April 19, 2017

"Her heroines have been seen as ‘unlikeable’ – does anybody ever find a male hero ‘unlikeable’?"

"Never! Whether it’s Tony Soprano or Philip Roth’s Zuckerman, or even James Bond, male protagonists are never subjected to such criticism. But when it comes to women – every critic feels that he or she has the right to complain. I once read a 19th Century review in which a cranky male critic said of Jane Eyre, 'I would never hire her as a governess!' This may seem funny to you – it’s certainly absurd, but it happens all the time to women who write. I’ve often wondered how we can change this. In the US, Hillary Clinton was pilloried for being ‘unlikeable’ so we got Donald Trump who, not even three months into his presidency, has historically low approval ratings – yet was he somehow more ‘likable’?"

Erica Jong, riffing on likeability. (The "her" in the post title is Lena Dunham.)

132 comments:

Professional lady said...

Heroine - "a woman admired or idealized for her courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities." Hillary Clinton is not and has never been a heroine.

Freder Frederson said...

What nonsense. Of course male "heroes" (and calling the main character in a comedy a hero in heroine is really stretching it) are unlikeable. Seinfeld, Costanza, George Jefferson, Archie Bunker, Mac, Charlie, Frank and especially Dennis.

And Tony Soprano was despicable.

campy said...

Critics who think they have the right to complain without applying to Erica Jong for permission first?!

Well, I never!!!

Owen said...

Unlikeable = interesting

Not sexist IMHO

Eleanor said...

There are a lot of male protagonists who are unlikeable. Characters we love to hate. We use harsher words to describe than unlikeable. We call them ruthless, dishonest, cruel, etc. Given that Hillary is all of those things, unlikeable is pretty gentle. As far as Lena Dunham goes, I would describe her as self-absorbed, a trait I find unlikeable in both men and women. It describes Erica Jong, too, so it's not strange she'd be defensive about it.

damikesc said...

Yeah, who didn't view all of the men on Seinfeld as being utterly unlikeable?

Bonkti said...

Willie Loman?

Ann Althouse said...

@Freder

You're missing her point. She is using those examples because they are, of course, unlikeable. People don't criticize the shows/books with the unlikeable male characters for having an unlikeable main character. When a female character is unlikeable, it becomes a topic, a sticking point.

Try to think of an unlikeable female character that we like as a character despite her unlikeability as a real-life person. I would say that for myself about the characters on "Girls," but many people seem to need to like female characters but to be able to enjoy the terrible males, often precisely because of their transgressions.

CrankyProfessor said...

Sherlock Holmes? Except maybe for the Basil Rathbone version.

Henry said...

The "or even James Bond" is a comic touch.

Pussy Galore was pretty likable.

Ann Althouse said...

"And Tony Soprano was despicable."

Yes, but did people criticize the show "The Sopranos" on the ground that Tony was unlikeable? No, his badness was part of the appeal. Think of "Breaking Bad." We don't say, too bad Walter broke bad, I'd have liked him more if he'd stayed good?

Henry said...

Try to think of an unlikeable female character that we like as a character despite her unlikeability as a real-life person.

Sue Sylvester on Glee (played by Jane Lynch) may be the best television villain of all time.

Ann Althouse said...

The larger problem is that there are fewer roles for actresses, because the likable person can't carry as much of a story. She's there to be supportive to a more interesting character, or to worry about what will happen to the more interesting character, or to be put in danger so that she can be rescued, etc. etc.

Unknown said...

I think someone can't tell the difference between a hero and a protagonist.

traditionalguy said...

Poor women. They just can't get no respect. Writers won't even give them any respect for doing bad things well.

But check out Cathy Ames, in East of Eden. Steinbeck knew how to give an evil woman her due.

Steinbeck highlights the damage that an evil wife and mother can arrange to do through an extended family of people and those living around them. So let's indulge ourselves and only see women as the loving angels that so many are.

Henry said...

So the challenge is: Come up with a female character who is unlikable but makes you want to watch. Compare to a male character who is unlikeable and makes you want to turn off.

I think Glee qualifies. The male hero, Will Schuester, played by Matthew Morrison, is utterly unlikable. After a few seasons I found him unwatchable. All the adults on Glee are unlikable. Sue is the only one that's worth the time.

David said...

The very first paragraph of her article tells you most of what you need to know:

When Girls began in 2012 I watched with interest. I’m always fascinated by young women writers when they push boundaries. Intrigued to see that the first season showed four young women in their 20s trying to survive in darkest Brooklyn, I was riveted by the first crisis: Hannah’s parents cutting her off financially. What a great idea for an opening.

