Book Discussion : Why We Need More ‘Unlikable’ Heroines

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Hello, lovelies! Happy International Women’s Day!! I hope you get to celebrate this day  with all the great women in your life (be them real or fictional – because we’re bookworms, after all).

Today I decided to talk about something that is suitable for this celebration – I’m going to talk about female characters and why we don’t like them when they aren’t likable.

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I really loved how Laura Sebastian talked about unlikable female characters and how she reasoned that we call them unlikable because they’re complex and not just their male counterparts. She also has a great point about how we rarely call a male character – unlikable, most of the times if two characters (one female, one male) have the same traits, people end up loving the male character and having mixed feelings about the female character. Which sounds a lot like a double standard to me. If you want to read Laura Sebastian’s full article, check it out here.

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To be honest, when I think about an unlikable female character, I think about a three-dimensional character, someone who is very ambitious, who doesn’t let others walk all over her, who gets what she wants. For me, this label isn’t negative, at all. But the semantics tell a total different story. Why are we calling her unlikable and not ambitious or combative or whatever? I have a love-hate relationship with the term because of that, I’ve used this one for both women and men in the past, but it’s very difficult not to see how much more used it is for female characters. Mostly because there’s this expectation that female characters and women (too!) have to be agreeable, likable, they might be strong, but they still have to be nice if they want the society’s approval. If she’s not nice, she’s a bitch and we don’t like bitches. 

That’s why I want to put under discussion this whole thing. I usually use this term when I want to clap back to an author for writing a raw, powerful representation of a woman that gets her way, that is unapologetic and doesn’t care about what other people say of her journey. We need more of these women because we need to get the notion that women have to agreeable all the time out of our system. It’s okay to not be agreeable or nice. It’s even needed, many times. I’m not talking here about becoming an asshole, but sometimes this notion about being likable is so rooted in women’s minds that they can’t even defend themselves. I want every woman to be able to stand up for what she believes in without having to worry about how she might be categorized as a bitch by a society that can’t help praise men for everything they hate in women.

So, that’s why we need more ‘unlikable’ female characters that get their ways because they’re helping women in real life understand that it’s absolutely alright not to be likable. It’s alright for them to have all the traits that society admires in men from being courageous, ambitious to being confident and not caring about what other people think of them.

Now it’s totally okay if you don’t like some of these characters, but if you enjoy all unlikable male characters and you hate every unlikable female character, then you might have a double standard problem. Better start questioning your reasons for holding those views.

This day is dedicated to all women of all races and sexualities, cis or trans, abled or disabled, of all shapes and sizes, likable or unlikable, you’re all amazing and you MATTER. Your opinion matters, your voice is everything, so don’t let them silence you, ever.

Now to my favourite ‘unlikable’ female characters that you’ll all be inspired by to do whatever you want and smash the patriarcy :

 

I’ll conclude this discussion with a quote by the amazing Gillian Flynn, which I think it’s pretty fitting for this subject :

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Happy Women’s Day to all of you!

#girlpower is real, don’t ever forget that! 

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Where do you stand when it comes to unlikable female characters? Do you want to see more of them in the books? What are your favourites? 

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55 thoughts on “Book Discussion : Why We Need More ‘Unlikable’ Heroines

  1. Rebecca says:

    Great post! I loved that quote from Gillian Flynn about men being ‘antiheroes’ and women being ‘nasty’ and unlikable. There’s nothing wrong with a strong female character, so I completely agree with your points

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      Thank you so much, I’m glad you liked it! ❤ I thought the same, it was a really great article! I agree so much, both of them are amazing and I've seen both of them getting lots of hate!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Siobhan @ Novelties says:

    Ah, love this post!

    I think these characters add depth to the story. And I enjoy that in a character.

    One female character who, for a while, I couldn’t stand is Evangeline from Red Queen. I’ve grown to respect her, but I hate her actions toward humans.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      Indeed, that’s a great point too! I think usually complex, three-dimensional characters always add to the story. ❤
      I have only read the first book and thought she was interesting, though she was a bit of the typical villain/mean-girl, but I'm glad she grows more complex in the next books! Thank you! ❤

      Like

  3. Daniela Ark says:

    I’m all for unlikable characters! If they are females even better! Being a consummated feminist I Love “bitchy” driven competitive ambitious female characters to pieces! Great post for this international women history month!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Kat Impossible says:

    I call guys in books unlikable all the time hahaha some of them are just such douches and I don’t think I associate the same with the word as you do. I wouldn’t call an ambitious or confident woman unlikable. I’d reserve that word for someone who is calculating and unkind to others, who in the process of getting to the top puts others down (because that is not necessary. We can build each other up). That doesn’t mean likable women have to be nice and agreeable in my book. There are incredible women out there who don’t need others approval and who are strong, assertive and strict, but still just in the way they treat others. I am not sure I am putting this in the right words … Still I totally get the point of your post! There has always been a very different treatment for women and men, be it in fiction or reality and we need to get rid of those double standards! Thanks for sharing and celebrating international women’s day in such a great manner!!! ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • Marta says:

