*Trigger Warning: mentions of rape, abuse, and toxic relationships
We’ve all heard this story a thousand times. The typically innocent female protagonist falls head-over-heels for the misunderstood bad boy. Despite his efforts to push her away, the protagonist’s attraction and intrigue towards him only grows. Initially, she might claim to hate him, but it all quickly fades away once she learns of his broken past. Although there are clear signs that they shouldn’t be together by the constant fights and behavioral red flags, it doesn’t matter to her because the protagonist knows he’s a good person and she will stop at nothing to fix his damaged heart.
The general public, most notably young girls, have been brought up consuming this type of media. The concept that women have to be the loyal punching bag for the betterment of others is not foreign. Society has always emphasized the importance of women prioritizing their children, husband, and overall family first. She has to succumb to their desires and issues of others before thinking of herself or how these types of situations affect her.
But this aspect of the bad boy trope is only the tip of the iceberg when addressing the underlying problem with the message it conveys.
The truth is people don’t change people. Yes, someone might influence another and lead them towards change, but it is up to the individual themselves to choose how they are going to be in the future. Romanticizing the idea that women can change troubled men for the better is, aside from impractical, downright harmful and misleading. Not only does it perpetuate the idea that it is up to the woman to make the effort in fixing a relationship, it can also lead to abusive behaviors becoming normalized. There is a big difference between working together through hardships and having the hardships be thrown at you.
In addition, this relationship trope undermines all the abuse real victims go through. A healthy relationship shouldn’t consist of any form of toxic mannerisms or continued harassment and staying just to solve it doesn’t help, it’s more detrimental for both parties in the end. However, with the way the media portrays these types of relationships, it’s easy for consumers to blur the line between helping someone and letting abusive behaviors continue under a false pretense of hope.
A good example of this is the horror thriller Killing Stalking, a manhwa (South Korean comic) which focuses on psychopath Sangwoo and his victim Yoonbum. The story starts out with Yoonbum finding out his seemingly kind crush, Sangwoo, is actually a serial killer. Because of this, Sangwoo imprisons Yoonbum and continuously rapes and manipulates him to the point where Yoonbum develops Stockholm Syndrome and extreme dependency towards him. However, despite all of these atrocities, the predominantly female audience continues to vouch for Sangwoo and Yoonbum as a romantic pairing. They have so much hope that Sangwoo will have a change of heart and become a better man, but he never does this because it’s not in his character to do so. This mentality dismisses Sangwoo’s behaviors of being a misogynistic murderer and rapist because he is conventionally attractive and is the closest relationship the protagonist, Yoonbum, has. Many girls wanted Yoonbum and Sangwoo to work out (despite there not being any real love) because it fits the narrative of fixing the bad boy, even if the bad boy is a psychotic criminal that enjoys physically and mentally hurting others. Rather than seeing Sangwoo for the monster he is, the audience treats him as a romantic pursuit where Yoonbum has to be patient for his abuser to, eventually, come around.
It is worth mentioning that these fixers are also part of the problem. The way they perceive their significant other as a project is very damaging. We as humans are complex beings that can’t be simply “fixed” or “solved” and it’s dehumanizing to expect someone to change to what you want them to be. There is a certain degree of entitlement that comes with wanting to fix someone. You offer them guidance and support and, in return, they become the ideal person you desire. People aren’t pets waiting to be trained and the mere concept of trying to fix someone is problematic in itself.
That is why helping and trying to fix someone are two completely different concepts. One has a healthy and more open perspective while the other can feel forced and impractical. Helping someone encourages them to seek growth and change within themselves instead of waiting and expecting it to happen. It also reinforces healthy boundaries, so people know when to withdraw their support given the circumstances.
So, is there a solution to all of this? Why yes, and it’s quite simple actually.
In today’s social climate, it’s time to stop romanticizing toxic, one-sided relationships as well as giving women the role of being “fixers”. Instead of putting on a pedestal media where the woman tries to fix the broken man, we should start giving more credit to relationships where both parties help each other grow. By acknowledging the error and deep-rooted misogyny within this trope and exposing these popular relationship depictions in media, more young girls will be able to see themselves as someone worthy of mutual respect and love rather than a loyal provider.