Oh the drama. What boundary shattering a predicament! How do young women ever survive this horror?

Cath said...

The two main women in Absolutely Fabulous were utterly unlikeable as people but were fantastic and watchable characters.

AllenS said...

How about the woman who played Hillary Clinton during the election?

BDNYC said...

Women just aren't very interesting.

Big Mike said...

Likeability is important in a politician if he or she wants to be elected. There are plenty of roles for actresses where the character they portray is thoroughly unlikable, but the actresses that play them may be very likeable in person. Not so a politician.

If Erica Jong was an intelligent person she'd realize that saying Hillary Clinton is personally unlikable is not to say that Trump is likeable, except in contrast to Hillary.

Kate said...

Jong wonders why men were nice when she was young and not so nice when she was older. Her complete lack of self-reflection about her role in changing the culture does not make me trust her opinion.

Dunham is not just an artist; she injects herself directly into the culture all the time. It's hard to have an isolated opinion about her show when she's in my face with her politics.

Jo March is a confrontational, unlikable person. Yet everyone loves Jo for her pluck. Off the top of my head, she's one heroine who gains our affection in spite of herself.

Chris Breisch said...

When I hear the phrase "unlikable hero", which admittedly, I don't hear very often, my first thought is not of Lena Durham or Hillary Rodham Clinton, but Holden Caulfield. It's been over 30 years since I was forced to read that trash and thinking about him and his stupid baseball mitt still makes me shudder.

MadisonMan said...

You can't discuss people's dislike of Hillary!!! without mentioning what a complete (and bad!) liar she is. Not one voter likes being lied to so consistently. So of course people don't like her.

Does Trump have historically low polling values? Are these the same polls who had Hillary winning the election?

rhhardin said...

Not only do the roles differ for men and women but as an audience men and women look for different things.

Likeable or not pays no attention to those differences.

TheThinMan said...

The heroine in Jong's blockbuster novel, "Fear of Flying," is not likable as an actual person but the book was extremely likable at the time nonetheless. (But it's so forgotten now even Jong can't remember it.)

MikeR said...

I really don't see that being unlikable is a qualification for a good character. Find me some reason to appreciate the character, and don't make excuses.

Owen said...

AllenS: "How about the woman who played Hillary Clinton during the election?"

Instant All-Galaxy Threadwinner

Michael P said...

I agree with Eleanor: When we criticize male characters (especially leads), we use terms that are much more specific, and also harsher, than "unlikeable".

I don't pay enough attention to that kind of criticism to have an opinion on whether we (by which I mostly mean professional critics, who are much more influential and tone-setting than casual critics) criticize female leads or female-led shows insult often or unfairly. To me, that would be a much more serious problem than whether we say "unlikeable" rather than "hapless" (most males in comedies) or "degenerate" (most people on dark dramas) or "promiscuous" (pick your favorite, or least favorite, womanizer). It's also harder to judge fairness and consistency of criticism than word choice.

rehajm said...

Hillary Clinton was pilloried for being ‘unlikeable’ so we got Donald Trump who, not even three months into his presidency, has historically low approval ratings – yet was he somehow more ‘likable’?"

Whats the problem here? While likability is measured in part by approval ratings it certainly isn't the only thing measured.

Give me an unlikable president with good polices over Obama the Boyfriend any day.

Bill, Republic of Texas said...

Cath beat me to it.

But what about all those unlikeable female characters in soap operas and nighttime dramas? Don't those count?

Amadeus 48 said...

"Try to think of an unlikeable female character that we like as a character despite her unlikeability as a real-life person."

Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair is as unlikable and cynical as they come, but she is a woman you love. Annette Bening as Merteuil in Valmont, same thing. In fact Annette Bening is great at playing characters like this--Myra in The Grifters. Kathleen Turner's Maddie in Body Heat. Nikita in Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita.

Any femme fatale fits into this category.

George Grady said...

Try to think of an unlikeable female character that we like as a character despite her unlikeability as a real-life person.

Scarlett O'Hara. Anna Karenina. Emma Bovary. Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair. Miss Havisham. Dominique Francon from The Fountainhead. Gwendolen Harleth from Daniel Deronda. Daisy Buchanan. Lady Brett Ashley.

Hagar said...

Not sure if this is what you are talking about, but Bette Davis generally played very unlikeable characters, but did it very well, so she won lots of acclaim and awards for it.

