In two separate articles, two different female authors were asked to defend their ‘unlikeable’ female characters.
Claire Messud took umbrage over one reporter’s question of would Claire want to be friends with her character Nora. “For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that?” and went on to say that you shouldn’t read to find friends (sidenote: though sometimes you do). Gillian Flynn was called a misogynist for creating an irredeemable female sociopath in one of her books.
These ladies aren’t nice. Is that really such a big deal? It’s not even a new thing. There have been plenty of female protagonists who were awful, nasty bitches over the years. Why are people acting so surprised by these two recent additions? It took me about five minutes to come up with a list of examples.
Becky Sharp (Vanity Fair): Becky is an opportunist. She had a hard life and will climb her way to the top if it kills her.
Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With the Wind): The biggest bitch in heels there ever was. After nearly starving to death during the Civil War, she vows never to go hungry again. She steals her sister’s sweetheart and works him to death to make sure of it.
Catherine Earnshaw (Wuthering Heights): Cathy is a brat. She wants to have her cake and eat it too. In her case, have a rich husband and a sexy, bad boy lover. She drives them both crazy.
Undine Spragg (The Custom of the Country): Another brat, spoiled by her parents. Entitled. Social climber. Doesn’t care who she hurts on the way to the top.
There are more but those ladies came to mind first. With the exception of Vanity Fair, the books were written by women. None of the characters had much in the way of maternal instincts, although they were all mothers. Scarlett and Becky have something admirable about their mad self-preservation skills. They both occasionally do something nice for someone else, but Cathy and Undine are out for #1. Murder? Maybe not, but given the opportunity I’m sure they could do it.
I actually love an unlikeable character. It’s fiction after all, I don’t have to work with these people. They aren’t real. But there is something interesting about exploring the darker side of humanity. Why else would film and TV keep giving us new stories about Hannibal Lector? Why should the guys have all the fun anyway? Ladies don’t have to keep in the kitchens doling out advice about not letting the sun go down on our anger, like Marmee March. Marmee’s okay, but a good slap from Scarlett would set some people straight too.
And it’s true that bitches get stuff done. You might not like the stuff they do, but they sure know how to do it. Women can be just as awful as men. It’s sexist to think otherwise. Unlikeable female characters? I say, bring them on!
Who are your favorite unlikeable female characters?