“Too Stupid To Live” Double-Standards

Candy: Meljean has a really interesting entry on TSTL double standards. I’m trying hard to think of a TSTL hero, and I can’t. There are plenty of stupid heroes (the stupidity usually tending towards the “asinine assumptions about the purity and/or intentions of the heroine” variety), and plenty of stubborn heroes, but I can’t think of a hero who puts himself in physically dangerous situations in which he’s patently not able to handle himself and then needs the heroine to run in and save his stupid ass.

Sarah: Hmmm. I’ve seen heroes put themselves in stupid social situations out of a naive inability to predict society, but that’s a common male stereotype anyway, and really, any male in a truly rules-centered society (i.e. the South) knows the rules. Whether he chooses to obey them is another issue entirely. But I can think of a few books where the hero stupidly puts the heroine and himself in a socially untenable situation, leaving the heroine to scheme her way out of poor graces.

Candy: Yeah, but that’s not necessarily TSTL behavior, though, is it? I define TSTL behavior to be when a person rushes into danger, or steadfastly refuses to heed warning signs or take basic safety precautions in hazardous situations. An unarmed, gently-reared woman who INSISTS on going riding alone when there’ve been reports of brigand raids in the area is TSTL. An armed man who insists on the same is definitely taking a risk, but at least he’s better-equipped to deal with the danger. Furthermore, TSTL behavior is often (but not always) followed by the other protagonist being forced to rescue the other person out of the completely avoidable consequences brought on by the TSTL behavior. I have NEVER seen a heroine having to rescue a TSTL hero out of an untenable situation that he could’ve avoided if he’d only, say, taken a big heavy stick with him before checking out that strange noise in the cellar.

And that’s the thing. I don’t think we’ll ever see a true TSTL hero. Having a hero who needs rescuing from his own stupidity is not sexy. Having a hero who’s that incompetent is just lame. I think heroines are allowed to be TSTL partly because everyone (including feminists like me) assumes women are more helpless than men, and in some ways featherheaded behavior is more forgivable. And of course we don’t need to be sexually attracted to the heroine, so that type of stupid mong behavior is more easily forgiven in a heroine (though we may find it annoying as shit) but I doubt we’d forgive the same kind of thing in a hero. This may, in fact, be one of the few areas in which the hero has a lot less leeway given to him than a heroine.

Sarah: No, it’s certainly not TSTL behavior. I don’t think a hero has ever done that kind of thing, blindly and blithely wandered into danger, like the dumb chick in a horror movie going into the scary creepy dark house alone. I have seen a few books where the hero has ended up in a tight spot and his girlfriend has had to bail him out, but that was just intervention, not saving him from his own stupid bloody self.

I know of a few books in which both the villain momentarily outsmarted the heroine and the hero, and in one case the hero’s mistress bailed him out—but that wasn’t due to heedlessness or sheer idiocy. It was more due to circumstances and a good bit of cunning on the part of the villain. However, whenever that has happened, and the hero and the heroine are bailed out, the hero redeems himself in the reader’s eyes by kicking the ever living shit out of the villain and company, and makes himself into the big strong ass kicking danger man that he is meant to be. He may be momentarily down but as a romance hero, is never wussed out.

You are completely right that weakness is not favored for heroes. Even heroes who are physically weak are brilliantly smart, artistically gifted, blessed with a six foot dong – it is a rule, it seems, that a hero must be Spectacularly Endowed in one (or more) areas and if that area isn’t physical strength, his skill in another venue more than makes up for his lack of manful brute strength. A hero cannot be a wuss. And I am ok with that. I expect the hero to be worthy of the heroine. I HATE it, however, when the heroine is not worthy of the hero’s effort to gain her attention.

Candy: I think we expect the hero to be worthy of the heroine in very specific ways, and the heroine to be worthy of the hero in other specific ways. Can you imagine a romance novel in which the hero bumbles around as much as some heroines do and still coming across as attractive? I don’t like either the hero or heroine to thoughtlessly endanger themselves, of course, but when it comes down to it I really do think I’ll find it easier to forgive the heroine for TSTL behavior (up to a point) vs. a hero.

So much for me being a feminist who enjoys the subversion of gender roles, eh? I enjoy my subversion only SO FAR and no further, dammit. Sigh.

