What have women done to be disliked? For starters, “we’re all existing.” That's how Justine Larbalestier opened YALLFest's "Unlikeable Female Protagonists" panel this weekend. Joining her on stage at the Charleston Museum, authors Renee Ahdieh, Kara Thomas, Courtney Summers, Libba Bray, and Leigh Bardugo pulled no punches either.
Each author opened by introducing themselves as brashly as possible, defying the demands upon women to be retiring and modest. Summers, author of Cracked Up to Be,
quipped that her five books are “probably the best you’ve ever read, and if you haven’t I’m embarrassed for you.” Libba Bray won for most dramatic opening line, declaring “I am the next president of the United States.” Bardugo explained that she knows many people who don’t want to be out in public right now, “but it is a great moment for us all to be seen.”
Bardugo deadpanned that when misogyny is getting her down, she just bathes in her tub full of money. And yet their work is not immune to the vitriol that women so often face in the United States. Reviews on Amazon and GoodReads reveal some of the most common thoughts readers have about female protagonists: stupid, angsty, annoying, pining, boring, whiny, obnoxious, needy, self-conscious, and attention-seeking. Never mind that the last two are contradictory. As a female in fiction, you just can’t win.
American culture is not always comfortable with women who perform traditionally male roles. As Bray explained, “we don’t allow women the full ROYGBIV of our experience.” Anger, ambition, sadness, and many other hues along the emotional spectrum are reserved for men only. Women who live out their emotional complexity are criticized and mocked. All of the writers noted the backlash against Hillary Clinton, a woman who was considered by many to be one of the most qualified presidential candidate in history.
“We just elected a monster because we hated a woman so much,” said Thomas.
The solution? These female authors suggest we take action.
“Now go out and set fire to things,” said Larbalestier.