MarkW said...

Try to think of an unlikeable female character that we like as a character despite her unlikeability as a real-life person. I would say that for myself about the characters on "Girls," but many people seem to need to like female characters but to be able to enjoy the terrible males, often precisely because of their transgressions.

Game of Thrones is full of compelling but unlikable female characters who have at this point (with the exception of the undead Jon Snow) completely taken over the series.

ALP said...

My vote for likable unlikable female character:

Glenn Close in "Damages". Cutthroat, amoral, powerful female attorney - fucking fantastic story and acting.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Lots of unlikeable male protagonists come to mind. J. R. Ewing. Gordon Gekko. Francis Urquhart.(sp?) For that matter, there's always Shakespeare's Richard III, and any number of his other characters.

Besides, we have it on the best authority that HRC's likeable enough ...

ALP said...

Maybe the crime is being unlikable AND ineffective in your endeavors as well? Being unlikable just to clutter up the screen and not move the story forward - maybe its about bad writing?

Kevin said...

"Try to think of an unlikeable female character that we like as a character despite her unlikeability as a real-life person."

Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada

Kevin said...

Shorter version: Many women are called unlikeable. Like Hillary. Who lost to Trump. And Trump is the worst person. #Misogyny.

tcrosse said...

Lucy van Pelt, Peanuts

Scott M said...

The larger problem is that there are fewer roles for actresses, because the likable person can't carry as much of a story.

Is this actually true? Just going on recent yuuuge shows like Game Of Thrones, Westworld, The Walking Dead, ie, pop-culture watercooler type shows, there are a shit-ton of strong female rolls. And that's quite aside from the dearth of strong male rolls in YA movies and TV lately.

Game Of Thrones brings up a good point. Lena Headey's Cersei Lannister is immensely strong and immensely unlikeable, and the show is the better for it. There are other female characters in that show that are also unlikeable by design. Natalie Dormer's Margery Tyrell, for instance, defies you to like her. She's got a definite feline sexiness, but her character is driven solely by ambition. Unlikeable, despite her obvious beauty. Staying with just GoT's, though, the likeable characters can actually carry the show. Maisie Williams Arya, for instance, is incredibly fun to watch, as is Emilia Clark's Daenerys Targaryen. Both absolutely carry completely separate story arcs.

Angel-Dyne said...

I don't watch much television or even read much fiction, but:

Becky Sharp, the Livia of I, Claudius, those back-stabbing bitches in all those '80s prime-time soap operas, exemplified by that Joan Collins character. (How many decades has it been since I watched a new television show? Why, what makes you ask?) And nice female characters have always had their detractors, too, who object to their insipidity.

And aren't most male protagonists/heroes likable rather than not?

Isn't this really just about a complaint about people not liking what you like? (Or not liking you?) Apparently, some people find Dunham's characters both unlikable and still compelling. Jong mentions Philip Roth's characters as examples of this alleged universal tolerance for "unlikable" male protagonists. Well, I always found his protagonists both unlikable and entirely uncompelling, don't think I was ever interested enough to even read any of his novels to the end. Does that require some general theory about what's wrong with other people's tastes?

EDH said...

Jong confuses the semantics, conflating morality/good conduct with likability.

A person who is "unlikable" because of their detestable actions can be affable or charming company, as many sociopaths are described.

Alternatively, a person who is "unlikable" because of lesser transgressions can be insufferable company.

I would say people who "dislike" the "Girls" characters think of them as insufferable company rather than particularly mendacious.

As a fan of "Girls," I found the characters interesting as their individual likability and detestable conduct fluctuated over time, two independent variables for each character that could move in opposite directions at the same time.

Whether writers more often make their female characters both mendacious and insufferable is a separate analysis.

Darrell said...

Evil/scheming/powerful female characters? It's almost a guaranteed route to popularity for fans.
They become hated when the actor playing the part becomes unlikable in real life. That applies to Lena Dunham and Rosie O'Donnell. And it applies to George Clooney and Sean Penn equally.

chickelit said...

I'm tired of the non-stop Dunham worship by Althouse. Stop foisting her as a heroine, and people will stop dissing her.

exiledonmainstreet said...

Unlikable female: Scarlett O'Hara. Conniving, materialistic, vain and deceitful and yet readers and audiences begrudgingly admire her grit.

Hagar said...

As for Hillary, I don't think I understand blaming her loss in this last election at age 70 (almost) on appearing "unlikeable" in TV campaign reporting. Hillary's real life record goes back to her college days and it is all bad.
May have something to do with it, no?

