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Gender Incompetence

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In some fiction, there's a tendency of one gender to fail when the going gets tough even though there isn't much reason for it. It isn't that all the awesome superpowers belong to the gender that saved the day. Just, for some reason, one sex seems to come out on top all the time. This can take a few forms.

  • Fortune Favors One Sex: In this instance, one gender loses all the time, just by really bad luck.
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  • Dumb Blonde Gender: Here, an entire gender is treated as being as dumb as a collection of granite chunks, causing them to screw up all the time through sheer lack of intelligence.
  • Gender Baggage: This is for when all members of a gender are treated as being overly emotional, or conversely, emotionless, causing them to fail when greater strength/compassion is needed.
  • Customary Incompetence: For instances where the failure of one gender is due to the way they're treated by members of the other gender. For instance, male characters encouraging equally-capable female ones to stand back and let them handle it. The women may go along with the plan because it's expected, reducing their effectiveness regardless of any spells/techniques/special training they may otherwise have.

In all cases, one gender is made effectively useless throughout the course of the fiction, while the other is not. Compare to Gender-Restricted Ability, Faux Action Girl, Bumbling Dad, Hysterical Woman, and Women Are Wiser.


Note: If one gender has all the superpowers, skills, weapons and/or magic, and those powers cause them to succeed, this trope does not apply. This is only for instances where the reason behind the failure of one gender and the success of the other is due to something other than a physical, tactical disadvantage.


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  • The anime OVA of Read or Die was very good about the balance between gender effectiveness, but not as much with the TV series R.O.D the TV, even though the vast majority of the series' main characters were female. During the final chapters of the series, they seemed to do a lot of losing, crying and getting captured, despite the fact that they are physically capable of killing the bad guy at any time with their awesome superpowers.
  • The first season of the Super Robot Wars: Original Generation anime was quite unfair with its female characters, most barely getting to fight or only fighting once for a plot event, then not anymore. The most egregious example might be Kusuha, who only deploys for one fight so she can get captured. Thankfully the second season averts this and makes both guys and girls awesome.
  • Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-: Anime only, Customary variety. Sakura never really manages to become an Action Girl, instead having the party do all the fighting while she is reserved for situations needing a MacGuffin solution. The other women in the anime are also basically told to Stay in the Kitchen.

  • Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts is made of this. Almost every male character (except teachers) is dumb or suffers from The Worf Effect. Some Take a Level in Badass to compensate, but even then they're still mostly Butt Monkeys. Women tend to be super-smart and have Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male at full strength, and the only one without good scores has a good excuse (she spent most of her life in Germany and doesn't know kanji).
  • In Dune, it seems to be something of a theme to have an all-female society with strange and terrible powers suddenly have to deal with a man with those exact same powers, only several jillion times stronger. According to certain throwaway lines regarding Norma Cenva in God-Emperor of Dune, there have been genderswapped variants of this in the past as well.
    • It's stated that the limit of the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mothers was that their training to particularly feminine/maternal instincts meant that they couldn't access their male ancestry in their Other Memory. The Kwisatz Haderach was intended to overcome this weakness (as well as having other capabilities), which would require a male trained in Bene Gesserit ways. Note the fact that the Gesserit wanted to have a Kwisatz Haderach, but he ended up coming a generation too early for their plans.
      • Then again, men didn't become Bene Gesserit because they kept failing the final test which killed them. Apparently, the depths of the male psyche is just that scary.
  • The Wheel of Time series has this. Men are widely regarded as weak, mainly because they can't really work together in channeling, and most of those that can channel get sealed up pretty quick.
    • On the other hand, most of the male characters are portrayed as fairly sensible, while the women are typically sniffing, arm-crossing Tsunderes who won't listen to reason. Men as a group become more and more powerful over the course of the series, while the women become less powerful (and often less competent), and even supposedly powerful and capable female characters end up in distress a lot.

     Live-Action - Film 
  • Birds of Prey: Men here are either just flat out evil, sexist or stupid and just made into punching bags for the protagonists to wade through.
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi: The Poe/Holdo plot falls squarely into this. While the idea is that Poe needs to learn to think more rationally and not just blindly charge in. The execution on the other hand leaves him and some fellow males who tried to help him mutiny look like idiots while all the females are the one shown having the real plan and saving the day on their end.

