5 Ways We Train Teenage Girls To Love Psychopaths
If you're not a big fan of Lifetime, you may never have heard of the show You. It's about a woman being stalked, told from the point of view of her stalker. After its Netflix debut, it gained some popularity, which had the unsettling side effect of reminding the world that a lot of young women find murderers totally hot.
Girls flocked to twitter to praise the dead-eyed stalker at the center of the story. Actress Millie Bobby Brown even made a video yelling that this guy (who murders several people during the course of the show) is not creepy, "He's just in love." So why do young women look at this kind of psycho and say, "I hope that guy with a jar full of teeth under his bed is free for prom?" Well ...
We Don't Teach Girls How To Express Their Anger, So They Need A Surrogate
We describe teenage boys as "angry," but teenage girls are just "emotional." The difference isn't actually in how much anger girls feel, but in how they express it. Girls are three times more likely to self-harm than boys -- their anger gets directed inward. Instead of hating the world, we end up hating ourselves.
Think of all of the healthy outlets for anger that are provided for boys. Contact sports, slasher movies, aggressive music, violent video games -- those are all marketed to boys, always with the assumption that they're the ones who need a safe place to put that destructive energy.
It's not that girls are forbidden from doing those things, but culturally they're definitely discouraged. (The video game community is famously a kind and accepting space for a blossoming young woman, right?) In any movie or song intended to be shocking and aggressive, women are almost always going to be the targets of the violence, not the perpetrators. Society winds up sending the message that when it comes to rage, men are the source, and women the receptacle. So some girls take their anger and filter it through a "dangerous" boy.
There's a whole section of the fanfiction site Wattpad devoted to romances with serial killers, and they usually follow a weirdly specific template. Notorious hotty Freddy Kruger, fashion icon Jason Vorhees, and even up-and-coming crooner Jeff the Killer are all there. These tales often play out like this one on Jason. It in, the meet cute is that Jason murders all of the main character's shitty friends. There's no romance, just stabbing, because what the author wants from her relationship with Jason isn't love, but someone who can acceptably act out her rage.
We Tell Them Creepy Dudes Are Hot
What's hotter than someone who breaks into their girlfriend's house to watch her sleep (like Edward in Twilight), or who can't stop punching people (like Noah in The Kissing Booth), or who mutilates a woman (like Jughead on Riverdale)? The standard for normal behavior of a teenage boy in media is super low. Seriously, I googled "teen heartthrob," and the top results look like they could go above the words "still at large."
This isn't just a Hollywood invention. The trend of broody, aggressive, boys being glamorized as teen idols started way before the concept of teen idols even existed. The year was 1812, and Lord Byron's dick was wreaking havoc across Europe. Yes, the Byronic hero -- the template for the hunky, brooding, love interest -- was a man who probably impregnated his half-sister and drank from human skulls to show everybody how metal he was.
Oh sure, that character type existed before that, but before 1812, there wasn't a ton of concern for what women liked in a man at all. If you wanted to marry a woman, you just threw some money and goats at her dad, and bam, you're married. It wasn't until the 18th century that marrying for love became common, which is also when the Romantic genre started and the world first asked the question of what women want in a man. "I know, let's ask a man!"
So, thanks at least partly to Lord Byron, we landed on qualities like sad, cynical, and violent -- the dark and brooding type. Honestly, if I had to date a guy from an era when society had just decided women were more people than property, I can see where "hates people" and "leaves me alone" might be desirable qualities in a life partner.
So on top of everything else, there's a sort of a chicken and egg problem here. Do we write teenage boys as creepy because girls like that? Or do girls like creepy guys because we've been telling them to since the 1800s?
We're Really Bad At Portraying Abusive Relationships
If you go to any convention or other function in which you're allowed to show up in costume without people thinking it's weird, you'll see plenty of Joker and Harley Quinn couples costumes. If you hang around outlets in which young girls post memes, you'll see plenty of things like this:
At different points in DC cartoons, comics, and various adaptations, the Joker has choked Harley, thrown her out of a window, shot her, and left her chained in a dungeon to die. This does tend to get watered down sometimes. A scene in Suicide Squad wherein he punched her in the face was cut, which left them just looking like Bonnie and Clyde with pet hyenas and laughing gas. Damn, even I think that sounds fun.
