Romanticised abuse | Bad boys

Join us. 
- Share examples of romanticised abuse you've seen in books, TV shows, or films.
- Please link to my blog as the original creator.
- This is not only about romanticised abusive relationships. It is about romanticised sexual assault, rape, and harassment, as well.
- This blog series explores and draws attention to themes of abuse in fiction. I will discuss sexual assault, abusive relationships, and rape. I will infrequently explore those topics in depth as the fictional example requires it. Please read on with care. These subjects could be triggering.

bad boys in ya fiction

What is a Bad Boy?

A "bad boy" in fiction is the guy who usually thinks of himself before anyone else, goes against rules and what is socially appropriate, and is typically mysterious, dangerous, and with a shady agenda and past. He's the opposite of the "angelic blonde goodie-goodie hero". He's the anti-hero. He borders dangerously close to being a villain, except his behaviour is apparently acceptable because he's good-looking and "loves" the heroine.

Bad boys in YA literature. 

We love reading about brooding anti-heroes with tragic pasts, angsty protective sides, and of course the ultimate six-pack and sexy wardrobe. Guys like Damon Salvatore, Jacob Black, Chuck Bass, adore them.  

But what puts me off bad boys, is that too often they're physically and psychologically abusive - if not to the heroine then to someone else - and they constantly disrespect their girlfriend or love interest. The problem with bad boys is that they're usually violent, sexually menacing, and ignore the heroine's sexual boundaries. They don't take no for an answer. They can frequently touch or sexually harass the heroine, and yet it's thought of as " hot" and romantic because it's so heavily romanticised. 

Personally, I don't find myself swooning over someone who ignores the "no" with a "I'll do it anyway because I'm hot and trust me, you'll love it". It isn't romantic. It isn't loving. 

But if these abusive relationships need to stop, that begs the question: if bad boys tend to romanticise abuse through their relationships, then should writers stop writing bad boys? 

That seems a little extreme, so below are some possible solutions. 

How To Avoid Writing Problematic Bad Boys 

1: Draw the line at sexual violence & assault. 

A boy can be bad without sexually assaulting the girl! Don't feel that in order to make your hero dark and dangerous you need to make him sexually violent, controlling, and sexist. Look at Nate from One of Us Is Lying; he's a criminal and the bad boy of the school. He's morally grey, and swoony because of it, but he never assaults Bronwen, touches her without her consent, or tries to control her. McManus writes a bad boy who doesn't abuse the heroine, and their kisses and interactions are still hot and sexy. More so because it's based on mutual consent. Consent is sexy, people! 

Another example would be Kaz from Bardugo's Six of Crows duology. Kaz is a morally grey character who does terrible things and fits the bad boy persona, but he never disrespects or assaults the female characters. He treats them like equals deserving of respect, and he's still protective of them. 
Thousands of readers love Kaz (myself included). Thousands also ship him with Inej (myself included). This proves that a bad boy and his romantic arc can be sexy, swoony, and shippable despite the fact the bad boy isn't abusive.   

2: Write good good guys. 

The reason so many readers favour bad boys - I think - is because the alternative is usually a boring, stereotypical, good male character who plays by the rules and doesn't have serious flaws. Come on. Bad boys are interesting because they have flaws, right? 

The sooner writers start writing three-dimensional, flawed, good looking good guys, the sooner we'll learn to love them. Look at Mal from Bardugo's Shadow and Bone trilogy. Most readers call him boring, annoying, and bland, and favour Nikolai (the trilogy's "bad boy") instead. Compared to Nikolai, Mal isn't as well written, as three-dimensional, or as compelling. Bardugo uses these two stereotypes very mildly, but it's still a point: Nikolai's morally grey with a winning, witty personality, and so we love him, but Mal has very few interesting qualities so we don't. Yet what if Mal was as well written as Nikolai? As three dimensional and rounded? We'd probably appreciate their characters equally. And maybe, we'd even prefer rooting for and swooning over the so-called good guy, instead of the bad boy. 

I do acknowledge that we're all different people with unique taste who inevitably favour one character more than another, simply because. It does depend largely on your personal preference.

3: Call out the sexual perversity for what it is.

If your bad boy is causing the heroine emotional distress or making her physically uncomfortable, treat that seriously! Let her get angry with him and call him out on it. Then, if you still insist they need to be together, have the guy apologise sincerely and have him work for her forgiveness. She should be furious with him, and he should genuinely change before they can even get close to each other again. 

But again, I personally think you're playing on very thin ice if your bad boy assaults your heroine and then, despite apologies and forgiveness, they end up together. I don't think that sexual assault is something you can easily come back from - if at all.

Writers, please write guys with flaws. But don't feel like you have to make them controlling, violent, and sexist in order to make them sexy and darkly appealing. When women are assaulted, in or out of a relationship, romanticising these horrific behaviours in fiction is dangerous. 

Boys can be bad. Girls can be bad. We're all flawed people. But do not write an incident of sexual assault into your book and label it as anything other than sexual assault simply because you think it's the only way to make a guy flawed and irresistible. 

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