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The Smurfette Principle

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The Smart Guy, the Plucky Comic Relief, The Big Guy and... the girl.note 
Chris: I get it! So [points to Danny] you're the cool one, [points to Wallow] you're the funny one, [points to Beth] and you're the...
Beth: Girl.
Bravest Warriors, "Memory Donk"

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 large casts, 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 volume 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 

Named after Smurfette from The Smurfs, the 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, Two Girls to a Team, and Two Guys and a Girl for similar critiques of female:male proportions in fiction. Affirmative Action Girl is a common way of averting the trope, sometimes preemptively, sometimes as a reaction to the aforementioned criticism. Compare Chromosome Casting when there are zero members of the opposite sex present not only amongst the main characters but in the work itself (maybe except for in the background). This is also Distaff Counterpart to The One Guy. Frequently, the one girl is a Gratuitous Princess for economy's sake. Contrast Gender-Equal Ensemble and Improbably Female Cast. For the music equivalent, you would have Male Band, Female Singer or Female Rockers Play Bass.

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), Starring Smurfette (Smurfette is the protagonist), Territorial Smurfette (another female is added to the show and the original Smurfette reacts negatively), and College Widow (a Dude Magnet who lives near a male-only institution and encourages the attention she receives).

Interestingly, this trope does not actually apply to The Smurfs anymore, as a second female smurf was added to the cast in 1985 and more have been added since.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

    open/close all folders 

  • Tetley, a brand of tea sold in the UK, uses animated characters called the Tetley Tea Folk in its advertising. Only one character out of a fairly large group (Tina) is female.
  • The Orangey Tangs were mascots for McVitie's Jaffa Cakes from 1997 to 2001. They were orange fuzz balls who stole Jaffa Cakes for their orange filling. Of the initial five, only one (Zsa Zsa - pronounced "Zah Zah") was female. Even when other Tangs were added, they were all male.
  • The Weetabix gang, featured a gang of skinheads, with the lead being voiced by Bob Hoskins. And one of them is a gel called Bixie. Let DJ Slopes explain it more.
  • Helen Henny from Chuck E. Cheese became one after the Pizza Time Theatre era.
  • Carmella Creeper of the Monster Cereals is the only female monster of the group.

    Comic Strip 
  • Bloom County: Discussed twice:
    • The strip has several recurring female characters, but after the Supreme Court declared male-only clubs unconstitutional, a series of strips dealt with the necessity of introducing a regular female character. ("Nothing's more 'male-only' than Bloom County! We've GOT to introduce a WOMAN!") Eventually, Ronald-Ann was created as a regular.
    • Even more directly addressed in Outland: In the strip, a woman asked why all the well-known animal characters in comics and animation are all male, and any female animal characters were just The Girlfriend. Opus announced that the strip was just about to hire the first major female animal character star to join the main cast, Hazel the Hedgehog. In a brilliant sequence that ran for weeks, she lampshaded why most animal characters are male. (Are we asking girls to identify with a "little pig-rodent"? Can she participate in a slapstick pie fight if depicting violence against females is taboo? Is she still her own distinct character if we have to put a bow on her head?)
  • Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For was made as a response to the Smurfette principle (as discussed in The Indelible Alison Bechdel), to force male readers to identify with the female characters, as women often have to identify with male characters. Over the last several years, more male characters have appeared; one of the main characters, Sparrow, had a long-term relationship and a child with a man named Stuart. This may have also been her accommodating what has become to be known as The Bechdel Test in her own work.
  • Tumbleweeds had two Smurfettes — Hildegarde Hamhocker among the townsfolk of Grimy Gulch, and Little Flower among the Poohawks. Aside from Hildegarde's little niece Echo, other female characters are extremely rare (if not non-existent) in the strip.

    Eastern Animation 

    Fairy Tales 
  • Alexander Afanasyev's "Kolobok": The titular character runs into a rabbit, a wolf, a bear and a fox, the latest being the only specifically female animal.

