cover image Unlikeable Female Characters: The Women Pop Culture Wants You to Hate

Unlikeable Female Characters: The Women Pop Culture Wants You to Hate

Anna Bogutskaya. Sourcebooks, $16.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-72827-474-4

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. (May)