Like many, I recently devoured Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. I cannot use enough superlatives to describe it to you. Just go ahead and read it, will you?
One of her essays explores unlikable female characters in pop culture. She cites Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne and Young Adult’s Mavis Gary as examples of women who make us uncomfortable because they do not fit into the mold of what audiences and critics see as feminine.
I drank actual Kool-Aid as a kid (it was the 80’s). As an adolescent and newly minted grown-up, I drank the metaphorical Kool-Aid that our protagonists must be likeable. They must be relatable.
Well, that’s a bunch of bullshit, isn’t it?
Some of the best television shows in recent history feature terribly unlikable protagonists. Come on, do any of you actually and truly admire Tony Soprano or Don Draper? No, but they sure make for some great voyeurism. For some reason, we tend not to afford female characters the same leeway when it comes to amoral actions (femme fatales notwithstanding because at least they’re sexy about it. And obviously being sexy is very important for women. It’s almost as important as being nice).
Like Roxane Gay, I would like to declare my love for anti-heroines.
Here are some of my favourite Unlikable Women. Let’s give them all a warm welcome, shall we? Even if you don’t think they deserve it.
1. Skyler White (Breaking Bad)
Oooh, she’s controversial isn’t she? She’s also a prime example of the double standard we have for our characters. Walter White is a man who’s hailed as an anti-hero, someone we root for deep down, even as each step he’s taking brings him closer to hell. Meanwhile, Anna Gunn is shielding herself from a torrent of gender specific vitriol and internet death threats. Way to go, human race.
2. Alice Morgan (Luther)
I’ve fallen in love with a woman…who happens to be a sociopath. But I’ll be damned if Alice Morgan doesn’t get things done. Truth be told, I’ve always been drawn to the smartest person in the room and she fits the description to a T.
3 & 4. Cersei Lannister & Margaery Tyrell (Game of Thrones – *note* I am currently a season behind on GoT)
Margaery uses every one of her feminine wiles to trek her way into the belly of the beast. Cersei set up camp there long ago and can no longer be bothered to try to charm anyone. Maybe it’s because Cersei is disillusioned or maybe it’s because all of her energy goes towards working those bionic eyebrows of hers. I love them both (this statement can refer to the eyebrows and/or the characters).
5. Veronica Lodge (of the Riverdale Lodges)
Champion Betty Cooper all you want, I’m sure she’ll help you cross the street when you’re old and grey. But at least Ms. Lodge is interesting.
6. Scarlett O’Hara (some racist book)
My id has a name and that name is Scarlett “Get-out-of-my-way-or-I’ll-trample-you” O’Hara. If I had to pick a team of fictional characters to help me survive the (inevitable) zombie apocalypse, you better believe she’d top the list.
7. Claire Underwood (House of Cards)
This Lady Macbeth will stand by her man, providing doing so doesn’t totally get in the way of her own ambitions. She’s cold. She’s ruthless. She is bloody fascinating.
Honourable Mention: Mindy Lahiri (The Mindy Project)
My radar may be off with this one. I keep hearing people describe Mindy as “unlikable” but I would like to be best friends with her. Is that so wrong?
Sure, I’d rather be a kind person, a good neighbour, and a thoughtful friend than fully emulate any of these characters. But I’m also pretty sure a television show about my life wouldn’t make for very interesting viewing.
Vive les femmes unlikable!