The Cowgirl Trope

A widely popular trope utilized and seen across mostly western media is the cowgirl trope. This trope is unique in the sense that it portrays women in a more strong and powerful way than most tropes involving women in the media’s history. The cowgirl persona is known for being a skilled shooter and rider, and challenges the helpless damsel in distress trope.

While this trope does portray woman in a more fierce light than usual, cowgirls are still considered to be unable to be equal with their cowboy counterparts. Often, cowgirl characters will serve as a main love interest for the cowboy, and will be won over by them. Furthermore, while the cowboy’s physical features can be described as more tough and rugged, with less emphasis on being sexualized, the cowgirl is the complete opposite; she is often shown in a more revealing outfit, with perfectly done hair and makeup and less dirty and rugged as the cowboy characters. The cowboys may be seen also taking care of ranch work and the like, but cowgirls are usually limited to just riding, shooting, and remaining pleasant to look at.

For example, this advertisement for the Canadian Wheat Board (2013) displays this 1960’s print of a stereotypical cowgirl character to draw in more clients. This image portrays the cowgirl in a sexual manner, from the attire to the hair and makeup, and even the pose. Instead of being shown in a tough manner, this cowgirl is straddling a fence (hence the pun) with a short skirt and revealing top, full makeup look, and done up hair. This extremely feminine display of the cowgirl trope completely contrasts the male counterpart trope.

These two pictures clearly show the differences in the tropes’ portrayal of the cowgirl and cowboy image. Both images are advertisements for two cigarette brands, Marlboro (1950’s) and Chesterfield (1940). The Marlboro ad utilizes the cowboy trope, characterizing the man with a tough and robust appearance. With this trope, the ad appeals to the male audience, suggesting tough guys will smoke their brand. The Chesterfield cigarettes, on the other hand, show the cowgirl in a more dolled up manner, with full makeup and hair done. Instead of selling a strong male persona, Chesterfield draws those who are attracted to the cowgirl character, and who want to either become like her or meet a woman like her.

While the cowgirl trope portrays woman in a stronger manner than other past tropes, it still does not escape all of the typical stereotypes that woman are displayed in. Similar to the femme fatale trope, the stronger portrayals of woman are still sexualized in some manner to appeal to the present male favored society. Historically, when the typical male viewer sees such cowgirls in ads, they typically are drawn into the sex appeal of the women, and approve of such traditional characters. Woman would have also been used to seeing this portrayal of other woman as holding desirable traits that they should exhibit themselves. In modern times, we are moving away from such tropes, but these types of stereotypes and their influence in society are still ever present, and are continued to be used today.

 

Sources:

  • https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/05/10/canadian-wheat-board-cowboy-cowgirl-ad_n_3254511.html (img)
  • https://highnames.com/marlboro-name-origin/marlboro-cowboy-ad/ (img)
  • https://www.ebay.com/itm/1940-CHESTERFIELD-Cigarettes-Francesca-Sims-Retro-Cowgirl-Lasso-VINTAGE-AD-/174101310199 (img)
  • https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Cowboy?from=Main.Cowgirl
  • https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333751080_A_woman_and_her_truck_Pickups_the_woman_driver_and_cowgirl_feminism