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25 June 2010 @ 09:41 pm
The Bad Boy Myth  
It was recently repeated and already annoyingly often heard: "Women love bad boys" . It's not even only men I hear this "law of nature" from even some women have started to use the diction to describe their own preferences. I'm not quite sure how many people get how much it implies that women are stupid and seeking out abuse.

There certainly is such a thing as the allure of evil (for men and women both naturally), but far more than that gets put under the "badboy" (or femme fatale) label.

But there is much more to the literary archetype and than just the "bad" part. My theory would be that there are some fundamental misunderstandings about what women like about the so called badboy (and also what men like about the femme fatalle).

What we call evil is for large parts a social construct and has a lot to do with conforming to norms, often norms that are extremely repressive to parts of the population (say the female part).

Does anyone really seriously love it that Spike is evil? That he likes to murder people for fun? If that's what makes him so hot for the ladies, why are they not queuing up for Caleb or Adam? And why did Spike's popularity with women take such a turn up when he started to reform?

I can only really speak for me of course but for me part that makes him and probably the literary archetype popular is that they are nonconformist. They break out of the common roles society has for them, particularly gender roles. The typical bad boy and also the typical bad girl doesn't get along very well with his/her own gender.

The bad girl is typically oversexed and steals other girls boys and refuses to play their silly games, preferring to hang in a shady bar and smoking cigarettes with the boys, while the typical badboy is not doing all that well with men. He's not invested in the typical macho gig. He gets along better with the other sex, not because he's so evil, or so manipulative or such a master flirter, but simply because he's genuinely more interested in interacting with them than with his own sex. This makes him an outcast and in the typical way in which everything female is often deprecated also "bad".

So what I find attractive is the blurring of strict gender roles, the actual interest in the other gender, not just as something to use but as another human being.

Spike got along with men, but never connected the way he instantly did with Joyce, Dawn or Fred. And that was never because he was such a sweettalker but simply because they shared interests and he enjoyed their company.

Sometimes people, who's gender identity is deeply rooted in the stereotype seem to feel threatened by a person that is able to cross the line more easily (and in the worst case stealing them wimmins away, why only don't they stick with the good wholesome stereotype boys?) so they start to give him negative aspects. He's an outcast already, he won't make her happy, he's faking it, he just wants to sleep with her. They project negativity, so they don't have to question their own identiy. Same thing works the other way round with turning a woman who has a way with men, automatically into a slut. The Badboy is the male equivalent of the slut and similarly the negative depiction doesn't reflect what people initially found attractive.

Spike lives in rebellion against conconformity,especially among other men, the poetry, the treating machoism as a game, all the emotion. It's an afront against the male stereotype and that's the cool bit about him.
But in the recent comics it gets turned around, the "badboy" gets reduced to just bad. As if he's suddenly described by someone who doesn't get him at all.  Worse he gets even turned into what he was cast out from initially, the macho stereotype. Et voila, behold the transformation from Mata Hari to Peg Bundy (in badgirl terms).

Gee, I wonder why the women are suddenly not that into him anymore when he's depicted like that?

ETA: Since this post reached a lot of people who don't know me, I wanted to follow it up with this little disclaimer here.

ETA2: I also wanted to link you in to a follow up post by ubi4soft , where she cites both a female and a male take on the bad boy that greatly illustrate where I was coming from with my post
woman_of_woman_of_ on June 25th, 2010 08:00 pm (UTC)
I totally agree. I think it is a delibrate misunderstanding of the whole concept of the 'bad boy', because their own gender do not understand them. What I also find interesting is that Xander is also a male that surrounds himself by females, and is pretty much an outcast from male company. While, with Xander it could be a prosudo family bond he has, as he has known them for so long, the comics are also messing with that dynamic. They gave the Bander shippers a bit of hope early on, and have moved onto Xander/Dawn.