It's hard to make healthy relationships that are fun to watch on screen (there's a reason TV shows almost always flounder after a "will they or won't they" storyline gets resolved). It's easy to make a bad relationship look exciting and cool, because that's the fantasy -- the partner who gives you permission to break society's oppressive norms.
So it's not that weird that Twilight has a whole subplot about a girl whose werewolf boyfriend permanently disfigured her after losing his temper during an argument. Of course, she still loves him, because he couldn't help it and now he's extremely vigilant about keeping himself under control. You know how guys like that are always able to keep that promise.
This has all been discussed elsewhere, of course, but even in an intentionally edgy story like Fifty Shades Of Grey, the morality police focused more on the consensual BDSM stuff, and not the fact that Christian pulls Anna everywhere like she's a rolling suitcase, isolates her from her friends, and tells her what she can and can't eat. And women love it! It sold 125 million copies.
Because romances have to have dramatic conflict, these dark outbursts are written as the obstacle the pretty people have to overcome, the midnight before the dawn. In real life, these arcs repeat themselves over and over -- lashing out, profuse apology, peace, lashing out again -- until it reveals itself to be a cycle that the victim can't escape.
They Can See Aggressive Men As A Shield
A 2016 study found that women who perceive themselves to be at greater risk of victimization tend to prefer physically formidable and dominant men. This is regardless of whether they actually are at a higher risk of victimization -- it's only their perception that matters. Well, let me tell you that no one on Earth feels more at risk than a teenage girl.
Little girls are beloved by society, while teenage girls are reviled. We hate the way they talk and dress. We mock the music they listen to, the TV shows and movies they watch, the books they read. When the backlash to Twilight occurred when it first came out, it wasn't driven by people calling it problematic; it was the world turning up their noses at these shrieking girls in their Team Edward shirts. Teenage girls are trendsetters, and every new fad is met with derision.
From a girl's perspective, overnight, grown men start flinching when you approach them, like there's a sign on your forehead that says "DANGER: DO NOT ENGAGE UNTIL OVER 18." Or even worse, men who've ignored you your entire life are suddenly way too interested, in a way that makes you super uncomfortable.
The idea of having a homicidal boyfriend to put between yourself and the rest of the world doesn't sound like such a bad idea. Especially because a lot of those guys who are way too interested in you won't respect you as a person, but will totally respect you as the property of another man. See, because then grabbing your ass would be like denting that scary dude's car, and he doesn't want any trouble. At the time, whatever leaves you unmolested sounds like a good deal, even if that big aggressive dude you're dating occasionally turns that aggression on you.
They're Empathetic At The Expense Of Their Own Safety
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, one common reason people stay in abusive relationships is that they want to help their partner, or believe they're the only one who can change them. They're trying to save an asshole from himself at the expense of their own safety. This urge is so strong that it manifests itself in even weirder ways. The Menendez brothers, Ted Bundy, the Night Stalker, and both of the Hillside Stranglers got married in prison. The Parkland shooter has already received hundreds of letters offering friendship, sympathy, and suggestive photos.
We've talked before about how men are taught that society owes them a pretty girl. Well, girls see those same messages, and what we learn is that we are a tool for making men better. We're what motivates a hero to get off his ass and be heroic, so that he can get a big old us prize! We could watch a whole lot of movies in which our only role is to be there to support or motivate a man.
Sure, a teenage girl might want to date Freddy Kruger so he can protect her and/or vanquish her enemies, but at the end of the day, she thinks he'll put away the claw hands and use his dream-haunting powers for good, purely through the healing power of her love. It's her job to help him realize his full potential, to tame the darkness inside him, and make sure he feels loved and supported through the whole thing.
And if he starts sleep murdering people again, well, society makes it clear: That's her failure.
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