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Femininity Failure

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Nowadays, it's considered much more acceptable for a girl to be tomboyish than it was years ago. Still, sometimes, The Lad-ette will give femininity a try, even if it's just for one episode. Maybe she wants to look and act elegant for a special occasion, or she's aiming to fit in with her friends, or she wants her Love Interest to see her as more than just "One of the Boys". She may take it upon herself to learn ladylike behavior, or she'll have a feminine friend teach her to act prim and proper.

Either way, she'll suck at it.

If she takes cooking lessons, she'll end up burning water. Any attempts to apply makeup will leave her looking like a clown. Walking in high heels will result in her taking a tumble. Even after she learns polite manners, you can bet she'll swear/gobble her food/belch at the worst possible moment. Old habits die hard indeed.

This can lead up to An Aesop of the Be Yourself variety, that it's okay for a woman to be masculine if she's most comfortable doing so, and she shouldn't change herself to please others. Bonus points if the Aesop leads to a Tomboy with a Girly Streak.

This trope often shows up in Gender Bender fiction as well, where a male-to-female transformee will often attempt to awkwardly dress in as girly an outfit as possible with caked-on makeup while struggling to walk in heels rather than going for something more utilitarian. Often with no in-universe justification for doing so.

Different for Girls is a closely related trope that plays on the same gender conventions from another angle, when the pretty girl trying to perform the feminine tasks and having trouble with it is really a guy. Such a "girl" might also suffer another kind of femininity failure, resulting in an Unsettling Gender-Reveal.

