The Undeterred Male: Sexy or Sexist?

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May 22, 2013 by Kira Lyn Blue

My fabulous critique partner Hope Cook, linked an article recently that has me… uneasy:  Rape Culture in Popular Culture. I’m feeling uncomfortable as a reader, a writer, and a woman by the point the author brings up, so, of course, I have to write about it.

The article boils down to this point: The undeterred male in romance is an example of rape culture.

Wait… what?

The use of the phrase has my hackles up. Anytime anyone drops such a charged expression, I find myself immediately jumping into Devil’s Advocate mode and wanting to argue against it. The words sensationalism, hyperbole, and hypersensitivity whirl through my mind in an angry tempest. Especially in this case, since I tend to enjoy a good romance book with an undeterred male love interest.

So, what’s wrong with an undeterred male? The article states that:

“When a man is pursuing a woman and will not take no for an answer, no matter what his reasons, what he is really saying is: “I know better than you.” The message that he’s sending is, “my opinion/feelings/beliefs are more valuable than yours.” When, in a movie or book or television show, a man wins over a woman after repeatedly being turned down, what we, as the audience, learn is, he was right and she was wrong. We learn that, at the end of the day, men know what’s best for women.”

My immediate reaction to this statement: “Oh, come on. Really? Aren’t you reading a bit too much into this?”

Then, I thought about it some more.

I am sticking by my gut instinct that linking the undeterred male in romance to “Rape Culture” is extreme, which makes me want to discount this article because it makes me feel like the author just dropped in a hot buzzword to grab the attention of web search engines. However, if I step back and ignore the hyperbole, does she have a point?

It does seem generally true that we have this notion that a man who has picked a certain woman and pursues her relentlessly is romantic. Why? I think I can answer that: it means he’s decided she’s special. When you distill a woman’s desires down to the most basic level, she wants to be special to a man. So if he pursues her with single-minded dedication to his goal of claiming her, he’s basically declaring her a treasure. That is romantic.

To a point.

The construction of the relationship in the book/movie/etc. will determine whether he’s actually being romantic or if he’s an obsessive, selfish, stalkerish freak show. And I could name plenty of poorly written stories where the man’s obsession with a woman makes no sense or is based in owning her like a possession rather than claiming her as his partner. These are the types of books I don’t finish reading or, if I do, hate myself for holding out hope that the writer would make it right in the end.

But, let’s get back to the author’s point that this undeterred male concept is sending the message that men know better than women. I really, really tried to think of evidence to refute this claim. While I could argue my “the undeterred male is merely proving that he believes the woman to be a treasure” argument, it can’t stack up against one unavoidable fact:

There is no undeterred woman in romance fiction.

No, wait. That’s not true, is it? She’s there, lurking in the shadows as the delusional ex-girlfriend who’s determined to get her man back at all costs. In fiction, the undeterred woman is always a villain or at least the antagonist of a sub-plot. She’s reviled, detested, disparaged and sent packing with her tail between her legs for being a fool not to give up on a man she loves. Okay, I’m hyperbolizing a bit. She’s ultimately hated because her character really is a nasty piece of work and she does despicable things in her attempts to re-claim “her man.” I have seen plenty of male antagonists with similar characteristics.

The point is that I have yet to see an undeterred female presented as a protagonist.

Why is that?

Why is it not romantic for a woman to see a man as a special treasure to be pursued? Why is it that the image this paints in my mind is a pathetic, needy woman but the undeterred male is strong and determined?

I could argue that being the one being pursued puts the woman in a position of strength. She’s the one with the power to determine her suitor’s happiness in life if she will only accept him. The burden of proof falls to him. He has to do all the wooing and she ultimately decides if he’s worthy of her love.

Part of me says this should be the natural order of things. Prove yourself to me you unworthy, unwashed male! Prove your undying devotion and maybe, just maybe, I’ll deign to bless you with my favor. I am woman. I am powerful because I control the nookie!

Oh shit. I’m sexist.

Herein lies the problem with debating this topic: the sexist attitude goes both ways. Are these gender roles normal and acceptable? Are they inevitable because of the inherent differences between men and women?

Ultimately, I think whether the undeterred male is sexist depends on the relationship the author presents in the story and what kind of power balance (or imbalance) there is between the man and woman. What I won’t subscribe to is that it’s evidence of rape culture.

What are your thoughts? Is the Undeterred Male sexist or sexy?

 

 

 

 

 

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39 thoughts on “The Undeterred Male: Sexy or Sexist?