MayBee said...

People have already mentioned the unlikeable female characters in Game of Thrones.

I would add Piper in Orange is the New Black. She's annoying as all get-out. That's a show that has very few actually likable characters. None of the males are very likable. Many of the women are not, but we root for them. Tasty and Pussay are/were likable. But I really like the show.

AprilApple said...

Hillary is a corrupt money-grubbing power-obsessed liar. Unlikable doesn't even touch it.

Stop with the - "oh poor women, life is so unfair - because Hillary."

Stop it.

mtrobertslaw said...

Still whining after all these years.

AprilApple said...

People who support a corrupt liar become unlikable by extension. Deal with it.

I'm looking at you, leftwing Hillary supporting bubble dwelling hollywood.

MayBee said...

I liked the show Girls. My problem was the real-life character of Lena Dunham. Her real life personality almost ruined the show for me (before I really started watching). Somehow, she is able to make fun of things in the show that she holds dear in real life.
But it's not anti-women or anti-feminist or being a bad person to dislike the show Girls. It's not a requirement.

Oh! Transparent is full of unlikeable characters, but is an amazing show.

Bob Boyd said...

No means no.

Otto said...

Jesus' mother Mary, Ruth.
Much ado about nothing. Next

Kevin said...

"Try to think of an unlikeable female character that we like as a character despite her unlikeability as a real-life person."

Tracey Flick, Election

MayBee said...

I also find Heathcliff unlikeable.

Gahrie said...

What heroine did Dunham ever play?

Her Girls character was an "everyman" wasn't she?

CStanley said...

To be fair, I've never watched the show but everything I've read about it (mainly here, through what I perceive as Althouse's sympathetic lens) turned me off. I think as others have pointed out, the issue is that unlikeability has to serve a literary purpose. It seems to me that if Dunham had a purpose at all in making her characters unlikeable it was an attempt to guilt the audience into into accepting them and caring about them anyway.

Generally for both male and female characters, unlikeability is paired with one of two devices: either a redeeming trait that makes the audience root for the person despite the flaws, or a diabolical nature that is so extreme that we want to see the character get his or her comeupppance. Again, I'll concede that I haven't watched so perhaps I'm wrong but I never heard anything to make me think either of those factors were present in this show. Instead it just sounded like a sad commentary on our times when arrested adolescence and warped sexual mores cause immense frustration for young people and waste what should be productive years.

furious_a said...

Cersei Lannister -- people hate her so much they just can't look away.

AprilApple said...

I prefer strong feminists like Paglia. She knows a bowl of pudding when she sees one.

Bob Boyd said...

Look, I could even see Cruella de Ville's side of it and I was willing to let her have half the puppies because I could see she was just trying to...you know, pay the bills.

But Hillary Clinton? Sorry, no.

Otto said...

Always remember this Feminist movement was started by a drug addled whore , push by a lawyer who had a mexican abortion and by a bored rich wife from westchester county.

Michael K said...

"Try to think of an unlikeable female character that we like as a character despite her unlikeability as a real-life person."

The golden age of female characters in movies was the 1940s when great roles for women were common.

Gene Tierney in "Leave Her to Heaven" was only one example. There were lots.

furious_a said...

Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Janine "Smurf" Cody in Animal Kingdom.

Carrie Underwood in Homeland.

Selina Meyer in Veep.

MayBee said...

Frank Underwood is utterly unlikeable. Actually so is Claire Underwood.

Perhaps Jong's problem is that she thinks women care more about being likeable than men do. Does anyone think Tony Soprano would care if you like him or not? Or Walter White?

Christopher said...

Never! Whether it’s Tony Soprano or Philip Roth’s Zuckerman, or even James Bond, male protagonists are never subjected to such criticism. But when it comes to women – every critic feels that he or she has the right to complain.

That is certainly one of the main features of our age--people not complaining about men.

Known Unknown said...

"People don't criticize the shows/books with the unlikeable male characters for having an unlikeable main character. "

I hated Breaking Bad after awhile because Walter White was such a prick.

I will say that even though Jimmy McGill is a slimy and bit crooked he obviously has heart and is much more likable and makes BCS much more enjoyable than those final seasons of BB.

exiledonmainstreet said...

MayBee said...
I also find Heathcliff unlikeable.

4/19/17, 8:28 AM

God yes. When we read "Wuthering Heights" in high school, a lot of my classmates thought he was sexy. I thought all that raging and emoting would be exhausting.

