Romance myths and other grey areas

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.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

11 responses to “Romance myths and other grey areas

  • Relationship marlarkey

    Really enjoyed this! Be sure to check out my page!

  • landisvance

    We need new stories that are mythic because this starts even before Disney princesses. Only through the myths and symbols can we communicate the deep truths.

    In one book I read on women in business it discussed marriage as a business and that certainly jibes with my expierence – if you don’t have someone you can trust and that you are in sync with then the business of your life runs aground. My husband has not been that person and I have suffered from his weaknesses (which are only minimally abuse) because I did not believe in divorce. (I have harmed myself more with this attitude.) In ways it is paying off as we are now both ill with incurable diseases but it has and continues to hamper my expression of my creativity and my very self. So hearts and flowers are lovely (and can be a nice adjunct) but they should never be mistaken for what goes into a successful marriage and girls should not think that the norm is to wait on some decisive man to take care of them when 90% of the time the girls can take better care of themselves.

    • Nimue Brown

      So important to tell these stories too, and to tell stories with more possibilities in them. ‘Taken care of’ should be a reciprocal process, a part of how e engage with each other as humans, not a power dynamic. I hope that you are able to find some space for flourishing and creativity.

  • Joseph Hall

    Im not as impressed. You havent read the book, so why do you describe it as rape disguised as romance?

    You might be uncomfortable with the notion, but some women do seek strong, dominant men. No rape necessary.

    Your opinion here judges and condemns those women just as it does the men.

    And for the record, I didnt read the book either. But I did have a girl kneel naked at my feet and read parts of it to me.

    • Nimue Brown

      Every single account I’ve read of what happens, matches, and every single account reads like abuse to me. People I trust who have read it have been very clear, and friends in the BDSM community who read it were disgusted by the misrepresentation of what power exchange is and means. I understand power exchange, I understand D/s and I also know how happy abusers are to pass abuse off as all of these things. Consent matters, and BDSM is not about signing away all of your consent forever, its about negotiation and trust. And I have seen some excerpts and they strike me as highly problematic.

    • Nimue Brown

      A submissive is not a person who is powerless to refuse, a submissive is someone who chooses to say yes, and chooses to participate. There’s a world of difference between wanting to please and being told that you have to.

    • Lea

      I have read it. And i have happily lived as a submissive once upon a time. To compare the abuse in that book to the beauty of a healthy BDSM relationship is an insult. Yes, a few of the scenes would play wonderfully, if they were set up as scenes and if Grey was a dom who cared about his submissive. He is no dom and had no control over himself, nor does he attempt to control himself.

      Nimue, i think your post is well written. I did read the series, at the behest of a friend, and then so I could say that, yes, I do know what I’m talking about.

      • Nimue Brown

        Thank you for piling in, and for stepping up to the icky reading job. I just couldn’t bear to do it. really appreciate the insights.

      • Lea

        It helps that I have never been in that type of abusive relationship – there were no triggers – and that I have such happy and healthy memories associated with BDSM.

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