On our quest to portray women in media as strong, independent, and desirable, we’ve taken to juxtaposing them with weak men.
For far too long, many female characters in film and television were depicted as incapable and fragile, or as gold diggers, or as women who bowed down to their husbands, their only purpose in life to feed their hardworking, successful husbands and to keep a clean house.
And while it’s incredibly needed and important that we see stronger, more autonomous, accomplished women being portrayed in film and television, it seems that rather than simply give viewers an image of a self-sufficient woman, her sufficiency is instead borrowed from her male counterpart. Worse yet, the men depicted in these stories often fall into “simp” territory.
What is a simp, you ask? Defined by the trusty Urban Dictionary, a simp is described as a man who willingly places himself in a role inferior to the woman he’s attempting to woo — more specifically, a woman who doesn’t really offer much to him in the first place. In short, he’s doing exactly what we’ve complained female characters do far too often.
A simp is described as a man who willingly places himself in a role inferior to the woman he’s attempting to woo.
But many times, we might not even notice this dynamic taking place. In fact, many of our favorite male characters have fallen into this category time and time again. Here are just a few examples of them.
Tom Hansen from 500 Days Of Summer
Played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom of 500 Days Of Summer is every indie girl’s dream guy — he’s super into music, comes across as a deep, thoughtful artist-type, and is absolutely enthralled with quirky-cute-but-also-enigmatic Summer. Tom is, at first glance, the ultimate “nice guy” — the type to seek out commitment and treasure you forever.
But upon further inspection, it becomes clear just how weak Tom is.
But upon further inspection, it becomes clear just how weak Tom is. He places much of his worth in Summer’s constantly shifting treatment of him, allows her to have free reign over his emotions and affection without taking anyone’s feelings but her own into account, and pines after her for months on end only to eventually find out she has married someone else.
Jay from The Great Gatsby
Set in 1922 New York, The Great Gatsby tells the tale of Jay Gatsby, a mysterious multi-millionaire whose most consistent quality is that of his undying love for Daisy Buchanan, a young debutante who promises she’ll stay true to him while he fights in World War I. But while Gatsby is away, she ends up marrying Tom Buchanan, an exceedingly wealthy man.
The truth is, Daisy cares far more for image, comfort, and excitement than for anything or anyone else — she offers nothing but pain to Jay.
Years later, Jay and Daisy begin having an affair — leading Jay to believe Daisy’s heart really belongs to him. But Daisy, when faced with the option of staying with Tom or leaving him for Jay, chooses Tom after hearing that Jay’s riches came from bootlegging alcohol — showing her true colors once and for all. The truth is, Daisy cares far more for image, comfort, and excitement than for anything or anyone else — she offers nothing but pain to Jay, and has no regard for anyone but herself. And despite this, Jay, still wrapped around her finger, takes the blame for a crime Daisy commits, leading to his ultimate demise.
Dean Forrester from Gilmore Girls
Fans of this cult-classic know Dean as the very first boyfriend of Star Hollow's teen darling, the Ivy League-bound, ultra-studious Rory Gilmore. And Dean truly is the epitome of a first boyfriend: nice enough, super in love, and always just a little obsessed with Rory. For a while, it’s sweet — it’s like every high school relationship ever.
Dean constantly makes Rory his first choice, but she never ends up doing the same.
But as their story progresses, we see just how much Dean’s worship of Rory is actually terribly unhealthy — especially because of her obvious lack of reciprocation. He often has to beg Rory to spend more time with him, allows her to treat him like her second choice when she starts to fall for another guy (she does this not once to him in the series, but twice — with two different guys), and years after she broke his heart the first time, he cheats on his new wife with Rory. Dean constantly makes Rory his first choice, but she never ends up doing the same.
Michael Scott from The Office
This one’s hard to admit — I really do love The Office and have enjoyed many a belly laugh at Michael Scott’s expense. And while Michael did grow tremendously over the course of the show’s nine seasons, he most definitely started off as a total simp.
So much of Michael’s relationship with Jan involved him groveling for her attention.
Specifically speaking, when he dated Jan — an awfully cruel woman we all loved to hate. So much of Michael’s relationship with Jan involved him groveling for her attention, her insulting him ruthlessly before showing just enough interest to keep him infatuated with her, and her treating him like an embarrassment (which, I mean, he was — but she didn’t have to date him).
Conor from He’s Just Not That Into You
This 2009 favorite presents itself as your typical star-studded rom-com, but it actually comes chock-full of great advice, as well as hard truths. Conor, a guy who seemingly has all his ducks in a row, is helplessly in love with Anna, a beautiful, young singer. He spends most of the film at her beck and call, considering himself her best friend and showering her with his time, affection, and gifts. Anna takes all of it, allowing him to be her “friend with benefits” but with absolutely no intention of following through and starting the committed relationship he very obviously wants with her, because she’s pining after a married man, who also happens to be a music producer.
Conor allows Anna to treat him not even as her second option, but as her last option.
Conor allows Anna to treat him not even as her second option, but as her last option throughout the film, only calling him when she’s upset, eventually settling on giving him a chance when things end with the married man she’s chasing after — which Conor takes. But even then, she treats him like dirt and breaks things off with him.
Nathaniel from Enchanted
Disney has some spectacular simp characters, but for brevity's sake I've chosen just one. If you've seen Disney's Enchanted, you'll remember Amy Adams being magically perfect as the animated princess brought to real life New York. But arguably the second best character in the movie is Nathaniel, the Prince's side-kick, who is actually a henchman for the evil queen Narissa. Narissa is a terrible woman who tries to banish Giselle in order to preserve her own claim to the thrown. And Nathaniel, who is obsessed with the Queen, has no qualms about trying to kill an innocent young woman in order to get in her good graces.
Nathaniel has no qualms about trying to kill an innocent young woman in order to get in the queen's good graces.
Not only does he betray his friend the Prince, but he spends the entire movie humiliating himself and hurting a little chipmunk in order to achieve his goal. Note to self: if a guy's willing to off someone for you, there's either something wrong with him or something wrong with you. Probably both.
Gus from Pysch
Although it pains me to include him, because Psych is one of my all-time favorite shows, Gus is a total simp. Not only does he spend the entire series as the sidekick to the most ridiculous fake psychic detective, but he just never lives up to his potential. While his partner Shawn ends up with a bad-ass lady detective, who he's spent the entire series trailing after and seducing, Gus finishes the show empty-handed. He has several spectacularly unsuccessful relationships during the show though, including a failed marriage to Kerry Washington!
You'd think that because he has a good job as a pharmaceutical salesman and an awesome private detective side gig he'd be fighting the ladies off.
You'd think that because he has a great family, a good job as a pharmaceutical salesman, and an awesome private detective side gig, he'd be fighting the ladies off. But Gus is just too nice, and he gets so awkward around the women he likes, it's almost painful for the audience to watch. He's probably the victim of show writers who didn't want to outshine their leading man, but Gus is definitely not the type of guy you'd want as a husband.
Don’t get me wrong — simp characters can be funny sometimes. But the entertainment industry’s tendency to use a simp in order to garner more power for female characters, while creating a damaging narrative about love and relationships for young men, poses countless issues that we can’t always ignore for the sake of good entertainment.