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The Neurotic Type A Woman Trope, Explained

“Type A” personalities onscreen are often embodied by neurotic women who live in constant conflict between their worries and their life plans, with a frantic energy most people can’t begin to match. From Friends’ Monica Geller, to Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope, to Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Amy Santiago, we frequently see the neurotic Type A grappling with just how much she needs to be in control over every aspect of her life to feel secure. But it’s her struggles—and her relatable fears—that make her feel both complex and familiar. Here’s our Take on what makes the Neurotic Type A Woman tick, and what her journey says about understanding our inner selves.

TRANSCRIPT

We’ve all met someone who takes everything a little too seriously. They’re known as Type A personalities, and onscreen they’re often embodied by neurotic women who live in constant conflict between their worries and their life plan, with a frantic energy most people can’t begin to match. This neurotic, Type A woman has many quirks that define her. Her ambition and anxiety combine to make her the ultimate go-getter. She’s also the responsible one — exceptionally clean, scheduled, and organized. But what separates the Type A Woman from your classic workaholic are her more traditionally feminine interests.

Monica Gellar: “I’m always the hostess. I mean, even when I was little, the girls brought their dollies to my tea party.” – Friends, 4x13

Despite high expectations for herself, she fails. We frequently see the Neurotic Type A struggle with her career, her relationships, and her sense of self. Her story highlights just how much she needs to be in control to feel secure — which may be annoying to others but is hardest of all on her. The Neurotic Type A is often portrayed as a joke. She’s sometimes even the villain. But it’s her struggles and her relatable fears that make her feel both complex and familiar. Here’s our Take on what makes the Neurotic Type A Woman tick, and what her journey says about understanding our inner selves.

Marnie Michaels: “That isn’t fun for me, do you realize that? Being the uptight girl? I hate it.” – Girls, 1x08

The Makings of the Neurotic Type A

We often use ‘Type A’ and ‘neurotic’ interchangeably, but it’s their specific combination that makes this character so distinct. As one of the so-called “Big Five” personality traits, neuroticism is characterized by a propensity for negative emotions. Neurotic people have extreme reactions to any stress in their lives. They have a tendency toward doubt and worry, which can sometimes spill over into anxiety and depression. And when those neuroses are combined with the ambition, rigorous organization, and controlling behavior of the classic Type A personality, it creates someone who rigidly plans every aspect of their lives, then becomes upset when any part of it goes awry.

The Neurotic Type A Woman switches seamlessly between self-doubt and self-assurance. Her need for control curbs the doom and gloom of a neurotic personality, which enables her achievements: her high expectations — and fear of not measuring up — drive her to work incredibly hard.

Hermione: [dropping a giant book onto the table] “I checked this out weeks ago for a bit of light reading.”

Ron: “This is light?” – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

The Neurotic Type A uses her fears as fuel. Stress is just the price she accepts for her success. While male characters might demonstrate some aspects of the Neurotic Type A, its traits have long been coded as feminine. And on-screen, this trope is especially common to female characters, with its roots in the classic TV mom. The housewives of the ‘50s and ‘60s, like Leave It To Beaver’s June Cleaver, maintained strict control over their perfect homes — the only place they were allowed true power and agency. As more women entered the workplace, Type A characters like The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s Mary Richards refocused those same energies on their careers, constantly anxious to prove themselves. For M*A*S*H’s Margaret Houlihan, taking everything seriously was her only hope of earning the respect of her male coworkers.

Mary Richards: “I get to thinking my job is too important to me.” – The Mary Tyler Moore Show, 7x24

Friends’ Monica Geller shaped our modern idea of the Neurotic Type A. She was just as serious about her career as she was her obsessive cleaning habits. Over time, the Type A Woman has evolved into someone whose determination and assertiveness are seen as admirable — like Brooklyn 99’s Amy Santiago, whose obsession with rules and organization earn ridicule from her fellow officers, but also their respect. Or Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope, one of TV’s most passionate, competent women who, as Alexis Soloski wrote in The New York Times, offers a “vindication for principled, chatty ladies everywhere.”

Leslie Knope: “I’m sorry if I can be a little annoying at times. But one person’s annoying is another person’s inspiring and heroic.” – Parks and Recreation, 6x05

While today’s Type A women have a relatively easier time establishing their authority outside the home, their need to exert control stems from an era when women still had very little power over their lives. Their determination reflects a continued striving to assert themselves, in a world that’s long kept them in check.

The Relationships of the Type A

The Neurotic Type A is undeniably high maintenance, which puts her at a social disadvantage: she’s not cool. The Cool Girl doesn’t care if you leave your dishes in the sink, doesn’t obsess over her career, or nag her partners about commitment, and she doesn’t even really have to try to be beautiful. When the Neurotic Type A is compared to the Cool Girl, it’s never exactly flattering. Our culture has long equated caring too much with being uptight and annoying while portraying not caring as attractive and fun.

