All About ‘Unlikeable’ Female Characters
‘Why are so many female characters unlikeable these days?’ That was a thread I had the misfortune to read recently, but it’s not the only one. Commentary on supposedly ‘unlikeable’ female characters never goes away, it seems.
Men – and sadly, some women too – all chime in regularly about this topic online, saying shit like …
- … It’s ‘misogyny’ to write female characters with bad motivations or other bad behaviour (sigh)
- … Female characters have a RESPONSIBILITY to be role models to young girls (erm no, ENTERTAINMENT first!)
- … Writers are showing their inexperience by writing these unlikeable female characters (??? Audiences love them!)
- … Complexity shouldn’t mean obnoxiousness though for [REASONS]! (Just another rehash of #2)
- … Women are ‘better’ than men IRL, so we should reflect this in our writing (FML)
‘Likeability’ Is A Red Herring
Of course likeable characters – female or not – do and should exist. We all have our favourites and no one wants to take them away from anybody. Le duh.
But when we concentrate on ‘likeability’ of female characters in particular, it just exacerbates the virgin/whore dichotomy. (For those of you who have never done gender studies, this means the societal expectation there are ‘good’ women and ‘bad’ women. Hello divide and conquer!!).
Male characters frequently act in unlikeable ways, yet get called ‘legends’ or ‘antiheroes’. There are not the endless op-eds and threads dissecting what they do, nor are they expected to be good ‘role models’ either. Funny that!
Top 10 ‘Unlikeable’ Female Characters
So, it’s a sad fact that female characters are under MUCH more scrutiny as standard. (I have written about this before on this blog, calling it ‘the female burden’).
So rather than think of them of being ‘unlikeable’, instead consider the CRAFT. Here’s 10 of B2W’s favourite so-called ‘unlikeable’ female characters and why I think they WORK … Ready? Let’s go!
1) Karen, Will & Grace
Karen is literally THE WORST. She’s every stereotype about rich people brought to life! We laugh because she is so ludicrous, plus she’s played to perfection by Karen Mullally.
Even so, Karen plays on our heartstrings from time to time … Especially when it comes to her on/off marriage with Stan, or her beloved Rosario. Plus she’s very nurturing and remarkably astute considering she’s drunk or high 24/7!
When Will & Grace was rebooted 2017-2020, Karen was somehow even worse than the previous eight series. She is a MAGA-loving 1%er who sometimes has an attack of conscience. Best of all, she’s absolutely frikkin hilarious.
MORE: Top 10 Badass Female Antiheroes You Need To Know Right Now
2) Detective Nyla Harper, The Rookie
Nyla used to be an undercover police officer, but is now back in uniform for the sake of her daughter. She makes full use of the ‘maverick cop’ trope. She’s a lone wolf who is brilliant at what she does (though crucially she tries to stay within the rules).
She’s also incredibly harsh. She grew up hard, tolerates no fools, plus she’s an ardent truth-teller. She’s also super-pragmatic and practical! When she proposes to her boyfriend James, she asks him if the next day is good for him ‘because she’s at the courthouse all day anyway‘! Love it.
3) Dina, Superstore
Dina is an absolute jobsworth, which is why I love her. We’ve all had supervisors at work like her: she’s petty, likes her own way and enjoys putting others in their place. She’s also exceptionally practical, can have a rigid worldview but also cares A LOT about the things that matter most to her, such as her birds.
In a worse series than Superstore, that would have been where Dina’s characterisation ended … but she’s so much more. She’s loyal as hell and will do whatever she can for her friends. She’s sexually adventurous and IS willing to embrace alternative views. In addition, some fans – including autistic people – also think of Dina as being an autistic character.
4) The Prince, Bullet Train
Awww, poor Prince who doesn’t even get her own name in this hilarious and utterly ridiculous comedy action thriller! (This is one of the points behind her motivation aka why she does what she does).
Played by Joey King, it’s quite something to see an ex-Disney gal waving a gun and conspiring at murder! She’s manipulative AF and will do everything she can to get what she wants.
Despite this movie being relentlessly stupid – Brad Pitt legs it up and down the train with a rubber snake at one point – the movie still makes some great points about gender and race with this character. As Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) says, ‘I got captivated by white girl tears there‘!!
5) Catherine, Happy Valley
Sergeant Catherine Cawood is often held up online as an example of a hero, but I’d wager she’s more of an antihero. After all, her primary motivation in s1 of Happy Valley is revenge! (Let’s not forget Catherine only rescues Ann Gallagher because she was staking out Tommy Lee Royce for her own reasons).
In addition, Catherine is prickly AF. She’s very difficult to love or even get close to, as any of her family members or friends will attest. She is superior, thinks she’s right constantly and can even be a bit of a bully.
MORE: 10 Superb Writing Reminders From Sally Wainwright
6) Gale Weathers, Scream
Gale might help save the day in the first movie, but she’s ambitious and cutthroat to a fault. She’s abusive to her cameraman, uses her feminine wiles to muscle in on the police investigation, and acts like an asshole towards Sidonie about her murdered mother.
And I’m here for it! In fact, Gale reminds me of Dick Thornberg in Die Hard (1988). However, rather than allow Gale to occupy the tried-and-tested ‘press as pantomime villain’ role, Scream allows Gale to break free of audience expectations and redeem herself.
7) ALL The Garveys, Bad Sisters
It was hard to pick a single sister from this AppleTV series as ‘the worst’ … All four of them literally add to others’ pain when trying to kill their evil brother-in-law, John-Paul. They freak out, maim and even kill someone else by accident, yikes!
So it’s testimony to the writing and filmmaking that we still retain our sympathy for their quest. This is because John-Paul has to be one of the biggest assholes in TV history.
We hate him so much we forgive the Garvey sisters just about anything!
8) Xu Xialing, Shang Chi & The Ten Rings
Like The Prince, Xu Xialing was not allowed into her father’s empire … so she decided to build her own, starting with an undercover fighting ring! YEAH BABY!
(Comics fans will know Xu Xialing is slightly different in the movie than its source material. That doesn’t stop her from being a compelling character in the film in her own right).
9) Gina, Brooklyn 99
Gina is like Karen from Will & Grace, but updated for the modern age. Just like Karen, Gina starts out in the blue-collar world (though unlike Karen, we see Gina break out as a social media influencer part of her arc).
This should be a ‘rags to riches’ triumph, but Gina always gives the impression she thinks of herself as an undiscovered genius. She likes the luxuries in life and sees herself as a Beyonce, Rihanna or Lady Gaga in waiting … all she has to do is wait for the world to catch up!
Also like Karen, Gina is a trickster and ‘stealth mentor’ for other characters in the show. She will frequently ‘school’ others on what they should do … and sometimes even does this by accident. However, she refuses to be schooled herself of course.
10) Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel
It’s hard to believe that it was 2019 before we got a female lead/ protagonist superhero from the Marvel universe, but there we go. I personally loved Carol, who is droll, observant, loyal, can get shit done and will take no shit.
In short, she does what a gazillion MALE superheroes have done before her … BUT cue a million online Dudeflakes – and their female sympathisers – who called Carol inherently ‘unlikeable’!
Why was this? Oh right – that viral ‘How about a smile?’ scene.
Meanwhile, many male superheroes can do whatever they like including vigilantism and even actual murder and get a free pass. As said dudeflakes always go, ‘Make it make it sense’ (yeah okay, the answer is … you’re all sexists. Boom!).
MORE: Why Captain Marvel DOES have an arc (and why Dudeflakes are wrong!).
Which is YOUR favourite supposedly ‘unlikeable’ female character on this list?
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