A Trope to Set a Girl’s Teeth on Edge



Why, why, WHY?

Why is this trope so pervasive, especially in chick-lit? Do we delight in watching fictional women get reduced to babbling incoherence in the presence of attractive men? Is this a reflection of real life? Do women really lose their self-control in similar situations? Do other women enjoy observing it? Is it schadenfreude?


I just about lose it every time I run into this Hot Guy scenario. The heroine starts out as smart, witty, cool, together, and then in walks Mr. Perfect and she’s a mess. Take a deep breath, girlfriend. Momentary self-consciousness I can handle, but the endless gambit of physical missteps and brain-to-mouth misfires is just embarrassing.

I know, I know. “But the drama, Kate! Where would the drama be?”

Speaking of drama, my favorite Shakespearean play was the one where that hot guy showed up and the girl started rambling and falling all over herself. What was it called again? Oh, yeah. Much Ado About This Doesn’t Happen in Shakespeare. You want drama? Match your characters’ wit to a solid plot.


Probably my biggest issue with this trope is that it perpetuates the narrative that pretty people are better than everyone else. This is especially true when the Hot Guy gets paired with the Girl with Low Self-Esteem. Why does such a heroine become all tongue-tied and clumsy? Because she’s usually not pretty (at least in the predictable pre-makeover stage she’s not), and because his interest in her gives her value.

Except that it doesn’t because the whole narrative is rubbish and we need to chuck it into the trash bin.

On the one hand, we have female protagonists wallowing in self-pity (lamenting plain appearances, or how all they want is for someone to love them, or so forth) and on the other, we have aesthetically ideal male love interests quizzically intrigued by said wallowing females. I will not claim to understand the mind of the common Hot Guy. Maybe he’s like a bird, colorful himself but attracted to a drab little mate. Maybe my skepticism for this plot line draws too much from my own experiences. (Seriously, it bears no resemblance to any form of Real Life that I’ve ever encountered.) Maybe I’m just being fussy.

Okay, we all know I’m being fussy. That’s what I do.

For me, it all boils down to sloppy story-telling. The bumbling heroine is much easier to produce than a Beatrice or a Rosalind. It’s far more compelling to put the guy up on a pedestal like a trophy to be won, so that the reader feels that thrill of triumph when the conquest occurs. Even though it’s the guy doing the conquesting. Because the Girl with Low Self-Esteem is an object to be acted upon, so of course the guy doing the acting should be hot. The object is worth more that way.

(Cue violent retching here.)

And please don’t get me wrong. I do love a handsome hero. But handsome is as handsome does, and no description of his chiseled jawline is going to remedy a character who simply strolls smirking into every scene and ultimately gets exactly what he wants. (And oh, the smirking! When has smirking ever been attractive?) The Hot Guy is typically the total package: looks, brains, wit. If he sweats, he has a “manly musk” instead of body reek. If he’s disheveled or scarred, it’s somehow dashing. He’s not foul-tempered; he’s “brooding” or “aloof” (Translation: “better than you, so allowed to act as he pleases, even when such behavior would be socially unacceptable in others”).

There’s a psychology behind all of it—there must be—but I’ll be darned if I understand it.

Or, well, I do. Our society values pretty people. We all want to be one, and we all want to be loved by one.

At least, that’s what the Hot Guy would like us to believe.

And he’s hot, so he would know, right?

3 Responses to A Trope to Set a Girl’s Teeth on Edge
  1. W.R. Gingell says:

    Urgh! This one drives me SO CRAZY! I’ve been known to rant at length to my patient hubby about it 😀

    But then, Beatrice and Benedict were always my favourite Shakespearian couple, so… The thing I love about them is that there’s such an underlying sweetness to their ‘courtship’. It’s all snark back and forth and even a bit of cutting snark, but as soon as each of them sees that the other is vulnerably (supposedly) in love they immediately decide that they’ll not either mock or take advantage of that. It’s just lovely. I also have about three movie versions of Much Ado 😀 I love it that much.

    But back on topic: I’d much rather a sweet guy than a ‘hot’ one, especially the sort that smirks at the cutsey mess that the female lead inevitably falls into upon seeing him.

    Mostly I want to smack that dude in the face. And then probably Gibbs-smack the girl upside the head for good measure. I mean, have some self-respect!

    Grrrr. I’ll mizzle off and growl somewhere now…

    • kstradling says:

      I’ve never thought about B & B in terms of compassion (mostly because they are so snarky to one another), but you’re totally right. Their mocking back-and-forth comes from seeing one another as equals in that measure, but neither takes advantage of the other’s supposed weakness. It really is lovely, as you said.

      Benedick wins extra points with me because he doesn’t immediately jump on the “Hero’s a wanton” bandwagon when his closest friends are making the accusations. He’s logical and fair-minded, and willing to go against the “popular” belief, and it’s not contrived or for personal benefit, but simply part of his character. I *love* that about him. I always assumed that he and Beatrice were the main couple, because they so outshine Hero and Claudio, and then I read that they’re supposed to be side characters to the Hero/Claudio debacle. Haha, nope! If that’s what Shakespeare intended, Shakespeare was wrong.

      Concerning the Hot Guy trope, maybe we can form a line to smack the smug characters. We could sell tickets, even. 😀

      • W.R. Gingell says:

        Yes, I loved that about Benedick, too. He’s just rather lovely. Also I love the two film versions of him (Kenneth Branagh and David Tennant). There are more, but those are my favourites 😀

        I never thought of it as Hero and Caludio’s story, either. It was ALL about Beatrice and Benedick.

        Everyone else is WRONG.