There is a myth that what women want is a guy who is forceful and dominant. He shows up in films and romance fiction as the ‘alpha male’ – suffering from entitlement issues, a lack of sensitivity and an ego the size of a house. From such archetypes, a subset of young men, and perhaps older ones (I don’t see them so much on twitter) assume that being aggressive, pushy and demanding is what women want, and that the closer you get to raping women, the more they will want you. Mr Grey takes this unfortunate archetype to whole new depths, by all accounts. I haven’t seen or read 50 Shades and mean to keep it that way because rape described as romance makes me very angry.
What’s attractive about the alpha male romance? Often it’s the takedown. It’s the woman who has the sexual power, self confidence, virtue and strength to reduce the snotty, self important git to a pile of humiliated mush, willing to sacrifice all pride and dignity if only she will love him. It’s not the bad boy archetype that women are most usually attracted to, it’s the bad boy put on a leash and brought to heel. In many ways it’s the same as the attraction of the emotionally unavailable male (the Mr Spoks) and the allure of thinking that restraint and control might be breakable, for the right woman.
The trouble with these stories is that they encourage women to think that if you stick it out long enough and are good enough, the less than ideal bloke will be magically transformed into something you wanted. People only change if they want to, and taking someone on in the hopes of turning them into something else is seldom the best plan. Such stories as these also have some guys thinking that what women want is to be bullied and mistreated – mostly they don’t, mostly they want to rescue that kind of man from himself. On the whole it’s a story set that isn’t doing us any favours.
A man who knows what he wants is undeniably attractive, if he can ask for it, and if he can take no for an answer, and do so with some grace and style. The man who forces his wants onto others isn’t attractive. While we don’t have as many stories with the roles reversed, it should be equally true that a woman with the confidence to responsibly express what she wants is attractive, and a woman who tries to take, isn’t. The biology biases the probabilities a tad here, but there is more to failed romance than ugly, forced sex.
The stories we tell each other shape our expectations. It occurs to me that my mother and grandmother and many other women of their generations loved ‘Gone with the wind’ – a tale in which a snotty young lady who cares nothing for other people’s feelings or happiness, sets out to force her desires onto the world. She’s no kind of role model either, and romantic expectations based on that book and film combo would be about as unhelpful as the current shades of grey. Perhaps the rest of us could agree to leave Mr Grey and Miss O’Hara in the same cupboard, as possibly deserving each other, and come up with some better stories about human relationships.