Never Go BackToday's Tune:
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So, last post, I was asked if I thought there was a literary equivalent to the "bad boy" trope for girls, aka a "bad girl" who follows an equivalent line -- sexy, impulsive, domineering, attractive, morally ambiguous (or leaning toward corruption), rough around the edges, shakes up the "good" characters, etc. I mentioned the character Amber from Malinda Lo's Adaptation, and although I don't think she quite fits the bill, she has some of the qualities.
However, my readers came to the rescue with several possible examples! From the comments on the last post, people suggested Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sharon Stone's character from Basic Instinct, Manic Pixie Dream Girls, Mandarin of Like Mandarin, characters from Courtney Summers' novels, and Alaska of Looking for Alaska. All very interesting choices.
Of these examples, Faith really leaped out at me, mostly due to her extensive character arc throughout several seasons of Buffy and Angel. I was also intrigued by the comparison to Manic Pixies, because I nearly made that comparison myself.
The thing that hung me up on Manic Pixies is that the character doesn't fit the same mold, exactly. That, and Manic Pixies are well known for being ideas rather than actual people; dreams or inspirations to guide the (usually) male protagonist out of his ho-hum life. They aren't typically "bad" so much as intended to define the existence of some guy through spontaneity and carefree spirit. Which from a gender standpoint is pointedly different from a "bad boy," who rather than being an empty shell for the female protagonist to fill is a defined person who often drags her around to his way of thinking.
There's a power imbalance with a "bad boy" that's not present with a MPDG. If a dude ever said, "No, I am not interested and you are of no value to me sexually or emotionally," then that would be it for the MPDG. The typical "bad boy," however, is the sort who doesn't take no for an answer and imposes on the heroine until she budges. These tropes can naturally be lampshaded or subverted in a number of ways, but for the purpose of this discussion, we're going with the typical version of said trope.
Now, let's talk about supposed "bad girls," shall we? BUFFY SPOILERS AHEAD.
Using Faith as an example, because I think she's a near-perfect one, we find a lot of the typical personality traits present in bad boys. She's angry, always looking for a fight, sexual/sexually experienced, comes from a shady background situation, wrong-side-of-the-tracks, shocks the "good" characters, morally ambiguous/corruptible, likes to wear leather, etc. This is mostly portrayed with a steady hand and Faith is considered to be confident, funny, a fun friend, and a good ally to have on your side.
However, things change for Faith. She's never really accepted into the core group, she's slut-shamed by Willow and others, she's rejected from sexual and romantic overtures, and her descent into going "dark side" is largely inspired by her need to feel respected, loved, and wanted. Some of these are elements that could be shared if she followed the line of the typical male trope, but generally speaking, a bad boy character may not be accepted by all the characters, but the protagonist and possibly several other characters warm to him and tend to stay warm. It's typically revealed that he's actually a "good person" behind a rough exterior. And he's never seriously slut-shamed for his sexual past/present.
Ultimately, the bad boy trope usually exists as a romantic metaphor for the sexual awakening of a (usually virginal or otherwise sheltered) female. He has a personality and a certain allure simply by being male and able to kiss her real good. This is where gender typing comes into play, bigtime. A bad girl in a heterotypical story can't be the romantic interest, so she doesn't hold the same allure and value for the heroine. If we're dealing with a male hero, the bad girl tends to be viewed as a heartbreaker, a bitch, a slut who makes him question his masculinity (again, speaking about the general tropes, not subverted versions).
Now when we edge more into queer theory and breaking down gender constraints, I think a whole new ballpark opens up. It's generally believed, and has (I believe) even been canonized, that Faith is hetero-leaning queer and definitely had some feelings, romantically or sexually, for Buffy. However, Buffy is canonically heterosexual, so the potential broken gender rules don't really stick. Also, though Faith may be queer, she identifies and presents as cisgendered female. Which basically undoes any kind of genderfluid or queer extrapolation on the bad boy trope that could be going on here. She is, at the end of the day, a woman who bucks societal norms and is unsurprisingly criticized/punished for it.
Which is not to say that Faith's characterization and arc aren't emotionally powerful, in character, and examples of strong writing. In my opinion, they are. However, when she's stacked against the bad boy trope, her experience is markedly different and colored by her sex, gender, and the characters around her.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Women do not and should not need to be exactly like a male equivalent in order to fit neatly into a trope box. Faith's character ends up being a lot deeper and a lot more emotionally complicated than many factory processed Bad Boys (TM).
Now, when the bad girl character is a love interest for another woman or otherwise genderqueer individual, I think the context can change. The element of sexual awakening is again present, in a more even-handed context since there's less of a sex-specific power imbalance. The attraction is back, as is the potential for change in the protagonist, but this time there could be the possibility for both characters to come at it on equal footing. I think there's a lot of gender deconstruction to explore here.
And then there's what happens when we move beyond using this character as a staple romantic interest and make them a singular character acting independently. What do they become then? Something different altogether? I'm not sure.
So... yeah. These are my thoughts!
What say you, readers?
Evil editor Classics
12 hours ago