I Want to be Kissed by a Scoundrel

Kristin Devine

Kristin has humbly retired as Ordinary Times' friendly neighborhood political whipping girl to focus on culture and gender issues. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of https://atomicfeminist.com/

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35 Responses

  1. LeeEsq says:

    Men hate the scoundrel and bad boy for similar reasons that women hate certain archetypes aimed at men. The represent a fantasy that most of us can never be. Prince Charming is another hated archetype. The difference is that it is easier for heterosexual male fantasies to be critiqued politically than other sexual fantasies.Report

    • veronica d in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I’m pretty sure that guys generally like Han Solo.Report

      • Mark in reply to veronica d says:

        Also the people typically played by Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, Will Smith, etc. One could almost postulate that the charming scoundrel type is so popular that some people would fail to see the boundaries in planting kisses on people.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to Mark says:

          That’s because the movies’ charming scoundrel is also handsome, competent, and actually a good guy underneath it all, whereas the IRL scoundrel Chad is none of these things.Report

          • veronica d in reply to DensityDuck says:

            Overgeneralize much?Report

            • Jaybird in reply to veronica d says:

              Yeah, well, you know how fragile cis-het white men are.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well, you certainly seem to be, but let’s talk about this. First, an anecdote.

                Back in the mid-90s, I was doing computer tech work in inner city schools in South Florida. These were really bad schools in economically depressed areas. It was sad. One day, one of my white coworkers was working among students. One of the young black students looked at him and said, “You’re racist. All white people are racist.”

                He was offended, very much so. He couldn’t really let it go. Later, when he told me the story, I just shrugged and said, “Yeah, we kinda are.”

                Note, the guy in question wasn’t particularly racist, as far as these things go. He certainly was rather fragile though. Myself, I couldn’t understand why he was so bothered. So a random black girl called you racist? Go home to your big house and get over it.

                Over the years, I’ve had a few black people say things like that to me. My response is always, “Yeah, I get that, but I try not to be.” It seems like a good response.

                In some ways the statement “all white people are racist” is kind of true. In other ways it’s plainly false. But which ways? Instead of getting offended, I think it’s more useful to explore those differences, and then to ask how we personally fit into the equation. I’m certainly not immune to racist thinking. I don’t think anyone raised in this culture could be.

                Is this always true for every generalization, including those about the romantic choices of women? I don’t think so. The question is, how useful is it to explore the contradictions? This is about dialectic, the whole thesis-antithesis-synthesis thing.

                So what about “Chads”? Is that a useful generalization? What is the dialectic there? Is the notion that popular guys are all sociopaths, and the women attracted to them are all co-dependent thots? Is that true? In what ways is it true?

                One way it is not-at-all-true is that a lot of incel types have a massive sense of entitlement, and this is revealed in how bitter they become when Stacy won’t fuck them. It’s mostly sour grapes.

                More than that though, it’s also totally self defeating. It’s just bullshit, tip to tail. Charming sociopaths exist, but not every charming person is a sociopath. If you assume that women are all so universally busted that they only want abusers — well where does that thinking lead?

                Women should avoid narcissistic men, even the ugly ones.

                How much do we really learn from embittered men who want to criticize the bad choices that women sometimes make?

                Myself, I want people (both women and men) to understand how abusive people can fake their personalities. Abusers have a keen sense of vulnerability. They prey on the needy. This is gendered, in the sense the specific nature of the abuse tends to vary between men and women, but abuse is abuse.

                I’ve dated two abusive partners, both women. Neither ever hit me, but they cut me deep all the same.

                I think I’ve learned from those experiences. I hope I have.

                In any case, not every attractive person is an abuser. However, being attractive can certainly help an abusive person get away with more. By contrast, a self-centered, emotionally stunted, abusive narcissist who happens not to be good looking will have a harder time finding victims. I don’t feel bad about this.

                Beware of scoundrels who pretend to be good. Prefer those who can “play at” being scoundrels, but who are actually good. It’s possible to tell them apart, but experience is a harsh teacher.