I sometimes think that the people involved in the creative precess of the comics either cannot, or will not, accept the deeper meaning of the characters we followed for eight years. Not just Spike, but each and every single one of them. These characters they are deplicting wouldn't hold our interest for eight years (counting BtVS and AtS's runs together), and it makes me angry how much they are ruining their characters.
flake_sakeflake_sake on June 25th, 2010 08:10 pm (UTC)
Yes, my analysis is naturally a little oversimplified here, since that's not the the only aspect to the bad boy archetype, but I do think it's an important one.
Vamp-Xander though would totally fall into it. Regular Xander is still more conformist in many aspects, but he has some of those aspects to him and they always made him and his character dynamics interesting to me.

And yeah, can't argue about the comics. I think the optics reflect the writing. twodimensional and distorted.
(no subject) - skytteflickan88 on June 26th, 2010 01:56 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - flake_sake on June 26th, 2010 08:47 am (UTC) (Expand)
Rebcake: btvs_Faithrebcake on June 25th, 2010 08:17 pm (UTC)
Very interesting idea about how gender non-conformity is the basis for who gets called "bad". I like it.

There is another, less deep, reason why some people like Spike and his ilk or Faith and her ilk. People like people who are fun! People who seize the day, and embody joie de vivre. That is also fairly non-conformist, alas. There is also a theory that thrillseekers are sexually exciting. So somebody who takes you for a fast ride on a motorcycle theoretically might get more action than a person who always stays well below the speed limit and checks the airbag regularly. Does that make the person on the motorcycle "bad"? That seems like a stretch to me, but I can see why somebody who is losing out on available partners might like to think so. ;-}
flake_sakeflake_sake on June 25th, 2010 08:28 pm (UTC)
Yes, I was only focusing on one aspect of rebellion that I find both particularly attractive and not really bad.

I guess the seizing the day aspect, could easily point sexually to someone with little inhibitions (though that can be misleading of course). Similarly as it's easy to picture someone in bed from the way he's dancing. It's a kind of being in touch with oneself.

Meanwhile so many religions condemn sex that evil is associated with giving it good.

Edited at 2010-06-25 08:33 pm (UTC)
ubi4softubi4soft on June 25th, 2010 08:27 pm (UTC)
I'm wondering if there is a woman in the world who fell for Ashley instead of Rhett Butler! Well, except from that Scarlett chick, but even she woke up in the end.

And the author of the last "women love bad boys" worships Echo - the perfect image of a housekeeper - doll. Loser!
flake_sakeflake_sake on June 25th, 2010 08:31 pm (UTC)
I have to admit I was never into Rhett Buttler (at the time I saw gone with the wind I considered every lovey dovey scene annoying distraction from all the important fighting, save to say it wasn't my movie).

I only read excerpts of the interview. Which Echo? The one from Dollhouse? In blank state?
(no subject) - ubi4soft on June 25th, 2010 08:39 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - flake_sake on June 25th, 2010 08:47 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Lisashipperx on June 25th, 2010 08:55 pm (UTC)
The Badboy is the male equivalent of 'the slut' and similarly the negative depiction

Wow. I never put those two thoughts together, but I think you're onto something there regarding stigmitization.
flake_sakeflake_sake on June 25th, 2010 09:07 pm (UTC)
Thank you, the comparision limps a bit at some points (because the badboy still ultimately gets a lot more respect than the slut) but I think it's a similar way in which people are stigmatized within their gender if they have too much success with the other side.
(no subject) - angearia on June 26th, 2010 02:04 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - flake_sake on June 26th, 2010 08:54 am (UTC) (Expand)
Butterflysnogged on June 25th, 2010 08:59 pm (UTC)
I like this theory quite a bit.

Well done.
flake_sakeflake_sake on June 25th, 2010 09:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you, it's just a small aspect, but the implication that women seek abuse bugs me and ultimately I think that phenomenon is a lot smaller than what commonly goes as the bad boy charm.
2maggie22maggie2 on June 25th, 2010 10:04 pm (UTC)
Great post! I love the last bit about the complete inversion of who Spike is.

What's mysterious to me is that apparently nobody at IDW gets the original appeal of Spike. They're all writers/creative types.
flake_sakeflake_sake on June 25th, 2010 10:15 pm (UTC)
Thank you :)

I know you disagree but I do think Brian Lynch got it at least partly. His Spike wasn't 'whole' either, but the aspects he depicted were recognizable and didn't mutilate the character, but since then obviously no one got him even remotely.

