Not long ago, I was trying to think of fictional female INTJs, because that’s what one does when one is a nonfictional female INTJ with too much time to think. It’s a glamorous life.
I then realized that I could not think of a single fictional counterpart for myself. A friend helpfully pointed out that both main characters in Silence of the Lambs—Hannibal Lecter (male) and Clarice Starling (female)—are INTJ personality types.
So my list increased from zero to one.
I could think of plenty of fictional male INTJs, and so could the internet. Ranging from the old and literary—Mr. Darcy, Gandalf, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern—to the modern—Stewie Griffin, the talking baby on the cartoon Family Guy—male fictional INTJs were not in short supply. My inner feminist began to grow a bit miffed, and I decided to take an informal survey on the matter.
Using this website, which lists a total of 138 fictional characters from well-known books, TV shows, and movies by Myers-Briggs type, I found that 13.7% of the characters were INTJs. This statistic is wildly disproportionate to the actual appearance of INTJs in the general population, which hovers at approximately 2%. Breaking it down further, I found that on this particular website, the percentage of the total characters that were INTJ women was 1.4%—pretty close to the real-life 1%. However, 12% of the 138 characters listed here were INTJ men, when only about 3% of real people are INTJ males.
In reality, the ESTJs make up more of the general population than any other type, at 13%. In other words, only one type comes close in the real world to the numbers of INTJs in the fictional world.
Based on this brief survey, I concluded that INTJs are more common in fiction than in reality. This is not the part that I found interesting, however. INTJs are often referred to as the “Mastermind” type, and I know far more masterminds on TV than I do in my classes. INTJs make interesting, useful characters. (Also, I am one, so I may be a touch biased. You’ve been warned.) What I find worth noting is that female INTJs seem to occur about as often in fiction as in real life, and only male INTJs are overrepresented in fiction.
Of course, this disparity is part of a larger issue—that of the underrepresentation of women in media across the board. The Women’s Media Center reported that women accounted for 29% of the major characters in the top 100 films in 2014 in their annual status report. In my own survey, only 27.5% the fictional characters listed are women. In other words, the list of characters that I used correlates well with a general trend.
I’m not sure if everyone is aware of this little tidbit, but it turns out that about 50% of the world’s population is female. I understand if you need to pause in reading for a second to take this wild fact in. I’ll wait.
You’re back? Ok, good. Allow us to continue.
While it is a part of the larger issue of gender inequality in the media, I suspect that the specific lack of fictional portrayals of INTJ women is related to the fact that INTJs do not usually possess many traits traditionally considered “feminine.”
INTJs generally are known for being uncomfortable with emotions, independent, analytical, reserved, serious, etc. In American culture, women displaying such characteristics run the risk of being viewed as bossy, frigid nags, while men with the same characteristics are often considered stoic, ambitious, and maybe even seductively mysterious. (I’m looking at you, Mr. Darcy.)
Studies have shown that successful women may be penalized as a result of being seen as less nurturing and sensitive than the feminine ideal and may be seen as more selfish and less desirable than men with the same qualifications and achievements.
Because INTJs display characteristics that may cause women to be perceived as unlikable, writing a fictional female INTJ into a script or book might prove to be difficult, especially if the writer wants the character to be likable, such as Mr. Darcy (by the end of Pride and Prejudice) or Gandalf. Even when INTJs are the villains—as they so often are—they tend to be intriguing ones, such as Hannibal Lecter, Professor Moriarty, or even Mr. Darcy at the beginning of P&P. You almost like their evilness, or at least respect their intelligence and cunning nature. Would it be the same if their genders were simply changed? Annabelle Lecter and Professor (Jessica) Moriarty?
A recent article in The Atlantic summed up the often limited perception of women very well by explaining that, "Either she is nice, or she is not. Either she is a b***h, or she is not." A lot of words can be used to describe INTJs, but “nice” is not generally one of the first. This dichotomy parallels that of the much older Madonna/whore dichotomy used to describe the role of women in literature. Women are nice or they are not; women are virgins or they are harlots.
I get why INTJs appear more in fiction than in reality. (Bias alert again!) They make great masterminds, criminal or otherwise. But approximately a quarter of real INTJs are women, so I would expect to see similar numbers in fictional portrayals.
At this point, you, gentle reader, might be wondering if this whole piece is an attempt to convince any budding author or screenwriter out there to write a female INTJ character for me. And of course that would be awesome! I love pretending that people value my opinion that much!
But really, it’s a request for everyone to take a look at the fictional INTJ males out there—the Gandalfs, Darcys, Hannibals, and Moriartys—and try to imagine the characters as women. If you recoil at the thought or think, 'Well then it just wouldn’t be a good movie/book/show,' then I ask that you really consider why you feel that way.
*If anyone wants to read more about the overall gender disparity in the media, I highly recommend the Women’s Media Center and their annual report on the status of women in the U.S. media.