      To be honest, I don’t think I start associating the word with that by myself, I just kind of see this tendency of calling confident, ambitious women in literature unlikable, especially if they have some flaws or don’t do what’s expected of them. But I agree that unlikable characters should be seen more as a calculating and unkind woman, for example, I see Amy from Gone Girl as the most unlikable female character that I’ve read about. Because she’s kind of a sociopath and she does awful things, but you still root for her in the end because you kind of see how she became what she is. Yeah, I just guess there are so many more definitions of the word, but I don’t mind when people dislike this kind of unlikable characters because they are probably harder to like, but when a girl who is ambitious and confident gets hate, it’s kind of a different story. Thank you very much!!! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kat Impossible says:

        I am glad you got what I was trying to say. I didn’t want to put anyone down with what I said. Speaking about Amy … I could not root for that woman. But I also never rooted for her husband. They were both TERRIBLE to each other. I almost felt like they deserved each other, just so they couldn’t make anyone else miserable. haha
        But I totally agree. Girls who are ambitious and know what they want should not get hate for it!! ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • Marta says:

        I know you didn’t want to put anyone down, Kat!! ❤ Don't worry about it, I totally understand what you meant! Hahaha, I understand that, I thought Amy was a very complex character, but they were both incredibly terrible. I think that's what I like about Flynn's characters – how much awful they are, which is kind of twisted.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Marie says:

    Oh this is such a great post, I love it! I think it’s so important to see strong women standing up for what they believe in, fighting, screaming, being their whole-selves unapologetically. That’s what we need more of for sure, and even if, sometimes they’re labeled as “unlikeable”, well… we can’t please everyone now, can we? 😛 Also… I really need to read You’ll Miss Me When I Am Gone, now that you mentioned it here,too 😛 x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      YESSS, I love these women who are unapologetic, no matter who they might cross. Yesss, you totally need to read it, if you don’t read it until October, I might do some magic and buy it for you for your birthday because you NEED to read it! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Caro @ bookcheshirecat says:

    This post!!! I cannot put into words how well-written your post is 😍
    I definitely agree with what you said: people rarely hate unlikable characters if they are male but if they are female … then they are suddenly horrible and ‘bitchy’. I think that a few years back I used to be like that too, because there really is this notion that women always have to be agreeable and cannot be anything else. However, now I love my ‘unlikable’ female characters, because they are real and allowed to be cunning, strong, whatever they want to be! My fave unlikable ladies are probably Adelina from The Young Elites, Vivia from Windwitch and Mare from Red Queen!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      Thank you so much, I’m glad you liked it!!! ❤ I think it's totally okay to do mistakes, considering how our society puts down women and pits them one against another, it's pretty understandable. It's amazing that you changed your mindset! Can't wait to read The Young Elites, I've heard only great things about it and it sounds like Adelina is absolutely greaaat!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Michelle @ Pink Polka Dot Books says:

    I love that Gillian Flynn quote!! Also, as an unlikable female myself, I totally love this post. I don’t categorize women that are 3-dimensional & go after what they want as unlikable. I categorize women who are actually dark and unlikable as so. And they are usually my faves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      Gillian Flynn is a genius and I love her! ❤ I think it's important to have all kinds of women in fiction from the ones who are ambitious to those who are dark and unkind because women are complex and there aren't only nice women in real life. Thank you very much for stopping by! ❤

      Like

  8. karen says:

    This is such an awesome topic for International Woman’s Day! I do enjoy unlikable (bitches) for female leads. Honestly, I relate to them. I can’t always be nice. It just isn’t me to lay down and take it, I fight for that I want.
    I would add Lada from And I Darken to this list.
    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      YESSS, if not taking shit from other people and fighting for what I want means I’m a bitch, then I’m more than happy to be one, honestly. Thank you for commenting, glad you enjoyed it! ❤

      Like

  9. Berit&V@Audio Killed the Bookmark says:

    I truly enjoy unlikable women in my books, and I usually pretty much like them! Maybe it is because I’m such a people pleaser in my real life that it’s nice to see a woman just go for it! Wonderful post!💕
    However, I do find myself being much more judgemental towards mothers in books then I am fathers, I really have a certain expectation, and I’m guessing that’s probably not fair? LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      Thank you very much! ❤
      I kind of understand where you're coming from, we probably do that because society teaches us that mothers have a higher responsibility, in my country, whenever a father does half the stuff a mother usually does, he's a national hero. I think mothers and fathers should totally share the responsibilities, but sadly, I have higher standards/expectations for mothers.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Berit&V@Audio Killed the Bookmark says:

        Well I’ve been a single mother to my three kids for the past five years, because father checked out, it is a tough job but the most rewarding job on the planet, but I do feel a little guilty when I passed my judgment, I’m lucky I have wonderful kids and to be honest it’s been fairly easy… but LOL to a dad doing anything and being a national hero, I always find it amusing when dad say they are babysitting their own children, really?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Marta says:

        That’s amazing, I admire single mothers so much, you’re some kind of superheroes (actually, mothers usually are superheroes). ❤
        Yes, that's very annoying! 😦 Fortunately, there are some good fathers out there too, some of them are even single fathers and manage to raise their children very well.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Kaila says:

    This is such an important post! I think you make such a valid point about “unlikable” not necessarily always carrying a negative connotation – for me, sometimes it just means “love to hate”. But it’s so important to give it some thought whether there’s any double standard in applying that same label to male characters, and thank you for promoting that introspection!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      Yesss! I believe it’s so important to keep that in mind, it’s okay if we don’t like all characters, it’s even normal not to like them all. But if you enjoy some traits in male characters and hate them in women, it’s already kind of questionable. Thank you very much for commenting! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Ali (@thebandarblog) says:

    Love this post!! I 100% agree that we do need more unlikeable heroines… even if I do hate them (ahem, Anna K), if not for the reasons you listed above (teaching people it’s okay to be unlikeable), then to at least round out the reading experience – we can love every MC we read about! It’s good to feel some conflicted and uncomfortable emotions once in a while!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      Thank you very much, Ali! ❤ It's totally okay to hate them, we can't like every other character, I know I have many likeable characters that I just don't like for various reasons. Yes, indeed! I find that this kind of characters add a lot to the story, usually! ❤

      Like

  12. JJ ☕️🐇 (@darkmaterialss) says:

    This was SO necessary Marta, thank you!! I completely agree with you on the biased usage of “unlikable” between male and female characters, and the implications it has. I love complex and morally grey characters regardless of their gender, so it’s frustrating when women are disproportionately punished by readers for having traits that are acceptable (or attractive) in their male equivalents. The only thing I don’t want a character to be is boring, and then their personal details don’t matter one bit! Great discussion, I’m so glad to see someone bringing this up ♥

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      I agree, I’m the same – I usually love every character unless they have no personality or are very bland. Thank you very much for commenting and I’m glad you enjoyed my discussion! ❤

      Like

  13. SaarBlogs says:

    I’ve thought this SO MANY times, but never knew how to put it into words. But let’s be real, my favourite characters? All of them a little “unlikable”. That’s what makes me like them, they’re real!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      Same here! I have so many favourite characters that are called unlikable by other people. I’ll protect them until the end of time! ❤
      Thank you very much! ❤

      Like

  14. Naima says:

    Some of my absolute favourite anti-heroines are Lada from And I Darken (phenomenal series), Jude from The Cruel Prince (loved this one too) and Lira from To Kill a Kingdom (a recent favourite)!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      I was really wondering if it’s okay to add Lira to this list considering the book’s ending, I’ve had her in mind while writing this post though!! ❤
      I can't wait to read The Cruel Prince, it sounds amazing and so many people had loved this one! Thank you for the recommendations, Naima! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Evelina @ AvalinahsBooks says:

    I love that quote!! And I agree with you wholeheartedly. I often struggle with the fact that I have to stay nice all the time. As a woman, if you’re pressured to being mean once or twice, it’s a losing battle either way. Even if you make your point and win the argument, it’s still a loss. Because you’re “a bitch”. So there’s no winning :/ I don’t like bitch characters myself, you’re right – but you’re also right that they should be around because, hell. Seriously. It would be nice to not have to feel like a bitch when you’re just defending your views, especially in the workplace.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marta says:

      YESS!! I know what you mean, to be honest, I think in real life, I’m considered somewhat of an unlikable woman because I don’t smile all the time, I do whatever I want and while I’m trying to be somewhat nice, it’s not enough because people expect sooo much from women, it’s annoying. I think those stupid expectations are visible even to fictional women, to be honest. We expect them to be everything and then if they are too perfect, they are Mary Sues.
      Agreed!! ❤

      Like

  16. Camilla @ Reader in the Attic says:

    *Round of applause* I love this post!
    By the way, might be destiny because the same day I noticed your post I had just finished to program a post with the same theme. Creepy. Or amazing.

    Anyway, there’s a point we have in common, which is exactly how usually female character are badly seen if the act like we’re used to see in male characters.
    Is also true that unlikable doesn’t mean necessarily bad but I’ve read many reivews where the unlikable heroine, in the end, was just bad and ruined the book for the reader, with the implication that she was just… well, not a good protagonist. *whisper* which is kinda “insert vulgar word” thing *finish to whisper*.

    Also, it does refleclt a lot real life. Many women get down played or silenced because their own voice, definied as unlikable, get turned against them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Marta says:

      Hahahaha, that’s so great! I will check your post right now, I’m glad that more people are talking on this subject because it’s so interesting!! I agree so much with this, I wish there were equal standards/expectations between male and female characters.
      Thank you very much! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Chloe says:

    Loved the post! I agree with you, I do love reading a book where the female lead stands up for what she believes in and doesn’t let everyone tell her what to do. It can become tiring reading a book where the female just agrees all the time and doesn’t act on what she believes in because of social pressures.

    Like

  18. That_crazy_gal says:

    Exactly and a woman with those characteristics u mentioned are always put through increased “hate views”. The fear of being unlikeable have prevented many females from reaching their full potential. Great post

    Like

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