Monday, March 2, 2015

Why Men Don’t Have to Worry about Literary Hunks

So, she’s fan-girling out on some fictional character. Okay fine, you say. She keeps talking about him. Alright, it’s a book she loves, understandable. He’s her screensaver. Annoying, but she should see yours. She begs you to read the book. Because you love her, you do. (Also because you want to have more arsenal to bitch about it.)

You find out that he is a colossal, unappealing jerk, whose only real merits seem to be his money and his looks.

Is that what women want? Really? She’s head over heels in love with this bland, personality-void, stalker?

Now you’re getting nervous.

Well, good news. It’s not as bad as you think.

1. Let’s start with looks.

I’ve come across a couple of men who complain that women want their men to look like this:

And now I have this picture saved on my computer, hoping no boyfriend finds it ever.

For me to clarify why this shouldn’t be a concern of yours, let me let you in on a little anecdote: When I was in college, my best friend was a gay man. I came to find that his interested in men was not really similar to my interest in men—we vastly disagreed on the guys we thought were cute (usually). One day I went into his dorm room and he had a poster of a half-naked guy on his door.

“Isn’t he hot?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

Guess what he looked like?

See, what I’ve come to find is that what men think women want is more akin to what men want.

The “bigger is better” attitude is not strictly limited to guys, but there does seem to be a consistency in the male culture.

Some women like that kind of thing, of course, but often body builders are not our forte. Actually, it should be noted that most women disagree on what an attractive male is. Women divide drastically in who they find appealing and who they don’t… in men. (While if you asked several different women what women were beautiful, we’d be more likely to agree.) If you study the leading heroes of female-centric films, they often don’t have a lot in common. Different hair styles, drastically different facial structures, skinny Edward to the hulk that is Jacob. I think this is simply because feminine beauty is well defined for all genders where as masculine beauty tends to be swept under the rug, talked about in only specific circumstances.

The characters usually do have muscles, I’ll admit and take their shirts off readily, but you’ll note that they are more “defined” and less “colossal.” Some guys are just stick figures with a few faint shadows here and there.

 There is a reason why women are drawn to textual books instead of visual porn. We can implant any looks we want into the character. If you read the description of these men, it usually just says “gorgeous” in a bunch of different ways, often skipping over what the guy actually look like. This makes it so that women with diverse tastes can read the same book and be entranced. It is also why an actor casted as a male-love interest will get a lot more hell then an actress adapted from the book. Seriously, when was the last time you heard, “Emma Stone looks nothing like Gwen Stacy!” (I’m sure there’s some) But check out the comments on Christian Grey or Jace Herondale and they get downright prolific and horrific.

Just like there are butt guys and boob guys, there are face girls and body girls, hair girls and demeanor girls. What a girl is primarily attracted to can be drastically different than what her friends are. And two body girls might have a totally different ideal even though they both look for guys with a good physique.

It should be noted that females tend to be more oriented around the nuances of a situation, the trees instead of the forest. For instance, a big basis of attraction for me has more to do with the way a guy holds himself than his actual body type. The same guy could be gangly and awkward one moment, and the next, gain control of his limbs and turn completely sexy. Many girls don’t look for actual features as much as attitude and personality, which is why that ugly confident guy (you know you know one) can always get laid somehow.

If you’re dating someone and she really does love you, there’s a decent chance you’re her “type,” and you’ve always been. Or, in some cases, her attraction to you made whatever is true for you attractive by association. She wasn’t attracted to redheads before, but after you, a full-blown ginger, and her have broken up, she can’t get enough of them. And if you are single and feel unattractive, there’s a good possibility that it takes just a few little changes (better fitting clothes, better hygiene, assured posture, different hair style) to make you attractive.

2. Fiction has always been about safe danger.

Some romance novels are downright kinky. Many times they can be disturbing. They can get a lot of crap for promoting abuse as love, often considered incredibly sexist and a step backwards. While I don’t condemn these complaints as without merit, it should be recognized that most fiction is about having a seemingly dangerous element in an actually safe place. Like a rollercoaster.

