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:
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 Witches: Matthew 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.
True Blood: Between 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.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Angel 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?