Books and feminism #2 – annoying/unlikable characters

Books and feminism #2 - annoying/unlikable charactersThe last post I wrote about Books & Feminism got a lot more views on my blog than I’d ever gotten before. Thank you for that! I also think that shows that a lot of people are interested in this. It also showed from the messages I got. I hope that you’ll also appreciate this one as well.

Just like in the previous post, I’d like to point out that it is absolutely possible to enjoy reading a book or even love it, while still being critical about its content.

Something I’d never really thought of, but have mostly noticed other noticing, is the plethora of annoying, whiny, bitchy characters in books. Except, I don’t think I’ve ever come across anyone saying this about a male character. All the characters I’ve seen classified as unlikable have been female. Coincidence? Or implicit ingrained misogyny?

Maybe a bit of both. After I’d asked people about their most unlikable characters/annoying characters, the female characters seemed to be in the majority. Though male characters were also mentioned. Thus, when prompted readers can come up with unlikable male characters as well. On top of that, a bunch of the male characters mentioned (and a smaller amount of female characters) seem to be characters that were meant to be evil, and thus not necessary unlikable.

What I wanted instead were characters that were unlikable even though you were supposed to root for them, feel for them, and like them. Yes, the characters you’re supposed to like, but didn’t. Most of the ones mentioned that fit these criteria were, in fact, women.

It seems that whenever a character is found to be annoying and whiny, it’s a woman. Almost everytime a character is bitchy, bossy, arogant or inconsiderate, it’s a female character.

You can buy this print on Etsy here

One of these that I remember best is Eadlyn in The Heir by Keira Cass. She was bossy, stuck up, arrogant, inconsiderate and almost everyone who read the book thought her unlikable. Okay, no problem, right? No, there is a problem, because when male characters have these characteristics they’re considered (hyperbole coming up) the best protagonist ever, because they know what they want and they’re not afraid to go for it.

It seems that even in books, women have to be likable, if they’re not than of course the book can be no good. Though, if male characters are the same, they’re considered tough, rough, misunderstood, or perhaps the silent-type. Is it just me, or is that a double standard?

Another type of unlikable women I spotted was those that were too whiny, indecisive or otherwise considered ‘weak”. It seems that there’s no winning this one; too many ‘male’ qualities and the protagonist is considered a bitch (and therefore unlikable), too many ‘female’ qualities and you’re weak and shouldn’t be the protagonist.

I thought the drawings to the right were quite appropriate to this topic; no matter what a character’s personality might be, there will always be criticism if it doesn’t exactly comply with society’s current standards.

Here is the list of names I compiled from all the suggestions send to me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (I’ve included all the ones I received. if I’ve missed any, please let me know):

F – Tris Prior – Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth
F – Hermione Granger – Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
F – Bella Swan – Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer
F – Mary – Persuasion by Jane Austen
F – Scarlet Benoit – Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
F – Tessa Gray – The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare
F – Feyre – A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
F – Rachel – The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
F – America Singer – Selection Trilogy by Kiera Cass
F – Anita Blake – Vampire Hunter Series by Lauren Hamilton
F – Anastasia Steele – 50 Shades of Grey by E. L. James
F – Alina Starkov – Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
F – Brooke – Real by Katie Evans
F – Sienna – Lords of the Underword by Gena Showalter
F – Cath – Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
F – Rita Skeeter – Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
F – President Coin – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
F – Nyx Triskelian – Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
FE – Dolores Umbridge – Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
FE – Jeanine – Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth
M – Caleb Prior – Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth
M – Harry Potter – Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
M – Gale Hawthrone – Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
M – Chaol – Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J. Maas
M – Noah Shaw – Mara Dyer Trilogy by Michelle Hodkin
M – Theo Decker – The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
M – Peter Pettigrew – Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
ME – Jonathan ‘black jack’ Randall – Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
ME – Joffrey Baratheon – Game of Thrones George. R. R. Martin
ME – Ramsey Snow/Bolton – Game of Thrones George. R. R. Martin
ME – Peter – Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth
ME – President Snow  – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Total Female: 21
Total Male: 13
Total Female (minus evil ones): 19
Total Male (minus evil ones): 8

Books and Feminism #1 – Beauty

Books & Feminism - beautyThere’s been this trend lately of great stories with kick-ass female characters. Seems very feminist, or does it?

