My Dear Readers,
After watching the latest BBC version of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, something occurred to me that I hadn't thought about before: this book breaks just about every cultural stereotype about the bad boy. As Grease and several other works of fiction that have a completely undeserved place in American culture would like to tell you, the bad boy is supposed to be the guy that the girls go for. It's the whole "nice guys finish last" idea, that the sweet and innocent gentleman will get passed over time and time again for the guys who wear leather jackets and have only a vague sense of morality.
This idea, which I find completely repugnant, is a Siamese twin of the "boys will be boys" attitude, which essentially is the foundation of the double standard that has frustrated women since the dawn of time. It means that men, since they possess certain natural instincts, are allowed to indulge their temptations, despite whatever moral standards happen to be widely accepted at the time. And not only does this mean that they end up getting held to no moral standard whatsoever, but it also links immorality with masculinity, meaning that the less moral a guy is, the more that guy is achieving ultimate guyness. In this model, the opposite is true of femininity, which is closely linked to purity.* Thus, in order for men to be men, they must be immoral, while women are only women when they are the supreme example of morality. In my experience, this model is only supported by morally deficient people in the first place, but luckily for the bad boys, there have been enough such people in the world to keep the bad boy image alive and well.
But here's what I don't get, and I think that this is something that have puzzled the nice boys for centuries: why are good girls supposed to go for bad boys? Wouldn't a moral person be attracted to another moral person? Are the bad boys really supposed to win without answering for their sins? And then comes Jane Austen , who solves the riddle by creating a character named John Willoughby, a bad boy in every respect. In fact, he's so bad that he seduces helpless women and abandons them when the arrangement becomes inconvenient. According to the bad boy stereotype, this would make Mr. Willoughby so darn masculine that every good girl in the country would naturally go crazy for him. And one does, by the name of Marianne Dashwood. If Grease is the essence of real human behavior, it would make sense that Marianne would fall so madly for Willoughby that she would find his wild behavior irresistible.
But thankfully, Sense and Sensibility is not Grease, and when Marianne finds out about Willoughby's troubled past, she knows that she must have nothing to do with him. At the same time, when Willoughby's aunt finds out about the girls her nephew has seduced, particularly the one who bears Willoughby's child, this ultimate bad boy is left out on the street, goes into debt, and marries a rich woman he hates in order to survive. The biggest joke here was that to Willoughby, Marianne was a lot more than his most recent conquest. Instead, he felt genuinely in love with her and felt that she was his soul mate. Tragically, Willoughby's previous lifestyle, however masculine, made him unworthy of the woman he loved, and even though he end up being rich, every chance for happiness has been lost forever. And in that tragic moment, Jane Austen struck a boy for good guys everywhere, because no matter what the world may tell you, bad choices lead to unpleasant consequences, and good girls fall for good guys.
Thank you. Miss Austen.
Regards, best wishes, and morality,
*If you don't believe me think about this: why do women traditionally wear the color that symbolizes purity in weddings, while men wear the color that symbolizes sin?