Saturday, November 21, 2009

Secret Fantasies and the Asshat Hero

From early romance with Fabio covers to today’s Harlequin Presents, the uber-alpha male is a staple of the romance genre. We’re all familiar with the symptoms: brooding, possessive aggression, a dark past, and controlling the heroine’s life for her own good. For many readers, this is enough to send the book flying across the room. Many feminists are enraged by the use of forced seduction. Many readers are disgusted by the emotionally abusive relationships between virgins and their Greek billionaire tycoons. But one thing is for sure, these books are still selling strong and aren’t going anywhere for quite some time.

I personally fall into the disgusted and enraged category. The last time I read a Harlequin Presents was months ago, and mainly because I was in the mood to write a particularly snarky review. My loathing of these heroes has nothing to do with this post though. What is relevant is my curiosity as to why women love these books, despite all the abuse the heroine is stuck with. After months of thinking and meeting women who love these books, here is my conclusion:

These alpha-males aren’t just assholes and pricks, but a reflection of a secret fantasy. Thinking about yourself and your friends, how many women do you know who have ended up in a relationship with the perpetual bachelor? The controlling prick? The over possessive asshole? The guy who blows hot and cold?

The list of these stereotypes is endless. So is the list of friends of mine who have ended up with one of these men, and still tried to make it work despite those traits. And guess what- they ended up getting hurt.

I’m going to start with the controversial book Twilight. People are all over the place when it comes to Twilight, from screaming fangirls to people who scream if the books get anywhere near them. I ended up going to the midnight release of New Moon with a friend of mine and her guy friend. We leave the theater and she starts to wax poetically about Edward and his love for Bella. In my mind I begin listing all the reasons I can’t stand him. 1) He doesn’t let Bella decide for herself 2) he always insists he’s right 3) he stalks her… I look up to see her with her guy friend, or more specifically the guy she’s sleeping with but 1) won’t date her because he knows she’s still in love with her ex 2) he insists she be more healthy (for her own good) 3) he’s cheating on her…

And it clicks. She loves Edward because the men in her life have the same abusive traits as him. What could be a better fantasy than having a man act that way because he loves you!

I don’t think most women take stories such as Twilight as seriously as she does. I don’t think all the women who read and love Harlequin Presents and The Flame and the Flower are in emotionally abusive relationships. Chances are though that men like this have been in your life at some point. We know these men aren’t going to change, but isn’t it a wonderful fantasy that they act that way because of a strong, compelling and selfless emotion?

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