Winning the villain over to your side is a power fantasy.
Like, a really big one, too.
Social emphasis has it that men should value strength,
aggression, and violence, and women should value kindness, empathy, and
community. But really, anyone who has
learned to prefer social success to might/aggression is going to favour a
strategy where you can make your enemies into allies of some kind, over one
where you just kill them. As a display of dominance, killing is overly
simplistic. And it’s also hard to ignore the reality that luck usually has more
to do with most fights than actual strength.
So, many people vastly prefer stories where the villains don’t
die, but instead, get won over by the hero. It’s also a much more prevalent
power fantasy among women than it is among men, because women are often taught
that violence on our parts is inherently distasteful and ignoble. If you can’t defeat your enemies by putting a
bullet in their heads, then what could
be more satisfying than convincing that enemy to come and fight other people on
your behalf instead?
This is a major component to why villains end up as popular
shipping material. I honestly don’t think it’s the ‘bad boy’ impulse, or some
branch of misogyny, or at least, not in a majority of cases. It’s a total and
sincere power fantasy. Someone going ‘all I care about is myself and all I want
to do is DESTROY THE WORLD MWAHAHAHA’ meeting you and then being like ‘oh no
wait I also want to please you and spend time with you and I want that so much
that I will now give up those other things’ implies an intoxicating level of
Of course, like most power fantasies, it pays to tread
carefully with it. Because real life rarely accommodates such things, and as
with some muscle-bound hero easily lifting a house over his head, being able to
take a wholly selfish being and convert them into a devoted companion is… unlikely to happen outside of fiction.
For a lot of reasons.
However, I bring it up because I am C O N S T A N T L Y
seeing the compulsion to ship characters with villains misattributed to A)
agreeing with the villains, B) some form of self-hatred, C) a noble impulse
towards compassion and understanding, or D) sheer stupidity, and really… it’s
just another power fantasy. Wonder Woman punches a tank. Tony Stark buys an
entire island. Storm calls down a lightning strike. Batman outwits all his clever foes. And some seemingly random,
ordinary human woman convinces Lex Luthor to chill out and stop trying to kill
Superman. It’s all power, displayed
in fantastical proportions.
(Which isn’t to say that you have to like it or think that
every such relationship is good and healthy, gods no, but once you realize that
everyone’s just pretending to be the Superman of relationships, it’s easier to just go ‘oh that’s what you’re after’ and… y’know… fret less.)
This is an EXCELLENT point.
Allow me to share a couple of quotes from Dangerous Men, Adventurous Women, a collection of essays about the romance genre.
“The strong, domineering hero of the romance novel has long been the subject of criticism. What critics don’t realize is that it is the hero’s task in the book to present a suitable challenge to the heroine. His strength is a measure of her power. For it is she who must conquer him.” ~Robyn Donald, “Mean, Moody and Magnificent: The Hero in Romance Literature”
“…in a romance the hero must play two roles. He is not only the hero, he is also the villain.” ~Jayne Ann Krentz, “Trying to Tame the Romance: Critics and Correctness”