My new least favourite reason to hate a female character is because she's “just a love interest” – especially when it's applied to characters that are embroiled in fandom shipping wars, making the integrity of the accusation rather questionable. (Female characters that are liked or tolerated are suddenly critiqued within an inch of their life the moment they catch the interest of the male hero. It's pretty damn transparent and I've seen it happen dozens of times: Guinevere from Merlin, Mai from Avatar: The Last Airbender, Echo from The 100).
Would it be nice if all female characters were able to have storylines outside of being a love connection with a dude? Of course! But in real life there’s no such thing as a woman who is just a love interest, and even when that narrative is grafted onto a fictional woman it doesn’t mean she’s a waste of space or an affront to feminism. I think this is best illustrated in Sally from A Nightmare Before Christmas.
As far as I know, she’s a fairly popular character, yet not many people point out the fact that everything she does throughout this movie is driven entirely by the fact she has the hots for Jack Skellington. She sneaks out at night to watch him perform at Halloween. She spends half the movie fretting about how he might come to harm in his attempt to hijack Christmas. She rescues Santa Claus in an attempt to help him clean up the complete mess he's made.
And yet she’s still a great character – easily the most intelligent and thoughtful resident of Halloweentown, who manages to bag her man by the end of the film. Her role as a love interest doesn’t subtract from her appeal, and one of my favourite scenes has her pull off a Gender FlippedRomeo and Juliet scene, in which she sends up a basket of homemade treats to Jack’s window while she waits on the ground outside. It’s adorable.
There are other parts of Sally's characterization that give her depth: her great longing for freedom, the way she utilizes her detachable limbs to escape, her precognitive abilities (remember the scene when the dandelion she's holding turns into a Christmas tree and then catches on fire?) but her biggest motivator is Jack.
So next time you see a female character get dissed for being "just a love interest", ask yourself why she's being dismissed as such and whether that narrative role makes her any less unappealing as a person. In Sally's case, the answer is no.