Amy Dunne: “Cool girl is hot. Cool girl is game. Cool girl is fun. Cool girl never gets angry at her man.” – Gone Girl (2014)

We often see the Neurotic Type A paired up with the Cool Girl for comedic effect. On Don’t Trust The B——in Apartment 23, the driven June is contrasted with her roommate Chloe, a slinky socialite and con artist who’s besties with James Van Der Beek and is so fun she inspires a comic book. The spontaneous, sexually adventurous Chloe is the exact opposite of worrying, responsible June, and their differences only make June feel more insecure. Even when they’re friends, the Cool Girl seems almost specifically designed to exacerbate these feelings of inadequacy in the Type A Woman.

Marnie: “See, this is what you do. You act like I’m uptight, and then I follow suit. I become uptight. It is the most frustrating dynamic on the planet.” – Girls, 1x01

We’ve come to recognize that the Cool Girl is largely a male fantasy. She has none of the fussy, overbearing, perfectionist qualities that men would find unappealing. In this, the Type A Woman can be seen as the anti-fantasy: she’s the opposite of the simple, carefree, and easy to handle woman men are supposedly looking for. An illustrative example of how the Type A-Cool Girl dynamic often revolves around men can be found in Community’s Annie and Britta. Jeff, the male lead, starts off romantically interested in cool, leather jacket-wearing Britta, while Annie is the neurotic, overeager Type A that Jeff might be attracted to, but can’t genuinely see himself with. But as those feelings become less of a joke, Britta and Annie begin to change. Britta becomes more uptight and assertive. Meanwhile, Annie relaxes, offsetting her Type A tendencies by becoming more fun and flirtatious.

Annie: “I was trying to make life go according to some script. I can’t. You can’t. We both need to get more comfortable winging it.” – Community, 3x16

The Neurotic Type A may not be the idealized male fantasy, but we often see how all the things that don’t make her cool do make her uniquely loving. Much as she’s often paired with the Cool Girl as a friend, the Type A Woman tends to end up with a more laid-back guy who appreciates her neuroses as lovable assets. And although she may never be cool, she forms strong and rewarding relationships with the people she supports so tirelessly, who in turn support her.

The Dark Side of the Neurotic Type A

While the Neurotic Type A can be both admirably ambitious and endearingly quirky, at her worst, she exhibits an almost toxic need for control. Exerting strict control over herself and her situation is the only way to deal with her near-pathological fear of things going wrong. And while this anxiety often helps her succeed, it also leaves her unable to cope with setbacks or to fully embrace all parts of herself — especially the ones that scare her.

The psychologist Carl Jung spoke of shadow functions, the parts of ourselves that remain mostly repressed in our natural state, but surface under pressure. Onscreen, we often see the Type A Woman losing control by unleashing that darker, wilder side. Community’s Annie is well aware of this shadow self.

Annie: “I’m only here because of a brief addiction to pills that I was told would help me focus, but they actually made me lose my scholarship and virginity.” – Community, 1x04

Annie’s fear of losing control again leads to her tight grip on her inhibitions. Notably, when Annie becomes the “Evil Annie” of a darker timeline, she is the manifestation of her Jungian shadow self: a woman who’s unabashed, even aggressive about her sexual appetites.

In this trope, we often see the Type A relying on her neurotic habits as a way of keeping this unruly side of her in check: Monica’s controlling behavior can be seen as a response to issues with overeating in her adolescent years. But the healthy way to deal with your shadow self isn’t to bury it — this can only cause it to surface in ways that are unhealthy, even dangerous. For Annie, accepting that she can’t control everything is the key to gaining true power over her life. And when Monica’s dream of having it all by becoming a mother is almost thwarted by her inability to conceive, she finds another chance for happiness by letting go of her rigidly pre-scripted plan and looking forward to adopting instead.

Chandler: “How do you feel about that?”

Monica: “I think I feel okay about it. Actually, I think I feel really good about it.” – Friends, 9x22

Although the Neurotic Type A is initially recognized by her inflexibility, most often her story arc involves finding new ways to adapt — learning to take life as it comes and accept the parts of herself that scare her. And by learning to let go, even just a little, she ends up getting more than she ever planned for.

Although neuroticism is defined by largely negative emotions, the Neurotic Type A shows us how they can be harnessed into positives, making you more successful, more resilient, and, to the right people, even more lovable. Her devotion to being organized is an outgrowth of being extremely passionate. And her lack of cool can make her extraordinarily warm. She teaches us that it can be healthy to set expectations for yourself and to hold onto the aspects of your personality that others might find intense — as long as you don’t let them stop you from growing or adapting. As our society gains a greater appreciation for smart, hard-working women, the Neurotic Type A has become less of a villain or a punchline, and more of a role model. So that’s one less thing for her to worry about.

Ron: “Hermione, you’re honestly the most wonderful person I’ve ever met.” – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)