First Christian Grey, and now Joe Goldberg. Apparently, hot men committing acts of violence in the name of love is attractive.
It may not be a healthy or a liked phenomenon, but it must be admitted…on some level, it’s understandable. When Fifty Shades of Grey was published in 2011, it broke sales records. It was around 2013 (I was a senior in high school), when I was persuaded by friends to give the book a shot.
It was exactly what I expected. I myself never got on the Grey bandwagon, but I’ve heard my friends defend their fictional crush with arguments that, even at the time, sounded toxic and naive, and now in hindsight, a little funny. I’m sure you’ve heard arguments somewhere like this before, too. Something like “But he loves her!” or some similar variation. As if those four words could completely override any act of inhumanity that character did.
And Then “You” Came Out…
I credit this show for bringing me back to highschool a little more then I would have liked.
In all fairness I do have to say that in my personal life I haven’t seen as many hard defenders of the main guy Joe Goldberg in “You” as I have for Grey, but that could be attributed to the fact that most of my friends who did defend the weird violence in Fifty Shades of Grey (which was a terrible portrayal of BDSM relationships, BTW, but that’s hardly an excuse) were a lot younger back then. With age comes experience, and a lot of things you didn’t think twice about, including violence in the name of love, start to sound off color.
But Twitter sure did head off to Joe Goldberg’s defense!
Why Do Women Feel the Need To Defend Guys Like Goldberg?
For obvious reasons, I can't speak for all women regarding this topic. But generally speaking, there are usually two reasons that consistently come up:
Natural healers: Call it the motherly instinct or whatever you like, but a large portion of us women are drawn to what’s broken. It’s why you read so many Instagram artists wax poetic about “loving through all the scars” and whatnot. But in this case, these men are what’s broken. They almost always have a tragic childhood that conveniently explains everything wrong with their mentality and how they show love. It’s very similar to the allure of the bad boy: wanting to rehabilitate and tame the beast. But in this case, it’s more about wanting to teach a victim of abuse and neglect how to love.
Violence in the name of love: Violence is a human being at their most primal. It’s a stage of action most of us try to avoid. For a man to put himself in an attack position and commit a crime for a woman shows that he would be willing to do anything for her - including kill. So long as you can justify his crime with “it’s for her own good,” or “he loves her,” then he’ll probably be defended.
It's more about wanting to teach a victim of abuse and neglect how to love.
The prerequisite to having such inexcusable behavior become excusable again is, of course, being attractive.
What Attractiveness Signals to People
But why does he have to be attractive? What does attractiveness signal? Apparently, it signals just enough to override murderous tendencies.
Drake Baer recalls a study in his article “Yes, Beautiful People Have a Totally Different Experience of Life”: “The research says we’re more likely to view them (attractive people) as intelligent, healthy, and socially capable simply because they look good.”
Without the good looks, these men would lack status with women. They wouldn’t be completely devoid of a place in the hierarchy, especially if they were wealthy, but good looks is a huge bonus. Subconsciously we may be thinking, “Someone who is of high status can’t be all that bad. Something external must have hurt him enough to make him head down such a dark path.” Something external usually means it’s not their fault they ended up broken.
We’re more likely to view attractive people as intelligent, healthy, and socially capable simply because they look good.
Why Do We Tolerate Violence If a Man Is Attractive?
If the studies (and Twitter) are anything to go by, it seems like women may feel like the violence is in some ways justified. We are more emotional and more empathetic than our counterparts, and that’s what can move us to make excuses for criminals. When Grey gets vulnerable and talks about his childhood, the hearts of millions of readers ached. When Goldberg convinces the audience he’s killed for the sake and wellbeing of his lover, a lot of us nod our heads and think… maybe it's all just love.
But we humans are also incredibly shallow. You can see just how our eyes manipulate our judgement. It’s not just his traumatic childhood, but also his good looks that indicate to us he’s someone worth fighting for, perhaps someone who could even be worth loving. This status, founded on pity and physical attraction, makes us want to be associated with him - and we don’t care if that comes off as shallow.
So…Is It Dangerous?
The attack on Stranger Things actress Millie Bobby Brown, after she defended Joe Goldberg for being “in love” in an Instagram video back in 2019, may have seemed a little harsh, but it needed to be said. (It should be noted that Millie no longer agrees with her original statement.) Yes, it’s hardly a crime if a young girl is swept away by good looks and “committed love” enough to excuse a fictional character’s sins, because how could she know better? She’s young and programmed for love (enough to see the crime from his eyes). But it’s still a foolish statement to be making. The younger we start pinpointing and arguing against these dangerous remarks, the higher we can set the bar.
Would these same women think that same man was a tortured soul who needs heartfelt love if he was…ugly and disfigured?
But we should probably voice our concerns in a different way. We could also bring up the hypocrisy of letting some of these cases slide. We could call out our subconscious shallow tendency to feel more connected with the physically attractive criminal, and ask “Would these same women think that same man was a tortured soul who needs heartfelt love if he was… ugly and disfigured?” I’ve heard the term ‘incel’ weaponized by a lot of women when they see a man so desperate for a woman’s love and approval that he may do questionable things, and usually those men are...unappealing to the eyes.
I think these types of entertainment expose a part of ourselves that we are all a little embarrassed to admit - that we are incredibly swayed by the physicalities of people. The severity of violence is not softened by the predator's attractiveness. A chiseled jaw or not, crime is crime, and good looks shouldn’t put you above anything. Even if he had a tragic childhood.