Saturday, February 13, 2016

Bad Boys, Wicked Women

“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.
Skye Taylor
Helena Fairfax
Rachael Kosinski
Anne Stenhouse
Connie Vines
Fiona McGier


  1. Hi Rhobin, I really enjoyed this month's topic. It's fascinated me for years. The ending of Grease is a marvellous example - I'm hopeless with names, but doesn't the 'bad' girl in it come good, too? anne stenhouse

  2. Yes, Rizzo played by Stockard Channing. (Love IMDB.) Another theme in stories -- two totally opposites becoming best friends.

  3. What a great topic this month. I enjoyed exploring it myself and reading all the other takes on the question of bad boys vs bad girls and why we like or dislike them. Also appreciated the comment about romance showing up in other genres more and more. One of my favorite authors (before he started writing with his son anyway) was W.E.B.Griffin. His books were all about the military life or that of the Philadelphia police, but his characters had love interests and as one book led to another in the series, marriages, families and realistic issues that people face after the ring is accepted. And that aspect of his writing was a departure from other male written military or police stories.

  4. Rhobin, you always back up your points with statistical data, and though I've probably pointed this out before, it always really impresses me. Also a great point on explaining how we ID with the heroine, so if there's some foxy temptress creeping in from the sidelines, we automatically hate her. Reading this also made me realize I haven't read many (or hardly any, actually) stories where the lead girl isn't strangely chaste and certainly doesn't run from guy to guy enjoying herself. Side female characters galore indulge in dressing to impress and having a good time, usually to the female MC's discomfort. Ha. Now I want to write about a "bad" girl!

  5. "We are all good girls at heart, aren’t we?"

    Um...nope. (Waves hand wildly.) See me over here? I detest virginal virtuous heroines who have spent a lifetime denying themselves sexual pleasure, then all at once, from the "magic peen" of a bad boy, they experience wall-shaking, earth-moving, screaming orgasms. Yeah, right. If you've never pleasured yourself, or even cared to experience sex, how the hell would you know how to relax enough to enjoy it? Totally unrealistic. Not to mention that the first time is often more painful than fun.

    I prefer heroines who embrace their sexual nature and enjoy giving and receiving pleasure. I'm the "bad girl" being watched and secretly envied, since I'm open about it and still a good man married me and we've been happy for over 30 years (and 4 kids.) So I write the kinds of stories that I want to read.

    Anyone interested in a bad girl as the heroine, should check our my "Only One Man Will Do." The heroine is a red-headed biker queen who threatened the hero in the first book in my Minnesota Romances series. And the title is a pun, since she has sex with all of the men in her gang, so the hero, an ex-KGB agent, has to convince her that she can be happy with only one man, and also that it has to be him. Of course there is a whole lotta hot sex...this is my most erotic book.

    And yes, Rhobin, thanks for such a hot-button (snicker) topic!