I wonder what's so hard about it. I think the spirit of genderbendyness in which Joss wrote him, really is beyond them. Fortunately I'm past really caring or buying their comics.

comic book writers and bad boy syndrome - zebraorchid on June 26th, 2010 07:23 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Sculllaaaaaaaaay!: Red Dr. Horribleblackfrancine on June 25th, 2010 11:05 pm (UTC)
You just blew my mind.

I'd never before considered this idea--that not associating with your own gender or following prescribed gender norms--gets people branded "bad." But that makes a lot of sense. Especially for men.

And it's interesting to think that it is the defying of gender norms itself that women/girls find appealing. Or really--it may just be that as you said, "bad boys" are more interested in spending time (ie listening to) women than men who subscribe to a more traditional path.

On a tangent--I just rewatched Gilmore Girls seasons 2 and 3, and the character Jess fits your theory to a T.
flake_sakeflake_sake on June 26th, 2010 08:53 am (UTC)
Thank you :)

I tend to think that the archetypes we create sometimes reflect a bit older moral standards than we have now. And this way the typical bad boy gets some qualities (like being sexual, maybe not all that straight, not really down with the guy code) that do make him attractive at least to me.
Emmie: Spike B&Wangearia on June 26th, 2010 01:26 am (UTC)
Hon, I thought this was very well-written and linked to it on Whedonesque. I hope that's okay. :)
flake_sakeflake_sake on June 26th, 2010 08:55 am (UTC)
Of course that's ok! Thank you!
Skytteflickan88: Spangel svartvit nästan-kyssskytteflickan88 on June 26th, 2010 01:53 am (UTC)
Haven't read the other comments, but...
This was a very interesting read. I’ve never seen the bad boys and the “sluts” in that light before, and agree with a lot.

However, I disagree that Spike got along better with women than with men. The connection he got with Joyce, Dawn and Fred wasn’t more instant than the connection he made with Angelus. He was actually seen being just a friendly with men as with women, but maybe just a tad bit more comfortable around women (this, I’m guessing, is because he doesn’t need to compete about being the alfa male in the environment).

But I can definitely say that it adds to his appeal that he is that comfortable around women, as you describe, without always having to prove to the women around him that he is do-able.

I wonder if that is because he already knows he could get most women. I think he relies a lot on his looks, and his inferior complex (put there by Angelus and Drusilla, his abusing mentor and deceiving girlfriend) is so great, that he adopted the bad boy persona to be able to make himself feel like he is worth something. So he is confident that he has some value as a sex object, thus doesn’t feel the need to be uncomfortable around women, which he might be, if forced to dress like any guy on the street.

Not that I disagree with how you see Spike as someone who has “feminine” qualities. He doesn’t fit the male stereotype, and that is part of what makes him attractive. But like I said, I wouldn’t say he prefers women over male company. I do think he’d rather have sex with women than hang out with men tough, generally.
flake_sakeflake_sake on June 26th, 2010 09:04 am (UTC)
Re: Haven't read the other comments, but...
Hm,I don't fully agree.

To me his relationship with Angelus is in the beginning the typical male boding. Spike seems to be very happy, that he finally found and alpha male who'd accept him, because before his death, they just made fun of him.

But then Angelus betrays him and that's what triggers Spike's rebellion. He pisses on the boys club now.

Then Spike gets his soul and ends up with Angel and they do build up a strong friendship, but it's never easy, it's always riddled with (even sexual) tension and competition.

