Unlikeable Female Characters
The Women Pop Culture Wants You to Hate
"A fresh feminist appraisal of the pop culture canon." —Publishers Weekly
How bitches, trainwrecks, shrews, and crazy women have taken over pop culture and liberated women from having to be nice.
Female characters throughout history have been burdened by the moral trap that is likeability. Any woman who dares to reveal her messy side has been treated as a cautionary tale. Today, unlikeable female characters are everywhere in film, TV, and wider pop culture. For the first time ever, they are being accepted by audiences and even showered with industry awards. We are finally accepting that women are—gasp—fully fledged human beings. How did we get to this point?
Unlikeable Female Characters traces the evolution of highly memorable female characters, examining what exactly makes them popular, how audiences have reacted to them, and the ways in which pop culture is finally allowing us to celebrate the complexities of being a woman. Anna Bogutskaya, film programmer, broadcaster, and co-founder of the horror film collective and podcast The Final Girls, takes us on a journey through popular film, TV, and music, looking at the nuances of womanhood on and off-screen to reveal whether pop culture—and society—is finally ready to embrace complicated women.
Praise for Unlikeable Female Characters:
"Fascinating, insightful, and kick-ass." —Emma Jane Unsworth, internationally bestselling author of Grown Ups and Animals
"Beautifully written." —Chelsea G. Summers, author of A Certain Hunger
"Part-cultural exposé, part-Taylor Swift album." —Clarisse Loughrey, Chief Film Critic at The Independent
"Brilliant masterpiece breaking down the tired tropes of TV and beyond." —Aparna Shewakramani, author of She's Unlikeable and star of Indian Matchmaking
This sharp debut by Bogutskaya, a film programmer for the Edinburgh International Film Festival, examines how gender norms affect the reception of female characters and celebrities. Likability, Bogutskaya argues, is a proxy for how much a woman conforms with traditional femininity, and she explores media depictions of women who break social expectations, outlining nine types of "unlikeable women" that include "the bitch," "the mean girl," and "the trainwreck." On "the shrew," she suggests that the virulent hatred Breaking Bad fans directed at character Skyler White stemmed from her failure to passively "stand by" her drug lord husband's immoral exploits. The author contends that the conservative backlash to the explicit sexuality of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion's song "WAP" demonstrates that, even though "Western visual culture has been shaped around profiting off images of female beauty," women are expected to downplay their own sexual desires at risk of being deemed a "slut." Other chapters on Mean Girls villain Regina George, Marquise de Merteuil from Dangerous Liaisons, and Fleabag from the show of the same name serve up bracing critiques of how audiences' sexism boxes in female characters and how women artists have pushed back against restrictive tropes. The result is a fresh feminist appraisal of the pop culture canon.