Fernandinande said...

Ann Althouse said...
People don't criticize the shows/books with the unlikeable male characters for having an unlikeable main character.


Some people did, namely me, but maybe nobody important. Disliking all the main characters made me lose interest in The Sopranos.

At least you didn't misuse the word "hero" to describe a sociopathic goon, like the BBC scribbler did.

mockturtle said...

Re: Healthcliff. I admit to having found him sexy but also evil. Catherine was evil, too. They deserved each other. Didn't he hang her little dog under the stairs or something? [It's been a very long time since I read it]. That was a definite turn-off for me.

Titus said...

I watched every episode of Girls and loved it from start to finish. This year, in particular, was excellent. I love the episode with Hannah and the famous male writer.

I cried at the end of the final episode because there will be no more Girls. I was also sad Hannah left New York.

The writing was fantastic and yes it was for a niche audience.

I thought it took a lot of guts for Dunham to be naked. She is not what you normally see when an actress does nude scenes. Of course, in the final episode she was naked and you really got a good look at her nipples (which are quite large) and her tits.

tits.

mockturtle said...

Dostoevsky is my favorite writer but I disliked every one of his protagonists. It was his secondary characters who won my heart: Dmitri in The Brothers Karamazov, Dmitri Prokofych Razumikhin, Rodya's friend, in Crime and Punishment and both women, Anastassya and Aglaya, in The Idiot, the 'hero' being a colorless twit.

Titus said...

By the way...my rare clumber turned 16 today. He is deaf and blind and has arthritis but eats and still shits outside....look at the old man...so cute

mockturtle said...

He is sweet, Titus! My little guy turns 15 next week.

campy said...

I also find Heathcliff unlikeable.

Yeah, and Garfield too!

Birkel said...

Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation was thoroughly unlikable, to me, and I still enjoyed watching her character.

mockturtle said...

I don't think 'hero' and 'protagonist' are synonymous.

The real 'hero' in GWTW was Melanie Wilkes, whose strength was only grudgingly acknowledged by Scarlett late in the story. But a novel about Melanie and Ashley Wilkes would have been pretty boring compared to one about Rhett and Scarlett who were unlikable but gutsy survivors.

Known Unknown said...

I don't think 'hero' and 'protagonist' are synonymous.

Nope. Not at all. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie is the story's hero but Willy is the protagonist. Protagonists change and have a character development arc. Heroes needn't have those. Charlie never changes.

Static Ping said...

Ann: Yes, but did people criticize the show "The Sopranos" on the ground that Tony was unlikeable?

Oh, YES! Substantial chunks of the Italian community in New Jersey were very unhappy with the show because Tony made them look bad. This resulted in various local politicians refusing to cooperate with the production. So, yes. This happened.

Professional lady said...

Miss Piggy. Sue Ann Nivens. Phyllis Lindstrom.

Bill Peschel said...

"so we got Donald Trump who, not even three months into his presidency, has historically low approval ratings – yet was he somehow more ‘likable’?"

She confuses likable with competent. And last I saw on Rassmussen, his approval rating is at 50%, hardly "historically low."

Althouse, I'll be curious about the responses to your challenge about finding unlikable female characters. Did they make their point to you? (I'd add Alexis Colby from "Dynasty".)

Jack Wayne said...

Didn't Charlize Theron win an Oscar for portraying a very unlikeable woman?

Kristian Holvoet said...

It feels like generally, unlikable male heroes are cast a geniuses or warriors: Steve Jobs, General Patton, Douglas MacArthur, General Sherman.

Static Ping said...

mockturtle: I don't think 'hero' and 'protagonist' are synonymous.

The two words are different concepts. The "protagonist" is the main character. It could be the hero, but it could also be the hero's sidekick, or some person who is not directly involved in the plot but is witnessing it, or, for that matter, the villain. It is very common for the "hero" to be the protagonist in a story, given that the story tends to revolve around the hero, but it is certainly not required.

Gahrie said...

People don't criticize the shows/books with the unlikeable male characters for having an unlikeable main character

...because those shows get cancelled.

Gahrie said...

So the challenge is: Come up with a female character who is unlikable but makes you want to watch.

Cersei Lannister.

furious_a said...

Staying with just GoT's, though, the likeable characters can actually carry the show.

Until they get killed off. You know someone is going to die when you start liking them.