Super-Trope of Feminine Women Can Cook and Maternally Challenged. Contrast Girliness Upgrade and She Cleans Up Nicely, for when the attempt at being feminine works. See also Unwillingly Girly Tomboy.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Berserk despite Guts' memorable reaction to seeing Casca in a dress at the victory ball, the femininity is somewhat dampened a moment later when she elbows him on the jaw for starting to say something cheeky. She gets embarassed when she realizes some noble ladies saw that, and pulls Guts away to somewhere more quiet. When they're alone, she admits that she only dresses like a man for ease of movement, but by now it's been years since she last wore a skirt and she's embarassed to wear something so revealing of the neckline and shoulders when she has more muscle than most women. Guts assures her that she looks lovely.
  • In Kashimashi, tomboyish Tomari tries to teach the recently-female Hazumu how to act like a girl. Although she does impart some wisdom, mostly all she manages to do is prove that even when she was in a male body, Hazumu was more girly than Tomari.
  • In part of the Love Letter Lunacy in episode 4 of Kiniro Mosaic, local Tomboy Youko attempted to be more feminine as Aya commented it's more likely a girl, rather than a boy, to send her a love letter. She tried to emulate the more girly Aya, which looked completely fake.
  • In K-On!, when Ritsu is selected for the role of Juliet in a class play, her friends try to help her prepare for the role by forcing her to act more feminine in real life, banning her from talking like a boy and giving her a constant stream of etiquette instructions all through their light music club meeting. The attempted makeover lasts exactly one afternoon before Ritsu snaps and goes right back to being her normal self again.
    Yui & Mugi: Sit like a lady!
    Ritsu: I can't do that while I'm playing the drums!
  • Kuroko's Basketball: Riko and Momoi are the only prominent girls in the series who appear regularly, yet their cooking abilities are beyond bad. This is juxtaposed by some of the male characters being able to cook really well. Even when Kagami teaches Riko how to cook, the unnecessary extra step of adding supplements ruins the good food immediately.
  • Love Hina has Samurai girl Motoko forced to try becoming more feminine after Keitaro (more or less accidentally) defeats her in a duel. She's too violent to be good at it, though. She then feels that she has "failed" Keitaro, so she announces that she will commit seppuku, ritual suicide. Ironically, she intends to commit suicide by slitting her stomach open. This is the traditional masculine version of seppuku since a Yamato Nadeshiko kills herself by slitting her throat. If Motoko were to actually go through with her suicide, she would have failed at femininity again.
  • Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun: While Sakura isn't lacking in femininity, the fact that her crush Nozaki, who is otherwise very mainly, outshines her in anything where her femininity matters (e.g. cooking), she gets very frustrated with herself.
  • My Monster Secret:
    • The manga does a version of this trope based around sexiness rather than traditional femininity. Youko isn't a Tomboy, but rather The Ditz, so her concepts of sexiness are questionable at best. She strives to become a "Cool Beauty", but her idea of a sexy pose looks like it came from a Super Sentai show, and several characters completely miss the fact that she shows just as much cleavage as her perverted friend Shiho because she has absolutely no idea how to properly flaunt her larger-than-average bustline.
    • To that point, there's an entire chapter in the manga where Youko engages in a "sexiness battle" with Akari-sensei and Principal Akane, with a tied-up Asahi's Nosebleed serving as their "gauge". All three of them fail so spectacularly that Rin (Asahi's Granddaughter from the Future and a rather literal Moral Guardian) approvingly declares it a "sex-free sexiness battle".
    • The gag is repeated later on in the series with the introduction of Saki Minagawa, a succubus whose major Running Gag is her horrendously warped sense of sexiness. She came to the school hoping to challenge the daughter of the legendary Charismatic Pervert... and ends up mistakenly thinking Youko is said daughter (it's actually Shiho). Saki and Youko end up engaging in an impromptu sexiness battle, and once again Rin remains completely unaffected.
  • Generally the case with Akane in Ranma ˝. Played for laughs, of course, whenever Ranma shows up and turns out to be immensely better than her at any feminine task.
  • In one late episode of the first season of Sailor Moon, Usagi joins a club designed to help create "princesses", thinking that she could be more lady-like after the revelation that she was Princess Serenity. She flops with flying colors; the only thing she was good at was Frisbee throwing. The other girls join in and the only other people who flop are Rei (too stressed and tsundere to dance well, almost mauls her partner) and Minako (too ditzy and hyped-up for it, pays no attention to the dancing classes). Which is a good thing when it stands revealed that the club was a trap by Kunzite, and Ami and Makoto need saving along with the other girls there.
  • SPY×FAMILY: Yor Briar is constantly struggling to balance her roles as a contract killer and being a loving wife and mother. One chapter has her secretly visiting her friend to practise cooking and coming home with bandaged fingers.
  • The third episode of Steel Angel Kurumi Encore had Kurumi attempt to be more ladylike when she believes Nakahito isn't attracted to her anymore. Nakahito is more worried about her safety as she gets more and more desperate before she finally suffers a Heroic RRoD and faceplants on the floor.
  • In Tokyo Ghoul, the towering and intimidating Misato Gori attempts to prove her love to Koutarou Amon by baking him sweets. While she admits the final product doesn't look very cute, she remains oblivious to the wave of food poisoning her cooking causes to every single office she visits. When she finally presents Amon with her gift ...he mistakes it for a test of courage.

    Comic Books 
  • One issue of Archie has Veronica teaching Betty to be more ladylike (which was essentially her teaching Betty to be identical to her mannerisms.) Everything is going well until she spots a couple of kids playing catch, which ends with her joining them and landing in a tree in retrieving the ball when it gets stuck up there. While Veronica is annoyed with the turn of events, the kids all laud Betty as a hero.
  • Lucky Luke: One story has Calamity Jane taking etiquette and cooking lessons. Needless to say, she can't help but swear like a sailor and her cookies are inedible. When threatening a group of men with her rifle unless they eat up, one of them opens his shirt and says "Fire!"

