Feminist Fridays: On Broken Boys (guest post by Carrie Mesrobian)

Today I’m pleased to feature a post by author Carrie Mesrobian, whose debut novel, Sex & Violence, I reviewed earlier this week.

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A while ago on Twitter, I was gabbing with Heather of The Flyleaf Review and Asheley of Into The Hall of Books about our favorite juicy super-vampire series, The Black Dagger Brotherhood by J.R. Ward. We were talking about our favorite of the brothers and Heather said, “I love me a broken boy!” or something to that effect. Asheley and I agreed, and then we babbled on and on, Tweet after Tweet, in the glorious way of the Twitterverse.

But I was thinking about “The Broken Boy” for far longer than that. Indeed, the broken boy is one I am drawn to, both in life and literature.

Why is Jonah Griggs, of Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road, so often listed as everyone’s favorite YA “book boyfriend?” See also:

  • Marcus Flutie (Sloppy Firsts)
  • Cameron Quick (Sweethearts)
  • the Salvatore Brothers (The Vampire Diaries)
  • Four/Tobias (Divergent)
  • Sam (I’ll Be There)
  • Warner (Shatter Me)
  • Jace Wayland (The Mortal Instruments)

This is not a comprehensive list, by any means.

Forever Young Adult likes to call these guys “Mysterious Loner Dudes.” These are all boys with dark secrets or sorrowful pasts. Some of them are violent or have been victims of violence and abuse. Some of them are looking for redemption; some are not. Some of them are physically strong; others are quick witted and defensive with words. Most of them push away gestures of affection and kindness. They don’t talk about their feelings. They don’t share themselves in a way that’s productive.

Why is this attractive?

Some theories.

Perhaps women want to think of themselves as unique, original. Being ‘the one’ who can fix the unfixable problem. This would mean she is labeled ‘special’ because she alone can do this task, like something out of a quest story. In this way, the broken boy isn’t attractive in himself; he’s attractive by reflecting the merits of the woman.

Perhaps it’s because women feel powerless in this patriarchal society. And if she can ‘fix something,’ if she has power and expertise and ability, it lies in the emotional care-taking women are groomed to offer others so well.  In addition, perhaps what’s attractive is the idea that this healing power could be valued, after all. Again, this is all about the woman, not the broken boy.

And yet, we all know the deep hole a person can fall into when she tries to take problems that aren’t hers and make them her responsibility. All good parents know this: you cannot solve your child’s problems but you can empathize and support them as they solve them on their own. A message to young women I would emphatically underscore: fix yourself first; deal with what is under your own personal behavior to control. This is what Christa Desir calls “staying on your own yoga mat.”

I’d like to advance another theory for why women are drawn to broken boys.  Remember, these are not unempowered women, or ignorant women, or beat-down women who are espousing book boyfriends, as I count myself among the legions of swooners over such men.

I’d like to think perhaps we’re drawn to the broken boy because we know, down to our bones, that the problem of patriarchy resides in them. In how boys and men are socialized. We know that it’s a society that doesn’t value boys learning empathy or gentleness or compassion. It’s a society that doesn’t want boys to talk about their lives in a meaningful way, or cultivate emotional intelligence, or contribute in ways that aren’t physical and mighty and overtly performance-based. A society that heaps responsibility and duty on boys, but doesn’t allow them to be vulnerable, especially those boys who lack privilege, who we often see entering the military like so much canon fodder, to train and surrender themselves into some notion of “a greater good” but that is just more institutionalized violence that serves to thicken the shell around them.

We know, then, at a micro-level, if we can get through to this one broken boy, if we can help him heal, show him kindness and empathy and love, with our words and our bodies, both, then maybe we are solving the problem, one broken boy at a time. We know the salvation of ourselves, the answer to this world of abuse and rape and cruelty and domination, is to try offer kindness as an example, one person at a time.

Because what an ally this broken boy would be! If we could fix and convert him to our cause! His strength, his power! Tempered by the fire of violence and anger – he could protect us and go out to send on the message to other boys and men! He could embody our hope that another world is possible beyond this divided, brutal one.

We so want to believe that myth.

But we also know that a woman can sublimate her own self-interest to the Broken Boy Cause in no time. She could start with this ideal, subconsciously, and then lose herself in the drama in the blink of an eye. Lose her sanity, lose her autonomy, lose her life in some cases. That’s the problem, then. Because more than anything, what the broken boy knows best is how to break things. His allure is seductive and powerful – it runs so deep, to our desire for protection and restitution – which is also why it is so dangerous, too.

Being contrary, I am wary of advice – giving it or taking it. So I won’t tell the young women of the world to Beware The Broken Boy. Some lessons in life you must learn up close and personal. But I would say this: Fix yourself first, girl. Then worry about everyone else.

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You can find Carrie on her blog, tumblr, or twitter, and you can buy her book Sex & Violence from Amazon, IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, or find it at your local library.

Are you a fan of broken boys? Who is your favorite? Why are you drawn to them?

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