  1. katemsparkes says:

    Initial gut reaction follows, beware…

    Based on that quote, I’d have to agree with the article. I’ll never understand the attraction fictional stalkers– I mean, undeterred males. I think part of the problem that no one talks about is that it’s “sexy” in the book because this is a man that we know the female is ultimately going to want, who the distanced reader thinks she would want were she in the woman’s shoes (OK, usually I don’t agree, but that’s the idea). Imagine if he was ugly, or emotionally wounded in a less-acceptable-to-the-reader way. Wouldn’t fly, would it? We accept that it’s OK for a man to force himself on a woman as long as he’s attractive, or she’ll really like him once she gets to know him.

    Um… no. I do agree that fiction isn’t life, but it terrifies me when I see thirteen year old girls saying that they want a relationship like this (guy pushes himself on her, breaks into her room to watch her sleep, whatever). No should always mean NO, whether the underterred love interest is male or female. I’m not saying he can’t try to be friends with someone who rejects him or win them over through kindness. Woo away, unless she says “no” outright, and then he should back off immedeately and permanently. But a lot of fictional men push themseves on women in a very physically or emotionally aggressive way, and it sets a horrible example. The more men get away with this in books, the more we’re conditioned to accept it as “romantic.” In real life, these guys aren’t people who would be worth spending your life with.

    I’m not saying people shouldn’t write it, or read it, if that’s your thing. As long as we’re all aware of the fact that in real life, this would be a horrible, horrible thing, and the guy should have a restraining order against him, and this is not something we should aspire to in real life. 🙂

    (In my own writing, I’m a big fan of the unequivocal “yes.” Not saying no is never good enough. She has to want it as bad as he does and be able to say so, or he’s going to pay for it later. Then again, I also tend to let them give that “yes” without being judged for it, but that’s a WHOLE other issue! Also, I don’t write perfect men, but I also hope that readers would understand that they’re not people you’d love in real life…)

    • Kate comes out with a power argument! Ouch, hang on. Gimme a minute to recover.

      I see two sub-arguments I want to address: 1) Messages sent to adolescents versus what adults choose to read and 2) The “no.”

      1) I agree that I don’t want the stalker dude to be held up as a something for men to aspire to, which is one of my major complaints about the Twilight series. Hello, creepy. However, there are some interesting, if disturbing human emotions to explore around the undeterred male that may make for intriguing novels for adults. Which gets us into the sticky territory of “should we really be reading that?” Yeah, I can’t answer that one.

      2) I also agree that no means no. It is unacceptable for a man (or woman) to aggressively force himself into someone’s life. Then again, I kind of think it depends on what kind of “no” she gives him, and before anyone calls me a rape apologist, let me explain.

      In fiction, the boundaries set by the “no” determine what I would accept as appropriate behavior from there on out. If she told him to f&^k off and leave her the hell alone and he does not, he is wrong. Period. If she said, “We can be friends, but I don’t want to date you,” I think he has the right to remain part of her life and wait to see if her opinion changes. It would still be unacceptable for him constantly ask her out on dates, make sexual comments, badger her family or friends into pressuring her, etc.

      I have read some truly remarkable romances where the man playing the waiting game eventually wins, if he respects her boundaries. Those I can endorse.

      • katemsparkes says:

        Completely agreed. Starting with the second one: I’ve rejected guys (that sounds so harsh…) who I really still wanted in my life, just not in that way. As long as they respected that (and I respected them by not leading them on), why would there be a problem? It’s these characters who think they know better than to accept a “no” at face value… ick. And yeah, the wishy-washy female character who leads on friends because she wants to be admired? I hate her at least as much as that guy. -_-

        As to your first point, you’re absolutely right. I don’t think any experience or emotion should be off the table for writers; that’s a writer’s job, for goodness’ sakes. Perfect characters are boring, and they SHOULD screw up, even in ways that might be irredeemable, even if one of those ways is being too pushy with a lady-friend. It’s just when the writer clearly holds this up as a romantic ideal instead of a major flaw to be overcome that I put down the book and back away slowly, and that seems to happen a lot. I think “should I be reading that?” depends on what you like to read; I also think that critical thinking should be applied to entertainment.

        f I write a guy who lies to a woman he’s falling in love with because he thinks it’s best for her, I hope readers will identify that as a horrible thing to do and not think it was super-duper romantic. I guess you never know, though.