Take any of the popular books and movies. Do you actually want your grade school years to be tormented by a dangerous serial killer on the loose, with teachers and friends all possible traitors who too might just try to literally stab you in the back? No. But that doesn’t stop people from liking Harry Potter. Do you want to be forced into a marriage that you don’t want only to find your true love and have him die in a horrible manner? Titanic was a blockbuster hit. Taken, Saw, Lord of the Rings even movies like Old Yeller have all kinds of events that no one is interested in actually experiencing. But it’s exciting because you’re watching it from a safe place.

The main thing that makes stalkerish romance novels romantic is that the reader knows the guy truly loves the girl, and his insane actions just prove that. In real life, someone acting like that probably doesn’t love her and is more acting off of a deranged fantasy or just selfishness. When a guy stalks a girl in real life, he usually is an egomaniac or narcissist, and maybe even has certifiable delusions of grandeur. He doesn’t love her, he loves an idea of her, or just himself and the rejection is too much to accept. It isn’t safe, because while fictional characters are protected by “love” this is unlikely in real life.

The reason why these romance novels scare so many people is because, unlike most movies, they are more common in the real world. There are a lot of women subject to this exact kind of abuse, some even trying to legitimize it in their minds and allowing it to continue. Possibly because they can’t get out (financial reasons, social reasons, fear of physical harm), possibly because they don’t want to. And for that purpose, I am not entirely critical against the backlash against these books, though I do stand by the rights for these books to exist.

But what men should know about girls reading these stories is that they don’t necessarily want to date the men in the stories, or that they necessarily want the events to happen to them. There’s a decent chance that they’d love to role play it—be tied down by a man who, in reality, they love and knows respects them (safety), but pretend he’s a complete stranger (danger). What they want in the bedroom might not be want they want in real life, (a woman might love being told what to do sexually but despise it otherwise) and what they fantasize about may not be anything they actually would like to happen to them in the real world.

3. It’s porn.

That’s what you’re saying!

I don’t mean to put down the genres of either romance or erotica by suggesting it’s “just porn.” There are many books in these categories that I found to be literary works of genius. Okay, some. But I’ve also happened to find complete crap that really just did the trick.

Most times women pick up romance novels to get off. If we were to be completely honest about it. This is why crappy romance/erotica books sell better than a crappy book of any other genre. If you grab a “love-story” that happens to have developed characters, actual stakes, and ends with a meaningful, deep feeling, then that’s just an added bonus. But that’s often not the primary goal.

Think about all the times you have been turned on by something to later go, “What is wrong with me?” Think of the porn you might have watched in which the characters lacked any depth or personality. How many characters—not actresses, but characters—would you actually want to be in a real life relationship with?

It’s well known that it’s easier to get men off than it is for women. Men are primarily visually stimulated where females are, again, more about the nuance. Foreplay is important, atmosphere and emotional bonds tend to help. So of course our “porn” is a lot more complicated and requires a 30 page background story before getting to any of the good stuff. But at the end of the day, it’s the same basic formula as male-centric porn—Come up with a situation, stick two sexy people in, and ta-da! You’ve given the people what they want.

A lot of romance novels don’t have great character development. (Romance authors know that better than anyone.) That’s because often it’s the situation that’s important, not who’s in it.

4. Women don’t always see themselves as the characters.

This is important to realize from an author’s standpoint; there are two types of readers. One, those who see themselves as the characters, two, those who see themselves with the characters.

Some people fluctuate back and forth, some people don’t ever change in their entire lives. Men tend to be of the first category—seeing themselves as the characters and not diverging from that, women tend to see themselves with the characters. My speculation is that, for people who gender-identify (i.e. have a hard time seeing themselves or wanting to be someone of the opposite gender), men have more options than women.

Not only are there more male protagonists, but in most films and book, if you don’t particularly like the male protagonists, there are probably some supporting characters you can identify with. Women usually get one obnoxious know-it-all love-interest who is pretty much just a buzz kill, but with a license to kill (and that’s supposed to make up for it).

So, we are more likely to not identify with any of the characters, but rather empathize with them from a third-party standpoint.