Maybe prefers is the wrong word, but I deffintely get the impression that Spike is easier around women.
Re: Haven't read the other comments, but... - rebcake on June 26th, 2010 08:03 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Haven't read the other comments, but... - flake_sake on June 27th, 2010 07:00 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Haven't read the other comments, but... - flake_sake on June 27th, 2010 01:51 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Haven't read the other comments, but... - rahirah on June 27th, 2010 04:19 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Anonymous) on June 26th, 2010 02:13 am (UTC)

I actually did my thesis on this topic, using Braham Stoker's Dracula, James Dean and Spike. What I found was that women's attraction to the "bad boy" is actually an evolutionary technique women have inherited to seek out protective fathers for their children. Also that while women are attracted to this strong male archetype they believe that when they do have children with them the cads will become loyal dads. I think this could explain why Spike became more attractive as he became good. He was living out the cad to dad fantasy we all subconsciously have.
Emmie: Buffy Aloneangearia on June 26th, 2010 02:34 am (UTC)
How does a "bad boy" qualify as protective father material? This seems to contradict the evolotionary psychology theory that women seek out good providers--that the strong male archetype (loner, violent) is often antithetical with father/provider. And if women become more attracted to a character as he becomes good, that also contradicts the idea they were all that attracted to the "bad boy" to begin with. To be honest, I don't really buy into evolutionary psychology all that much.

Also, what's interesting in fiction =/= what attracts a woman in real life. As for Spike, I think it's his contradictory nature that makes him interesting, as well as his affinity with women and his ability to actually listen and perceive/understand them.

I do find good father material attractive, but I only consider this when I'm actually watching men interacting with children. I don't perceive a "bad boy" as a good father type--precisely the opposite is the case for me.
(no subject) - flake_sake on June 26th, 2010 09:19 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - gabrielleabelle on June 26th, 2010 04:52 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - angearia on June 26th, 2010 08:18 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - gabrielleabelle on June 26th, 2010 03:19 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - flake_sake on June 26th, 2010 04:02 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - blackfrancine on June 26th, 2010 04:55 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - flake_sake on June 26th, 2010 09:22 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - flake_sake on June 26th, 2010 09:15 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - skytteflickan88 on June 26th, 2010 09:52 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Shapinglight: Spikeshapinglight on June 26th, 2010 11:06 am (UTC)
Terrific meta, which gets to the root of why it's so frustrating to be told over and over that we silly women only like Spike because he's a 'bad boy.'

Does anyone really seriously love it that Spike is evil? That he likes to murder people for fun? If that's what makes him so hot for the ladies, why are they not queuing up for Caleb or Adam? And why did Spike's popularity with women take such a turn up when he started to reform?

Re the first part of this, clearly there are people that think so, or the whole 'women who write to serial killers in prison and marry them' row with David Fury would never have happened. However, at least Fury had the grace in later years to admit he was wrong about the character and (by inference, if not openly) about his attraction for viewers.

Gee, I wonder why the women are suddenly not that into him anymore when he's depicted like that?

It's a mystery, isn't it? :sarcasm font:

flake_sakeflake_sake on June 26th, 2010 03:16 pm (UTC)
What gets a bit to me is that the whole "women who marry serial killers" oddity gets even associated with a women liking a man of questionable morality.

I don't really know what plays down in the head of someone who marries a serial killer and it seems to me that's a fairly rare phenomenon that gets a lot of media attention because of it's oddity.

As far as you can go with generalisations at all (and that's not very far to begin with) I think the attraction of the archetype in general and Spike in particular might have to do a lot less with 'evil and dangerous' and a lot more with 'different and unusual'.
(no subject) - shapinglight on June 26th, 2010 06:46 pm (UTC) (Expand)
elainecleoelainecleo on June 26th, 2010 11:51 am (UTC)
Bad Boys on TV
I like the bad boys on TV because you just don't know what they are going to do next. Angel was always just Angel and Stefan you know what he is going to do before he does it. You know what to expect, but Spike, Damon and Angelus were wild cards, and that is what makes them so much fun to watch and so HOT.
flake_sakeflake_sake on June 26th, 2010 03:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Bad Boys on TV
You can somewhat count on them not to keep the rules and when you are at a point where you find rules very constraining than that can become very attractive, at least it is that way for me.
StephenT: spikestormwreath on June 26th, 2010 12:04 pm (UTC)
why did Spike's popularity with women take such a turn up when he started to reform?

