Somewhere, somehow, someone created the myth that women love bad boys. ‘Bad’ as in ‘evil,’ not as in the inexplicable contradiction meaning ‘good.’ That idea, that every tough guy has a soft spot and it only takes the right woman to tame him, has been popular since the first day some girl defied her father’s warning to stay away from some boy he considered trouble. It was going on long before Margaret Mitchell told us that Scarlet fell for Rhett because he treated her badly. Maybe those young cave women really did enjoy being hauled around by their hair, as the cartoons would have us believe. Personally, I find that about as romantic as swimming in a lake full of alligators.
I don’t believe for one minute that women like being abused– physically, verbally or emotionally– yet fiction, movies, and soap operas have traditionally represented such relationships as exciting, even romantic. They would have us believe that being in danger makes us feel alive, desirable and important in some perverse way. While it may be male instinct to be masterful, it is definitely not feminine instinct to be vulnerable. I suppose that over the centuries women have learned that, being physically smaller and weaker, they need protection and appearing submissive makes it easier to obtain that protection, but that doesn’t mean they enjoy being beaten into submission.
A young girl might see a movie where the leading man says, “Come here, woman!” as he grabs and kisses her, and she thinks it is terribly masterful and romantic. Maybe she even likes it when her boyfriend says that to her but she changes her mind pretty fast when he twists her arm and pushes her into the car if she doesn’t respond immediately. Unless, of course, she has been treated that way for so long that she genuinely believes she is not worthy of gentleness and respect.
Even though I seem to blame fiction (movies, novels, television) for the perpetuation of this myth, I doubt if they are initially responsible for it. The fiction wouldn’t exist unless there is some basis for the fiction. The people who created the stories had to have some idea of its existence. While the particular story may be pretend, the tools used to tell the story have to be real– and that includes the abuse. A writer has to tell a story in terms that the reader will understand. In order for that to happen, he has to use ideas and facts that are common enough to have meaning that is easily grasped. So rather than the fiction causing real people to imitate it, the fiction is actually reflecting the reality that already exists. (And that is the eternal and equally irrelevant dilemma– of which came first, the chicken or the egg.)
Another version of this myth is the one about the con man, the addict and the alcoholic who “just needs a good woman to understand him.” This is perpetrated by the romantic notion that people can change. Maybe they can but it’s a job for the professionals, not for a gentle, loving girl who believes that if she could just show him what goodness and love are, he would choose it over his present life. What she doesn’t take into consideration is that, for whatever reasons, his behavior is learned– based on his experience and his instincts for survival. Whatever his needs; be they money for drugs, being a ‘big man’ among his peers, just staying alive, or getting revenge for something in his past– he’s not likely to forget all about it just because some sweet young thing irons his shirts or cooks his breakfast. He’s not going to forget his main purpose in the long run. He may enjoy some sweet intervals, he may make promises she wants to hear, but it’s all impossible for him to do. If he does as she wants, things will most likely get far worse. No matter how badly he wants the life she’s offering, he can’t change who he is and the circumstances of why he is that way.
One thing I learned in my long life is that what people are and what you wish they were are seldom the same thing. If you can’t love someone the way they are, then you don’t love the real them, only the person you wish they were. Not the same thing. Who we are started even before the day we were born. Add to it genetics, early childhood, family structure, our experiences and influence of siblings and neighbors; our environment, and pure chance– and we are halfway there before we even start Kindergarten. If you can remember that first day of school and the obnoxious kid you couldn’t stand, the one you instinctively liked, the one who impressed and filled you with awe, the selfish brat who had you near tears at recess; then you knew even then that we are all different. And we keep getting more and more different. You probably noticed at the class reunion years later that those people didn’t change much.
Once a bad boy, always a bad boy. And it ISN’T romantic.