                In short, we live in a society.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to veronica d says:

                word salad.

                it’s a restatement of my comment that the reason people like movie scoundrels while disliking IRL scoundrels is that the movies’ charming scoundrel is also handsome, competent, and actually a good guy underneath it all, whereas the IRL scoundrel Chad is none of these things.Report

      • I did before I saw that movie about him.

        He’s boring.Report

      • I think Lee overgeneralized a bit (as a kid, I liked the Han Solo character and my sense is most guys did/do). But I think he’s onto something that there is some idealized notion of a scoundrel that guys are expected to be. (Note my use of the passive voice to abjure any responsibility for demonstrating by whom the idealized notion is imposed.)

        The idealized scoundrel is supposed to be bad….but not really bad. He’s supposed to be sensitive…as long as it’s sensitive to his love interest’s emotional needs (and not his own). He’s supposed to put his own physical safety in danger to protect the (presumptively weaker) love interest.

        That’s not particularly unfair, as idealized notions go. I’m not at all claiming that men have it peculiarly bad because of the “scoundrel ideal,” and I’ve been known to speak in defense of bro dudes (a kind of “scoundrel”). I’m just pointing out that it’s never fun to be held to an impossible standard, just like many of the standards to which women are held. (Well, not “just like”–I believe that it’s tougher for women than for men–but in a similar looking ballpark.)Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

          This is what I’m getting at. I’m increasingly growing more cynical of romance and dating as I grow older even though I still want a girlfriend. There just seems to be so many power plays and status seeking behaviors and many, not all but many, women treat the early part of their relationship as their time. Or at least they seem to. Everything is rather ultra-competitive and if you can not perform, you don’t get.Report

          • Damon in reply to LeeEsq says:

            Don’t give a F*** then. Be you. If she’s not interested, who cares? You’re cool.

            She’s not into you? More fish in the sea. Gotta change the attitude…or at least not show it.Report

          • veronica d in reply to LeeEsq says:

            The thing is, my experience is totally unlike that. I wonder what is different? Is it the str8 versus queer thing? — but I don’t think so. Sure, gender stuff matters, but we’re all people. Our hearts aren’t so different. Status seeking? Not everyone plays status the same. I know tons of people who give zero fucks about status.

            Except of course, I’m sure some hyper-reductive nerd can explain how “It’s still status.” But whatever. I’ve read Impro too. It’s different though. I’ve done the club scene, with the status obsessed. I haven’t done the posh social climber set — cuz I never had a chance there. Instead, I date queer weirdos like me.

            Lee, you need to find your own kind of weirdos who won’t care about that shit.

            But then, you have to become a weirdo who doesn’t care about that shit.

            I suspect you’re playing the wrong game with the wrong people. See what I’m saying?Report

            • LeeEsq in reply to veronica d says:

              At this point, I think that I’m such an acquired taste that there is no right game or right people for me. I don’t really fit well into any set. What I need is something relatively straight forward, like where you can just say I want to fuck rather directly, but I don’t drip wet hot with chemistry even close enough to get on that path. I guess I’m kind of in the nerd side but I don’t have any fan passions. Carrying about who Harry Potter ended up with just seems not that real to me but it is a passionate thing with others.

              I’ve fallen for somebody hard twice in my life. Once when I was a freshman in high school and the other time when I was twenty nine. Both obviously went nowhere but the last one came kind of how so temptingly close but I was in competition with a man who had a better idea on what to do. The later one even leads to a moment in my life that I really wish I could relive and do differently. Just a little more bravery and I wouldn’t be in my position. Otherwise, I’ve had women I’ve kind of felt attracted to or at least saw as possibilities but these went nowhere.

              But now I just feel angry and frustrated at being hard behind and dealign with an utterly hostile system. Bend, twist, turn, run, and jump and you still get nothing .Just a strict fierceness screaming at you to do more work and that your pain doesn’t matter.Report

              • Gabriel Conroy in reply to LeeEsq says:

                As I think I may have stated once or twice in various threads, I was for a long while in a situation similar to yours. I was a late bloomer. I was angry. I felt left out.