    Fan Works 
  • Tomboy with a Girly Streak Darling Charming is shown to have been this way as a child in You Built This House. It took a while for her "girly streak" to develop. When she was younger Darling used to bow instead of curtsey and she wasn't used to dressing up.
  • In a Discworld fic by A.A. Pessimal, an Assassin who normally favours comfortable Veldt-chic of tunic, britches and boots faces her biggest challenge. Dressing up as a conventional young woman. Dressed by her friends in Ankh-Morporkian fashions including high-heeled boots and a suitable dress-skirt, she stumbles awkwardly and demands to know how the bleddy Hell a woman is expected to be able to walk in these things. Much later in the cycle of tales, Johanna becomes a mother of daughters. Her middle daughter takes after Mum, and tries to pass unwanted clothing onto a new friend who arrived in Ankh-Morpork with only the bare minimum.
    People keep buying me dresses and skirts and things as if they expect me to actually wear them, can you believe it?

    Film — Animation 
  • Mulan has the title character screwing up the traditionally feminine "matchmaker" process, because she's too nervous about meeting the high standards of proper behavior and at the idea of getting a husband, and goes through it more to please her parents than out of her own will.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The titular protagonist of Calamity Jane has a friend help her become more feminine in order to attract her crush. Jane is too rough-and-tumble for pretty dresses, however. Soon after her Girliness Upgrade, she ends up falling in a lake and getting covered in mud.
  • The plot of Miss Congeniality, where Gracie Hart is a tomboy FBI agent who doesn't have any interest in more feminine pursuits but is forced to glam up and go undercover as a beauty pageant contestant. While she gets the look down, with the help of an army of stylists, she has trouble fitting in with the more girly contestants she has to blend in with.
  • My Fair Lady is built on this, with Henry Higgins attempting to make the rough and tumble cockney Elisa Dolittle convincingly sound like an upper class lady, she does pull it off eventually but not without some mistakes along the way. Most iconically the scenes at Ascot horse race when despite being dressed up in the now iconic black and white dress and having learned how to speak with a crystal clear Received Pronunciation upper class accent she still speaks with a cockney dialect (using the grammar and vernacular she grew up with if not the accent), combine this her choice of conversation being Elisa pondering about the possible murder of her alcoholic Aunt she winds up horrifying a bunch of the other attendees.
  • The Princess Diaries has the awkward Mia who takes princess lessons and gets a makeover to which her friend tells her that she sold out. She's still clumsy after the lessons.
  • In Sam, He-Man Woman Hater Sam undergoes a Gender Bender and has no idea how to act feminine. When being taught how to be more presentable by Blondell, her Makeover Montage includes her making such mistakes as putting a skirt on backwards.
  • Sylvia Scarlett has the title character after only a short time of dressing up as a man somehow incapable of passing as a woman (she now has short hair, and masculine mannerisms so even wearing a dress is an Epic Fail).
  • In The Untold Story, the female police officer dolls herself up to impress the guys at the office but ends up going too far and looks like a prostitute.

