A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend an author panel including Claire Legrand and a couple of authors. They discussed a lot of interesting topics, but I think one of the most thought-provoking ones was unlikable characters. More specifically, unlikable female characters. Claire mentioned that she makes it a point to write unlikable female characters after she was told stories with them wouldn’t sell as well as others without them. That remark really got me thinking.
Unlikable female characters are kind of like antiheroes in a way. They might not have the whole path to redemption thing going, but they are seen in similar lights. In general, unlikable characters are more flawed and more complicated. And like I mentioned in my antihero appreciation post , flawed characters are more not only more interesting to read, they also tend to be more realistic.
Although they possess characteristics we consider to be inferior or annoying, unlikable female characters are like a breath of fresh air in a small room full of “perfect heroines”. Reading about a perfect heroine is getting so stale, especially in YA fantasy. The storylines and characters are so similar that I’m starting to get series mixed up. But you won’t forget which story an unlikable character belongs in. They’re different, and that sticks with you.
It’s actually a little endearing to see characters with what’s traditionally considered not-so-great traits such as selfishness and arrogance. They not only make the characters seem more human and real, but it also makes them more relatable. Everyone is a bit flawed in their own way. It’s crazy to think that YA is full of these characters that are willing to blindly do “what’s right” no matter the cost.
What’s really interesting about unlikable characters isn’t so much how they were written but what they do – they challenge our societal double standard on how we view personalities of different genders. If you think about it, most “unlikable female characters” are unlikable because they have some combination of some not-so-great traits. But many male characters who possess those same traits don’t come off quite as unlikable. Heck, sometimes those characteristics make them even more swoon-worthy. Just look at how we view “bad boys” compared to “bad girls”. Bad boys are considered more appealing while bad girls appear more unsavory.
Those unlikable female characters wouldn’t be nearly as unlikable if they were male.
So why are females held to a different standard? It all comes down to what’s been programmed to us through society. There’s an unspoken rule about how each gender should act to come off as appealing. Defying those norms results in being viewed as undesirable. And that’s why I’ll always appreciate unlikable female characters. (Yes, even the ones that make me want to pull my hair out.)
What do you think about unlikable female characters?