Over the weekend, YA author Courtney Summers blogged about the importance of unlikeable female characters in her novels. In particular, she talks about how she felt the constant need to soften up or apologize for the unlikeable protagonists in her early novels, or somehow make clear that they are nice people deep down, honestly. As she rightly points out, no one feels like they have to apologize for unlikeable male characters. Their unlikeability often becomes part of the reason that they're likeable. But female characters must, at their core, be good, or no one will be willing to put up with them. Actually, the "unlikeable" nature of Courtney Summers' protagonists is one of the reasons I love her books. She presents messed up teenage girls in all their glory -- selfish, narrow minded, temperamental and unpredictable, spiteful, perfectionist, self-destructive, self-loathing, and deeply, deeply flawed. Not because all teenage girls are this way, but because girls are people, and people have unlikeable elements to them. Every time one of Summers' characters lashes out at someone else because they are hurting themselves, or puts up walls, or loses their temper, I like them a little bit more, because they are unapologetically, compellingly human. I probably wouldn't want to hang out with them, but I love reading about them, because it makes such flaws (which everyone has) seem more acceptable.
Because let's be honest. There's a lot of unspoken pressure on girls to be perfect. To put others before themselves, and never ever screw up... because if they do lose their tempers, or do something less than perfectly likeable, they have failed. At life. At being a person. They must apologize for themselves, even when doing completely reasonable things, just in case someone finds it objectionable.
So having a series of unapologetically flawed female characters is refreshing, to say the least. No one should aspire to be like Summers' characters, but readers might see parts of themselves in them, and find some catharsis in following these characters sorting through their own many problems. We spend a lot of time reading about "anti-heroes," about angsting men and their pain. It's time for girls to get in the action too.