This week saw the publication of writer, actor and producer Anneka Harry’s latest book Lady Sidekick, a study of 50 tired tropes for women in popular culture, accompanied with illustrations by Laura Dockrill. Funny Women editor Kate Stone caught up with Anneka to talk about the book, who the Russian doll set of tropes is and forehead tattoos…
Kate Stone: Tell us about Lady Sidekick.
Anneka Harry: Lady Sidekick is a satirical little book that laughs in the face of the very big problem of tropes and stereotyping for women and girls on screen and in popular culture. My aim was to slow-roast each trope, sprinkle them with sarcasm, season them with feminism, infuse them with activism and demand change. It’s very tongue-in-cheek and some might say ‘on the nose’ but if any of it makes you gasp or get mad, I think that’s sort of the point. The representation of women is often so obscene, that obscenity needs to be highlighted. I hope Lady Sidekick encourages readers to boycott the bullshit and indeed celebrate the flip side – the decent portrayals and the accurate, authentic, inspiring work that does exist.
KS: This book made me laugh out loud, I recognised every single one of these women characters and you manage to pinpoint their ridiculousness perfectly, how long has this idea been bubbling in your head?
AH: Thank you so much for saying so. It was bubbling away for nearly two years, so it feels exciting to know that some actual LOLs have been going on! I had the idea while I was writing my first book, Gender Rebels. So, I just had to sort of let it cook up in the back of my brain and keep lots of post-it and iPhone notes until I could get to it. The hardest part was narrowing down which fifty to include – it’s such a Wild West of tropes out there. And new ones were emerging as I was writing and have done since…Melancholic Queers in Bonnets by the Sea, anyone? Not to bash any of the films concerned in this realm but it suddenly seems that we can’t have a film about a lesbian relationship unless they’re sloppily snogging on a beach to furious violins…
KS: Laura Dockrill’s accompanying illustrations are fantastic, how closely did you work together on Lady Sidekick?
AH: Laura is one of the best writers, illustrators (and humans!) I know. She’s a very good friend of mine and it was a dream to be able to work with a mate – especially during lockdown. I handed over the words to her in complete faith that she would whizz them to life. She somehow managed to take all the mockery, chaos, subtext, rage, hope and humour and squiggle it together with a few lines of pen. I cried the first time I saw a sneak peek. Honestly, if I was into tattoos, I’d get sleeves done of her work. Maybe even forehead!
KS: Why do you think all these tired tropes still pop up on our screens and in popular culture?
AH: We need more stories about and centring women. All women. And we need more women writing them or as part of the writing, producing, directing and casting teams. As with all matters of representation, the production is as important as the product. But nobody said it was easy. I’m actually writing a film at the minute with Rosie Jones and we are obviously striving to make it the most inclusive and realistic thing on the planet – but even we have catch ourselves at times. I think the traps of tropes are easy to fall into because they are so deeply ingrained. Art creates culture and it’s a culture that’s built on this stuff.
And it’s not just the characters themselves, there are writing and plot tropes too. We can all imagine that Happy Housewife fixing her husband’s tie as he rushes out of the door, snaffling a piece of toast (on his way to be busy and important)… American teenage high school films love an unnecessary makeover montage… then you’ve got the classics like the ‘meet cute’ moment or the love triangle.
KS: I think my favourite tired tropes featured in Lady Sidekick are The Mute and The Fish Out of Water, have you got any favourites?
AH: Thank you. I love/hate them all. I’m actually working on an audio original project on the same theme right now and doing a deeper dive into the history of female characters. The Manic Pixie Dreamgirl is an interesting one because she’s arguably been around for centuries in one form or another but found her feet in 2007 when the term was coined by a film critic who’d seen Kirsten Dunst as Claire Colborn in the 2005 film Elizabethtown. I’ve never seen it but the trailer alone manages to cram in dead Dads, mixtapes, jumping on beds, slouchy beanie hats and mimes of disposables cameras (with flash).
As the trope gathered pace, so did the female characters who got lumped with the term. It started to get pinned on interesting women (any woman who wasn’t 2D) but in actual fact, the defining feature of the MPDG should be that she exists solely to aid the male protagonist’s journey. She is there to serve him and save him. The End. The MPDG became a cultural trope turned part myth and catch-all cliché… the trope became a trope itself! She’s the Russian doll set of tropes.
KS: What would your dream woman character be like?
AH: Preferably dynamic, multifaceted, fully rounded and imperfect…Believable!
Anneka Harry: Lady Sidekicks is available to buy now! To order click here!