     Video Games  
  • Final Fantasy IV, early on in the game, features a battle to try to protect a castle that focuses on fighting hordes of bad guys, which wouldn't be so hard except that just before the battle, you're robbed of all your most powerful spellcasters, seemingly just because they're women. The rest of the game isn't bad at recovering from this, however.
    • More likely, though, that they were just moving the party members who knew white magic to the back lines in order to treat the wounded. (The fact that the women are all spellcasters, of course, stumbles into another stereotype.)
    • The end of the game averts this. Cecil tells the female party members to stay behind while the men go off to the final dungeon on the moon. Upon landing on the moon, they realize the ladies simply hid on the ship. Based on how hard the last dungeon is, Cecil should thank his lucky stars.
    • The scene is semi-replayed during Yang's chapter in the sequel; it's just about the only point in the chapter (after she joins you) where Ursula isn't either fighting alongside her father or searching for him.
  • Siren does this too the ladies, every single one of them. Compared to the men girls have more limited climbing abilities, can not use higher skill weapons, and need males to help them get to certain areas when being escorted. These limitations also transfer to the ladies when the player is in control of them and can make a stage that was literally just played as a male much harder. Not even the evil female shibitos are spared from this as they share the same limitations as the human girls.
  • Street Fighter X Tekken has an interesting variation with the girls of both franchises. During a stage transition males and the ladies received different animations to better fit their gender. When a male loses his HP and the stage transition is happening all of the girls could appear to be scolding her ally for losing while another male being anchor just looks like he wants to get revenge.
  • Resident Evil 4: The game does this in its own subtle ways. Ashley obviously due to not being trained in combat moves slower and more feminine when it comes to climbing and parkour, and while Ada is generally on par with Leon while playable there are some tasks neither Ashley nor Ada could do such as grab something that fell in dirty water while Leon would get it (even though it reduces its value when sold to the merchant).
  • The Legend of Zelda does this not with all genders but with the members of the Triforce. The bearer of wisdom is always female while the other two are male and while all three are portrayed as powerful in their own right the bearer of wisdom, no matter how strong and combat ready she gets, will always be weak to sustained attack while the other two don't have the same weakness.

     Western Animation  

  • In most animated sitcoms, particularly Futurama and The Simpsons, the female characters are depicted as being far more competent than the male ones, to the point where male characters are rendered as bungling idiots (Fry, Bender, Homer, sometimes Bart) while female characters are rendered as innately clever, cunning, wise or even good in a fight (Marge, Lisa, Maggie, Leela.) Futurama plays with this trope with Fry and Leela, at least in the sense that Fry is functionally retardednote . Leela could generally be considered the most responsible of the cast. As the series went on, however, it became much more obvious that Leela was just as crazy and immature as the rest of the crew. With the rest of the show's main characters, it's even less clear-cut however — Hermes is genuinely competent, Bender is quite intelligent but totally amoral, the Professor has a brilliant mind, but one afflicted by senility and borderline insanity, Amy is a Genius Ditz with heavier emphasis on the ditz, and even Zoidberg occasionally.
  • Lampshaded in one The Simpsons episode, where it's revealed that it's a genetic trait for Simpson men to end up as stupid losers. Simpson women, on the other hand, are invariably geniuses. Notably, the Simpson gene responsible for the male Simpson's stupidity is never mentioned again, and future episodes give other explanations for Homer and Bart's stupidity, like a crayon lodged in Homer's brain and (in Bart's case) a combination of ADHD, a pathological need for attention, and a generally bad experience during his first day at school; a woman heavily implied to be Homer's older half-sister was about Homer's intellect. Although Homer and Bart are usually shown as being less intelligent than Marge or Lisa, they're perhaps more likeable (at least until Homer's Jerkass tendencies went into orbit) and socially adept, balancing things out somewhat.
  • It often seems this way in Kim Possible, where pretty much all male characters are either incredibly annoying, evil, useless in a fight, or some combination of the above. Slightly subverted in that many of them do get at least a few instances where they get to shine, and many of them are Techno Wizards.
  • High Guardian Spice: Zig-zags this a bit. On one hand, the female leads are shown to be not perfect, make mistakes and struggle in their fights. But any named male characters that aren't a teacher or Snapdragon are either evil, homophobic jerkasses, or stupid and generally not up to the intelligence of the main heroes.