  2. Glynis says:

    Reblogged this on The Between and commented:
    Kiralyn has a point in this informative post. I haven’t written any stories where the man pushes his way to a woman’s life, who has repeatedly said no or left a window open, as some like to put it. No real woman can ever be persuaded to change her mind, no matter the situation. It’s all fantasy, but most people can’t determine real from fantasy.
    I mean, yes it’s a woman’s right to change her mind, but that is another stereotype that we as woman shouldn’t allow. That stereotype has led to men, woman too, to think that a raped woman, first said yes, and then changed her mind. Ridiculous! Yet, there are people with that mindset. We don’t say that about a man, because if he continually changed his mind, he is given a negative term like wishy washer. Wow, I’ve gone off track.
    I’ve read the latest versions of the, so-called, YA and adult novels with this theme of the undeterred male, and wonder, what’s wrong with this picture? It’s not just in the books, but on television and movies. Luke raped Lori, but he knew she loved him, they get married and the world cheered. WTF!
    No, means no, and no matter what form or fashion it’s written in. There is nothing romantic about a man constantly pressuring you, after you told him no, or maybe, or we can be friends. The very idea of that seems, as some kind of romantic gesture, is shocking to me. Which is why, I never write romance novels. The whole format is ridiculous.
    The undeterred man in most, if not all romances, is a classic stocker type. Look the term up that is why so many young girls end up starry-eyed at some male, unaware of the dangers. It’s alright if he wants to come through my window and watch me, he loves me, what? He can follow me around, that’s okay he likes me? Crazy!
    How are our young girls to know, what is acceptable behavior in a boy/man, when what they read, see and hear is the kind of fantasy life presented of the undeterred man? They romanticized a dangerous boy, who beats them, rape them, or put them out on the streets, because they have idealized the male and female roles from what they’ve seen in our culture today. We as writer and readers should change this view of the romanticized undeterred man. I say we must change this for our future. What say you?

    • Let’s be clear, just because a man is obsessed with a woman does not automatically make him either rapist or sexist. How he handles his love and obsession is what will ultimately define his character.

      There are many different flavors of undeterred male in romance fiction. The rapey, stalkerish, abusive guy is only one of them. I agree that this is not something I want held up as a romantic ideal. I have seen quite a few novels, especially in PNR that excuse this type of behavior because he’s a vampire or werewolf and it’s just “his nature.” I am more disturbed at this trend showing up in YA than in adult fiction because I do fear the message it might be sending to kids.

      As adults, I’d like to think that we can draw the line between fantasy and reality. That we can look at fictional relationships with a critical eye and see what message the author is trying to send about characters with potentially irredeemable qualities. As Kate was saying, I am not opposed to a flawed man who may be overly aggressive as a character given that this flaw is something he has to work through in his relationship. Rape, though? No. Never.

      • Glynis says:

        I agree with you both.

        Yet, I’m in a writing community and a lot of the YA writers. The books I’ve read from our inspiring best sellers is disturbing. The good writers ones as well as the bad ones.

        They thank that a rape scene is a romantic scene, or when a boy abuses the girl he is showing how much he care, because he’s misunderstood or something like that.And its not just in Fantasy books either and not just one or two that you pick up to read, A lot of them are like that.

        We have to change this, but how we when faced with what’s already out there.

      • Good question. I think that as writers, we have a responsibility to consider what messages we’re sending with the characters and plots we’re creating, especially for YA audiences. The better answer would be for parents and schools to be teaching critical thinking, so that they can see the flaws in these characters and plots for what they really are. Instead, we have adults like Twilight Moms also drooling over male characters who they’d never really want their daughters with in real life. That is depressing.

  3. Love this post, because I have always thought the determined and undeterred male character who stalks “his” female counterpart is creepy and yes, sexist–not sexy. I don’t care why he is doing it. I like men in fiction (and in real life) to be a woman’s partner.

    I have noticed how many good-looking rich males in fiction do things that if an average man did in real life would be a huge red flag for most women. As soon as the male is patronizing, jealous, possessive or watching someone healthy sleep, my goal is to kick him to the curb ASAP yet it so rarely happens which is why I find a lot of romantic fiction arcs disappointing.

    Thanks for the great post.

    • “…males in fiction do things that if an average man did in real life would be a huge red flag for most women.”

      Bingo. How the female handles this behavior is what determines whether or not I approve of a book. If it isn’t a red flag for her or, worse, she makes excuses for him, I’m out. No thank you.

      There are lots of flawed characters in fiction, though, which is what makes it interesting. I will definitely read a novel with an arrogant, controlling male character IF the woman is his match and both are learning to compromise and become partners. If you look back at my “Top 10 Alpha Males” post, every one of those bastards has met his match and the women refuse to tolerate being treated as inferior. Jericho Barrons is the only possible exception, but that series is extremely complex.

      I think the word partnership is the key. I’m okay with busted people and flawed romances so long as a real partnership develops. Anything less is recycle bin material.