What I do like are situations in which the heroine is set up for a grand rescue scene, and she ends up rescuing herself, and all the hero has to do is mop up what’s left of the villain. Loretta Chase has one such scene in Viscount Vagabond that’s just hilarious.

Sarah: Well, there’s subversion of gender roles, and then there’s inconsistency. I mean, I do know plenty of individual women who are indeed pretty damn dim. But do I know a dude that stupid, who would walk down the subway tunnels because someone told him there was treasure just past the 42nd street station? Not really. I think it might also be a cultural thing—there is still a good bit of opinion that the Men take care of the Women and there is some shifting in the seat when one encounters the reverse. How does a stay-at-home husband deal with his powerful, breadwinning wife? It happens, but a lot of people wonder what its like because it isn’t always common, especially outside of urban areas.

And also, consider the readership: women read romance novels, and sometimes, you’re looking for a juicy escape to sweep you away, and a hero that sweeps you and the heroine off her feet is a delicious way to spend an hour. Sure it obeys gender roles that are insufferable when you come up against them in Real Life, but sometimes, it’s just delicious.

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Ranty McRant

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  1. 1
    cw says:

    I think TSTL and hero are mutually exclusive (is that the term?) terms, even though I sort of laughed it off at Meljean’s. Like, you can’t have a heroic hero AND a TSTL hero.

    TSTL defined as boldly going where no sane man would go without a weapon, that is. Sexist, yes, but *sigh* such is life. How many women feel comfortable walking around alone at night, versus men doing the same, right?

    I do tend to define TSTL behavior as in a character doing something or being so boneheaded they deserve to die, so a lot more characters (heroes included) fall under that. :D

    If this makes sense. I’m without sleep and on too much caffeine…

  2. 2
    Candy says:

    I think we generally expect the hero to rescue the heroine from physical danger, while we expect the heroine to rescue the hero from emotional danger. There, how’s that for divvying up roles based on gender lines? Some books reverse this in interesting ways; For My Lady’s Heart, for example, has a very dangerous, very powerful heroine who (misguidedly) tries to protect the hero from physical harm, while the hero is the one who has to deal with her many, many issues regarding love and security. But he kicks ass, too. Sigh. Good old Ruck. One of my all-time favorite heroes.

    And yeah, if TSTL is defined the way you define it (and why not, really?) then there are plenty of TSTL heroes. Or maybe they need their own designation: So Stupid They Deserve to Die? SSTDTD? And look: it contains “STD” in the middle! Huh huh. I said “STD.”

    Between SquishLit and SSTDTD I’m on FIRE this weekend with the stupid phrase-coining. WOOT!

  3. 3
    Meljean says:

    Holy crap! *shakes fist* I was thinking about this topic and came up with tSTD hero/heroines (Too Stupid to Die) The heroes (actually, almost all heroines) that you wish they did die, but somehow their stupid actions ended up allowing them to live AND marry the great guy at the end (and, unfortunately, give birth to a new brood of tSTD kids, which would be the STD part). Damnit! (Is it DamNit? Or DamMit?) Hehehe. My next post will be about not being quick enough to capitalize on marketing trends :D

    Anyway, I agree that we won’t likely see an out-and-out TSTL hero anytime soon. Although there have been bumbling ones (and I just love those) I don’t know that I could imagine a HEA with a hero who gets himself killed the day after the wedding. And those TSTL moments do fulfill that hero-to-the-rescue fantasy…I just wish that the situation arose because of some really great villain than because the heroine is missing part of a brain.

    Now I’m going to have to check out Chase’s Viscount Vagabond.

  4. 4
    Candy says:

    Actually, you’re totally ahead of the curve, Meljean—after all, you’re the one who introduced the topic. You’re a trendsetter. I am VERY interested in reading seeing your list of tSTD heroes/heroines.

  5. 5
    frances a. says:

    My spam word is have92, which is appropriate, as I think I know of a TSTL hero—Percival Alden, from Johanna Lindsey’s Malory novels.  OK, so he isn’t a hero YET, per se (pun intended), but a more affably hapless supporting character you’ll never encounter, short of them having incured massive brain damage. I live for the day J. Lindsey gets around to wrapping up that particular loose end, more than likely with a too-smart-for-her-own-good/supremely-capable heroine who finds a use for him. (It’d break my heart if Lindsey uses the “secretly uber-intelligent and working undercover for the crown or something similarly rad” plot device, though.) Percy’s so cute…I just want to pat him on the head.

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