Warning: spoilers ahead!!
The new hit Netflix series You follows the twisted relationship between Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), a bookstore manager, and hopeful writer Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail). When Joe and Beck first meet their interaction seems to be just the start of a sappy romantic comedy. However, it soon becomes clear that Joe’s intentions and need to investigate Beck’s past and take control of her future are not the innocent love story we were all hoping for. Joe’s actions quickly turn into stalking Beck’s every move through social media and stealing her phone, in order to gain access to private conversations and information. At the end of episode 1, we see that Joe is not only creepy but also violent and will get rid of anything in the way of him fostering a relationship with Beck.
Despite everything Joe does in the series, many fans of the show still find him charming and charismatic. Some argue that if Joe hadn’t been a stalker and murderer then he would have been a nice guy. And after all, he did it all for love, right? Penn Badgley, the actor who plays Joe and has previously played the infamous Dan Humphrey on Gossip Girl, has come out multiple times addressing the many issues with the romanticization of his character. Penn Badgley points out how both of his characters, Joe and Dan, exude toxic masculinity and believe that they are outsiders that deserve to be on the inside.
With all the buzz around You and the character of Joe, it makes us question our society, the way we use social media, and how we normalize toxic masculinity. Why are we willing to support and fall for a character who will do anything for a girl, even if that means watching her every move? It’s important to focus on the fact that at first Joe is not portrayed as a misogynistic and sexist asshole but rather a man who “respects” women. Joe believes that he is good to women and that he is helping Beck better her life. This privilege that Joe believes himself to have is problematic. And while the men in your life are probably not partaking in the extreme actions that Joe is, it is important to not romanticize the toxic way in which men believe they can “save” us better than they can help ourselves.