Thursday, July 2, 2015

Barend Vlaardingerbroek: Girls who like bad boys

If you’re a guy and your teenhood experience with girls was anything like mine, you’ll undoubtedly recall your ire and frustration at being ignored by the sheilas while the boorish louts whom you so despised got the female attention and, indeed, their admiration. 

And when this translated a little later into the realisation that they were ‘getting plenty’ where you got none, you probably consoled yourself with the view that at least some girls are their own worst enemy with regard to the male company they seek.

There is no denying that ‘bad boys’ are a definite turn-on for some girls and women. Unless a fellow in this category is a wild-eyed, mouth-foaming psychopath, he will have little trouble attracting female devotees if he is so inclined. Murderers, rapists and violent thugs serving time in prison woo and marry women whom they contact through the internet or through visiting schemes, and there’s no shortage of takers. The most uncouth ‘artists’ and rock bands are shadowed by fawning female groupies ready to throw themselves at these characters at a moment’s notice.

There’s nothing new about any of this. A respectable young woman succumbing to the charms of a ‘bad boy’ has been a common feature of storylines going back to antiquity. In the Middle Ages, it was usually a ‘princess’ of sorts falling for some vagabond (“He whistled and he sang till the green woods rang, and he won the heart of a lady,” as one ballad goes). In Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’, Natasha (already engaged to Prince Andrei) is about to elope with a man of the worst reputation in matters of sexual propriety before the plan is sprung. The ‘good girl/bad boy’ theme emerges as a subplot in  movies going back to the silent era. Readers of my vintage will recall pop hits such as ‘Leader of the Pack’ and ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ with the same theme woven into them.

The origins of the allure of ‘bad boys’ for many girls and women are to be found way, way back when our distant ancestors lived in hunter-gatherer groups. The really ferocious dudes were the ones who, in cahoots with others of their ilk, ensured the food supply by aggressively marking out their turf and brooking no competition from outsiders. Evolutionary prowess is all about reproductive success, which comes down to how many young are produced and survive to adulthood. From a female’s evolutionary point of view, bonding with such a male and having him provide her and their offspring (albeit alongside his other females and their offspring) with shelter, nutrition and protection from marauding males was a good bet under prevailing conditions. Both natural selection and sexual selection fed into the ‘bad boys’ appeal equation and it became genetically hard-wired into the human condition.

Parents have been aware of the perils that ‘bad boys’ represent for their daughters since time immemorial. So I’m not sure why there is all the soul-searching about girls and young women who go to join ISIS as ‘jihadi brides’. These are girls and women who are turned on by ‘bad boys’, and they act on it. One interviewee on the BBC described how she and her friends regarded those macho hunks as ‘eye candy’ and how they wanted to get a bit of these paragons of manhood before they were blown away or blown up. (Well, it’s more honest than the hackneyed “He’s really a lovely guy but people have misjudged him” smokescreen.) Not that they expect their Romeos to be faithful – one ‘jihadi bride’ who now goes by the name of Umm Sumayyah Al-Muhajirah wrote an article freely available on the internet to the effect that it’s fine for ISIS husbands to avail themselves of bits on the side such as captives forced into sexual slavery (quote: “I rejoiced when we had our first sex slave, forced sex ISN'T rape and they should be thankful”). After all, ‘bad boys’ are by definition untrue partners. If they were loyal, they’d be dull, boring nerds like you and me, right, bro?!

So what’s in it for the girls who associate with ‘bad boys’? There is an element of ‘taming the beast’ – bringing a widely feared ruffian to heel – that some seem to regard as a worthy challenge. (This can be a high-risk strategy at times, and explains why many a girlfriend of a ‘bad boy’ sports a black eye or other sign of physical chastisement on occasion; however, this tends to be regarded as an occupational hazard that has to be factored in rather like a lion-tamer tolerating the occasional swipe from one of his charges). There is also the power-kick and leverage that come from having a partner who will reduce a rival male to pulp at her behest – recall the threats made in ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’. And there is the principle of birds of a feather flocking together – ‘bad girls’ teaming up with ‘bad boys’. This includes ‘Jihad Jane’, on record as saying she wants to be the first ISIS female to behead a Western man, and this photogenic young lady, [now called] Khadija Dare, likewise a British convert to the ISIS cause, who went to marry a fighter from Sweden who now calls himself Abu Bakr:

Far from being oppressed and submissive, she has a sure-fire way of asserting herself:

This young woman has evidently taken to the ISIS lifestyle like a fish to water. Still, one can’t help but feel that the appeal of the ‘loot, rape and pillage’ way of life isn’t quite the same for a woman as for a man – certainly not the ‘rape’ part. Unless, perhaps, it’s female captives being raped that gives her the buzz – so it would  seem for Umm Sumayyah Al-Muhajirah.

How should we, as a civilised modern society, respond to the conundrum of girls and women going to Syria and Iraq to become ‘jihadi brides’? I think the British authorities were guilty of a serious error of judgment when they told the parents of one lot of silly teenage girls who left home and turned up on a CCTV screen at the Turkey/Syria border that the girls would not necessarily be prosecuted should they return. The most cursory of glances at readers’ comments in British on-line newspapers indicates that there is a strong sentiment among the general public to the effect that they are as guilty as any gun-toting or knife-wielding jihadi and should face the music should they return in one piece. I tend to agree. Had we been talking about boys of the same age, I suspect the message from the British authorities would have been different. That is surely unacceptable in these ‘equality’-obsessed days.

The boys and young men who leave the West and go to join ISIS mostly do so for the delights of thuggery, loot, rape and pillage that it offers them. The girls and young women who leave the West and go to become consorts of these miscreants do so because they like ‘bad boys’ who get high on thuggery, loot, rape and pillage, and thereby become aiders and abettors. I see no reason to don kid gloves when dealing with them – and I most certainly will not think of them as ‘good girls’ led astray by ‘bad boys’ or by anyone else for that matter. They knowingly made their choice and should face the full consequences thereof. This may include some tit-for-tat justice when the ISIS bubble bursts for them, and I for one won’t be shedding any tears over those who end their days finding out that “what goes ‘round, comes ‘round”.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek BSc (Auckland), BA, BEdSt (Queensland), DipCommonLaw, PGDipLaws (London), MAppSc (Curtin), PhD (Otago), is associate professor of education at the American University of Beirut and a regular contributor to Breaking Views on geopolitical and social issues. Feedback welcome at


Anonymous said...

My sentiments exactly Barend.....

P Mundell said...

... and your article goes a long way to explaining the anti-authoritarian grip that the 'macho' element increasingly exercises in our parks, playgrounds and schools, here and elsewhere, in the West. Rebellion, anti-social behaviour and theatrical defiance by the local 'hoods' create the perverse appeal you illustrate very well. Social media magnify the allure enormously. Take time to actually listen to the lyrics of 'rap' music. Filth dressed up as finery - normalising brutality and numbing better judgement. The influence of parents, teachers and the church has been weakened and obstructed by advocates of unfettered freedom in all things. Archaic it may well be but History is stained with the blood and tears of countless victims when 'bad-boy' behaviour, and fanfare, flourish.