Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Romanticised Abuse: Bad Boys


Our goal is to raise awareness and draw attention to romanticised abuse in films, book, etc, in order to fight it
- Join us! Design your own header (or use mine)  and start posting - once a week, two times a week, whenever
- Share examples of romanticised abuse you've seen in books or films - doesn't even have to be a whole book or film; simple one scene is enough, if there's an instance of romanticised abuse in it
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// Just a quick recap in case you're not sure what a bad boy stereotypically is. A "bad boy" in fiction is the guy who usually thinks of himself before anyone else, goes against rules and what is socially appropriate, and is typically mysterious, dangerous, and with a shady agenda and past. He's the opposite of the "angelic blonde goodie-goodie hero". He's the anti-hero. He borders dangerously close to the villain, except his behaviour is apparently acceptable because he's good-looking and makes the ultimate right choice in the nick of time - usually just at the end of the book. // 



Bad boys in YA literature are a huge thing. We love reading about brooding anti-heroes with tragic pasts, angsty protective sides, and of course the ultimate six-pack and sexy wardrobe. Guys like Damon Salvatore, Jacob Black, Chuck Bass, Rhysand......fans adore them.  
But what puts me off bad boys, is that too often they're physically and psychologically abusive - if not to the heroine then to someone else - and they are constantly disrespecting their girlfriend or love interest. Personally, I don't find myself swooning over someone who ignores the "no" with a "I'll do it anyway because I'm hot and trust me, you'll love it". It just isn't romantic. It isn't loving. The problem with bad boys is that they're usually violent, sexually menacing, and ignore the heroine's sexual boundaries. They don't take no for an answer. They can frequently touch or sexually harass the heroine, and yet it's thought of as " hot" and romantic because it's so heavily romanticised. 


But if these abusive relationships need to stop, that begs the question: 
if bad boys tend to romanticise abuse through their relationships, then should writers stop writing bad boys? 

That seems a little extreme, so below are some points that I think expand on possible solutions to this dilemma. 

1: Draw the line at sexual violence & assault / A boy can be bad without sexually assaulting the girl! Don't feel that in order to make your hero dark, dangerous, and an outcast of society you need to make him sexually violent, controlling, and sexist. Look at Nate from One of Us Is Lying; he's a criminal and the bad boy of the school. He's morally grey, and swoony because of it, but not once does he assault Bronwen, touch her without her consent, or try to control her. McManus writes a bad boy who doesn't abuse the heroine, and their kisses and interactions are still hot and sexy. More so because it's based on mutual consent. Consent is sexy, people! 
Another example would be Kaz from Bardugo's Six of Crows duology. Kaz is a morally grey character who does terrible things and fits the bad boy persona, but he never disrespects or assaults the female characters. He treats them like equals deserving of respect, and he's still protective of them. 
Thousands of readers love Kaz (myself included). Thousands also ship him with Inej (myself included). This proves that a bad boy and his romantic arc can be sexy, swoony, and shippable despite the fact the bad boy isn't sexually violent or abusive.   

2: Write good good guys / The reason so many readers favour bad boys - I think - is because the alternative is usually a boring, stereotypical, good male character who plays by the rules and doesn't have serious flaws. Come on. bad boys are interesting because they have flaws, right? 
The sooner writers start writing three-dimensional, flawed, good looking good guys, the sooner we'll learn to love them. Look at Mal from Bardugo's Shadow and Bone trilogy. Most readers call him boring, annoying, and bland, and favour Nikolai (the trilogy's "bad boy") instead. Compared to Nikolai, Mal isn't as well written, as three-dimensional, or as compelling. Bardugo uses these two stereotypes very mildly, but it's still a point: Nikolai's morally grey with a winning, witty personality, and so we love him, but Mal has very few interesting qualities so we don't. Yet what if Mal was as well written as Nikolai? As three dimensional and rounded? We'd probably appreciate their characters equally. And maybe, we'd even prefer rooting for and swooning over the so-called good guy, instead of the bad boy. 

(FYI: Yes, I do acknowledge that we're all different people with unique taste who inevitably favour one character more than another, simply because. It does depend largely on your personal preference). 

3: Call out the sexual perversity for what it is / If your bad boy is causing the heroine emotional distress or making her physically uncomfortable, treat that seriously! Let her get angry with him, call him out on it, and avoid him for most of the book (that's not much of a story, granted, so maybe just avoid including sexual harassment, etc, altogether - see Point 1). And then, if you still insist they need to be together, have the guy apologise sincerely and have him work for her forgiveness. She should be furious with him, and he should genuinely change before they can even get close to each other again. 

But again, I personally think you're playing on very thin ice if your bad boy assaults your heroine and then, despite apologies and forgiveness, they end up together. I just think that sexual assault isn't something you can easily come back from - if at all. Even murdering someone can be explained and is sometimes easier to forgive because there are other ways to interpret it (examples: it was self-defense, it was an accident, etc). 
Maybe it's just better to adhere to Point 1 above and stay clear of including any kind of sexual assault/harassment and/or abusive themes.  



Writers, write guys with flaws - disastrous flaws. But don't, I am begging you, feel like you have to make them controlling, violent, sexist, and an attempted rapist or sexual assaulter to make them sexy and darkly appealing. When women are assaulted daily, in or out of a relationship, romanticising these horrific behaviours in fiction is atrocious and toxic. A guy can be dark, brooding, and morally grey without backing the heroine up against a wall and caressing her body without her consent. That should not be something you glamorise. It should be something you call out and write solid consequences for if it has to feature in your story at all. 

Boys can be bad. Girls can be bad. We're all flawed people. But do not write an incident of sexual assault into your book and label it as anything other than sexual assault simply because you think it's the only way to make a dude flawed and irresistible. 

←Jacob and Bella in Twilight 

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