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I greatly admired this post in defense of the "unlikable" female character.

"We forgive our heroes even when they’re drunken, aimless brutes or flawed noir figures who smoke too much and can’t hold down a steady relationship. In truth, we both sympathize with and celebrate these heroes... But what we love about many male heroes – their complexity, their confidence, their occasional bouts of selfish whim –become, in female heroes, marks of the dreaded 'unlikeable character.'"

Fits with my experience with fiction reviews. I write about flawed humans, male and female, but when reviewers complain about not finding one of my characters likable enough, nine times out of ten it's a female character they're picking on. And not for lack of flawed male ones. It's an interesting experiment, or challenge, to ask yourself when reading, "What would I think of this character if s/he were the opposite sex? And why?"

In related news, my own novel-writing is going well. Just emailed my beta readers a draft of book 2 of the Chrysomelia Stories (that is, the Persephone series), which will likely be titled Underworld's Daughter. Hurray! It does bring in some new characters, most of them female, and I'm hoping I've made them complex enough that you are free to find them likable or unlikable as you see fit.

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
shanmonster
Jan. 29th, 2014 03:39 am (UTC)
I think some of my favourite female characters are the villainesses. There's Livia from I, Claudius, Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, and the Marquise de Merteuil from Les Liaisons Dangereux. All so deliciously wicked, and not particularly likeable people.
mollyringle
Jan. 29th, 2014 11:43 pm (UTC)
True, when they make "unlikable" go all the way into "villain," it often makes them even more charismatic! Ah, the Marquise--such a great part.
naill_renfro
Feb. 3rd, 2014 10:56 pm (UTC)
It's easier to make a beloved "unlikable" villain, regardless of gender; all they have to do is chew scenery in an entertaining way. Azula. Saruman. Cruella DeVil. Any Disney villain(-ess, if we want to be archaic) ever. Any of several versions of Hades.

The market is easier on the flawed male protagonist. Mostly, as the linked post says, this results from the ingrained assumptions of the audience. But sometimes it's due to the way the character is written. I just finished Season 3 of Sherlock (about which more elsewhere; long story short, I watch it because of the highly entertaining performances of almost the entire cast, and in spite of the sloppy writing, bad editing, numerous plotholes, and occasional condescending racism.) But Sherlock is a perfect example: He's a terrible, terrible person. So is the canonical Sherlock Holmes, and so is the version played by Robert Downey Jr. in the two movies. We probably wouldn't like to know him, but we like to watch and read about him. Why? Well, for one thing, he's allowed to make jokes.

Too often the author mistakes "you must take the female protagonist seriously" for "the female protagonist must be serious all the time." Katniss Everdeen and Buffy Summers are both strong-but-flawed female protagonists, living in worlds of doom and gloom. Neither is unlikable, but one is a lot more fun than the other.
mollyringle
Feb. 4th, 2014 12:21 am (UTC)
Excellent examples. Loki too, for beloved crazy villains.

I've often wondered when watching the Cumberbatch Sherlock* if it's even possible to make a female equivalent of a character like that and have everyone love her instead of dislike her. If a female character disregards social expectations, it's usually the kiss of death for her.

Then again, Cordelia Chase isn't really a villain (definitely isn't by the end of things), and is usually made of rudeness ("Tact is just not saying true stuff"), and manages to be wonderfully entertaining. Shallow, of course, not brilliant. We need to cast about for a brilliant but unlikable, at least social-convention-disregarding, female character.

Buffy herself won me over much earlier and more thoroughly than I expected her to, thanks to such a charming performance. But I do know people who can't stand her, even when they like Faith. (It's very hard for me to like Faith. Even with redemption arc taken into account.)

*I haven't seen the 3rd season yet, but am looking forward to it! Martin and Benedict have such chemistry. And I've been a Rupert Graves fan since his young Merchant-Ivory days, so it's lovely to see him again and watch him turn Lestrade into a well-rounded part, not just "idiot police guy" like Lestrade often is portrayed.
naill_renfro
Feb. 4th, 2014 04:13 am (UTC)
Cordelia's a good example; she's so amusingly unlikable that it's impossible not to love her. I also prefer Buffy to Faith, not because Faith is the Bad One but because she's the "Bad One," and too much of a creator's pet. (Although I do love all the Faith/Mayor interactions.)

For likable/unlikable/loathsome from Sherlock, there's Watson, Sherlock, and Mycroft. Martin Freeman is automatically likable, in his sardonically put-upon way - that's what makes him a perfect Bilbo Baggins. Sherlock is likably unlikable, like Cordelia. And Mark Gatiss as Mycroft is unlikably unlikable - or am I the only viewer waiting to see him get his comeuppance? (Though somewhat less disconcerting than Stephen Fry's naked Mycroft…)
mollyringle
Feb. 4th, 2014 07:12 pm (UTC)
I had to pause just now and ask myself if I'd have liked Faith better if she were a guy. But no, I suspect I'd still find that character's decisions annoyingly stupid and bad on the whole. Faith/Mayor was weirdly cute and intriguing, though. He was like her evil Watcher.

Oh yeah, Mycroft is just a common snob. He and Sherlock both are snobs, of course (that's the main part of their family resemblance, along with their usual coldheartedness), but at least Sherlock's a brilliant amusing snob, whereas Mycroft is just snotty. Moriarty was great fun, though, speaking of chewing the scenery.

Edited at 2014-02-04 07:13 pm (UTC)
naill_renfro
Feb. 6th, 2014 06:42 pm (UTC)
Hard for me to imagine Sherlock as a female character - gender is too much a part of his make-up, or maybe that's just my limited imagination. (I'm sure there's plenty of slash out there somewhere with a gender-flipped Sherlock… And Sherl does it himself near the end of [spoiler alert!] Season 3 Ep 3: "Sherlock is really a girl's name.") But how about Toph Beifong? She's likable, but definitely brilliant and social-convention-disregarding. Also Korra in the sequel series, although the sequel series is a bit flawed in its own right; I'm worried it's painted itself into a corner with the end of season 2.

Or Dola, the pirate chief from Castle in the Sky: She turns out to be likable enough, but in the opening scene and at least one other she's fairly terrifying. And she definitely disregards social conventions, although you could say that's what she's supposed to do - pirate, after all.

Kinsey Millhone, from Sue Grafton's alphabet mysteries? I admit to not liking her much, but that's more because of the predictability of each new entry in the series.
mollyringle
Feb. 7th, 2014 05:28 pm (UTC)
I thought of Toph the other day as well! Everyone loves her, precisely for her attitude (and unexpected deadliness). I suspect she can get away with it more easily because she's so young--we allow kids to have more attitude. Still, the Avatar series in general has so many refreshing twists on the usual conventions, and makes it work so well, that it gives me hope all around. (As I've mentioned before, Aang is rather unusual as a male hero, given that he's goofily cheerful, optimistic, and pacifistic. He has his dark moments, sure, but he's definitely not the usual broody-angry-angsty-reserved male.)

Dola is a cool example because she's elderly, which is another lesser-seen trait in popular characters generally. McGonagall in that category too, I suppose. She is usually tough and unemotional, but it's easily agreed she's awesome.

But you know, articles like the original one probably aren't referencing *us* as these judgmental readers/viewers. We're aware of the Bechdel Test and many other social-equality issues, and tend to think about them when enjoying our fandoms. It's the wider public, with their vicious Goodreads reviews, whose minds we need to change.

Edited at 2014-02-07 05:29 pm (UTC)
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