I'm Tired Of The Overqualified Girl Sidekick Kit Steinkellner

I’m just the most excited to see that ABC greenlit the Marvel series “Agent Carter” for their network’s lineup this fall. We’ve previously seen Peggy Carter (played by Hayley Atwell) kick all kinds of ass in the “Captain America” movies, and it’s thrilling to see this character play the title role in her own on-screen adventures.

Seeing a heroine who has played second string up until now be moved up to first chair makes me think of all the girl sidekicks who would be better served as leads. There’s A LOT of these female characters, who are qualified to be leading ladies but are relegated to being sidekicks or love interests — positions they are, honestly, overqualified for.

Hermione Granger is the perfect example of the overqualified girl sidekick. Hermione is a better witch than Harry is a wizard. She works her magical butt off and she can out-spell cast basically every student at Hogwarts (and, let’s be real, probs some professors, too). She’s not just super-talented and crazy-hard-working, she’s also a girl with a big heart and a social conscience doing her part to make her world a better place. She’s like the only one who cares about the House Elves. Right, apparently her fatal flaw is that she’s “bossy.” Which is a word generally used to make women feel terrible about knowing how smart and capable they are. It’s a good thing Hermione WASN’T the central character in the Harry Potter series, Voldemort probably would have been dead halfway through Sorcerer’s Stone and half a book does not a franchise make.

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Hermione is by no means the only overqualified girl sidekick out there. Some of my favorite reads of the last few years have overqualified girl sidekicks/love interests, Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” and Robin Sloan’s “Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore.” These are WONDERFUL reads. I love these novels. Still, I see Hermione’s plight play out in these stories. The girl is smarter and more talented, the guy is favored by his author and put in the right places at the right times. The girl’s trump card is her unbelievable skill. The dude’s trump card is his unbelievable luck.

The last “Lego Movie” also had a very lucky hero and a very overqualified girl sidekick. And they knew it. And the story was vocal about the incongruity of these characters’ abilities and their assigned roles. They weren’t just using the tropes. They were skewering them.

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It’s not that this trope can NEVER work. It just doesn’t make enough sense to be used over and over and over again. Katniss headlines “The Hunger Games” and Tris stands front and center in “Divergent” because it’s difficult to imagine those girls sidekicking for ANYONE. If a female character is overqualified to be a sidekick, that probably means the writer needs to promote her and make her a leading lady.

 

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  1. Books about boys and adventure are just easier to sell because it’s been done that way for a long time. The girl usually fits the role of the smart character and the other character (because there’s usually three) falls into the role of the dumb best friend. The main character is kind of the template character, they have less personality than the rest but are easier to identify with because of it.

    It is a lot harder for someone to write a book with a girl in the lead and have boys read it than it is to write one with a boy and have everyone read it. A lot of men have this idea that a book headed by a woman is girlie and bad for them to be reading. Women don’t usually have that issue reading about men because from a young age women are taught that if they want to enjoy action oriented media they have to get used to being in a boy”s head.

    Another good example of this trope is Mikasa Ackerman from Attack on Titan (seriously, she’s an A-Rate murder machine and she doesn’t have special abilities to help her along).

  2. Personally, I think the problem could be that authors and writers might choose a male main character to try to appeal to boys and girls, because girls are generally more willing to read a story about a boy than a boy is about a girl (here I am referring to teens and under, not adults). The overqualified female side-kick serves two purposes, I think. One, proving that girls can be kick-ass (trying to downplay the fact that the story is, yet again, headlined by a male character), and two, showing that the main character doesn’t have to be the best at everything, as long as he is a loyal and unprejudiced friend to those with the qualities he lacks (to help the average human identify with the hero).

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