"Girls want bad boys" and "nice guys finish last" is something I remember hearing a lot growing up. One of the earliest examples I can think of is with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Almost every girl I spoke to fancied Spike and preferred him over Angel. Back then I just accepted it. I was never a big Buffy fan growing up and in fact one episode terrified me so much as a kid that I wouldn't go back to the show until I had left High School and had an extra two week holiday. With nothing to do, I ended up watching reruns of Buffy on Sky and found that Spike's transition from villain to reluctant hero was well written and presented fantastically. I could see the appeal but despite that, my favourite character in the "Buffyverse" is still Angel, especially since his spinoff presented the exact opposite, a morally righteous character who ends up corrupt due to- in Cordelia's words- making a deal with the devil. Of course Angel ends his story by biting the hand that fed him and continues his fight against evil. The thing with Joss Whedon is that he handles most subject matters perfectly. He took the "all girls want bad boys" trope and turned it into a well written storyline that was throughly explored through multiple seasons and even then it is dismissed in the final episode.
"I love you," Buffy says as Spike prepares to sacrifice himself, his character development now complete.
"No you don't," responds Spike. He knows she's only saying this to say thanks for the sacrifice he is making.
At the end of the day, Buffy acts as the exact opposite to trope expectations. We put Buffy on a pedestal as an example of what well-written female characters should be for a reason. Yes, she was a kick-ass vampire slayer but at her heart she was human. We saw her make mistakes. We saw her grow and, most importantly of all, she didn't let her feelings towards the men in her life define her as a character. Sadly this isn't the case for a few notable female characters. Let's start with Bella Swan and the Twilight series. I have never made any effort to hide the fact I hate this series. At first it was because I found Bella to be a whiny Mary Sue and just found the story flat out boring. Bella isn't an interesting character and it wasn't until further inspection of the series that I realised just how much I hate the series and what it was portraying. Edward Cullen, the character I had been told countless times was "perfect" was an abusive arsehole. He treated her like a child, he's controlling, loses his temper with her easily (especially when he sees her talking to other boys) and, let's not forget, ACTS LIKE A COMPLETE STALKER AND WATCHES HER SLEEP! Their relationship matches fifteen criteria for an abusive relationship. According to Dodai Stewart of jezebel.com this somehow makes him "more romantic"! Apparently teenage love makes everything more dramatic but here's the thing: Edward is not a teenager. He has lived for many years. He may look seventeen but he isn't, but yet he's telling Bella that he can't live without her? There's a term for that and it's called being emotionally manipulative.
Jump forward a few years and you have The Vampire Diaries. While the books predate Buffy the series very much feels like it's attempting to be both Buffy but with more "romantic" aspects of Twilight. I watched the series first so I'll talk about the books later on. Watching The Vampire Diaries in the early seasons you can see DNA from both Buffy and Twilight. Elena Gilbert feels very much an "in-between" of Buffy and Bella. She falls in love with a vampire easily but fights back, even when the odds are stacked up against her. She takes charge of the situation even though she occasionally needs rescuing. Stefan feels like he owes more to Angel than Edward, even though his scene entering the high school feels very Edward-ish. He's a romantic figure. He tries to do his best for Elena and her friends, but never once is he abusive and any out-of-character moments his when he's having withdrawal symptoms from blood (he's ironically a blood addict that brings out a darker attitude) and more than that he respects and trusts Elena.
But apparently this is boring.
Enter Damon Salvatore, Stefan's older brother. How is he introduced? By killing two people in the opening scenes. Standard stuff. He is a vampire after all. But then we see him try to manipulate the situation to his advantage. He doesn't like his younger brother at this point. One of his first acts in the series is to compel Elena's best friend Caroline and feeds and sleeps with her. He takes away her will, essentially making her his slave and sleeps with her. Misfits said it best when talking about taking someone's will away to sleep with them: it's called rape. Now I don't care what the writers say about this. They can deny it all they want. Damon is a rapist. He raped Caroline and then attempted to compel Elena to kiss him just to get back at Stefan. Now Damon has his own character arc of turning from antagonist to reluctant hero, only it's now handled well and the love triangle between Stefan, Elena and Damon is handled even worse to the point where it is insulting to both the viewers and the character of Elena. Elena was always loyal, kind and unselfish. She put her life on the line to save her friends and Season 2 is when we see the big difference between Stefan and Damon's approach with Elena.