Now, just as a disclaimer, I do love most of these books and stories and have enjoyed reading them quite a bit. This however, doesn’t mean that there aren’t recurring issues I can’t be critical about with regards to their lack of feminism in certain respects. While I’m of the opinion that all kinds of women should be represented in books, this still happens very little. The things I’ll mention are only a problem because they’re overused. If they were only used sporadically I feel it wouldn’t really be an issue and in fact promote diversity in characters. As it stands, the following is more of a trend, which is not a good thing.

One of the first things that’s noticeable in a lot of YA is the young woman who doesn’t feel she looks very good, maybe she doesn’t think of herself as ugly, but she’s sure she’s definitely nothing special. She doesn’t have the confidence to not worry about her looks. We all know these stories, right? It’s just about all of them. A young woman who keeps wondering why that super-awesome-totally-cute/hot/drool-worthy guy is into her.

I’m gonna ignore the heteronormativity for now, though I’m sure I’ll have a post about this as well at some point.

Books & Feminism - beautyFirst of all, the focus on beauty and having to be beautiful in our society is already an issue; why do women have to be beautiful, why can’t they just be ugly without everyone and their grandma commenting on it? Honestly, I’ve never understood why. Sure, someone’s ears might be huge, but what’s the point in commenting on it? It’s not going to change anything, except that if this person hears, they might even feel worse about themselves. Not everything is aesthetically pleasing. It can’t be, as what is pleasing is defined differently for every single person. Something that doesn’t appeal to you, will appeal to someone else. Trying to fit someone into a mold of what’s beautiful to you, is a pretty bad idea.

I want to take this even further. Everyone understands beauty is different for different people. But, should why do we really focus on beauty at all? Dove’s natural beauty campaign for example. It seems great and inclusive (though it’s not!), but why is beauty so important? It really shouldn’t be. And with the campaign, Dove (again) focuses on beauty; you have to be beautiful. In your own way, sure, but still beautiful. Why isn’t it ok for people when someone is not beautiful?

Books & Feminism - beautyA lot of female main characters in book do this as well; they focus on the beauty they do or do not have. The world’s falling apart and they need to try their best to survive AND look good while doing it. I’ve never read a survival book about a man who still had the need to look gorgeous while surviving the apocalypse. Why can’t there be more women in books that also have the same disregard for the exact state of their looks?

So far, I can only think of two characters from popular books that do not seem to have this problem: Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; she gets changed a lot by others, but none of it really on her own volition, and Lynn from Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis; there is very little in terms of looks in this book. That is, if I remember right. Please correct me if I’m wrong. And let me know if there are other characters that should be part of this as well.

On Instagram, I asked for some help to come up with some other characters. These are from books I don’t know myself, but I’ve been assured they’re definitely worth mentioning as well. Can you come up with more?

  • Celaena Sardothien from the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas (suggested by @slatedfangirl)
  • Matilda Giles aka Tilly from the Angels Gateway series (suggested by @iknowdarkplaces)
  • Jane Eyre from (of course) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (suggested by @thebooklovingnerd)
  • Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones (suggested by @emma.reads.x)
  • Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (suggested by @emmas__bookshelf)
  • Henrietta from Henrietta the Dragon Slayer by Beth Barany (suggested by @livelovereadya)

The idea was to just write one post about this, but there’s so much to say that in a next post I’ll tackle another aspect of these “strong female characters” that bothers me, because it’s practically become a trope instead of a characteristic.