  4. I see you have ignited an interesting debate, seeing from the comments above. First off, the “rape culture” is definitely a buzzword thing, but it did work—although I don’t think the resulting article is as coherent as it could’ve been. I do agree, though, that victim-blaming and shifting the responsibility to rape victims of “avoiding rape” are just plain wrong. I do agree, that “rape culture” in popular fiction teaches young adults the wrong behavior and mindset.

    But the undeterred male is not a potential rapist.

    OK, there are two facets of that statement. One, the Joseph Gordon-Levitt (JGL) version of the undeterred male belongs to a group of “omega” males; the kind that puts women on a pedestal and worships them and will do absolutely anything, including embarrassing themselves, to get in their pants. Two, the Twilight version of the undeterred male is a bad example of “alpha” males.

    When Thériault says the undeterred male does what he does because “[he knows] better than you,” that is just wrong. The JGL version does not know better; in fact, he is utterly, completely, hopelessly clueless when it comes to women. In despair, he chases after women because he thinks perseverance will get him Vs. And the JGL version is powerless and subjected to manipulation by the female: he buys her flowers, picks her up and drives her anywhere she wants to go, buys her dinner… basically he will do anything women command him to do.

    The discussion of power “balance” between the two genders has gone from positive, which led to the original feminist movements for gender equality, to downright insane. There should be no inequality between male and female—both seek pleasure and romance from a meaningful relationship, no matter what some sex-derived or sex-craving men and women claim.

    Underneath all the façade, I strongly believe that everyone just wants to love and be loved. If that makes me a hopeless romantic, so be it. I happen to belong (or used to belong) to a community of PUAs (Pick-Up Artists) who genuinely believe that a relationship is based on mutual interest; there should be no power play.

    I’m sick of men who think they “own” women, discarding them as properties to be owned and tossed around; or to be shown off like trophies. I’m equally sick of women who think they have “power” over hopeless drooling males, alpha and omega alike. Just because they’re hot doesn’t give them the right to be bitchy and dismissive and boss everybody around.

    DISCLAIMER: I do not endorse rape, in case some of you who might read this comment see things that are not there in my writing.

    • Thank you, Daniel. You’ve done a much better job of distancing the undeterred male from the rapist than I did AND underscored the point I was trying to make that by throwing “rape culture” into the article it immediately paints romance fiction in a very disturbing light and it’s hard for many of us to think rationally about it.

      And you’re right, romance should be about mutual pleasure and meaningful interactions.

  5. MishaBurnett says:

    The prevalence of phrases like “rape culture” and “male privilege” and “power inequality” are exactly the reason that I have decided to stay single the rest of my life. My feeling is that if women don’t want a man to express an interest in them, then I won’t do so.

    • This is one of the many reasons I wrote the article. Yes, the social issues underlying those phrases do exist, but I think there are just so many people that have this need to get caught up in a cause or create controversy that they will spin anything to its worst connotations. I almost think it’s worse to have people running around spouting these damning phrases, because they are so emotionally charged that they block our ability to have rational discussions.

      These phrases also demonize men and pander to women’s fear of being victimized, which makes it more difficult to have any type of discussion about gender and gender stereotypes in the real world and in fiction. Or, as you’ve seen, even in the real world it makes women unapproachable because we’ve been conditioned to distrust men.

      That said, is it any wonder there are so many males in fiction who have to be relentless to win a woman’s affection?

      • MishaBurnett says:

        I think that the fantasy of being “worth pursuing” is a heady one for both men and women. I also think that the fantasy of “winning” a partner’s affection through perseverance is powerful.

        I do think that it’s a shame that the trope in fiction is overwhelmingly male pursuer, woman pursued. (In fact, the only author that I can think of who wrote a lot about women winning their men was Robert Heinlein.)

        You’re right, in mainstream fiction the woman who chases a man is typified by Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction”, a madwoman who boils pet rabbits. I think that’s a shame. I, personally, would love to see more romances where a woman takes an active role.

        I wonder why women writers don’t seem willing to explore that dynamic? Is it a fear that there isn’t an audience for that type of storyline? There are a lot of strong female characters in modern fiction, but in romantic matters they seem to be content to be passive–I find that disappointing.

        So to any romance writers reading this–go ahead and make your female protagonist take charge and go after the man she wants. I’ll buy it.

        And rereading my first comment I see that I came across as unnecessarily bitter. My apologies, I had a rough day.

      • We all have bad days and you did give me an opening to explore a point I didn’t get to in the post because that was more culture related than writing related. I am sorry for pouncing on your bad day to make a point, though. I apologize.