It's the women who are the show's main protagonists. Cersei, Katlyn Stark, Brienne, now Danaerys and Sansa after brief tours as damsels-in-distress, the Red Woman, Lady Olenna, The Snake Sisters all take positive actions setting events driving the main story lines to which the male characters around them mostly react. It's really quite fun to watch.

furious_a said...

I thought it took a lot of guts for Dunham to be naked.

Oh, man, is that girl homely. I'm sorry, the ping-pong scene in season whatever looked like Patrick Wilson was banging the Sunday funnies.

tcrosse said...

That the commentariat came up with so many counterexamples so quickly demonstrates that Jong was indeed riffing, i.e. pulling it out of her capacious ass.

Professional lady said...

I always found Rodolfo in LaBoheme unlikeable. He's such a clueless twit. If he really cared about Mimi, he'd get a job and buy her some food.

Static Ping said...

I'll put it this way. When I watch a story I am interested in characters who do interesting things. Sometimes this is because they are achieving things that most persons could not do, sometimes this is because they are doing things that I am unfamiliar, sometimes this is because the character has an interesting style, and sometimes it is a combination of these things. For our poster bad boy Tony Soprano the mafia life was something new to me, I was certain that he was doing things that I could not (and would not) do, and he could be charming between outbursts of violence. Tony is a great character.

He's also a terrible person. I would not want to be in business with him, I would not want to be his friend, and I would not want to date his daughter. He is most unlikable. The thing is in real life I would not have to do any of these things, most likely. If I had to pay protection money to a semi-psychotic mobster, Tony would not be an interesting character. He would be a reminder of misery and The Sopranos would be a show I very much would want to avoid.

Now when you make your terrible person a woman, as a guy this adds another wrinkle to the mix. Whenever I see a female character there is a part of my mind that is thinking about forming a romantic relationship with the character. If the woman is especially unlikable, it brings forth the idea of being in a bad relationship or, even worse, being married to the psycho. I may never expect to being in business with a ruthless mobster or fighting space aliens or escaping a hockey masked serial killer, but marrying the wrong woman is something I can most certainly imagine and want to avoid. Enjoy this jerkass shrew bitch is asking for quite a lot.

Static Ping said...

Titus: I thought it took a lot of guts for Dunham to be naked.

Not all forms of courage are appreciated nor desirable....

Martin said...

Not said using that word, but didn't the liberal Democratic riff on Mitt Romney in 2012 boil down to him being unsympathetic and unlikeable?

Nixon?

H. Clinton being likable or not was the least of her problems. Look at her policy preferences, her history of corruption and double dealing, her arrogance, her laziness (in her 2016 campaign schedule), her hateful friends and supporters...

And James Bond as unlikable? Hell, as an undercover agent it's his job to be likable in order to win people's trust. To portray him as unlikable, as Daniel Craig came close to, was a huge mistake. The charming rogue persona of Sean Connery or Roger Moore was more realistic as well as more "likable." Maybe a bit too much rogue, Moore overplayed it for laughs, but you get the point.

A man whom someone thinks too aggressive gets criticized as a slave to his testosterone, which is an easier and lazier criticism than engaging the actual behavior and its reasons. A woman may be criticized as "shrill"... Thatcher, anyone?

It all cuts both ways and I don't think either gender is obviously advantaged or disadvantaged, compared to the other.

Static Ping said...

I suppose I should add that, for some reason, women tend to be attracted to the bad boys so this is really not a problem for them. They see some charming scoundrel and have fantasies of fixing him. To me, the distaff counterpart is the equivalent of a decade of suffering, a painful divorce, and the loss of half my wealth to someone who might occasionally let me see my kids. The fact that she is beautiful and has a nice rack only delays this realization.

I suspect that is the reason for the double standard. Women tend to see man jerks as desirable. Men tend to see women jerks as harpies.

Infinite Monkeys said...

In the US, Hillary Clinton was pilloried for being ‘unlikeable’ so we got Donald Trump who, not even three months into his presidency, has historically low approval ratings – yet was he somehow more ‘likable’?

Maybe we're tired of being told that we must find Hillary likable and Trump unlikable. The insistence by her campaign and the media that she had all of these good qualities, if we just took the time to know her, made it feel as though we were being gaslighted.

OGWiseman said...

None of the characters in "Bridesmaids" were likeable, but the movie got made and I really enjoyed it.

How about Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada"?

How about Juliette Lewis in "Natural Born Killers?

There actually are female anti-heroes, it happens.

BJM said...

