At least, that seems to be the case with female characters.
In film, television and literature we see the hot nemesis crop up time and again. Where would our heroines be without these smoking women to thwart them? Well, they would be hashing it out with a woman who was as blemished on the outside as she is within. Not good! That might cause the readers to feel...sympathy.
I'm not here to slander the attractive mean girl trope, or to say it should never be used. No, I want to discuss the importance of why sexual appeal does not excuse an unattractive attitude, and how I'm noticing a real double standard on this issue between the sexes in fiction.
In novels with a female protagonist – whether targeted at teenagers or adults – it's not at all uncommon to find that the heroine isn't physical perfection. Few women come close to their own ideal of physical beauty, and having a protagonist who isn't described as looking like a super model helps more readers relate to and empathise with her.
However, it is rare to find a book where the male romantic love interest is not described as being physically attractive. After all, what heterosexual woman isn't drawn to a man who radiates sexy physicality?
I'm not going to suggest that we start a fugly male character lottery and populate more novels with less-than-shagtastic blokes. I'm not irked by attractive guys in fiction (far from it) but rather the idea that a guy can be the ultimate "bad boy" and still remain in the protagonist's – and the reader's – favour, simply because he is gorgeous.
I am a firm believer in sexual tension and conflict between characters...but when I read about a man who insults a woman at every turn and she is still drawn to him, despite being constantly aware of what a jerk he is, I'm a little put out. Is this the type of man the writer wants me to fantasise about? Is this a protagonist I'm supposed to empathise with?
I've read my fair share of books with less-than-angelic male love interests and enjoyed plenty of them. Whether I was just younger and more susceptible then, or the concept was fresher earlier on, my patience for these anti-feminist flings shrivels with each new volume I read.
If an unattractive male character treats a woman in an offensive and sexually suggestive manner, he is quick to be labelled a sleaze and everyone can agree that he's walking around with one scrotum too many. Yet if His Horrible Hunkiness tries the same thing...it is somehow acceptable?
Let's not be naïve children who spout that what's on the inside is the only thing that matters. We acknowledge people's looks before we even speak to them. Still, I'm far more likely to be drawn to an adequately good looking chap, whose personality shines through and enhances his charisma, than Adonis the Arse.
What are your thoughts? Is attraction to a fictional character more reliant on looks or attitude? Do you think there is a double standard?