.
- In Necessary Roughness, Rex Evans becomes the first openly-gay football player in the NFL (this was before Michael Sam came to prominence in real life.) Fortunately, his buddy TK supports him, if only because TK is an Attention Whore who realizes that being an ally will boost his profile.
- On Mad Men, Peggy is the first female copy writer. She starts out simply feeding ideas to the male copywriters who then present the ideas as their own. During this time, she's paid as a secretary (a much lower salary) and expected to complete all of her secretarial work during billing hours and do copy writing in her free time. Later, she is promoted to junior copywriter, even though there are no male junior copywriters. Eventually, she is made a fully copywriter.
- In WWE, there have been a few firsts in the company:
- Bayley and Sasha Banks were the first women to compete in the main event of a WWE pay-per-view at NXT Takeover: Respect in 2015.
- A year later, Sasha Banks faced Charlotte in the first ever women's hell in a cell match, which also main evented the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view.
- Darren Young became the first openly gay WWE superstar to compete in the WWE.
- In 1998, Jacqueline became the first African-American female to win the WWE Women's Championship, and in 2016, she became the first African-American woman to be inducted to the WWE hall of fame.
- Chyna became the first woman to hold the Intercontinental Championship in October 1999. Months before, she was the first of three women in WWE history to compete in the Royal Rumble match. Beth Phoenix (in 2010) and Kharma (in 2012) were the second and third females respectively.
- In a 2003 episode of 'Monday Night Raw', Lita faced Victoria in the first ever women's steel cage match.
- Carmella won the first ever women's Money in the Bank Ladder match, in which the winner is guaranteed a title shot for the Women's Championship anytime that they want. James Elisworth actually won it for her.
- The 2018 addition of the Royal Rumble with feature the first ever Women's Royal Rumble Match.
- In Sleeping Dogs, "Broken Nose" Jiang became the only female Red Pole in the Sun On Yee. She didn't so much prove herself to her male rivals as kill enough of them that they stopped arguing (which is a kind of proof, true).
- An episode of Futurama has Leela become the first female pitcher in the professional blernsball league - but she's not actually any good at it, having been included because someone thought it would be funny. However, her poor performance has the unexpected effect of encouraging other women to get into the game, because they don't want her to be the last word on women in the sport.
- In Jane and the Dragon, the titular character is in training to become the kingdom's first female knight (having won the right to train as a squire by rescuing a prince from a dragon).
- In The Legend of Korra, Suyin calls Korra the first Avatar to learn metalbending. Not exactly as an huge accomplishment, given that metalbending was invented seven decades prior and it's a sufficiently common skill among earthbenders that there's an entire city of them, but neither her predecessor Aang or the countless Avatars before them knew it was possible — metalbending was only invented toward the end of Aang's quest by Toph Bei Fong, an incredibly gifted earthbender.
Feedback: 66 replies