Bad Boys: Why Women Love Them
Incels are right about one thing: women fall for bad boys. The reasons why are not what they think.
Incels’ core philosophy is this: women are ruined in the modern age (thanks, feminism!) and are so superficial and shallow that “nice guys” don’t stand a chance with them. In incel language, a “Stacy” (a hot, superficial girl) is only interested in fucking “Chad” (a hot, but bad, boy who is not chivalrous or respectful). Thus, “nice guys” are “involuntarily celibate,” or “incel.” The whole subculture revolves around this basic assumption that women only want bad boys who will mistreat them, because bad boys are the hot ones.
Ignoring the obvious problems with this worldview, it’s worth noting that it’s not only incels who assume that women prefer bad boys. It’s a major assumption in our culture, one gleefully portrayed in movies and TV shows that feature a geeky nice guy who eventually gets the girl, while the hot guys are shown as the ones who smoke, drink, and steal things. The women fall over the latter, while only ending up with the former after “coming to her senses.”
In a sense, these assumptions are correct. Women do fall for bad boys. But ,it doesn’t mean they only fall for bad boys. And it’s worth noting that men fall for bad girls (aka “femme fatales” in movie parlance). That’s because Bad Boys do Bad Things, and that includes manipulating their victims.
Bad Boys vs. Nice Guys
Bad boys aren’t necessarily super-hot, but in pop culture, they usually have a bit of a sexy mystery: they’ve got a ruggedness, an edginess, a smoldering exterior that thinly veils an aggressive, rules-be-damned attitude. They encourage a girl to release her wild side, but they won’t stick by her when she actually needs support.
Or, they actually want to kill her.
Nice guys, meanwhile, are portrayed as homely or uninteresting, and perhaps they only win the girl by exhibiting some bad-boy qualities. They’re soft and geeky, but their personality overcomes their looks (or lack thereof) in the end. Typically, their love interest finally falls for them upon learning how moral and courageous they are.
Why Women Love Bad Boys
In real life, bad boys aren’t necessarily low-key murderers or mysterious strangers, and nice guys aren’t necessarily quirky man-children or angsty superheroes. They’re people you know. And in the case of “bad boys,” this bad behavior can be a little more insidious than smoking in public or dressing in leather. Perhaps they use the pop-culture persona to create mystery and suck in their victims. Perhaps they mistreat women, but they “lovebomb” them first to ensure the women fall for them.
Let’s not begrudge women for falling for these games. It’s very hard to tell the difference between a charismatic nice guy and a charismatic narcissist or sociopath. The cynic in me fires up the “too good to be true,” but not everyone has been through abusive relationships like I have. I will never blame someone for meeting who they think is The One and then realizing it’s all a ruse.
What incels don’t realize is that plenty of men fall for bad girls. Just like bad boys, bad girls emotionally manipulate their partners. They lie and cheat, then blame others for their behavior. We fall for people like this because they excel at playing a game: they offer passion, devotion, compliments, and great sex that seem to make up for the “rough patches.”
Yeah, this is abuse. And bad boys and girls, true bad people, are abusive. When incels see a woman they like with another man, they’re inclined to believe that that man is (1) good-looking and (2) a jerk. Now, he may not be abusive. But incels’ assumption that he is, and Stacy went for him anyway, speaks to a larger cultural problem that’s not limited to incels: people assume that victims ask for it, that they willfully ignore giant red flags, that their selfish needs or superficiality leads them to accept abuse.
Countless studies have shown that people generally find a reason to blame victims for their abuse. This alarming trend is largely due to the Just World hypothesis that many people hold. People surmise that there must be compelling reasons to stay, because to leave is supposedly easy. In Australia, where inceldom and misogyny both thrive, many people believe that victims could simply leave abusive relationships if they really wanted to. If victims don’t leave, it must be due to the abuser’s money or attractiveness, critics reason. Pop culture, again, supports this idea: Buffy continually dates emotional/actual vampires, while Anastasia accepts Christian’s abuse disguised as BDSM.
Of course, we shouldn’t be too concerned with the opinions of incels, who, by any objective measure, are largely delusional and dangerous. We rather should be concerned with them as a group of the very “bad boys” they profess to hate.
In the meanwhile, it’s worth examining our assumptions about people’s love for bad boys/girls and how those attitudes permit victim-blaming. No one, male, female, or otherwise, ever deserves abuse by an intimate partner. The key is to stop assuming that the reasons are superficial and to start empowering victims to escape.
Rachel Wayne is a writer and artist based in Orlando, FL. She earned her master’s in visual anthropology from the University of Florida and runs the production company DreamQuilt. She is an avid aerial dancer and performance artist, and also dabbles in mixed-media. She writes nonfiction stories about herself and other awesome people, as well as essays on feminism, societal violence, mental health, politics, entrepreneurship, and whatever cultural topic strikes her fancy.
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