        Now to answer your question… I think the reason romance writers don’t explore this dynamic is because we’re afraid the woman will come off as weak and needy. The underlying belief here is that no self-respecting woman pursues a man because it’s beneath her. It may also be related to feminist ideas of being modern women who don’t need men to complete our lives. Chasing after a man could be seen as a betrayal of feminism because, through her pursuit, the woman is saying she needs this man in her life which could be construed as a weakness.

        That’s an interesting challenge, Misha. I’m kind of curious to see if I could do it, write a female pursuer who isn’t psycho or weak. I wonder what that would do to the relationship dynamic and sexual tension. Lord, I don’t know… my immediate thought is that it would have to be in a fantasy world where the societal rules are different than normal. Does that tell you how deeply ingrained this concept is? I’ll have to think more about it now, though, because I’m intrigued.

      • MishaBurnett says:

        I think the key to writing a strong female romantic lead that is neither a golddigger or a psychotic is to present a clear case for what it is that she wants from a man, and showing the man as one who has those qualities.

        Men, being visually attuned, are probably easier to cast as “wanting” rather than “needing”–the female object of desire can be described as beautiful, and that satisfies the reader. I think a woman who chases a man simply because of the way he fills out a suit would be seen as shallow.

        Which brings us back to the rescuer dynamic–the easiest shorthand to show that a man has traditionally “masculine” desirable qualities is to have him swinging in on a rope with a cutlass in his hand to rescue the maiden.

        Quite the three pipe problem, Watson.

      • And if you have the girl swinging in on a rope with a cutlass to save the guy, you’ve killed his man-cred. Hurm. Yeah, that’s a big fat multi-headed road block. I may take this to another post. Maybe the power of Blogdor can find a way to make this happen. But, first I’m gonna bounce it off my husband and see what the two of us can come up with. He’s more creative than I am.

      • I think the pursuing female might not be as terribly complicated as you might think, even if it hasn’t really been done often in straight romance novels.

        The want vs. need distinction seems pretty crucial, so … I’m just musing aloud really, but if I was going to try this I’d say … if you had her just be “wired” in a particular way, not necessarily an uncommon quirk, but really seeking something specific or a special combination of things from a partner … and if that trait or combination is rare enough to be notable when present, then when she begins to see evidence that Gentleman A is cut from that cloth, she arranges ways for him to see how they might best compliment one another. It need not be about seduction in a traditional sense (though it could be, if it were that kind of romance), but it could also just be that she has skills or a temperament or a way of meeting the world that would just *fit* in his world. He might resist the idea at first or (as many seem to) be utterly oblivious to it all, but if she’s not pushing so much as ethically present, then he might start to change his mind or see more of what she’d known all along, and eventually he’d decide he wants her too.

        It would have to all be written with a deep sense of patience and respect, however, because urgency might easily lead to a sense of manipulation or desperation and that’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid. I think it would also have to be written in a way that strongly identifies her independence and both characters’ ability to make thoughtful and rational decisions, given appropriate information. In such a case, the eventual pairing may be obvious to the reader early on, but isn’t being resolved between the characters because one is still gathering the information needed to make the decision. It’s not about worthiness, therefore, but compatibility. She’s not proving herself to him – she is inherently worthy – she’s just showing him what she feels is the evidence that says she’s the right one for him and that he’s the right one for her (he may, in fact, think other evidence is more relevant!), but regardless, there’s no idea that one or the other of them knows better in some essentially gendered way, but rather that they’re each working with different amounts of data, which leads them to different conclusions. At least, until their data is aligned and boom, their analysis leads to the same place. LOVE!

        Okay … so maybe this is one of those books I may have to write because I really want to read it. LOL.

        ~A23

      • I have been trying to figure out how I can work this sort of relationship into one of the stories I have buzzing around in my head. I have some additional thoughts on the topic of the undeterred female, but they’re still formulating, so there will probably be another post soon 🙂

  6. Vagrance says:

    This is an interesting one. Modern culture has only reinforced the social expectation that men should be the aggressor while women are passive. I’ll quote Doctor House for the sake of argument:

    Student: Isn’t that sexual harassment?
    House: Not if you’re good looking.

    I know this was intended to be humorous, but do men really expect women to be this shallow? I’d like to think not. Then again, Mills and Boon have made millions from this formula.

    I think Grounds Keeper Willie summed it up pretty well.

    Willie: Argh! It’s romantic when they kiss ya in a book. But when Willie tries to kiss ya, it’s pepper spray and fingernails.

    • You picked some excellent examples from pop culture that highlight the double-standard for what is considered acceptable behavior for males. Hot, young guys are allowed to get away with really inappropriate actions, but old or ugly ones not so much.

