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Role Reversals

June 14, 2008

As much as I’ve enjoyed the Rachel Morgan/Hollows series, the fourth book is starting to tick me off.  It was off to such a promising start, bringing two of my favorite neglected characters to the forefront, but now it’s the same old schtick: the bad boy (a vampire) gets redeemed so that the heroine can sleep with him without a lot of guilt, and the so-called good guy (a human) becomes the bad boy so the heroine doesn’t feel so guilty sleeping with the vampire.

Why can’t the good guy actually be a good guy?  It’s not even that; why can’t the human be human?  In defense of my species, books like these and shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer make it seem that guys who are just guys can’t handle a powerful woman.  It’s not until they show a little super-human strength or demon-summoning ability that they tip the bad scale enough to be worthwhile.  Even then it’s not enough.  Whereas, a vampire suddenly shows himself to have a cuddly-puppy side, and who cares if he’s slaughtered dozens of innocents?

I think the writers have tipped the scale from fantasy to personal fantasy; it’s some weird belief of our society that every girl secretly harbors the dream of redeeming the dangerous bad boy, of taming his wild heart.  Just once I’d like to see the nice guy finish first.

It used to be a trope that the hero lusted after the femme fatale, but ended up with the girl-next-door, and it made for a nice switch in a movie like The Mask where Jim Carrey’s nice-guy Stanley Ipkiss gets Cameron Diaz instead of Amy Yasbeck. 

Maybe that’s the key: if the hero is a nice guy, he can get the super-sexy, never-in-a-million-years girl, but if we’re seeing the story from a heroine’s point of view, then the human guy you could take home to Mom just doesn’t make the cut.

The more I thought about this in the car on my drive back to Riverside, the more obvious parallels I drew, making me wonder how I could have missed it before.  It’s not as if Kim Harrison is doing this purposely to annoy me – this is the curse of the super-powered hot chick.  

Making some broad, sweeping generalizations: men are intimidated by women with power, be it supernatural or not.  Therefore, in the fantasy world of vampires, werewolves, witches, and Slayers, the only man who can handle a kickass woman is a man who can kick a little ass himself.

That’s bullshit.

Not only is it bullshit, but it implies that for a woman to be strong and find someone to share her life with, that person has to be able to kick her ass once in awhile.  He has to be somewhat dangerous, or she is somehow diminished, forced to hide her true strength.  Give.  Me.  A.  Break.

Okay, that was my brief two-years-at-a-women’s-college feminist diversion.  My annoyance is not all about feminism and equality.  It’s based on this weird fantasy belief that a relationship between a human man and a powered woman can’t work because of the inherent jealousy. 

In both Buffy and the Hollows books, for example, you have a human guy who, while admittedly smokin’ hot, is not quite the right temperature for our tough heroine.  Until she discovers that the guy has a dangerous secret.  No, he’s not up to her level, but he’s not quite the safety net she thought he was either.  Instantly he’s elevated to boyfriend material, and things are good, and the sex is great, and then the woman just can’t open up and she worries about the boy, thinking he’s vulnerable and she won’t always be around to protect him.  Feeling emasculated, or just weak, the boy then does something very stupid, like summoning demons and stealing things, or visiting vampire hookers.  The girl finds out, feels betrayed, and then guilty because somehow his weakness is her fault.  So when he leaves her, she runs into the bad boy’s strong, caring arms.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the character of Spike on Buffy, and never cared much for the human Riley, but the point is still valid, and it’s getting to be a stereotype.   I’m all for making characters three-dimensional, but when pretty-boy vampires get defanged for the soul purpose of hooking up with the heroine, it’s not exactly character development.  At least Buffy’s sex with Spike was self-flagellation – it wasn’t until later and a lot of suffering on both ends that she actually felt something for him.  Rachel Morgan apparently just gets off on it.

P.S. Kim Harrison?  Yeah, your books are great, and funny, and all that, but have you noticed that every single man Rachel meets is some kind of fox?  Even the pixy.  Even the ones old enough to be her father have some kind of animal magnetism.  Just saying.


Quote of the Day: 

“The two things that matter the most to me: emotional resonance and rocket launchers. Party of Five, a brilliant show, and often made me cry uncontrollably, suffered ultimately from a lack of rocket launchers.” – Joss Whedon, writer/director Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Link of the Day: Katie Allen interviews Kim Harrison – an interesting look at the author’s own  perspective, though I can’t help noticing neither she nor the interviewer mention the vampires’ sex appeal.

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