There is not a single thing in Edward Cullen I would want in an actual boyfriend. (Okay, fine, superpowers would be awesome, but I mean, obviously.) He seems to lack passion in anything except for Bella, has no ambition or drive, he’s not particularly funny, doesn’t really have a way with words—with maybe the exception of his “romantic lines.” He’s pissy and broody, won’t go after what he wants and instead makes the “right” decision for her (I cannot even begin to explain how much I hate when a guy does that.) But, I still liked the story.

Why? Because I wanted to see Bella and Edward together. He’s not for me, but Meyer definitely had a way of making me want to see them happy, even if it was in a somewhat melodramatic way.

Same goes for Buffy the Vampire Slayer which is my favorite television show of all time. Spike I love beyond all belief, but again, not necessarily for me. I mean, he does have traits that are appealing, but on the flip side there’s that whole “safe danger” issue. Half the shit he does that makes me love watching him would be completely inexcusable in real life. You know, like murdering people.

I still have dreams about Spike. However, it’s in third person. (Which is actually fairly common for me.) Even if I’m actually in the dream, it still plays out like a new episode where I watch Buffy and Spike get together. Because I want Buffy and Spike to be together, not Buffy-mask Charley and Spike. That’s just weird.

It’s a strange form of voyeurism I suppose, but for women the romance can come from empathetic yearning, and just wanting to see those characters get what they want, not necessarily from her wanting to be that girl. (Who seriously would want to be Bella?)

5. Good fiction is about ticking readers off.

A great author frustrates the audience. He refuses to give the reader what she wants, promising that maybe, just maybe, if she’s a good girl, she will finally get the cookie in the end.

The key to a successful story is to make the reader want something, imply that it might not happen, make the reader want it more, make it look like it’s probably not going to happen, give them a little taste of what they’ve been waiting for, make it seem like it’s never going to happen, then give it to them. (Or, in some cases, not give it to them, which can be brilliant… or might just piss everyone off for good.)

I say this because no one wants to deal with ninety percent of the drama these guys put these girls through. I mean, okay, maybe a little. The chase can be fun and the pain can make the good moments feel even better. But it’s still fiction, and it’s about preventing the reader from getting what they want so they stay hooked.

I hate relationships where I feel like I have to be a bitch to keep someone interested, so I’m sure guys hate it when they have to be dicks too. The good news is that the guys in these books are often jerks more for the dramatic arc, to enhance the satisfaction when he stops being a bastard, than actually for the immediate pleasure of the readers.

6. The money…

Especially with the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey out right now, some men have been complaining about how women just want billionaires.

Look, it’s fiction. It’s self-pandering fiction. It can be the worst form of self-pandering fiction you’re going to find. You can make any kind of guy in the world and give him any ridiculous sort of characteristics, why the hell would you not make him rich? These books aren’t selling because of moderation.

If I could make the man of my dreams swimming in money of course I would. And yes, there are greedy trophy wife wanna-bes; it’d be stupid to pretend they don’t exist. But there is a difference between handing your already silver-spooned character a million bucks and actively making that your priority in the real world. Truth is, if a girl is only interested in your money, then you only have to worry about it if you actually have any. Otherwise, she would have never given you the time of day in the first place. Are you a billionaire? Then the girls who only want billionaires will never bother you.

(And if you are upset about the lack of female attention you're currently getting, it probably isn't contingent on how much you make. Girls date poor guys all the time. It is more likely that the issue is somewhere else, and is honestly easier to fix. A decent number of men who complain to me about not finding women don't leave their house except to go to work, for example.)

They joke about Christian Grey only being sexy because he’s rich, but really he’s sexy because the book just says he’s sexy over and over. Picturing a toothless, meth-pocked guy following you around is very different than some flawless, confident guy in a wife beater and tattered jeans. There are actually plenty of romance novels in which the guy is poor but hot. Recently I read a book about a guy in super debt because he has a gambling problem and is being chased by the mob, the rich heiress needing to come in and save him.

It’s a fantasy, so yeah, money is often involved. But never assume that a girl is looking for a guy who can support her until she does something to prove it. It’s true for some women, and you have to be careful, but there are plenty it isn’t a priority for, and nothing is less attractive than a man who thinks women are all money grubbing whores. Except for maybe being toothless.