Topic: In the spirit of Valentines, why do you think 'bad' boys are so popular as heroes and 'bad' girls so often reviled? In real life, can those labeled bad change (certainly 'bad' is open to interpretation), or are such fictional romances misleading?
I'm starting right off the bat with the topic because, honestly, my brain aches a bit and it's Saturday so I'm indulging in some laziness. After a semester of having three (let's be honest, they were pretty simple 98% of the time) classes taught by quirky and unfailingly helpful German/British/Andalusian professors and rampaging around northern Europe, returning to my farm-like campus and the American college system is kind of like waking up from an amazing cinematic dream by getting smashed in the face with a textbook. Or a brick. Whatever metaphor you want, it's painful and difficult and is borderline tearing my mental state apart a couple times a week. It's suffocating my creative writing process--but I hope to have that under control within the next few weeks.
Anyway, back to the topic. Valentine's Day. For someone who's never even dated, I love Valentine's Day. I get really schmoozy and romantic. I like the hearts everywhere, and flowers, and punny cards. It's great. And you usually get candy, so that's always a plus. But gaaaaaaahhhh. The phrase "bad boy" genuinely makes me cringe.
They are really popular as heroes, though, aren't they? Recipe: create hot guy. Smoldering glare, luxurious hair, probably with abs. Likes black, and loves being unattainable or low-key dangerous. He rarely smiles but mostly likely smirks; or at least offers a crooked half-grin. Maybe he smokes, hangs out at seedy bars hustling pool, or illegally drag races. Maybe he knocks over jewelry stores or sells crack. (Okay, maybe that's a little far. I don't think I've ever even heard of a book where the hero/bad boy sells crack). He can be mean, aloof. If you lose track of him, he's probably leaning on a shadowy fire escape in the dark, brooding. Or punching a wall, or fluidly exuding his inner fury with sick tai kwan do moves, shirtless.
Did I mention I get annoyed with this trope? And I just noticed something. Bad boys are attractive and mildly criminal and are almost always changed for the better by their good-hearted love interest. Bad guys are synonymous with villains. Is it because, once you turn into an adult, all the things I listed--hustling pool, brooding, being generally apathetic or arrogant or hard-hearted--aren't so 'cute' anymore? It's not some, oh, you're young and full of emotion turmoil--now it's, what the heck is wrong with you?
I've been taking a Gender and Culture class this semester, so I actually have a pretty good answer for the second part of the question; why are "bad girls" so often reviled in stories? Traits generally associated with men are strong, powerful, exploratory, and athletic, bla blah blah, while girls are stereotyped with domestic, placid, pretty, soft, etc. Therefore, a girl portraying traits usually considered both "bad" and male: smoking, swearing, generally ratty, tattoos, life out of control: we're sort of brainwashed into thinking this is worse than when a guy does the exact same thing.
I'm guilty of doing this; or, I was when I was in middle/high school. Okay, so maybe the boys in stories with their roiling eye contact and stoic posture were mildly attractive to me; but whenever a girl was equally angry, equally moody and broody and whatever else; I'd get annoyed. It was neither cute nor endearing to have a girl grumpy all the time doing "bad" thing. Thoughts like "You're ruining your life. What are you doing?" occurred to me instead of thinking, "Ooo, how pained you are. Open up to your significant other or friends and change for the better!" Come to think of it, instead of changing by love or on their own terms, the 'bad girls' I read about in middle school would either have something horrible befall them that would eventually change them, or they might even die.
I really think a lot of these romances are misleading. I'm sorry, if this guy has become the way he is because of lifelong family matters/psychological trauma/etc., he's not going to flower into a sensitive, understanding man under your love after a week of staring intensely at each other in the cafeteria, or on the quad, or wherever the heck you're having your love stares. It's not realistic. Guys who smash stuff then they're angry, are verbally or physically hurtful to you or knock off jewelry stores are not guys you want to take out for coffee. If a guy stares at you from a shadowy fire escape for more than a few seconds, girl you should have your phone out and be dialing as you fast walk away. I'm not saying these people don't deserve love--they probably deserve it the most--just the way books portray it is ridiculous. Maybe introduce some chapters where they genuinely take time to start the process of changing their ways, and not some 3-day meeting of a girl/boy and suddenly kaboom, they've been cured by a few makeout sessions. I do not recommend trying that out, ladies.
Let me leave you with a fun little anecdote. Last winter, I was working in my student union on campus at the concierge desk. It was the 6:30-11 pm shift and I hadn't even gotten my laptop out yet before a voice on the other side of the glass window piped up, "Excuse me?" This slim guy with a black goatee was waiting on the other side--wearing all black, mind you. Right down to his leather gloves. He asked when the next bus to Walmart/Wegmans was coming, and after I answered him (kind of exasperated because the electric flashing sign that would give him this information was directly outside where he'd walked in) he asked me my name/major/hometown and half a dozen other things rapid fire before the bus came. Then we shook hands through the little hole in the glass where we can talk--and, I couldn't make this up if I tried--he giggled and said smoothly, "I could've broken your wrist!"
(Quick interlude: wearing all black, a smooth talker, and possibly violent tendencies? He could've been a bad boy in a book, right?)
I have a really poor flirting radar and just chatted with him and then got to work. By 10:30 I'd forgotten all about him when he showed back up at the concierge desk. I'd been doing work for four hours and I was tired--and now bewildered because no one else was on the floor of the union we were on. Suddenly it was all really creepy. He told me--okay, we'd talked for like 3 minutes--about how struck he was with me and asked me to coffee. I guarantee I probably looked like trash. Late night shifts are not when I'm at my prettiest. In a novel, this would be adorable, correct? Perfectly single me said no, thank you, and gave an excuse of having too much work to do.
"Would...next semester work?" he drove on. Ah, the determined male was always really popular in novels. In real life? I said no again and he finally left. I told my manager about him and she explained that it was borderline harassment, what he did, especially so when I found out he tried to friend me on Facebook, I declined it, and then he tried again and I had to block him. I've never seen him again and I really doubt he would've hurt me, but all the things he did are commonly found in the "bad boy" in fiction. But, in real life? It's incredibly creepy.
Alright, apologies for this being a kind of dark Valentine's post. That doesn't feel right. I hope you--yes you reading this!--get lots of nice attention and have a spring in your step tomorrow. I hope someone gives you a flower, or that you give someone a flower, and just have an all-out happy day.
Again, sorry for the darkness! Below you can flee my pessimism about "bad boys" and see what these other authors are up to!
Post this coming Saturday!