    Fan Works 
  • Black Mesa, the Fan Remake of Half-Life, very deliberately added a lot of female scientists to address the imbalance of women in Black Mesa. The company claims to be an "equal-opportunity employer", but all of its employees seen in the original are men, except for the holographic assistant in the tutorial.
  • The Bridge: Downplayed. Each of the core kaiju groups sent to Equestria only has one female. Mothra Lea for the Terra Defenders, Destroyah for the Mutations, and the albino Hyper Gyaos later called Irys for the Dark Hunters. However, they're far from the only female kaiju in the story, as Biollante, Megaguirus, Legion, Otachi, Orka, Raiga, Gaw, Ramarak, and a genderflipped Manda, Varan, and Titanosaurus all have major roles in spinoff material, or cameo appearances or minor roles in the main fic (with said gender flipping explicitly being for the aversion of this trope).
  • The Bolt Chronicles: Applies to Mittens in "The Survivor," a female cat who is friends with Petey and his circle of four male canine pals.
  • 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 HetaStuck MSTs, Twilight Sparkle is not only the only girl in the riffing group, she's also the leader.
  • Lampshaded by Hinata in chapter 34 of I Am NOT Going Through Puberty Again! when she refers to Fubuki Kakuyoku as the "obligatory kunoichi".
  • According to Haruhiko Takenouchi of Digimon Adventure 02 fame from Digimon Adventure 02: The Story We Never Told, Chidori is stated to be the only female member of the 5 Original Digidestined group.
  • My Huntsman Academia: Izuku and Tenya gender-invert this as they're the leaders and only guys on their respective teams, which each have three girls. Ruby, however, plays this straight as the only girl on a team with three guys.
  • The Palaververse: Notes on Burro Delver's history mentions a fourth member out of a list of what appears to be known party members, and the only female:
    a supporting cast of a griffon chieftain, a shapechanging princess, and a fellow donkey searching for his lost love across the oceans
  • Pokémon Crossing: Holly's Pokemon team consists of five guys (Blaziken, Gardevoir, Manectric, Lairon, Altaria) and one girl (a Gyarados).

    Myths & Religion 
  • Classical Mythology: In some versions of the myth, Atalanta was the only woman on board the Argo in Jason and the Argonaunts. Some myths also 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, as 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 aren't planets in the modern sense of the word, so that later changed to the nine planets (adding in Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, which was later demoted from planet status), with Venus being the only one left named after a goddess. 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).
  • The Taoist Eight Immortals, which represent people from different walks of life, contain one female member in the form of He Xian Gu, though the gender of Lan Cai He is usually ambiguous.
  • Of the Seven Lucky Gods in Japan, Benzaiten is the sole goddess. Some versions, however, up the number of female deities to three.
  • The Eight Dharma Protectors are Buddhist wrathful deities of which only one is female.
  • Subverted in The Bible: Jacob is commonly believed to have fathered thirteen children, of which Dinah was his only daughter. In reality, there is a mention of him having multiple daughters, it's just that nothing happened to the others to make them worth talking about.


  • For the first season of The Magnus Archives, Sasha is the only recurring female character in a cast of mostly male characters. The show later rounds out its cast with more women later on, but for a while it's just Sasha.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • On the world level, the National Wrestling Alliance only had one women's division for about two decades. In the 1950s, World Tag Team Titles for women were introduced and Jack Pfefer presented a World Women's Junior Heavyweight Title belt but only the tag titles stuck. They lasted about thirty years before the WWF took them and killed them.
  • In the WWE Hall of Fame, each year typically has one female inductee against about seven males.
  • La Nazi was the only woman in the CMLL version of Los Boricuas, which is just as well as previous versions had no women and she wasn't even Boricua, just along for the ride. Zeuxis would join her when they became Commando Caribeno.
  • Another CMLL group was Rudos del Ritmoa, evil dancers Kung Fu, Búfalo Salvaje, Gran Apache, Ari Romero, América, Mario Prado, Halcón Negro...of which Estrellita was the only woman.
  • 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 (granted, LLL wanted to make the entirety of AAA them, so if they succeeded they would have averted this trope).
  • Initially, Allison Danger was the only woman associated with The Christopher Street Connection (alongside Buff E, Mace Mendoza, Fun Athletic Guy and Chris Cabana) and was the only woman in Ring of Honor (where Chris was absent but she was the lone woman among 30 wrestlers). Jailbait and Portuguese Princess Ariel would later join the connection, while Simply Luscious followed Danger in ROH.
  • Happened again in ROH with the move to Sinclair Broadcast Group leaving Mia Yim the lone woman on a roster that usually had twenty eight wrestlers for a television taping, though more women came back around the end of the year.
  • Ashley America argued the 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).
  • Kazza was literally the only woman training with Mainstage Wrestling in her native Ireland for years - and began her career wrestling men in intergender matches.
  • Brandi Lauren's goal in EVOLVE, to be the lone woman in the company. Given Mercedes Martinez invited women wrestlers to EVOLVE since the first show, this left Lauren with a lot of work to do. Shotzi Blackheart in turn made it her mission to cut Lauren off before she could make any "progress".

