Home » Books » He’s Not a Bad Boy If He’s Just Bad

He’s Not a Bad Boy If He’s Just Bad

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a fangirl. But nevertheless, I’m pretty excited about the upcoming release of the second book in the Divergent Trilogy, Insurgent. The first book had its flaws but was still incredibly engaging.

I’ve only just dipped my toe in the Divergent fandom, a group that still developing itself. While there’s some cool stuff happening there, there’s stuff also that’s a little upsetting.

I’m not trying to get involved in shipping war. I don’t really care about romance in books, and people can like whatever couples they want. But there’s a common pairing that’s freaking me out. Frequently, I keep coming across reviews or posts that express a wish to see something develop between the main character Tris and one of her primary antogonists, Peter. My reaction to this is generally

In one review I came across, the reviewer said they wished the romance had been less “typical” and suggested that if it had been with Peter, someone who was dark and there was conflict with, it would have been more interesting. I’m sorry, this does not an atypical romance make. Pop culture, not just young adult books in fact, is littered with relationships like this, and it is not a good thing.

I can’t blame the girls who say things like this. It’s something that’s ingrained in us from pretty young. How many times have you heard a young girl complain of being picked on by a boy, and have an adult explain, “Oh, that’s just because he likes you.” This is an idea that is so commonplace, that pretty much every girl hears at one point in her life, but is actually extremely harmful. It teaches us that we should expect disrespect from men and that we should be willing to put up with this for their affection. This message is repeated in almost every form of media as we grow up. There are very few romances that I’ve encountered in books or TV or movies that don’t progress without bickering or conflict, sometimes pretty serious stuff too. Yet, the message is always that we ladies are supposed to stick it out and one day he’ll realize house elves really are people and every one will live happily ever after.

The funny thing is, Tris and Peter shouldn’t even be in this category. These are not two characters that spent most of the book arguing or making fun of each other. He molested her. I don’t know how to put anymore emphasis on it without writing it in massive red capslock. He molested her. Twice. He threatened to kill her and coerced one of her friends into participating, and if someone hadn’t come along and helped her, he probably would’ve gone through with it. Peter is not a bad boy. He’s a bad person.

This is a distinction that a lot of writers of young adult fiction are failing to understand. Kaia on Goodreads explained it pretty well in her review of the highly problematic Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick.

See, it’s simple: If the heroine feels like the bad boy is a danger to her, logically she cannot redeem him. The reason a girl tries to redeem a bad boy is because she sees the side of him that no one else is allowed to see. If she’s busy being terrified that he’s going to rape and/or murder her, that can’t happen.

Thankfully, Veronica Roth is most definitely not one of these authors. While not everyone is a fan of how Four and Tris’ relationship progresses, generally Roth writes them as supportive and compassionate towards each other, never threatening. When a fan asked on Tumblr about whether a romance between Peter and Tris was possible, Roth responded with this.

…People can root for whoever they want, and imagine whatever they want, it doesn’t really bother me. But my personal interpretation of the situation is this: Peter attacked her and humiliated her. He has no respect for her. (I don’t think even she quite realizes how bad the situation was, either, because sometimes it takes time for that revelation to happen, as people grow older.) If she went for him, it would mean that she’s lost a sense of her own worth, and while that does happen to people after trauma sometimes, it’s not something I would want for her— it’s something I would want desperately to rescue her from.

I love that Roth acknowledges that while relationships like this do happen, that’s not the type of story she wants to tell, and furthermore, its not the type of message she wants in her books. Finally, an author that is taking responsibility for the implications of the relationships they write, and choosing to give readers something they can take an empowering, positive message from.

If people can write fan fiction that explores this relationship, including the dark, angry side of it, I think that’s awesome. Some of my favorite writing explores some seriously heavy, dark shit. But I don’t think a lot of fans see Peter/Tris that way. I really think they think Peter is a viable, healthy love interest. And that is so sad its mind boggling.

It makes me incredibly angry and frustrated that this “Bad Boy” fixation has been taken this far, that readers can’t recognize a dangerous, unhealthy person even when the author makes it explicitly clear what kind of person he is within the pages of the book and out. But make no mistake, this is not an indictment of fandom, I don’t hold anything against the fans. It’s the dominant narrative in our culture, that boys will be nasty and mean and its a girl’s job to put up with it if she ever wants to get a man. The fact that it is so clearly affecting young girls that they perceive a dangerous male character as romantic or at least exciting just makes me want to throw things.

So, I’m excited about Insurgent. Roth is a gifted writer and an overall class act, and I do actually want Peter’s storyline to go somewhere interesting, and I trust her ability to do that well without turning him in Tris’ direction.

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