  • In the Chronicles of the Kencyrath, heroine Jame is an Action Girl par excellence and all around harbinger of chaos being a nascent avatar of destruction will do that for you, and needless to say, when she's forced to try and become a proper Highborn lady in the third book (translation: elaborate dresses, lots of sewing, power wielded primarily through political intrigue, and very little in the way of physical activity), hilarity ensues. And by hilarity, we mean "rampant anarchy".
  • Sarene in Elantris is a princess who tries to be traditionally feminine, but fails spectacularly at girly activities, leading to her having trouble fitting in with the court.
  • In A Kind of Spark, Jenna once made Addie try to paint her nails during a sleepover. She just made a mess.
  • Hilarious example in Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett, where an entire platoon of women pretending to be men have to go undercover in "drag", and fail miserably at it. For extra hilarity, the one actual male in the group has no trouble whatsoever passing as female.
  • Several decidedly unfunny examples happen with Brienne of Tarth in A Song of Ice and Fire. She is so huge and ugly that attempts to dress her in a feminine way make her look worse than she does in armor, and while it provides some amusement for other characters, it only increases her feelings of being a freak unloved by all. Arya Stark has some examples as well, like tearing new dresses and being terrible at needlework.
  • Shows up in the case of Shallan Davar of The Stormlight Archive. She tries to be traditionally feminine to win over Adolin, but fails epically, breaking into the middle of one of his tales of derring-do to ask how he can poop in Shardplate. Luckily, Adolin finds her being herself even more attractive, and they are quite thoroughly in love by the end of the book.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Degrassi Junior High tomboy LD tries to be more feminine, including getting a makeover from her best friend Lucy. It fails and the makeup makes her look like a clown.
  • In the Frontier Circus episode "Stopover in Paradise", Ben romances the tomboyish owner of a local ranch. She attempts to become more feminine for him, but has trouble, especially with her high heeled shoes. Ben eventually tells her to take them off so he can teach her to dance properly.
  • Sam from iCarly did this to get a guy's attention, with Carly giving her help to embrace her "inner daffodil". She ends up fighting with another girl by the end of the episode. As it turns out, the guy was impressed and said he didn't want to date "some daffodil."
  • Legend of the Seeker: Cara, a brusque, snarky action girl, is forced in "Princess" to go undercover disguised as a gentle proper lady in Rothenburg. There, women are oppressed and all noblewomen have to speak constantly in rhyming meter, only doing proper "feminine" things like crocheting. Cara, unsurprisingly, is poor at both of them and nearly found out. Zedd, ironically, is far more convincing portraying her aged aunt. She's also quite unhappy to wear a gown, while he isn't.
  • Parker of Leverage isn't usually charged with the girlie girl roles, since she's the thief and Cloudcuckoolander of the group, and they already have the quite feminine Sophie on the team for those cons. But in "The Runway Job" Parker has to go undercover as a supermodel. The audience is primed for a big reveal of how beautiful she looks dressed up ... except that Parker can't walk in heels, so she wipes out big time on the catwalk.
  • The L Word: In Season 3, Shane (who usually wears casual and/or traditionally masculine outfits) is given a dress to wear by her then-girlfriend's relatives, which clearly does not suit her at all.
  • In Miranda (2009), large-boned Miranda attempts to glam herself up with hilarious results. First, she's oblivious to the fact that the only shop stocking glamorous clothing in her size is actually crossdressers' shop. Then she's flattered to get hit on by a genuinely nice guy who clearly (to everyone except Miranda) thinks she's in drag. Her bubble is finally burst by her best friend's astonished:
    Miranda! Why are you dressed as a transvestite?!?
  • Happens on Naturally, Sadie when Sadie gets upset after being called 'son' and tries to become a girly girl. Her mother is away so she gets advice from Hal (of all people). By the end of the episode, she has managed to find a balance between tomboy and girly girl.
  • The Outpost: Gwynn tried to bring out Talon's girly side by burning her clothes and putting her in a dress. Needless to say, that would be the last time she would wear one until marrying Garret in the finale
  • Ami from Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon tried makeup when having a slumber party with Usagi and Naru, however, due to her status as the Cute Bookworm of the show, she didn't have much experience, so she naturally over did. Note that her failure wasn't fueled by being a Tomboy as she is a normally feminine girl, but it was rather a result of her dorkiness and preference toward intellectual activities (And the fact she didn't have any friends until she met Usagi).
  • One episode of Viva S Club had Rachel and Hannah teaching "unfeminine" Jo how to be more ladylike. However, this ends up being undermined for two reasons: aside from the latter—who isn't too girly in the first place, but not to an usually obscene degree—had her crassness exaggerated for the episode (to the point of her spitting), but Hannah herself is more of a Tomboy with a Girly Streak, and was more likely than Jo in real-life to be confused with being a boy given her short hair, smaller breasts (at the time) and tendency to wear basic shirts and slacks over girlier tops or dresses.

  • The 2016 production of William Shakespeare's Pericles at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn, NY provided grand Narm with an example of this. Marina, daughter of the titular Pericles, was taken in by another noble family, and both her parents are believed dead (this being a late romance, of course, they're both still alive and the three will reunite in the end). The family that took her in also has a daughter Marina's age, and none of the eligible young men want to marry her, because they all prefer Marina, who, as daughter of the perfect hero main character, is the perfect maiden. This production demonstrated this by having three young men stand with their hands over their hearts singing, "Ohhh, Marina," over and over again, while Marina danced side to side, waving her hands in the air like a true Cloudcuckoolander. The other mother and daughter are watching, jealous, and the mother prods the daughter to attempt the same simple dance. She tries and fails. The young men go on gazing at Marina, and the mother gestures for the daughter to try again, but she just can't seem to get it. Meanwhile, the narrator goes on assuring the audience that all of this is dramatic and fascinating.

