Live Fast, Die Young: Bad Girls in YA Literature

Why do readers hate "unlikable" female characters?

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Have I got that song stuck in your head? Good. Let’s proceed.

As I book lover, I follow many book blogs and people on GoodReads who review the books they read. I began to notice a theme at times: When a novel had an unlikable or even unsympathetic girl lead character, people tore her apart. Especially if she was selfish or particularly mean.

I found this rather surprising, more so when it was coming from a few of my feminist friends. Why, exactly, did they so despise girls who weren’t good people? Then, of course, I started wondering about why we as a society expect women to be nothing but perfect little angels. There are plenty of male characters who are bad people, yet everyone forgives them for it or even loves them for it. Female characters, it seems, can’t win: If they’re too good then they’re Mary-Sues, but if they’re too bad then readers “want to bitchslap them”. (Yes, I’m quoting from some actual reactions I’ve seen.)

Strangely enough, when it came to books where the whole point was that the female lead was awful, such as in Courtney Summers books, readers didn’t seem to have that hard a time accepting her. They mention that she was awful, yes, but generally they didn’t rip her apart. Of course there were some readers who complained the character didn’t change into a good person by the end of the book. Never mind that she learned the error of her ways and dealt with the consequences as best she could; no, since she didn’t become Mother Theresa reincarnated by the end, obviously her journey just wasn’t that compelling or satisfying.

Why do we chastise female characters for being selfish, rude, or any number of things we’d be quicker to forgive in male characters? I’m not saying that they have to go out and kick puppies or set a house full of nuns on fire. But most–not all–teenagers are selfish, rude, or out for themselves. Why do we keep teaching girls that they have to be upstanding people even if it means curbing their own desires or natural personalities?

Frankly, I’m tired of it. I want to see more selfish teenage female characters. I want to see girls who are selfish and out for themselves, who are rude, unapologetic, demand the attention and respect they deserve, who are messed up and troubled and gloriously not good people. Bad girls do it well, after all.

But mostly, I want to see people who are happy to read about these different and varied portrayals of teenage girls, instead of immediately tearing them down.

1 COMMENT

  1. I want to see more books with a female lead who is an unapologetic bad girl. So many books have the stereotypical bad boy that’s universally accepted. I want books with a bad girl whose not ashamed of it. Any suggestions?

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