As a woman, I have to say that perhaps wealthy privileged women, such as Jong could stop mudding the water by whining and/or bitching about every perceived slight after proclaiming they are equal in every way to men for the past 30-40 years.

The most recent example is the Antifa girl who donned weighted gloves and went to take "100 Nazi scalps" in Berkeley. She tried to throat punch a White Supremacist and he decked her. Now she's calling herself a "poor girl".

Make up your mind ladies, what is it?

Kirk Parker said...

AllenS:

"How about the ROBOT who played Hillary Clinton during the election?"

FIFY.


Unlikeable? OK, what about Ilsa in Casablanca? Vain, manipulative, self-absorbed, traitorious...

furious_a said...


Frankly I'm surprised no one remembered Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) in Prime Suspect. It was painful to watch her own naked ambition and bad judgment collide with her male colleagues' hostility episode-after-episode. It was also a joy to watch an actress like Helen Mirren do her best work.

J. Farmer said...

Does anybody ever find a male hero ‘unlikeable’?

Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy

johns said...

Hillary was considered by Democrats to be the best candidate for President based on what Democrats considered to be her qualifications. But Democrats worried that she was not "likable."
Can't the same be said about John Kerry? Democrats may not have used the exact words "not likable" to describe the problem with Kerry, but it seems to be the same thing. He supposedly had the qualifications, but wasn't going over very well with voters.
So I don't think Jong has a point at all.

Michael K said...

"unlikable male heroes are cast a geniuses or warriors: Steve Jobs, General Patton, Douglas MacArthur, General Sherman."

I agree about Jobs and MacArthur. I don;t know about Patton but Sherman was very well liked by everyone who knew him.

The people who had hired him to run the school in Louisiana that later became LSU begged him to stay when the state seceded.

He warned them they could not defeat the North and left but was held in very high regard.

He was later made a villain by the angry Confederate revisionists. He did not allow looting except of rich secessionist homes and hung soldiers guilty of rape.

Michael K said...

"I suspect that is the reason for the double standard. Women tend to see man jerks as desirable. Men tend to see women jerks as harpies."

I think male bad behavior is seen by females as a marker for testosterone.

I suspect it often is.

Matthew Sablan said...

Did the author ever go to TV Tropes "Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist" page?

Steve said...

Celebrate that women are being noticed for unlikable roles. For years they have been getting puffball movie roles that don't generate much if any visceral reaction. We are bored with miserable men.

The Girls are breaking through the glass floor. Be happy about it.

Known Unknown said...

"Titus: I thought it took a lot of guts for Dunham to be naked."

Courage and narcissism are oft confused.

Known Unknown said...

"And James Bond as unlikable? Hell, as an undercover agent it's his job to be likable in order to win people's trust. To portray him as unlikable, as Daniel Craig came close to, was a huge mistake. "

Go back and read the books. Ian Fleming's Bond was not really a super smooth operator.

Titus said...

I do find her body hideous though. She has a cute face but that mid section and ass really need some work. I still love her though, but would prefer she take off about 75 pounds.

Larvell said...

Yeah, nobody ever said Walter White was unlikeable.

Larvell said...

Julia Louis Dreyfuss's character (pick one) is unlikeable, but that doesn't keep people from liking the character or the show (pick one).

Leora said...

There is just about every Bette Davis or Joan Crawford movie made. Joan Collins, Catherine Zeta Jones and Meryl Streep have all played some fabulous bitches in popular movies and TV shows. Let's not forget about Anita Loos's Lorelei Lee if we need a woman author.

I was just looking to pre-order Fay Weldon's sequel to Life and Loves of a She Devil which I remember fondly from decades ago. Can't say I remember a thing about Fear of Flying except the zipless fuck that the heroine realized she really didn't want when it was offered.

Richard Fagin said...

Holden Caufield is as unlikeable a male "hero" (if you can call him that; protagonist would be more accurate) as has met the eye of this admittedly poorly read individual.

Luke Lea said...

I've never found Roth's heroes likable. And if I think about it I bet I can name a bunch more.

Guildofcannonballs said...

"Try to think of an unlikeable female character that we like as a character despite her unlikeability as a real-life person."

Dottie Parker, but she wrote like a man, so...

JJ Leigh played her wonderfully as a character that was an other-women's-husband-fucking abortion-having drunk, getting her due dying alone with a rainy funeral.

"It's better than a sock in the eye."

Guildofcannonballs said...