    Video Games 
  • Aveline in Dragon Age II embodies an archetype more commonly associated with men, something frequently and gleefully noted by her Vitriolic Best Bud Isabella, who at one point calls her an "awkward, mannish, ball-crushing do-gooder." Interesting in that Kirkwall's gender mores are fairly loose, and Isabella herself isn't what you'd normally consider "feminine" - Aveline is just so bad at all things womanly that she has trouble establishing her girl cred even under those forgiving circumstances.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • During Kjelle's supports with Severa in Fire Emblem: Awakening, the Tomboy with a Girly Streak Severa forcefully attempts to give the borderline Ladette Kjelle a ladylike makeover. While she fails miserably with the makeup, she does succeed in developing better manners. Of course, Kjelle finds it entirely pointless and scorns the entire process.
    • In Fire Emblem Fates:
      • Tomboy Princess Hinoka set aside almost any girly tasks to favor her Action Girl training and sometimes is pretty lost in anything not related to fighting. She can gum up pretty badly in the Mess Hall, in the Conquest path her much girlier sister Sakura says she hasn't been doing too well with her training to become the Queen of Hoshido, and in the Revelation route another woman (her Girly Bruiser foil Princess Camilla) offers to teach her how to sew but takes her a long while to do it well.
      • The Lady of War Reina openly admits that despite being rather motherly, she's really bad regarding traditional feminine tasks (like cooking). It's explained in her supports with the Avatar that she's estranged from her noble parents who wanted her to be a traditional bride, so she didn't train for it.
  • Makoto Kikuchi from The Idolmaster was raised like a boy and has a lot of female fans who admire her looks, but what she really wants is to be more feminine and get more attention from boys. Unfortunately, her attempts to be more girly rarely ever succeed.
  • In Mass Effect 3's Citadel DLC, Female Shepard and Miranda Lawson, the former a marine for her entire adult life and the latter a reformed former member of a clandestine black-ops organization, both realize just how weird their lives are and attempt to act more normal by talking about traditionally feminine things. They can't even complete a single sentence. Eventually, they decide that they're "troubleshooting space divas" and just roll with it.
    Shepard: (calling a waiter) Space diva needs more wine.
  • In Persona 4, Chie has this problem. She's obsessed with martial arts films, isn't scared to pick a fight when someone is in trouble and eats almost nothing but steak. She likes being who she is but doesn't like that the other sex treats her more like one of the guys instead of a girl. Her attempts to be more feminine usually don't end well, such as her cooking. You can say that her fear of bugs is cute, however. This is actually the right choice to move the social link in a positive direction.

    Web Animation 
  • hololive: During her debut and some time after that, one of Mori Calliope's biggest concerns was that because of her clumsy and awkward nature combined with her tendencies to show a more "hardcore" side, she wasn't cut out to be the cute and "seiso" idol everyone wanted her to be. Turns out her fans generally tend to enjoy her more when she's just being herself, and since then, she's become leagues more comfortable talking on-stream.

    Web Comics 
  • From Gunnerkrigg Court: Kat, the more tomboyish of the protagonists, puts on makeup for the first time in order to impress Alistair, a New Transfer Student at her school. She fails horribly, and Annie's there to assure her that she's lovely just the way she is.
  • Sal Walters in It's Walky! attempts a femininity makeover with the intention to get her old boyfriend back, and fails miserably. When she tries again, later on, she deliberately skips the lipstick.
  • Falco from Namir Deiter tries to act more feminine for a while, when she's worried Cedric will go back to Tipper.

    Web Original 
  • Parodied in this Tumblr post, where a super-buff guy is apparently more convincing than a tomboy as the girly girl.