      It is shallow, but so much of a norm that we barely even recognize it when it happen. Our standards go right out the door when attractive people are involved. Men do the same thing. I’ve known plenty of guys who’ve let girlfriends treat them terribly because the girls are hot.

  7. W. R. Woolf says:

    A very interesting article 🙂

    I must admit, I’m one of those who do not find it in any way romantic to be watched when I’m asleep, be called and/or texted ten times a day by someone I’ve said “no” to or be left strange gifts on my doorstep.
    If these are things that a “determined male” does, then I’ll vote “definitely NOT sexy”.

    • I purposefully left my own definition of “undeterred male” vague for the sake of discussion, but including the quote from the other article has made my own post seem pointed towards true stalkers. It’s also interesting how many commenters have gone straight to the “watching her sleep” example as you have. Edward has clearly struck a nerve, which I think is a good thing. I am relieved at how many people ARE bothered by this specific character. I think that means there’s hope for us as a society.

  8. Christopher says:

    You really dug down to the problem at the end there.
    I do agree that this kind of behavior should not be held up as an ideal, and I definitely think that a lot of how it comes across is set up by how the whole relationship and the individual characters are written.
    The problem really stems from the gender roles that are so burned into our brains that we don’t question them. We’ve gotten past some, but there are still holdouts – on both sides – from the older school of thought.
    Take for instance things around here. we’ve come to accept that there are no set roles for house chores. I tend to do kitchen things, The Wife tends to do laundry. This split exists because she doesn’t like kitchen things, and I shrink every piece of laundry I touch even when I Wash everything on cold and dry on low heat. We still have little things where I think it’s my job to fix everything for her, and she worries that it’s entirely her responsibility to have a perfectly spotless house anytime anyone else is here.
    We all have differing and shifting perceptions of gender roles and the things that they entail, and they can sometimes shift our perception of events in fiction.
    It’s definitely tough, but I am also a fan of the concept of a strong female romantic lead. I hope someone is able to make it work because I’m definitely interested. It will absolutely be all about the set up.

    • I like to think myself free of gender prejudice, but I can’t get past the idea that the Husband should take out the garbage. Isn’t it silly? I know it is, but I still can’t break it. Other than that, we do a pretty decent job of negotiating who does what chores when.

      Now, my first husband was awful. He used to mess up “girly” chores on purpose so I’d get frustrated and just do them myself. It’s embarrassing to admit that I just assumed he was a nincompoop. A male friend of mine finally told me what my ex was doing. Any surprise he’s an ex now?

      • Christopher says:

        Yeah you can want to be free of it, and try your best to do so, but sometimes that old brainwashing sneaks back in.
        It’s so hard to identify and correct because it’s so completely involuntary.
        My parents used to think I was doing the ‘screw it up on purpose’ thing when I cleaned the kitchen in high school. They still don’t believe that I’m just legitimately that bad at cleaning things sometimes.

  9. Erica Dakin says:

    This is really interesting, because I’m about to publish my second book (a romance) and the man in it is a definite undeterred male. Obviously I therefore cannot possibly claim that I have a problem with this type. There is a big BUT in there though, which is exactly what you pointed out – it’s all in the execution.
    If all throughout the book the woman does nothing but say no, tell him to go away, to fall off a cliff, to leave her alone, and he never does any of it, he’s a creepy stalker guy, and no one in their right mind should be cheering if she finally does cave in. Bunnyboilers come in male versions as well.
    The basic fact is that when you’re writing romance, there has to be something that keeps your two leads apart – at least for a while – or the reader will lose all interest, and this particular solution seems a popular choice. That doesn’t mean the man is automatically a potential rapist, because that’s just ridiculous generalisation and – IMHO – reading too much into a popular trope. If as an adult you cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality then good luck to you – most of us have no problems though.
    As far as YA books are concerned, I can see why it might be more of an issue. When I was a teenager I don’t remember having a problem in recognising the arrogant, overbearing arseholes I read about in my Mills & Boon romances for what they were, but I appreciate that I might be an exception rather than the rule.
    Ultimately I think it’s all about balance. As long as people don’t *just* read these kind of books, but also read a wide variety of other stuff, I’m sure the irrepairable damage done to their impressionable minds will turn out to be nothing more than a scratch.

    • So well put that I can’t think of any additional talking point to dig into. I am very interested in your book, though!

      • Erica Dakin says:

        Woo, thank you! I’ve just finished the final edit, so with any luck I can publish it before the end of the month.
        It’s funny actually that you posted this about the undeterred male, which applies to my current book, and you posted about alpha males before, which kind of applies to my first book. I like to think that the hero in that one ticks all your alpha male boxes.
        Just for info, the Kindle edition of my first book will be available for free on Amazon from 12 to 16 June, to celebrate the release of book two.
        (Apologies for hijacking this and turning it into a promo post – feel free to delete if it pisses you off.)