    Puppet Shows 
  • Pili Fantasy: War of Dragons: Vermillion Lady is the only woman on the side of the Eight Wonders of the Evil Dragon.
  • When it comes to The Muppets, whenever a show wants to feature only the core Muppet characters, chances are Miss Piggy will be the only featured female Muppet among them. Otherwise, Janice of The Electric Mayhem and Camilla, Gonzo's chicken girlfriend, are the next-best things to prominent female Muppets.
  • During the show's early days, Sesame Street featured Prairie Dawn as one of the only recurring female characters, and she wasn't even one of the big stars. These days, this trope has been averted, with characters like Rosita, Zoe, Abby Cadabby, and most recently, Julia arriving on the scene.
  • Ojo is the lone main female character on Bear in the Big Blue House. Averted if you count Luna and Shadow.

  • The BBC has been trying to avert (and risk enforcing) this trope on radio (and TV) panel shows since 2014, mandating the invitation of female comedians and saying that there is no reason to have all-male panel shows.
  • 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.
  • 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 1997, she remarked how thrilled she was to be 'in the long line of women who have appeared on the show' (she was the third, after Jo Kendall and Denise Coffey, and the show had been running for 25 years.) 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  There's also the scorer, the ever-delightful Samantha who "appears" on almost every episode.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.

  • William Shakespeare's works generally feature a slightly more realistic gender distribution, but there are a few notable exceptions.
    • Except for the brief appearance of her foil, Lady Macduff, (and, by interpretation, the witches), Lady Macbeth is the only female in the rather extensive cast of her husband's eponymous play.
    • Miranda is notably the only female in The Tempest. In fact, from her perspective, having grown up on an isolated Island of Mystery with only her father and two male servants, she is the only woman in the world.
  • Given that the original animated film had only two female members having an active role of the plot (Nala and Shenzi, incidentally each fulfilling the trope on their opposing sides), Julie Taymor of Broadway’s The Lion King’s stage adaptation states this was the reason behind Rafiki’s Gender Flip and bigger role throughout the story.

    Theme Parks 

  • Before becoming a comic book and animated series, the G.I. Joe toy line debuted with a single female character (Scarlett). It added a female villain (The Baroness, first introduced in the comics).
  • 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:
      • 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).
      • The Phantoka/Mistika sets zig-zag this. As the Phantoka consisted of half of the Toa Nuva (Pohatu, Kopaka and Lewa) and half of the Makuta (Antroz, Chirox and Vamprah). The Mistika, however, have two females: Gali and Gorast. Gorast is a special case of this trope: She's the only female of the Makuta species left. And then she dies when the energy storms in Karda Nui start up.
      • 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.
    • LEGO Space Police: There is only one female minifig at all in the third iteration of the linenote .
    • LEGO Galaxy Squad only has one confirmed female human character. As for the rest, there's only seemingly genderless robots and aliens.

    Web Animation 
  • Elya from Спиногрызы is the only girl in the cast, while Elena is a recurring character.
  • Marzipan is the only girl in the main cast of Homestar Runner, a fact she herself lampshades in one of the old flash games. A DVD-Exclusive toon called "Why Come Only One Girl?" touches on this subject and shows off various failed attempts to introduce another girl to the cast.
  • 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 and not a boy.
  • Tankmen: While women have been implied in the shorts, Tank Girl from Tankmen: Infinity is the only female tankman to get in on the on-screen action.

    Web Original 
  • The Fire Never Dies: Exactly one of the Red Army's senior generals is a woman: General Mary G. Harris Jones, better known as Mother Jones, commander of the Army of Knoxville. She later becomes the first Deputy Premier of the American Socialist Union.
  • SCP Foundation: As the name implies, "Ms. Sweetie" is the only female included in the "Little Misters" lineup of Dr. Wondertainment-brand anomalies.

    Web Videos 
  • After Hours has four friends on camera. Katie is the only girl amongst three boys.
  • Best of the Worst features a rotating panel of four contributors at a time, but amidst about a dozen male regular and recurring contributors there has only been one woman to appear more than once: Jessi. However she stopped appearing, for reasons unexplained, reducing the panel to an all-male roster.
  • Feminist Frequency has made several episodes dedicated to discussing the Smurfette Principle, and even has a few additional complaints to make in relation to it.
  • Geography Now: Lampshaded in the Uruguay episode, where Barby introduces Hannah for the culture segment as "the incredibly pregnant token female host".
  • Life SMP: Cleo was the only feminine-leaning member of the server during 3rd Life. Later averted with the addition of Pearl and Lizzie in Last Life, and then Gem in Secret Life.
  • QSMP: Jaiden is the only female guest from the Train, and used to be the only woman on the server. It later turns into Two Girls to a Team with the addition of Baghera, which is then further averted with the addition of Niki, Rivers, Mouse, Tina, Lenay, and Bagi.

Alternative Title(s): Token Girl, Smurfette Principle, Token Female