    Web Videos 
  • The Nostalgia Chick tried to invoke kawaiiko for a while, but could never pull it off. Now she's settled for being a ladette Psychopathic Womanchild. Her friend Nella was given a visit by the makeover fairy. She resisted and the fairy ended up putting a bag over Nella's face because there was nothing she could do for her.

    Western Animation 
  • Arthur: Francine tries to be feminine for one day, picture day, where she goes to school in a dress and doesn't play kickball during recess so she'll be presentable for her photo. But she ends up playing anyway and being scruffy in the picture.
  • Played with on an episode of As Told by Ginger. The girls use makeup for picture day and end up looking like clowns. Justified, however, because a) they are young and have not been taught how to use makeup properly and b) they made their own makeup out of things like gravy and cranberry sauce.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • In Toph and Katara's minisode from "Tales of Ba-Sing Se", Katara takes Toph to a spa, and Toph is so stand-offish about getting dolled up they need to get a hulking spa worker to hold her down. And then they touch her feet...
    • Azula makes an attempt at being a typical teenage girl during the Beach Episode, complete with coaching from resident Girly Girl Ty Lee, only for her efforts to literally crash and burn at the end. In one scene, she actually tries to romantically hit on a boy. It ends with her rambling maniacally about world domination, which causes him to nervously make his escape.
  • An episode of CatDog had tough tomboy, Shriek, trying to make herself "a real woman" to get Dog's attention. After she is finally successful at looking and sounding more feminine, it backfires when everybody, except Dog, begins hitting on her.
  • The Hey Arnold! episode "Helga's Makeover". She does this to attend Rhonda's sleepover but reverts to her old self after refusing an avocado cream mask.
  • Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness: Tigress, in "The Princess and the Po", tries to pose as the princess to protect the actual princess from the bad guy. She tries to do the Princess Ceremonial Dancing Song. She can't sing, and she can't be graceful or ladylike (although the real princess is not much better).
  • In The Legend of Korra, Korra decides to try out that "powdering your nose" thing she's heard about. The ensuing cloud of powder leaves her coughing.
  • An episode of The Legend of Tarzan has Terk wanting to be feminine to attract another gorilla. She realizes by the end that it's completely unnecessary.
  • An episode of Phineas and Ferb has Candace trying to learn British etiquette from her British cousin in order to impress Jeremy. Turns out her strong desire to bust her brothers did not fit into these ideals.
  • Subverted in Recess with both girls. Spinelli is entered against her will into a Beauty Contest and is initially awkward with the femininity — but ends up as one of the finalists. Similarly, bookworm Gretchen gets convinced into going to the beauty salon with Ashley A and enjoys it.
  • Downplayed in an episode of Spirit: Riding Free, Lucky and the New Governor, in which the PALs go through a sort of charm school run by Aunt Cora in preparation for the Governor's Ball. As can be expected, they struggle at first, but eventually seem to get the hang of it, until the end of the episode when a pregnant horse's unborn child turns out to be breach, and the girls end up getting their ballgowns dirty before the ball.
  • Jo, from Total Drama: Revenge of The Island is so masculine that she is routinely mistaken for a boy. In one of the challenges, her team decides to put makeup on one of the members and she is very adamant to be the one who gets the makeover. Naturally, it doesn't go well.
  • Also subverted in The Weekenders. Lor is given a makeover by two Valley Girls when they hear a popular guy likes her. She shows up wearing a skirt and a girlier hairstyle. Though the reactions of her friends (and the guy in question) is a straighter example. Lor backs out when she hears she's supposed to get made over even more — including plastic surgery. It helps that the two Valley Girls are explicitly basing their look and Lor's look off a model whom nearly everyone believes is unnaturally thin (Tino and Carver are both creeped out by her photo, and the guy Lor is crushing on thinks she looks freaky too).


Video Example(s):


Mulan's Matchmaker Interview

Mulan attempts to impress the matchmaker with her feminine skills... it doesn't go well.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

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Main / FemininityFailure

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