Do women prefer “tortured” villains to “boring” heroes?

Recently I received a message from my fellow blogger/friend, Teanna (find her online here or here), and she had this to say:

You, honored Pirate Blogger, need to write a blog about why women swoon over Dark Heroes (Wolverine, Batman, Hawkeye, Sherlock, Thorin) and Tortured Villains (Loki, Loki, Loki, Bucky, Loki) and find Nice Golden Hero types (Cap, Coulson, Superman… OK, that’s a weird set right there, but…) boring.

As a guy, I don’t feel like I have the right to speculate over what women find attractive or the characters they’re interested in, and the last thing I want to do is say something that comes off as judgmental or sexist, so I thought I’d open this question up to you.  If I get enough feedback, I’ll post some of the most interesting things I heard.  If not, I might write my own article from the perspective of whether these types of characters are more popular in society on a more general level.

You can of course leave me a comment right here on my blog, or if you don’t want to post something publicly you can send me a message via my feedback page.  You can tweet me @lovepirate77 or find me on tumblr or send me a message there.

So I’ll leave you with some possible questions, not intending to make any judgments about the question, but just to get the conversation flowing.  Do women really prefer tortured heroes to boring villains?  If not, why is there a perception that they do?  If true, why is that?  Is it simply a reflection of the popularity of these characters generally, regardless of the fan’s gender?  Is it because of they types of actors who generally play tortured villains?  Are those characters simply better written?  Is the mere question offensive?  Is there any danger in being attracted to villainous characters when it translates into real life relationships?  Is it a reflection of living in a more forgiving or less black-and-white time period?

I look forward to hearing from you, as I’m sure there are a wide range of opinions about this topic.

8 thoughts on “Do women prefer “tortured” villains to “boring” heroes?

  1. On a side note, I’m always been embarrassed to ask you, but I couldn’t figure out if you were a guy or a girl, lol (Your ‘About’ page didn’t specify). But thanks for clearing it up for me with your “As a guy…” statement 😛 !

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  2. As a woman, I have to say it ultimately depends on writing. Personally, I find Cap, Coulson, and Superman to be great characters and have never seen the appeal of tortured villains (unless they redeem themselves, that’s another story), but I know not everyone’s like this.

    I think it depends on the complexity of the character. Tortured villains and dark heroes more often than not have an interesting backstory or motivation for what they do. As writers often say, they are “the hero in their own story,” and writers spend a lot of time crafting why they do what they do in a way that helps the reader/viewer understand where they’re coming from.

    Meanwhile, Golden heroes sometimes but not always show up to fight for “justice,” no other reason. While noble, without conflict, being on the good side can be boring. I think it’s the complexity that really drives interest. Cap is a golden boy hero, but he has a lot of issues to deal with on his own. Stuck in a different time with different values, it’s a lot harder to keep a clear value of right over wrong. I actually know a bunch of people who like Cap as much as Bucky, so there’s that.

    Then again, (at the risk of being sexist myself), there is a small part of women that would like to “save” someone or be a saving grace. That doesn’t excuse a lot of things for me, but it does for others.

    Or maybe the actor is hot…that’s been a reason.

    First time commenter, love your SHIELD recaps so thank Teanna for mentioning Coulson as a hero 🙂

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    • Also huge fan of SHIELD recaps (I actually watch films several times to get the plots/details straight and LovePirate’s recaps do this for me for SHIELD).

      I think Coulson is the “contact character”, the guy we can somehow identify with (Cap fan!). He is also (from a female viewpoint) oddly attractive (I usually don’t like Suits)… part of it is his nature, and part is a kind of nice 50s-ish look (or maybe I’m thinking of Wilbur on Mr. Ed…). He’s also an ordinary looking guy whose real talents and skills are often hidden until all hooey breaks loose.

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      • Coulson is definitely the “everyman” of the Marvel Universe, the average guy among giants. He’s definitely the one we’re supposed to identify with in the films, although in the show he’s usually the person who knows the most about what’s going on, while people like FitzSimmons or Skye are usually the ones overwhelmed by the experiences. Of course, that’s all changed here in the last few episodes. I can’t speak to whether he’s attractive, as I’m not attracted to guys, but he’s definitely charming, funny and sweet.

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    • I think writing definitely has a lot to do with it. Villains tend to get flashier and wittier dialogue, they get to grandstand and be the center of attention. With tortured villains, you generally get to see the internal conflict, which is not something that golden heroes have to deal with as much. I like what you said about how they’re often “the heroes in their own story”. Complexity definitely drives interest, for sure.
      As for the claim that some women want to be the ones to “save” one of these characters, that’s something I’ve heard for a long time but not something I’ve ever seen a woman confess to. Maybe it’s not something that women who feel that way are likely to admit. And the actors being hot, I definitely think villains are being tailored these days to appeal to a certain demographic in terms of appearance.
      I’m glad you’re enjoying the SHIELD recaps! It means so much to hear you say so! I often feel like I’m just talking to myself when I’m writing, so it’s nice to hear that other people enjoy them. In line with the topic of this post, I’ve been surprised by how many people have said that Ward’s past (that we’ll learn about this week) doesn’t excuse the things that he’s done, which seems in direct opposition to the question of this post. Perhaps because Ward started off as a good guy and was revealed to be a traitor, rather than starting off as a villain who we learned had a tragic backstory and is conflicted about his actions.
      Thanks for reading and for commenting! You made some great points!

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  3. I’m female and I almost always prefer Dark Heroes. I think a lot (if not most) women would, if they had to choose between two attractive heros vs anti-heroes. Now as to why… I’m still looking for the answer myself!! I just don’t know! lol

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    • Interesting, we’ve got one from both sides now. Give it some thought, figure out some possible reasons why you prefer Dark Heroes and come back and let me know! I’d be very interested if you come up with any ideas! Thanks for reading!

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