                And I felt that I had lost the window of opportunity when it was okay (in our society, at least) to be inexperienced.

                I don’t think I was 100% wrong in my feelings or in my assessment of the situation. I was wrong in some of the misogynist or entitled attitudes I adopted or entertained. But I think it was okay to be angry or upset and I think I was on to something about the “window of opportunity” thing (if only because of all the jokes and casual comments about older virgins or nerds…and because of the repeated assumptions, voiced by my circle of friends and acquaintances, that there was something almost wrong about people in my situation). I also had one of those “near miss” situationsyou describe, where I could have/might have acted differently.

                I’m in a different situation now, fortunate to have fallen in love with someone who loves me back and who has been there for me over the last several years. (I’d like to think I’ve been there for her, but when it’s come to things like health scares, etc., I’ve so far been the one who’s needed help, and she’s been there.) But I’m not entirely proud of how I got to this place and some of the things I did to get there. And there was a cost to waiting so long, too.

                I don’t really have any good advice to give you that you probably haven’t already heard. Veronica’s and Damon’s pieces of advice, for example, are good, but they’re probably not helpful. And of course, my situation is different in many ways because we’re different people and I was a little younger then than you are now. All I can really say is that I’ve been there and I have sympathy and wish you luck.Report

              • Lee Ratner in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                I’m feeling the cost. I didn’t have a high school girlfriend, a college girlfriend, a law school girlfriend, a late twenties girlfriend besides one minor shitty relationship, and a thirty something girlfriend. Its just generally been date after date that went nowhere. Get up, fall down, and get up again.

                And I’m worried. I’m worried about being alone for the rest of my life or meeting somebody but having to make some very tough choices like experiencing everything I missed and not having children or getting to have children at a reasonable age. What does it mean to get a girlfriend this late in life? The entire thing seems kind of ridiculous and low status, a sign of lack of desirability.

                And the worst part is having to watch everybody have an easier time at it than you. Sure, you might be only getting the high points and thanks to my job, I’ve seen how relationships can go spectacularly bad or the negative parts of sex but there is still a since of being forced to participate and support something you are excluded from.Report

              • I totally get the feeling you express in your last paragraph. There’s an interesting article by Lori Gottlieb that addresses that feeling. It doesn’t really offer any advice, but it’s probably the most empathetic thing I’ve seen about this [Atlantic: pay wall applies]:


            • Maribou in reply to veronica d says:

              Is it the str8 versus queer thing? — but I don’t think so.

              I … kinda do.

              As someone who has been temporarily boxed into the straight-passing box several times in life despite my best efforts. Queer culture really *is* less hung up on a bunch of stuff. Not on ALL stuff. And still plenty hung up on a lot of the same stuff. But it’s easier to be a queer weirdo than a straight one *purely on the axis of being a weirdo and given that it’s still a lot harder to be queer than straight in general*.

              My queer found family (which oddly includes one definitely straight cis dude that we adopted anyway without qualms)…. my queer found family is way more tolerant of dating variegation, and far less likely to be harassed by their fellow queer acquaintances for being too weird… and has been for two decades… than the folks in any of the mostly-straight found-family-circles that also include me, make room for me, and then in their own dating lives have a WHOLE lot of dumb rules they have to follow even when they hate them.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Maribou says:

                …(which oddly includes one definitely straight cis dude that we adopted anyway without qualms)…

                But see! That’s it right there! Doncha see?Report

              • Lee Ratner in reply to Maribou says:

                I kind of blame media on this partially. Mass media exposes people to a lot of propaganda about what dating and romance should look like. Since queer romances were obviously not depicted in main stream media, people absorbed fewer of this propaganda while a lot of straight people were given what they think was a path that must be followed. So if you are straight and did not or can’t follow this path, you are kind of screwed.Report

  2. CJColucci says:

    No means no, but it’s not unreasonable for someone to have to say it twice.Report

    • I’d personally rephrase it differently. I’d say, “no means no, but it’s not unreasonable for someone to ask twice.”