      • Nope, not remotely pissed off so no deletion will be forthcoming. There’s a difference between appropriate promotion and spamming. Your books are clearly relevant to the discussion in general, especially from your perspective. How could you not bring them up while considering this topic? Plus, you told us when we could get your book for free! In fact, I approve of this type of promotion, so I’ll help:

        Hey Squirrel Chasers: Check out Erica’s book , only $1 on Amazon right now, free through the Amazon Prime Lender’s Library, or you can scoop it up for free June 12-16. I, for one, intend to see if her Alpha Male really does check off all the boxes on my list. 🙂

  10. I’ll say upfront that I’m not sure how coherent this comment is going to be, but I know that if i wait to respond then I won’t actually get around to responding at all.

    First off, I want to say, Kira, that I totally hear where you’re coming from. The appropriation, let’s say, of popular buzzwords can be really frustrating and unhelpful in many cases.

    However … I’m not sure that the application in this context is wholly inaccurate. The concept of rape culture is not that everything –> rape, but rather that many things contribute to a culture wherein it is “normal(ized)” that certain sectors of the populace (female folks, trans* folks, folks in high stigma jobs like sex work, etc.) don’t get to say “no” or have their “no” be effective and respected.

    One of your main points above is that the line between what is “sexy or sexist,” as you put it, in terms of an undeterred male in romantic fiction, is the “execution,” the way that the author has written the story, and I could agree with you in spirit, on some level, but … it’s important to remember that the power dynamics between people in fiction exist no more in a vacuum than the power dynamics between people in real life. While it may not feature prominently in a romantic fiction novel (or any other novel, for that matter), the female MC who’s being relentlessly pursued and/or having her decisions undermined or ignored isn’t likely to only be experiencing that in the space between her and the male MC. She probably experiences some of that from her boss, from her family, from magazines that have new “tips” every week on what she should be doing, etcetera etcetera. And this guy? If she’s really that much of a catch, then he’s probably not the first to try to wear her down about this – whatever it is. So, most likely, the reason why the undeterred male – as a TROPE – contributes to rape culture is because it *does* actually feed into this cultural imagining about female folks that, whatever the reason, they don’t really know what’s best for their own lives, relationships, and physical bodies.

    Now, having said that, I would challenge you (and any other readers still keeping up) to see if maybe the “or” in your question creates a false dichotomy. Is it possible that maybe the Undeterred Male (the Trope) is both an inherently problematic character and a potentially sexy one? I think so. I think readers of all genres find many problematic characters deeply fascinating and, yes, sexy! I don’t like to suggest that X desire is good or Y desire is bad, though. I don’t actually think that finding a problematic character sexy is some terrible crime, whether against humane ethics or feminism or anything else.

    Your character is a controlling jerk? But also really hot? Maybe the fact that he’s a controlling jerk just makes him sexier! Your character is really solicitous but also kind of adorably awkward? Maybe the flower left on your windshield every day is kind of weirdly cute! One of the things I would really like to see more people acknowledge about fiction is that it is possible to both A) be aware of how problematic things are and B) still enjoy them anyway. Mind-boggling, I know! And unfortunately most people don’t understand Part A, which makes their engagement with Part B super problematic, IMO, but I think that as long as you understand what you’re seeing/reading/hearing and understand the distinction between what might be fun in fantasy land and what is ethical or respectful in real life, then read on! Enjoy!

    I read all kinds of problematic stuff and so does almost everyone I know. I genuinely think that the point of fiction is entertainment with a side of intellectual stimulation. It is, as I said, deeply unfortunate that most people aren’t aware of the potential problems with some of the common tropes, but that doesn’t make me want to abolish them so much as help raise awareness and educate folks. Do people watching Dexter think real life serial killers should get away with it? Probably not, even if they want Dexter to get away with it. Why? Because they understand that this is not acceptable behavior in real life no matter how compelling it is in fiction. Fiction is, therefore, really one of the few places that – like an extension of our own dreams, fantasies, and nightmares – we can explore impossible, implausible, unethical, uncomfortable, and even just kind of uncool things. Maybe we want the sexy sexist guy to get the girl in a book, even if he wouldn’t even get a second date in real life.

    The problem comes not in the fact that this character trope exists, but in the fact that it is praised uncritically and has become so prevalent as to be positioned as “normal.” The problem comes not in the fact that the trope is deeply enjoyed by readers young and old, but that it is only one piece of a broader quilt of culture that overwhelmingly suggests that this is “how men are” because this is “what women want” or “what women need” – and the tools to critically discuss these issues aren’t filtering to enough portions of the populace to make significant rapid change, whether in character diversity, real life behavior, or even just in awareness.