My lovely anal-knowledgeable Gwynnie, paltry though the role, also is lovable as a drunken, man-stealing floozy two deviations below the beloved Dot eponymous I.Q.-wise none the less she likes normalizing anal in real life as expected in today's erm day ergo she qualifies.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Tony Clifton could help Jong if she wasn't a bigot, racist beyond my (and our I presume) comprehension.

Filthy, dirty, communicable racism is all Jong can offer, with her racist DNA and bones too.

"I am music,
I am love."

-Tony Clifton

Guildofcannonballs said...

Season one of TV's Fargo had the most-unlikable Jerry Lundegaard character end up heroic, if the term means what proggie tele bloody wankers think it means, which is "winning" Thelma and Louise style.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Fuckng xenophobes Jong hangs with have never heard the name Jim "James" Lahey of the greatest Canadian, yeah, that is international you closed epistemic Agent Orange heels, version of Showtime, nor Ricky or Julian or even, my God, the great Mike Smith as bubbles.

O'Reilly has nothing on Smith, but the other-than-open brains here won't start the slippery slide of slicing that open for discussion, which is actually to their benefit sans their knowledge yet still smart in ways mystery knows alongside wisdom's windows clean.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Mic Smith, in terms of money-makin matin' straight dope names, is better than the great Mark Walburg's Boogie Night's name Dirk Diggler.

Micsmithie.

Mic Kingsmith.

Mic Smythe-from-Band-of-Brothers.

Mic Smithin be real.

Mic Smithley.

Mic Smiffed.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Jay Roach took that to millions and BOOM got straight out da game yo.

That's how you do it see, like Mike Judge.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Y'all be recognizing me 'cause I will go by Rod Erick Jay and Nes.

You see?

The Coen's?

Roderick Jaynes they created to edit their shit, cause they poop too.

I ain't shitting.

They buy a cheap car off Craigs List, cash, and go looking to vigilante fuck shit up to dicks.

You want to cheer for the young, naive, idealistic, brainwashed, et. al., and do, then they go too far and learn they are forever, irredeemably life-long losers Hell is too good for, frankly, no feedback needed.

Guildofcannonballs said...

You see, HAHAHAHAHAHAH

HAHAHHHAHAHhah

HahahhhahHahahah,

Coen's and Coens are different and I aptly proved I know that now. I know that, you see? Do you see I know that?


I bench 188 after a power shot only before 3:45 pm.

What you bench?

My SAT was in the top 82% of takers, AND BECAUSE THAT IS PEOPLE GOING TO UNIVERSITY I AM SUPER DUPER SMART THEN.

Guildofcannonballs said...

JUST as I erase Steel Panther from my profile favorites here on the google, THEY DRAG ME BACK IN BECAUSE I AM BRILLIANT!!

Oh and Steel Panther too, but I forgot how or why or ya know the eschaton immanization.

Jon Ericson said...

Philip Roth’s Zuckerberg.
Heh.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Smiffed Buckley.

Guildofcannonballs said...

https://cumulus.hillsdale.edu/Buckley/index2.html#1492663631715_3

"Understanding Reagan" is Buckley's column. It describes so much, nobody but me seems to notice though.

Trump read it, I bet my life.

Guildofcannonballs said...

The top left.

Understanding Reagan.

You'll see.
Please trust me.

https://cumulus.hillsdale.edu/Buckley/index2.html#1492663915346_3

Guildofcannonballs said...

Are you sure?

https://cumulus.hillsdale.edu/Buckley/index2.html#1492664418902_6

Bob Loblaw said...

People don't criticize the shows/books with the unlikeable male characters for having an unlikeable main character.

I have seen exactly that criticism of Breaking Bad in multiple places.

JAORE said...

And once again the left focuses on just one aspect of why Hillary was such a crappy choice.

And once again the focus is on sexism.

Live and learn? You're batting .500 there folks.

TestTube said...

This was a good blog posting, Ann because it posted a question that I am still thinking about the next day.

I didn't have a good answer for your question when you first posted it, but at the same time, it would not let me go until I did come up with an answer.

I don't know if you read the comments in older threads, but here goes:

I found the male lead in La La Land to be unlikeable. It wasn't because of the actor. The actor did a good job. But the character was unlikeable. That made the movie less than it could have been.

I also thought that the male leads in Easy Rider were unlikeable. Jack Nicholas was likeable, but Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper were not. As a result, the movies ending didn't really resonate with me.

Other male main characters I did not like: Jack in Titanic, Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, the entire male cast of Friends, Raymond from Everyone Loves Raymond...

Thank you for a thought-provoking blog post.