When a male character has women constantly falling all over him, it bothers me. I can’t blame this one on the fact that the books are YA this time; half of these books are considered adult, or even high literature. Some examples are:
I don’t know why authors feel compelled to surround male characters with screaming mobs of girls (The Valley of Horses, Feast of Fools). It’s a show of power and influence. It’s a way to show that a character is widely considered to be attractive. Regardless of the reaon for writing these scenes, they always stretch credibility for me. It’s really hard for me to believe that a character is literally getting mobbed by women unless he is actually a rock star or something, and even then it feels silly. I have never seen a woman throw herself at a man in that way, much less more than one of them at a time. I have such a hard time empathizing with the women who act this way, because it seems so irrational. They have to know they don’t have a shot. So why degrade yourself? I also can never see what in the guy is worth such a frenzy. Maybe it’s just because I’ve never met a real movie star, but I have a hard time understanding getting that worked up in public over a guy who, let’s face it, is never going to sleep with you. And even if he were, why feed his ego?
Besides its lack of realism, one other problem with this type of scene is that the women are not differentiated. They are a crowd, and their individuality doesn’t matter. It also makes it seem like all women are attracted to the same qualities in men. I don’t mind if Brian has two girls who like him, Sally and Suzy. As long as they each are given personalities, it is ok to have more than one woman like a man. That is just a standard love triangle plot, and it’s usually not objectionable in and of itself, regardless of the gender it favors. It can even be Sally and Suzy and Molly. Three is probably the limit, though. Much beyond that and their blurring becomes inevitable. When women are a faceless mob, they’re not people. They’re dehumanized and defined only by a common, overwhelming sex drive. They’re interchangeable, like objects, their individual worth erased.
There’s a fine like between the movie star mob and someone who just has an unusually active sexual/romantic life and no shortage of semi-anonymous partners (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Wise Man’s Fear, Why We Broke Up, Freedom). Again, I don’t like the anonymity and lack of individuality of the women. I’m not sure what we’re supposed to learn about a man who is shown having these kinds of relationships. He’s commitment-phobic, for whatever reason? He really likes sex? He has an existential void that he’s trying to fill with women? He’s a man with needs killing time until he can be with the one he really loves? He’s young and sees no need to “tie himself down”? Regardless of the reason a man engages in it, this behavior usually builds tension, so that when the character finally chooses one woman it somehow means more. By elevating his one chosen girl, he denigrates the many he has sampled and found wanting. Usually, the female lead has had much less experience herself, so a sexual double standard is reinforced.
It also bothers me to read a scene where a woman tries really hard to seduce a man, but he’s not interested (Feast of Fools). It makes it feel like life is an audition for the role of sex partner. Like that’s all this woman could offer. Even if she’s a baddie, it’s a harsh portrayal.
I have to go back to the questions I asked in the post on fanservice: Is this thing worth doing? What is the point of emphasizing a male character’s attractiveness? Why emphasize the way women respond to him?
Often the point seems to be to make a female character feel unworthy. The girl who is really in love with this guy watches this scene off to the side and wonders how she could ever be good enough when he could have any or all of these other women, who are of course so much more attractive than she is. This feeling of unworthiness is highly relatable; we’ve all felt it at some point. But I don’t think that this is something worth doing. It elevates the male character at the expense of the female, and creates a relationship where the power is out of balance. There are better ways to create romantic tension and get the audience to relate to a character’s seemingly hopeless love.
Or, the point is to show what a prize this man is and how lucky the chosen girl is when she finally wins him. Even if the woman doesn’t feel unworthy, if she doesn’t witness the scene, for example, the couple is out of balance in the audience’s mind unless similar scenes are created to show how great and desirable the woman is.
When the point is to build tension or develop the relationship with the main female lead, I recognize these as worthy goals, but feel that they could be achieved in other, better ways. A relationship could still be shown to be meaningful without being compared to many short relationships with faceless women.