Freudian Friday: A Woman’s Right to Know

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One theme that has come up a lot in these Freudian Friday posts is the trope of a paranormal man who hides things from his beloved in the interest of protecting her. Typically this man is a vampire or at least someone with magical powers who has led a long, complicated life, and has secrets that would horrify or frighten the leading lady, or he keeps plans for her rescue a secret.

Urban fantasy relationships so frequently have the warning signs of abusive relationships, like jealousy and possessiveness, control of the woman’s actions, violent tempers, blaming the woman for relationship problems, and general dominance of the woman’s life.

But what about the common, passively cruel act of hiding things? It’s a form of control, because it prevents the woman from making fully-informed decisions, and it assumes she does not have the strength to live with whatever her man is hiding. Let’s look at some examples:

Edward quite literally sweeps Bella off her feet.

Twilight: This is the prototypical abusive paranormal romance. We all know Edward’s abuse signs: he removes the battery from her car to keep her from driving out to see a friend, he puts her in the role of “dangerous” sexual temptress by saying he might not be able to control himself, and the list goes on. Meanwhile, Jacob kisses Bella against her will, blames her for his temper, and acts consistently jealous. But both young men hide things from her in the interest of “protecting” her, not telling her when they’re going into dangerous situations or neglecting to mention their super-powers. At one point in the books, Jacob judges Edward for not telling Bella about an attack on her hometown while she was away, but Jacob himself misleads Bella into kissing him. They both assume she will not act rationally, so they manipulate her by withholding information.

A Discovery of WitchesMatthew refuses to tell Sarah about his past, to the point where an ex-girlfriend almost kills both of them because Sarah doesn’t know she can defend herself without qualm. That’s just one specific example: Sarah resorts to sneaking around to discover Matthew’s secrets because he won’t tell her why she is in so much danger. It’s a theme of the book, actually, and while the vampire eventually apologizes, that doesn’t make it okay. So much danger could have been avoided if Sarah had all the information she needed to make a rational decision.

In her dreams, she has control.

True BloodBetween the pair of them, Bill and Eric have hidden an encyclopedia of secrets from Sookie. Bill hides the true story of their meeting, his past, her powers, his plans… The occasions when he gives Sookie the whole truth are rare. Eric, similarly, is the strong but silent type, and doesn’t tell Sookie his plans for fear of drawing her into danger. If they loved Sookie, wouldn’t they love the whole her, bad decisions and all? It can’t really be love if they’re manipulating her into feeling something.

Your love makes me evil, baby.

Buffy the Vampire SlayerAngel and Riley both keep secrets about their identity from Buffy. Would Buffy have started to fall for Angel if she had known from the outset that he was a vampire? Would she have dated Riley knowing he works for a crazy, bigoted government agency? Even Giles keeps things from Buffy “for her best interest,” deciding he must neutralize Spike to keep Buffy focused. But Buffy is marginally better-informed than other paranormal heroines because she isn’t cast as the star of a romance: she’s a super-hero, and her romance with a vampire is even described as maudlin.

The trouble with this perfidious trope is that it suggests women will not act rationally if they have all the information. It also suggests that men can control women “to protect them.” It perpetuates the age-old stereotype that women are ruled by their emotions and therefore cannot be trusted to make logical decisions.

You could also just call it a lazy-writing trick: if my heroine knows everything, she won’t let me manipulate her into this dangerous situation.

But why is it so pervasive? Is it because mystery makes a man sexy? Is it because we like the vicarious feeling of giving up control? I confess that when I feel like reading romance, I do enjoy a man sweeping a woman off her feet from time to time. But sweeping her up and keeping her from ever walking of her own volition again really troubles me.

We need to think about what we’re saying by reading and writing this trope. Are we okay with women’s free will being taken away by the men who supposedly love them?

I’m not sure how this all plays into what Freud said, but doing the Freudian Friday posts has led me to observe a few upsetting trends in the romantic relationships portrayed in the urban fantasy/paranormal genre, and I want to put it out there for discussion.

What do you think, readers? Why has this trend taken hold? What about it makes readers salivate so? Does it bother you?

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10 thoughts on “Freudian Friday: A Woman’s Right to Know

  1. livrancourt

    Why am I always the first one to comment on your Friday posts? Is it because I’m hoping you’ll post another picture of Eric?
    Nah.
    It’s cuz you’re smart and you make me think. I read an article (and if you want to citation I can get it – it’s kinda long) that argues that so much is demanded of contemporary women (they have to look good and earn $$$ and dress trashy and keep the house perfect and raise the kids and and and…) that only a supernatural hero can keep up. Which supports what you already suspect…it’s nice, once in a while, to have someone else in charge. Because God knows it falls to us to run things more often than not. ;)

    • Kristin McFarland

      I LOVE that. It takes a supernatural hero to keep up with a modern woman. Freaking amazing. I’ll pass that along to my soon-to-be husband. :D

  2. Brilliant. We men do keep things bottled inside for various reasons, such as the ones mentioned above (and the “This is my problem, I don’t want to burden you with it”). I’m not saying that is right, in fact, I would like to see more women calling out these men on the B.S. for a change.

    And I wonder, does the reverse work as well?

    • Kristin McFarland

      I think it does. Maybe you men should call us (or fantasy heroines) out when we just let you take charge or refuse to burden us. Sometimes it’s for the best, but if women are acting excessively “girly” then maybe something should be said.

      Plus, the tortured hero act only goes so far. Imagine living with that permanently: “Darling, could you take out the trash?” “Maybe… but there will be repercussions… *solemn gaze into distance*”

  3. Awesome post, Kristin! I’ve thought about this a lot, and it drives me nuts that it’s such a common trope in urban fantasy. Angel basically breathes this trope — in his spinoff, he keeps so much from Cordelia that it drives her away, and she calls him out on it.

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve growled at a book because of this. Or a TV.

  4. This is one of the reasons I’ve largely stopped reading urban fantasies. The bad part is that these are being written mainly by women and being marketed by women. Is this what other writers and the publishing industry thinks of us?

  5. jennloliver

    Great post!
    I’d never thought about the relationships in the novels I read in this manner. But you are so right!
    I’m wondering, is it possible that the red flags of abusive are so rampant in today’s relationships and society has just become dulled to them, so when they are written in novels the reader doesn’t even notice? Scary thought.
    Now I’m thinking I need to go in to my own work in progress to make sure there are none of these warning signs mixed in!
    Thanks for sharing!

  6. This is an awesome post detailing the traits of an abusive relationship. It’s fun reading about what the protagonist does to “protect” the heroine, but it’s also an extremely dangerous thing when these same protective traits translate to real life. No woman ought to be controlled by a man or, even more so, never fall to the jealous ways of a domineering mate. This is not love. This is abuse–pure & simple.

    I wish today’s YA turns a corner highlighting the good in relationships like hope based on love and overcoming tragedy by true friendship. That’s what today’s YA is missing. The Harry Potter books were phenomenal in that way. Somehow, though, something was lost and when the Twilight series came, all the miserable negatives about a bad relationship caught on, propagating throughout other YA works. Either a lot of people have abusive relationships and they can relate to those abuses or the good qualities in a solid friendship can no longer be found in today’s friendships.

    Whatever it is, you’ve truly highlighted an excellent trend I wish would change in YA. Good job!

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