Not that I'm disagreeing with the main argument you make, but this part here... the stereotype isn't just "women like bad boys who are evil and vicious", it's "women like bad boys who are evil and vicious because they fantasise about reforming them and setting them back on the path to redemption." Buffy's relationship with Spike looks very much like that fantasy from some angles.

There's an ego-trip element involved too, the idea that "Oh, he treats everybody else like dirt, but he's always good to me." (Implication: "Because I'm just that special".) And yes, the same thing applies mutatis mutandis to men's attraction to 'bad girls' - at least the ones who fall into the ice queen rather than the easy lay stereotype.

*Insert standard disclaimer here that fantasies don't necessarily reflect real-world preferences and not everybody follows stereotypes.* :-)
flake_sakeflake_sake on June 26th, 2010 03:35 pm (UTC)
I think what you describe is a factor, though I think there are different ways to look at this too.

I find it not very relatable when I think of it as an abstract helper syndrome.
I think many people look for a realtionship, in which they are so deeply connected to their partner that nothing else can quite compare. They want to have something special between them and only them, something secret and here I do think that understanding a person and knowing things no one else does, triggering behavior that that person doesn't usually show, triggering change even, certainly is a powerful attraction factor.

And also a factor that triggers instant resentment among the competition and not even the direct one. More of the type "hey, if this bloke does those crazy things for that chick, then my girlfriend might expect me to do the same!"

So in reform the bad boy breaks with his gender again.

I'd really love to have actual statistical data on Spike preferences. Because a lot of people, who are not actually attracted to him, prefer him, when he was totally evil, so I wonder what the data would look like if you just asked those who find him attractive.

*signs your disclaimer*

Edited at 2010-06-26 03:36 pm (UTC)
Infinitewhale: lightinfinitewhale on June 26th, 2010 02:53 pm (UTC)
I agree.

In men, I've always found the "women love badboys" stuff to be more about their own ego/insecurities than the women themselves. Most men would describe themselves as "good guys" and the kind of person they think a woman should go for. If they don't, rather than look at themselves, it's easier to blame things on the woman. She has issues, she's gay, etc.

As a byproduct of that, they demonize the image of these "bad boys" by reducing them to a caricature. They typically do the same thing with adversarial gay women.

Comics/Video Games are kind of a breeding ground for that sort of thing. It's one of the bigger issues I've had with the BtVS comics. Hearing Allie, Jeanty and this guy talk like they do just reinforces it to me.
flake_sakeflake_sake on June 26th, 2010 03:59 pm (UTC)
Yes, that's true. A lot of it seems to be ego protection. Better make the other person an irrational being, that wants weird bad things than contemplating what could really be the problem.

One of my role playing friends does that to the excess, he's off the firm opinion that women only like bad boys and that he's 'too nice' to be attractive. Fact is though, that one of the first things he does, when he gets to know people is to lament how bad his life is general and how mean and superficial women are to him. He never considers that "meh, I hat my life and your gender is composed of mean bitches!" might not be such a turn on for a girl. How he considers it 'too nice' to insult people on first sight is beyond me anyway.

It seems to me that like you wrote this frustration with the other sex,sometimes leads to both negative stereotyping of the other sex as well as the guys (or girls) that are lucky with it.
(Anonymous) on June 26th, 2010 10:34 pm (UTC)
Bad Boy Attraction Explained
Do women love Bad Boys? Yes. Joran Van Der Sloot never wanted for women, before, and after the Holloway murder. He's got hundreds of marriage proposals, as did the Petersons, Scott and Drew, when they were arrested. Heck Drew Peterson was married four times, and had college coeds half his age draped over him, after being publicly labeled a suspect in two wives deaths, and Scott Peterson while married bagged Amber Frye, a beautiful woman with many options. Twilight is basically a bad-boy palooza.

That women LOVE Bad Boys is without doubt. Within reason, control, moderation, and wisdom, the above women being spectacularly NOT good examples, this is not a bad thing. Various Pick Up Artist guys teach ordinary nerdy guys how to be dominant, assertive, an asshole, in order to mirror Spike's superficial (or Angel's for that matter) attributes and be successful with women. The good thing about Bad Boys is that moderate (i.e. no sex) experience with them in adolescence teaches women that you cannot have it all with men, that a guy who is overpoweringly sexy will be so to every other woman, and will take advantage of it (Al Gore, Tiger Woods, Jessie James, Bill Clinton, etc.) with all sorts of women.