      In other words, the “no” should be controlling unless or until the person saying “no” changes their mind. I’ll also say that while I think it’s okay for someone to ask twice, I’m less willing to sign on to someone asking thrice, or more times. There’s a point at which asking becomes badgering, especially if done repeatedly, in a short amount of time. For the asker, it’s also about decreasing likelihood of success: the more one asks and receives a “no” answer, the more unlikely it’s a good fit anyway.

      I’m talking about general presumptions here. I’m not sure I’m okay with establishing hard and fast rules.Report

  3. Chip Daniels says:

    Breaking Bad explores this territory to perfection.

    It was easy in the beginning to vicariously identity with Walter White, transitioning from a meek high school teacher to a bad ass gangster.

    But it made clear that the reason we are not all scoundrels, cads, rakes and bad boys is because you have to sacrifice everything else to be one. He ended up sacrificing his family and friends and soul and ended up with nothing to show for it.

    Han was never a family man. He wasn’t really even a trusted member of a team. No matter that he flew in at the last moment to join the rebels, its clear that he could just as easily have made the other choice.

    We like to imagine ourselves dabbling in the darkness, just dipping our toe in for a moment then retreating back to our identities as husbands and fathers, reliable team members and citizens.
    And hey, as a harmless fantasy, why not.

    Its practically a trope of its own, the “all around guy” who is safe and trustworthy and reliable but has just a hint of the scoundrel, just enough to be enticing and just ever so slightly dangerous.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    “Baby, it’s cold outside because we’re on Hoth.”

    “Baby, this Carbonite is frozen.”

    “Baby, it’s likely to be cold because I’m going to shut everything down but the emergency power systems.”Report

  5. Fish says:

    I’ve been a cad. I’ve been Prince Charming. I’ve been a scoundrel. Heck, I’m 100% positive that the first kiss I planted on my now-wife had “scoundrel” stamped all over it! It’s almost as if people can flow in and out of these roles as their mental states, their read of the social queues (signals, if you will) being broadcast by another person, or the situation allows. Like everything dealing with humans, this stuff is messy and complex.

    Good stuff as always, Kristin. In honor of this essay, I’m going to replace “that’s what SHE said” with “I can arrange that.”Report

    • Kristin Devine in reply to Fish says:

      Yes! Exactly what I’m thinking as I’m sitting here reading these comments.

      These are all roles we play and not necessarily the sum total of who we are.

      People seem to be viewing archetypes as diagnoses and not simply a lens through which to view the world.

      IRL there are no Chads. Chad is not a real person. There are no MPDG and there are no scoundrels, not really. They’re all people with motives and needs and while people do tend to shake out into “types” they’re just not so hard and fast as some people seem to think. There are nerds who wear leather and ride motorcycles. Perennial Tarantino bad guy Michael Madsen writes poetry.

      A lot of the good guys I know were once bad boys. And I know far too many good guys who decided to become bad boys. This idea that these things are set in stone isn’t real.

      Thanks for reading!Report

  6. “And while I suppose it is possible that a small percentage of men are indeed clueless idiots who are hopeless at reading body language and can’t tell the difference between a movie and real life,”

    [coughs nervously] This was me, at least when younger. I also assumed there were women interested in me and I was bad at reading the signs (a lot of people around me insisted it must be so). I later figured out … no, that wasn’t the case. There just wasnt any interest.

    I think it is interesting to think about this post in light of the Force Awakens because it turned out that hooking up with a scoundrel may not have been the best idea. Although it was quite fun at the time.Report

    • First point – I think we do a very, very bad job of both telling girls about how their signals might be wrongfully perceived and telling boys how to read and act on signals (or not.)

