Trope Explorer #4: Little Miss Badass

As a woman I sometimes find this trope annoying, and as a sister to someone who would definitely qualify as a Little Miss Badass (a three-dimensional, awesome, loving, fun little badass of a sister, btw) I can understand why this trope can be fun and interesting, but also a little on-the-nose and formulaic.

But that’s the danger in using any trope, and for this trope I’m going to concentrate on what not to do, or more specifically, what I find irksome about the trope.

Photo by Ranah Malberg on Unsplash

Tvtropes.org outlines this trope as:

The character may be quite cute and is often smart enough to use that to her advantagequickly manipulating anyone stupid enough to fall for her act. Her actual personality will usually be very clever and cynical, though. She may also be more innocent or good-natured, but no less charming so that she generally gets her way. Often extends to what she is wearingif she cares at all.

tvtropes.org

The description above is kind of why I sometimes find this trope annoying. The Little Miss Badass is always small and cute and can kick ass or always small and crazy and angry and can kick ass. In a lot of Little Miss Badass incarnations she is also incredibly violent, sometimes to the point where she crosses over into Bad Guy territory, or at least a morally grey area.

My thoughts

Along with the formulaic personality traits, the Little Miss Badass seems to have very similar relationships with other characters. For example:

  • She Might Be Little, But She’s Not a Child
    • Unless of course she is a child, which will be my second point. But to focus on my first point, if your Little Miss Badass character is a grown woman please don’t let your other characters treat her like a child. Size does not equal maturity, and just because she’s small does not mean another character treating her like a child will go over well. There’s also the ick factor of a potential love interest being in the habit of treating her like she is a child. Just no.
  • If Your Little Miss Badass Is a Child, Don’t Forget That
    • If she is a child, and if your other characters are adults then a child to them is anyone under the age of 18, and, let’s face it, a little over the age of 18 too. So, you might have your Little Miss Badass fighting alongside of your broody War Hero out of necessity, but if he or she deliberately pushes the Little Miss Badass into a dangerous situation without at least some introspection on the morality of it, then that’s going to reflect badly on your adult characters. A child-age Little Miss Badass can be a fun character, but there’s a lot of psychological subtext and moral ambiguity that your more astute readers will definitely pick up on, no matter how you try to hide it.
  • When You Treat Height Like It’s A Disability
    • We see this a lot with both short/small characters and very tall characters. The big guy has to be gentle and emotionally vulnerable, and maybe a little bit stupid, because he surpasses everyone else in physical strength or skill, and the very small woman/girl has to be a ninja, with an angry personality and violent tendencies. Or, if she’s not a fighter, she’s super smart. Like incredibly smart; Einstein-level smart. Why? Because she’s just so tiny and cute. Because how else will they survive? Or, at least that’s how you designed it. If your characters have to have some sort of high-level skill as a counter-balance to how they look or how they are physically, I would suggest just asking yourself why. Maybe it makes sense to the story, but only because you designed certain plot points around these physical characteristics in order to . . . well, I actually wouldn’t know. If it’s in order to fulfill the trope, as it stands, why is this particular trope so important to your story and why does your story working rely on a trope?
  • He Knew Her As A Child/She Looks Young Enough To Be a Child
    • Remember when I pointed out that a love interest treating Little Miss Badass like a child, or viewing her as on the level of a child, had an ick factor to it? Well, it can get worse. First, there’s the he-knew-her-as-a-child-and-now-she’s-grown-and-hot trope, which is most definitely not the name, but just go with it. The trope in itself is bad enough, but when you still describe the character (Little Miss Badass) as still being cute and small and generally child-like as an adult, and then comes along a much older man who knew her as a kid and is now noticing her sexually . . . Ugh. There’s just a lot of grey area there, actually probably more like charcoal. But then, there’s the she’s-20-or-30-but-looks-so-young-and-innocent-and-i’m-[the man]-so-attracted-to-that . . . why? Just why? Now I realize that the words “young” and “innocent” are not by definition always connected with children or being child-like, but in context, they are very often connected. If the man ever – even once – compares a grown woman’s looks, no matter how “small” she is, to a child’s and then continues to think of her sexually . . . listen, I’m not a proponent of Freud, but if that’s not a Freudian slip, I don’t know what is. Avoid at all costs.
  • She’s A Psycho, But We’re Going To Ignore That Because She’s Small
    • If you’re Little Miss Badass crosses a line, nothing about her personality, her looks, or her size should automatically absolve her of whatever she did. If she hurts another character she’s supposed to be friends with, her “little’ status, whether she’s actually a child or just a small woman, should not prevent her from experiencing the consequences of her actions. And no amount of cute should absolve a character of something like murder or some other similar bad choices.

Little Miss Badass in Popular Culture

  • Beth and Darryl from The Walking Dead. This could have gone in many different directions, some bad, but thankfully the writers kept it on the level. Darryl, the taciturn badass, and Beth, the young, innocent girl who slowly develops into her own version of the Little Miss Badass. Beth grows from a determined farm girl to someone who’s not afraid to fight against zombies and wicked people. What I like about this incarnation, is that Beth’s age and experience is not looked down upon by Darryl, and neither does he take advantage of it. In fact, it is Beth who wins over Darryl, and he ends up looking after her as a big brother figure (which plays into the trope a bit).
  • Buffy, especially in her high school days, is usually defined as a Little Miss Badass, although I would put forth that her powers gives her an edge that most Little Miss Badasses don’t get. If anyone in BTVS is a Little Miss Badass I would say Willow. She’s relatively small, and for much of the beginning of the series, physically weak. However, when she starts to learn about her natural witch gifts, she grows into quite the badass. The interesting thing about this version of the trope, too, is that BTVS plays with what I was talking about in my last point. When Willow makes some rather gnarly decisions (the Tara situation especially comes to mind) there’s almost a hesitation in the other characters to believe that she actually did that, because Willow is often seen as a sweet, cute, and innocent character. By the end of the series, I would say all three of those personality traits are in the past for Willow.
  • If you followed the tvtrope.org link you would have noticed they used a still from the movie The Professional, featuring Natalie Portman as a pre-teen pointing a gun in the viewers general direction. It would be remiss to write a post about a Little Miss Badass without mentioning this rather iconic character, but, as tvtrope.org points out, she never actually goes through with anything.
  • River. Effing. Tam. Firefly. River Tam is one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite sci-fi shows. What I like about this incarnation of the Little Miss Badass is that she is very clearly not sane, but she has a sort of guiding mentor in her older brother, Simon, and generally seems to have the capability of developing attachments to others.

Writing Prompt

Write a story/scene where your main character is a Little Miss Badass. Subvert some aspects of the trope. For instance, perhaps she can’t fight, but neither is she super smart, but she’s still an asset to the team. Or, she can fight, but she’s conflicted about it, not an angry person. Whatever aspect of the trope you choose to concentrate on, try to work to subvert it or write the opposite and see what comes out of the exercise.


Be sure to link any stories in the comments below!

Let me know what you think of the trope Little Miss Badass? Comment below!

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