Originally posted November 2003

Thanks for article inspiration to Jonathan, who pointed me to an LJ which made me initially start thinking about this. Thanks for suggestions on this article go to George, Ian, and Dave, who made it a better read. You all rock! ;-)

I've heard the plaintive question 'why do women want bad boys instead of nice guys?' so many times I finally had to answer. Short answer — they don't. They're doing what they're taught to do.

I've been considering this ever since I first heard the question in college. My answer then was a startled, "But they don't!" Since then — through personal experience, observation of those around me, and watching media portrayals of relationships — I'd have to say my answer is still correct, but I understand the empirical evidence behind it better now.

Let's look at this analytically, assuming a hypothetical young female who is interested in guys. What are her peers, society, and the media teaching her regarding relationships?

The media's job isn't teaching you how to find nice folks to hang around with. Its job to make you feel desperately inadequate, so you'll gratefully buy their products, with the implied promise of how 'cool,' 'hip,' or whatever else you'll suddenly become, after using them.

The media is really good at its job.

Here's an interesting factoid for you — a study was made of advertising models, to figure out what human body shape they statistically most matched. The results were eye opening.

Our society has an obsessive love affair with the body type which most matches… adolescent boys who are minors.

Don't think about that one too hard. It's kinda icky…

Have you ever noticed these carefully media-crafted roles are emotionally stultifying and impossible to fulfill? Have you ever critically analyzed how life is portrayed in the media? Our expectations are deliberately blown out of proportion to reality by the media — because comforting illusion sells.

Here's our hypothetical female, unable to be as thin, rich, or successful as the expensive, handler-driven, made-up models the media presents as the norm — which are frankly not normal. What alternatives are there?

Well… there's Barbie. As the bumpersticker says, "I want to grow up to be Barbie — that bitch has everything!" Unfortunately she's an impossible role model too. Normal humans just aren't shaped that way. However, our average young woman probably won't realize these body models are utterly incompatible. She's even less likely to laugh and say, "What nonsense those images are!"

A nice girl preferring a bad boy is an expression of a (peculiar) cultural norm: women nurture and civilize men, who consequently provide for them. So what would a nice boy preferring a bad girl be saying, in the societal rubrics we're speaking of here?

The implied expression would be of a male providing for an uncivilized, sexually free woman. While there are stories about this sort of idea, it is not societally seen as a good thing. Our society seems to believe men are supposed to be in control of women — not the other way around, and not a lack of anyone controlling at all. The fact this control-based rubric is horrifically damaging to those involved doesn't matter to the society or the media supporting it.

She may wonder what's wrong with her — why can't she be that way too? When she looks around, she'll see her peers are usually asking the same question, and doing their best to be sure all their peers feel just as inadequate as they. Society's doing its best to affect them too, after all — in the end, the media does nothing more but take society's existing rubrics to a profitable commercial extreme.

I do find it encouraging to see young women who appear to play a more self-assertive role — but is it really her? Yes, she may be wearing a shirt declaring, "Dump him!" However, has she truly decided to be an unabashedly self-aware woman… or is she just slavishly buying into the latest media-created role model for her gender?

Have you ever noticed how often women's magazines heckle and lecture? Some of the headlines are downright demanding: "Bedroom Dos & Don'ts" or "Must-Have Fall Fashions!" Why must we do what we're told in bed, or buy these new clothes?

Others seem to need to denigrate men in order to exalt women: "10 Topics to Turn Him Off" or "Younger Men! Enjoy One Today" or "7 Strange Ideas Guys Have About Sex" — do we really need to lie to guys, treat them like sex toys, or laugh at their misconceptions? Would we like that if it were done to us?

Read more on this subject in "Why Do We Ask Why Women Seem to Prefer Bad Boys to Nice Guys?" parts II and III

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