      Second point – I’m not too sure that your kid turning out to be troubled necessarily means you made a mistake with who you pursued a relationship with. A lot went in to Ben turning to the Dark Side including his own free will.

      I know this is not what you are doing at all but I am very wary of assigning too much blame for a kid making bad choices onto the mother, and very VERY wary of telling any woman, even a fictional one, that their child turning evil was the result of them having sex with the wrong person.Report

  7. I think one of the problems we’re dealing with here is the impulse to create rules by which to live and to (sometimes) try to impose those rules on others. Rules, especially when they’re translated into laws, but even when they’re only cultural norms, are blunt instruments. They insist on bright, well-defined lines when there are of necessity so many shades of gray. I don’t think we can do without rules entirely. But I agree with what I see as the (implicit) argument of your OP, that we need to recognize that rules can do only so much and that refusing to recognize that fact impedes women’s autonomy. (At least I think you’re arguing that…please correct me if I’m wrong.)

    Excellent post, as always, Kristin!Report

    • Yep, that’s my argument. People love to create systems but systems are blunt instruments, and worse when they’re based on flawed ideas (such as, boys seeing Han Solo turned men into sexual aggressors while simultaneously denying that some men actually just kinda want to be sexual aggressors cause they like it). So it makes me highly wary of the direction things seem to be headed where we’re calling for a complex system of rules to govern sexual relationships when we’re not even willing to talk openly and honestly about why things are the way they are or to acknowledge any wiggle room for nuance. I just think strict definitions are going to end up working against women, not men.Report

  8. Marianne says:

    I don’t believe for one single solitary parsec that most men cannot see a difference between Harvey Weinstein and Han Solo, that most men truly cannot see the difference between exposing yourself to a woman you barely know and kissing a woman with whom you’ve had a complicated monthslong interpersonal relationship fraught with sexual tension without asking “pretty please with sugar on top” first.


    Of course the other, just as important question is how does *society* figure out the difference, though, right?

    because (as you know and were in no way denying here) – historically the answer has been “oh well, it’s her fault,” unhappily sweeping things under the rug, and/or honor killings of both perpetrators and victims – so if the rules involve the same actions, it’s real convenient to hide behind them and pretend you couldn’t have known even when you’re fucking Jeffrey Epstein.

    My extremely qualified enthusiasm for enthusiastic-consent-modified-by-basic-common-sense (a thing which can include Han Solo, and definitely doesn’t include Aziz Ansari) has nothing to do with wanting to take individual choices away from aaaaaaaanybody, particularly the anybodies who usually have fewer choices, and tons to do with figuring out how the fuck else we hold evildoers accountable. It’s a hard problem.

    GREAT essay, I loved it and wanted to yell YESSSSSS out loud several times. (Despite being the person who in Leia’s shoes would have punched Han really hard in the gut. I mean, I would probably have kissed him back LATER, anyways. But don’t mess with the PTSD-scarred kid when it comes to unscheduled makeouts. )Report

    • My great concern is that we’re simply going to end up codifying a set of rules where the answer is STILL going to be “oh well, it’s her fault” but it’s going to be a more palatable set of rules for people so they accept them without really even questioning it. She went to a guy’s hotel room? In this day and age?? Her fault. She consented to that particular act not because she wanted to, but she felt she had to because she read about it in Teen Vogue? Doesn’t matter, her fault, she consented. Men will get a pass because the women broke the rules and put herself in some situation. Even though the rules were set up a certain way to still give men as much leeway as humanly possible and the rules are always, always going to be handicapped against women and women will be held to them far more strictly. Until we reconcile that double standard I am going to remain very wary of rules, if that makes sense.

      I feel like we are just taking the teensiest of baby steps to a more reasonable view of sexuality and I don’t want this to boomeranging around back onto us so we’re all having to have our elderly aunts accompanying us to work to protect our virtue or whatever.

      I am all for enthusiastic consent modified by basic common sense. Absolutely. It’s just that I can see some very real times when consent is being given just not audibly, LOL.

      As always, thanks for reading!Report

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