As I said before, Stefan is trusting and respectful. Damon's response is to threaten to break her arm and carry her away. He tells her that she isn't allowed to make decisions anymore. Her life is no longer her's to decide what to do with. He decides whether or not she sacrifices her life to save her friends. He doesn't care how she feels. He doesn't care what she wants and when he can't "have her" his response is to abuse Andi, a news reporter in very much the same way he abused Caroline. In season 3 Stefan and Elena are separated because Stefan handed himself over to the antagonist to save Damon. This is supposed to show Damon and Elena growing closer during Stefan's absence, eventually leading to them getting together in Season 4. The only problem with this is that it is stated multiple times that Elena isn't interested in Damon and wants to bring Stefan home. Does Damon respect this? No. He goes and kisses her. When she tells him that "it's not right" his response is "it's right. Just now right now". By this point he has been supportive. He has been there for her in a time where she is vulnerable so why does his statement annoy me so much? Because it's there to cast doubt in her mind. It was emotionally manipulative. Later on Elena becomes a vampire and is Sired to Damon. Everything he tells her to do, she does it.
So they get together and Damon becomes aware of the Sire Bond. He's told he has to tell Elena to move on because her will isn't her own. Does he? Only after hesitating, showing his complete lack of respect towards her. It doesn't help that Elena's character had been completely rewritten to accommodate this change in pairing. And I'm not even kidding. The Elena Gilbert we had the moment she got with Damon was a completely different Elena Gilbert than at the start of the show. Her character was defined by her relationship and she became, as the show warned, the worst version of herself. The worst bit about it all was how the writers attempted to make the transition natural by having Elena go through all the moments she started to fall for Damon and the moment she finally did. All these moments being when she was with Stefan and the exact moment being when she was established to be looking for Stefan to bring him home and still madly in love with him. Somehow all these small moments she had with him were enough to make her completely forget how he had been abusive not only to her but to her friends and family, going so much as to temporally kill her brother and guardian.
And now onto book Damon. Book Elena is completely different from TV Elena. She's self centred and egotistical to the point where you question what anyone sees in her, apart from her good looks. You question what Stefan sees in her. Damon, again, is established to only be interested in her because of her relationship with Stefan and torments her. In one part he wants to feed from her but she outsmarts him so what does he do? Threatens to kill her little sister. He straight up blackmails her with her little sister's life being his bargaining chip. Now if it showed him becoming a good guy, maybe I could understand her falling for him, but the thing is she dies, becomes a vampire and immediately declares her love for him. Now it's put down to her transitioning between states but from that point on it is made clear that while she's with Stefan and loves him that she also loves Damon. She even sacrifices herself to save them both because she loves him. At the end of the series she and Damon get together. Now it was written by a Ghostwriter so the only way to find out what was originally intended to be the ending via L.J Smith's "fan fiction" trilogy. Either way, Damon Salvatore is a dick. I don't care how good looking he is in the show or the books. He's a dick.
And now onto Christian Grey. He pretty much ticks all the boxes and again, he is romanticised! This shouldn't come as a surprise. He was originally Edward Cullen is a Twilight fan fiction. I remember trying to read 50 Shades of Grey on my girlfriend's phone because I was bored. I stopped reading it the moment he attempted to having her phone tracked. I don't care if she was drunk when he arrived. He had no right to track her whereabouts and it suddenly threw him arriving at her workplace into a darker place. What's even worse is that all of Edward's abusive tendencies seem to have been blown up by a hundred and it's all covered up with the whole excuse that he's into BDSM and is a Dominant. Sure, that would be plausible if it wasn't for the BDSM community making it very clear that what he's doing isn't BDSM and his and Ana's relationship is not an accurate representation of the Dom/Sub relationship. He tells her that he is unable to leave her alone but tells her she can leave anytime she wants. It's confusing and emotionally manipulative! He follows her to her mother's house without her knowing about it! That's not being a Dom in a Dom/Sub relationship. It's being a stalker! And what drives the point even further is that Ana is uncomfortable with the supposed Dom/Sub situation throughout! Christian Grey is not a Dom! He's a sexually aggressive arsehole!
Why have I decided to write about this now when I've had a problem with all these characters, Edward and Damon especially, for awhile? Earlier this week I was on my WattPad app out of sheer boredom when I saw a cover for a fan fiction story. It was romance story and on the cover it displayed the words "possessive, obsessive, unhinged" and I stopped. They had used these words to describe their male lead and romanticised being possessive, obsessive and unhinged to get people to read their story. These three things, which are key to any abusive relationship, were being glorified and this isn't the first case on WattPad. The most popular story, After by Anna Todd, tells the story of a fan fiction version Harry Styles (ugh) falling in love with a girl called Tessa. What follows is yet another abusive relationship. I've seen fan manip photos taking images of Harry Styles and Indiana Evans, the character reference for Tessa, and putting their lines from the book on top of them and they are frightening! Again, I've never wrote anything until now because none of these books promoted just how abusive their characters were until I saw that one story this week that used it as a promotional hook.
I know people who have either been in abusive relationships.
It's not healthy or romantic and it needs to stop being portrayed as such.