By Emma Weisberg
Double binds have always fascinated me. The fact that a group of people could be encouraged to act one particular way but then are challenged to act in the opposite manner… all at once! Bordo describes this phenomenon in her writing Gentleman or Beast?: The Double Bind of Masculinity as “any situation in which a person is subject to fulfill two contradictory requirements at the same time” (242). It’s no wonder there is so much confusion about how to act like “real” man or woman. There are simply too many rules. Women are supposed to be curvaceous yet thin. Flirtatious yet only flirtatious in the right settings—otherwise, we’re seen as whores. Pure and innocent yet experienced. Men are taught to be competitive and dominant “on the field” yet gentlemanly in relationships. Tough yet sensitive. So, in terms of masculinity, young boys and men set off into the world with often two conflicting ideas of how they should act. They should always defend their masculinity when challenged by other men, however they should be sweet and sensitive to their romantic interests.
So what happens when both ideas intersect? What happens if a teenage boy is standing with his girlfriend in the hallway and either he or she is insulted? It was shocking to read the example of Ally McBeal, when Ally states, “if anyone insulted her, she would want her date to ‘rip his head off.’ If he just turned the other cheek and walked away, she’d be ‘disappointed’”(235). I started thinking about one of the classic male character depictions in young adult novels and romantic comedies: the “bad boy.” The “bad boy” is rough around the edges—he’s always willing to get into a fight—but he’s got a soft spot for love. The lead female character is supposed to change him and bring out his inner sensitive side. However, if the “bad boy” has an occasional breakout with violence, it’s okay only if he is defending his love’s honor. For instance, on the show Gilmore Girls there was a character named Jess who dated one of the lead characters, Rory. He was the epitome of the “bad boy”: he’d pick fights and hold so much anger inside, however he had a “soft spot” for Rory and would try to only act with violence around her if it was an act of protection.
There are also many double binds found in children’s movies hidden under the umbrella of heterosexual love. In Hetero-Romantic Love and Heterosexiness in Children’s G-Rated Films, Martin and Kazyak state that heterosexual love is almost always seen as the be all, end all, that the “primary account of heterosexuality in these films is one of heteromantic love and its exceptional, magical, transformative power” (323). This claim can be proven with the research conducted on children’s films released between 1900-2005, in which only two of the twenty included no reference to hetero-romance (321-322). These movies are saying that heterosexual romance can solve it all, such as the unsolved war in Pocahontas or the legal system in Aladdin (327). However, what I’ve noticed especially from recent Disney films is that love is also supposed to solve personal character “flaws.” In the movie Tangled, the lead male Flynn Rider transforms from a selfish thief to a caring man as he falls in love with Repunzel. In a similar “bad boy” esque tone, Prince Naveen transforms from a self-absorbed prince to a loving man as he falls in love with Tiana in The Princess and the Frog. Children watching these movies are receiving the message that these “bad boys” can be fixed with just a little bit of love.