    So, I’m going to have to disagree with you a little bit here Kira, though not for exactly the same reasons or in the same ways as some of the other commentors. The Undeterred Male does seem to contribute to and serve as a manifestation of rape culture … and maybe he can still be sexy … and maybe it’s okay if readers enjoy reading about him and his success in “winning over” the female MC … because maybe some readers know that, like Dexter, this is not cool in real life. We can always model better behavior and alternative consequences for tropic behavior through our characters as writers, of course, and I hope that many of us do, but shouldn’t we also allow some flexibility to our fellow readers and writers to do with fiction what can’t be done anywhere else? Which is … explore the edges and nooks and crannies, the imperfections and impossibilities and not-always-pretty intricacies, of people and the societies we build for ourselves?

    I’d like to think that we’re capable, readers and writers both, of seeing the sexy and the sexist and of questioning them both.

    ~A23

    P.S. Apologies for the tl;dr.

    • Not tl;dr for me. That was a well-thought out argument and exactly the type of discussion I hoped to prompt. I agree with you on your two major points that the man’s behavior depends on the context and that we can root for a character in fantasy that we wouldn’t in real life.

      My bigger issue is with the phrase rape culture. While I see your point about how sexist attitudes can lead to cultural situations where women are more vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment, using such volatile language can be counterproductive. Yes, it draws attention to the issue, but in a very inflammatory way. How can you have meaningful dialogue about gender issues when everyone’s pissed off the moment the conversation starts?

      I don’t really expect to solve that social issue here, though. In terms of writing and characters, I completely agree with you.

  11. Reblogged this on Aequanimitas x 23 and commented:
    Super interesting discussion going on over at Kira Lyn Blue’s blog. It’s especially relevant to romance writers, but since relationships are a part of pretty much everyone’s fiction (and many folks’ lives), it’s the kind of topic that may be intriguing to many different sorts of readers. Pop over and check it out! I wrote an epic comment, LOL.

  12. Gosh, essay writing like the above comments is quite beyond me at the moment. Nevertheless, my brief two cents — I have no problem with undeterred males, so long as they’re decent human beings who respect boundaries. A man breaking into your bedroom and watching you sleep (*cough*EdwardCullin*cough*) is creepy and needs a serious talking-to. A man who pursues a woman because he loves her and wants to be with her, and won’t take no for an answer, but who does so in a way that doesn’t creep out the woman, or interfere with her life or her goals, etc., is much better. Extra points if he saves her life, lol. I think that unconditional love for one person is a wonderful thing — and I would have no problem reading about a woman being cast in the “undeterred lover” role. I’m trying to think of a book/movie where that happens … okay, I can’t think of one, but I would totally read/watch it if it existed!!!

  13. tracycembor says:

    Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind would probably qualify as an “undeterred female,” which just supports your point that if there are any moonlighting as protagonists, we don’t really like them much. We perceive them as too pushy and unladylike to be admirable.

    (Also, you’ve inspired another short story idea. Maybe I’ll be able to show it off to everyone soon. xD )

    • So it IS the generally accepted gender roles that make the undeterred male the norm. I’d still like to see if I can find a way to create an undeterred female that works, but after I get my revision draft done.

      I do hope you’ll share your short story! Can’t wait to see it 🙂

  14. hopecook says:

    Wow, this really sparked some discussion! Great to see people grappling with this. I don’t know if there will ever be a simple right or wrong answer to this. I agree with you that a lot depends on context and the back and forth attitude between the man and the woman. I think the lack of the undeterred female in a positive light is a pretty damning comment on prevailing cultural attitudes and falls under the same double standard crap as slut/stud identities. I think the undeterred male on its own is not necessarily a terrible thing, and can even be charming in the right context, but taken with all the under gender biases/stereotypes/double standards that are out there, I fear it sends a global message about what we think about men and women and how they relate. And I really worry about how that message might be interpreted by kids growing up and still trying to figure it all out.

    • Two interesting points there: context and the global message. It seems most of us agree that the overall context of the relationship presented determines whether the undeterred male is okay or not. So, then the question becomes does the global message take context into account? And since we’re also concerned about the YA audience, do kids understand context?

      On one hand, I want to argue that we often underestimate teenagers. I am fairly certain my opinion of the infamous sleep creeper who keeps coming up would have been the same at sixteen that it is in my thirties. But, obviously there are plenty of teens who don’t think like I do or the series would not be so popular.

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