Let’s Give Our (Fictional) Girls Some Slack
It just always seems that if a male character is imperfect, we want to save them. If a female character is imperfect, we want to punish them
Thanks to the above tweet, and Alex @ Fiery Reads’ discussion post about female villains, I’ve been thinking about this topic a bunch lately: Do the majority of readers have more sympathy for male anti-heroes? Do we condemn female characters for the same reasons that make us love certain male characters?
After going over examples of popular characters, I have come to the conclusion that yes, we (as readers) seem to have less or no sympathy for female characters that do bad things.
I’m not talking about “badass” female characters who could kill, and probably have, to achieve such-and-such or save the world. There are already plenty of people who love characters like Celaena from Throne of Glass. Instead, I am talking about female characters who are capable of nastiness, and have done terrible things for a “bad” reason, or for no reason at all. Female character who are flawed, mean, or even downright homicidal.
Chances are, you’ve heard the words ‘unlikeable character’ thrown around in book reviews or in just commentary on books in general. Now, think about who that label was being applied to. In my experience, ‘unlikeable character’ is a descriptor almost exclusively used for female characters. For some reason, people don’t seem to like female characters who are selfish or rude, while they love male characters who exhibit those same traits.
I’m not totally blaming readers for this phenomenon. Perhaps, we like those not-so-perfect-human-being male characters because they are often love interests for at least a portion of the book. In some ways, I also think male anti-heroes and villains are more often framed as a sympathetic character within the story itself. Beyond the love interest thing, they are given reasonable motivations to be terrible, and are often given some sort of moment of redemption.
These two elements are valid reasons to like certain flawed male characters, but I don’t think the lack of those elements is reason enough to condemn their female counterparts. I personally love certain female anti-heroes that I hear of many people hating because they’re “aloof” or “mean” or even “annoying,” while loving male characters that kind of… do the exact same things. I think everyone, when they find themselves disliking a character, should access why that character is disagreeable to them, and whether they like similar characters that just happen to be male.
Don’t think that I’m trying to say that you need to love every female character. There are plenty of female characters that I despise with a fiery passion. (see: Levana) I’m just saying that it is important to give female characters a little slack. Everyone makes mistakes (some larger than others) and you might find that you might find that you not only love them despite their flaws and shortcomings, but because of them.