Currently Reading: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
I talked a little bit about this book in my four favorites post last week but I wanted a deeper dive into some thoughts and ideas the book brought up for me. This is also a hallmark of a great book when it makes you think outside of the text and into the real world.
One of my favorite sections so far is, Not Here to Make Friends, talking about how people, readers and viewers, can't get over when a female character is unlikable. I personally love it when a creator makes that choice. It's refreshing and enthralling. We are compelled to root for the good people who do everything right but that's boring. Most people don't act like this in the real world. None of us are pure good or evil. We are all shades of grey on the morality and likability spectrum.
She uses two examples of female characters that I connected with even though they were far from perfect and nice. One was Charlize Theron's character in Young Adult. She is petty, vain, jealous and relentless in going after what she wants. Trying to win back her high school boyfriend who is married with a baby isn't super redeeming. She's also a successful author but doesn't feel accomplished. Most people don't want to see themselves in that character but I do. I can be vain and petty with the best of them. I try not to act that way all the time. Reviewers condemned this character as so extreme and unlikable when she's doing what most people want to do but keep it locked up in their fantasy lives.
The realization that Roxane came up with which I agree with whole heartedly is that unlikable characters, especially women, are usually realistic which apparently blows people's minds. If you substituted every instance of the word unlikable with the word realistic then you would understand what people are really thinking. “I see myself in this unlikable person therefore I'm partially unlikable and I can't believe that.” We all have facets of unlikable characteristics and they make us human not monsters.
The ultimate example is Amy from Gone Girl. I was nodding, at least internally, when she went through the cool girl rant. If you haven't read it yet it's all over the internet and you should just read the book anyway. It was bold, scathing truth. I wanted to scream about it from the roof tops or maybe social media. The secret is out! If you act like a cool girl certain guys will like you. The only problem with a persona is when you grow tired of it will your guy still like you? That's one of the reasons Gone Girl is so compelling. When the cool girl mask starts to slip off of Amy is when the real story begins.
I try not to be purposefully or negligently rude, mean or unlikable to people. I probably acted more unlikable as a teen because of hormones and anxiety. I would be unlikable in the way a cat is. Someone would ask me a question or try to talk to me and I would just stare at them. Even during this time I don't remember anyone saying I was unlikable. Maybe it was whispered behind my back. Then after working in retail I made it a point to be congenial to anyone working in a store or restaurant unless they were being horrible to me. The service industry is hard enough without rude customers piling it on with baseless complaints and demands.
Being or acting likable is a social lubricant for women. It is the way we ask for special favors without saying a word. Or connecting with someone we thought we had nothing in common with. It can start to feel phony and rubbery like a mask. Sometimes it makes you want to say something hurtful so a look of surprise radiates from your victim.
Being well liked is exacerbated and commodified by social media where more likes equals more dollars, sponsors and ads. I personally don’t care if people want to tell their followers about certain promotions and discounts they can get for products and services they are talking about. The problem lies with the marketing and ads becoming so insidious you can’t be sure who is gushing about a product or service because they genuinely like it and which ones are doing it for the money from the brand and the fans. Authenticity is sometimes hard to discern online from captions and short videos. At the end of the day these brands are businesses and they want to make money. Using influencers with tons of likes is a growing way to make more money for them.
Being well liked is still a double edged sword for most women. We want others to like us but we don't want to be taken advantage of. We don't want to bend over backwards for someone taking advantage of us but we have to reciprocate when someone does us a favor. Being likable all the time isn't much fun either.