Bad boys teach women a useful lesson: trade-off between sexy dominance and a guy who will stick with you when you (inevitably) are no longer pretty, OR there is a sexier woman around (and there always is).

One that Buffy, Faith, Anya, and pretty much every other woman in the Buffy-verse never learned.

Would either Angel or Spike make good husbands, fathers, and so on? Nope. Is there a cost to chasing them, i.e. a woman who does so cannot get the commitment from a guy worthy? Yes. All Buffy, Faith, and Anya were good for, was casual sex. For a decent, ordinary guy, with any attractiveness at all, they were not worthy to be LTR/Girlfriend/potential wife-mother material.

Sure, it's OK for a girl to get burned in HS, by a bad boy, not having sex (and the bonding that naturally occurs). It makes her appreciate the guys who offer other things. Chasing and catching bad boys has a cost though. The door opened to Edward Cullen, or Angel, or Spike (all basically the same guy with minor variations) closes the other doors: to motherhood, marriage, and family. With a guy who sticks around when the woman loses her beauty, as she always does.
Sculllaaaaaaaaay!: Dr. Horrible What?blackfrancine on June 26th, 2010 11:45 pm (UTC)
Re: Bad Boy Attraction Explained
I'm sorry--did you just say that it is inevitable that a woman becomes unattractive as she ages? Sue me, but I'm thinking that you may not have quite the insight on women that you think you have. Al Gore is not the image of sex appeal. Nor is any man on your list aside from maybe Bill Clinton--and there are plenty of women who are skeeved out by him. And all this might tell you: a man does not have to be sexy or "bad" in order to get laid. Different women (SHOCKER!) find different things appealing in men. And, HEY, guess what? The same is true for men. Many men (I'll even go out on a limb and say most men) find women of many different ages attractive. That you don't only shows that you have a narrow definition of beauty, most likely controlled by Maxim magazine (real brain food, there) and contributed to by your lack of any significant interaction with actual living women (This is just a guess--but I'm betting it's pretty spot on. Go ahead--tell me all about your girlfriend in Canada. I'll totally believe you. I bet she's smoking hot. I'll bet she looks like Elisha Cuthbert and that chick from Mad Men. Amirite?)

I think it is certainly up for discussion whether Spike or Angel would make good fathers--and I think they both would/do. See Spike's relationship with Dawn--which was PRE SOUL--for how he can be caring, protective, and fatherly. See Angel's willingness to sacrifice everything in the world to protect Conner. And the fact that you think Angel, Spike and freaking Edward Cullen are interchangeable leaves me speechless. Do a more careful character analysis. They are not really even similar.

And it's really charming how you assume that motherhood and marriage is something that women are ALL universally seeking, and it is therefore a sacrifice that they are gonna have to make in order to be in a relationship with a bad boy.

Actually, after I've already ranted, I'm realizing that you probably didn't even read the original post. Your comment has nothing to do with the bending of gender norms by bad boys or girls and in no way addresses that. So, score one for you, Mr. Anonymous Troll. Smart to post anonymously. If you'd put your name on it, we'd all know that you were a misogynist.

And sorry to anyone I offend with this rant--I just can't take this crap. It sets me off, and I can't stop myself.
Re: Bad Boy Attraction Explained - rebcake on June 27th, 2010 01:55 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Bad Boy Attraction Explained - flake_sake on June 27th, 2010 06:43 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Bad Boy Attraction Explained - flake_sake on June 27th, 2010 06:42 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Bad Boy Attraction Explained - shapinglight on June 27th, 2010 03:29 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Bad Boy Attraction Explained - flake_sake on June 27th, 2010 06:55 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Bad Boy Attraction Explained - gabrielleabelle on June 27th, 2010 09:22 pm (UTC) (Expand)