*note~this is my thougths, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s yours. This is about calling characters unlikable, nothing else.*
For the longest while I was okay with saying a book had an unlikable main character. I mean, what’s wrong with that? You can not like a main character, right? But then I saw a conversation on Twitter a few months ago that really stuck with me. Unlikable characters are usually female characters who are popular, or the ‘bad’ girl who gets all the guys.
Now that really got me thinking about all the times I said a character was unlikable. And here’s what I could come up with….
I think stereotypes play into this a lot, as do past experiences. But mostly, I think the stereotypes we see in media allow us to prejudge people based on fiction and not reality. I’m not saying I haven’t done this before, I have. But people are generally more complex than just being the ‘mean popular girl,’ or the ‘nerdy guy who’s best friend is a video game.’ No, maybe that popular girl is actually nice and volunteers abroad or something. You never know people, which is why stereotypes are a problem.
For example, Celaena from Throne of Glass is hated for the same reasons male characters are sometimes loved for. She is strong, stubborn, self-centered, and takes charge of nearly every situation. Celaena isn’t nice, she is cruel and cold blooded (ok she is true to her friends but she is pretty cold blooded!) People hate Celaena because of these reasons (among other things) but these reasons are why they might like a male character, like the Darkling (I mean I’ve only read the first book but he was pretty cold hearted O_O” and scary but he is a popular character. (note: maybe he changes after book one?)
Female characters are judged differently than male characters, at least that’s what I’ve been seeing. We, maybe unintentionally, treasure female characters who are kind and underdogs instead of arrogant, cold blooded ones… BUT at the same time we limit who we want our female characters to be… we don’t like female characters who are shy, or quiet, we don’t like extremes in female characters.
NOTE: this DOESN’T APPLY TO EVERYONE! It’s just something I’ve been thinking about.
So what can we do to fix it?
Maybe for once break the stereotypes that are so often seen. Make the main character like the popular nice girl, make the jock guy smart. People don’t generally fit into one category, like I said they’re more complex. Maybe the popular girl is mean because she has problems at home and isn’t mean to just be mean. I think that it might be up to use to change these generalized ideas. It won’t solve everything but maybe we could see people in a different light, not just lump them together.
Another thing I found, and still find, myself doing is judging gender differently. It’s okay for a guy to be dangerous and get all the girls, but for some reason it isn’t okay for a girl to do the same thing. Why? Where did that idea even COME from? I have no clue but I also need to change that from my thinking. For some reason I see a lot of the more flirty smug guys getting more of a fanbase when compared to flirty smug girls. Maybe this also plays into the stereotype of mean popular girls? Maybe this has to do with our past experiences, but that doesn’t make it okay. (Also, I know guys are judged differently than girls too, I just can’t think of any examples right now).
Now, I’m not saying you can’t not like a person based on their stereotype/gender, that’s up to you. However, please look deeper into why you feel the way you do. Is it really the character that you dislike, or some generalized idea? I think that characters can be unlikable if the story isn’t well written, that’s fine, that’s understandable.
I don’t know it’s just a lot to think about. Maybe we just need to use a different word instead of unlikable?
I’m not sure what else to say other than that this is something that I think about a lot. Why do we say a character is unlikable because of their personality?