“Bad bad, bad, bad boy, you make me feel so good” (Bad Boy lyrics, Gloria Estefan song).
Have you ever wondered why bad boys (and men) are so prevalent in romance novels, and conversely, why bad girls are so often reviled?
Well, presumably this theme developed because the predominately female audience buys these stories—lots of them. Matter of fact, women often drive the market. They read more fiction than men in general. An NPR article on books states “Men account for only 20 percent of the fiction market, according to surveys conducted in the U.S., Canada and Britain.” This may well explain why romance has become so large a part of other genres since they began crossing and melding first in e-books. Now mixed-genres have become standard in major publishing house novels
One reason to read is to escape day-to-day life. Romance is a constant and reoccurring aspect of life driving the marriage industry, and romances let readers escape back into the anguish and doubt-filled, heady, hormonal, crazy, first moments of love. This might also explain why bad girls are reviled. They are inevitably the seductive, experience, unethical competition the heroine, with whom the reader most closely identifies, must overcome. (We are all good girls at heart, aren’t we? Who roots for the competition? However, a caveat: even a 'bad' woman's story could be very interesting.)
But what is the allure of the bad boy? In most ‘bad boy’ narratives, the at-first wary female changes the roguish male into the love-match of her dreams, but much of the charm depends on how the ‘bad boy’ is defined. The more noxious the author makes the male, the harder it is for love to convincingly convert him. Promiscuity is most often serial monogamy and fairly easy to overcome. (But even that is changing with the expansion of erotic moments in basic romances.) Yet the male finds something so special in the female that he must have her, and only her. When she resists because of his reputation, his love forces him to change. This knowledge builds the heroine’s, and the reader’s, feeling of self-worth.
Maryanne Fisher, in a Psychology Today post, claims that romances let the woman reader experience the emotional roller-coaster of a love affair without the physical betrayal of whoever she is involved with or damage to that real-life relationship. I’ve also read (albeit, a long time ago) where claims have been made that all characters in a book reflect the mental merging of all aspects of a single personality. Hmm; could this mean we must all learn to love our bad sides? Maybe that was philosophical based novels; interesting, but too much psychobabble for me. Certainly all types of fiction can have a profound effect on the reader from helping them learn about themselves or humanity, to learning how to ‘fit-in’ or deal with society. And if the reader does take on aspects of the character they identify with, I’m sure all women readers like to share the feeling that they are so ‘special.’
Certainly, life experiences and idioms like tigers can’t change their stripes, or leopards' do not change their spots, give fair warning that these type of pairings often lead to future disaster. But that is real life and this is fiction—or make-believe. Nonetheless, when audiences hear Danny and Sandy singing “You’re the One That I Want” in the movie Grease (another story form), they understand that both characters have substantially changed. Maybe that’s the message: hope makes all things possible.
For more takes on the bad-boy phenomena, check out the following Round-Robin blog posts.