Yes, Some Women Only Go For A**holes


Ever just wished feminists would admit that some women DO only like “bad boys”? Melissa Fabello not only admits it, she explores why this phenomenon exists.

It happens invariably – and innocently enough – the question that makes all feminists cringe because we know that what will follow is a Nice-Guy-Syndrome-Friend-Zone-Arrgh-Wtf rant.

But why do some women go for a**holes?

I see you. I see you cringing.

But when I off-handedly tweeted the other day that I was working on this article, something unexpected happened.

I was barraged by an onset of tweets. Men thanked me for taking the question on, because they’ve been waiting to get a real answer. And women wrote in to say that they really needed validation on this topic to help explain their own lives and relationships. And suddenly I realized that this article is really actually needed.

So why do some women go for a**holes?

Here’s why—we’re told to.

Now let’s break it down through the lens of something that is familiar to us.

Four Boxes Theory

The Four Boxes of Gendered Sexuality is a theory that we, as feminists, are already familiar with, even if we don’t know it by name. In essence, it’s an expansion of the Virgin/Whore Complex, which posits that women can either be good at womanhood (by being an awesome wife and mother and having a sexuality that is saved for the “right” men) or horrible at it (by being an outspoken, brazen slutty slut-slut).

This accounts for two of Crane and Crane-Seber’s four boxes: The Good Girl—who is subordinate, dependent, and passive—and The Bad Girl—who is independent, educated, and sexually liberated. Embedded in this dichotomy is the idea that it is more socially acceptable to be the former.

But men, too, are forced into boxes. The Tough Guy—aggressive, sexual, restricting, and stoic—is our social ideal. The Sweet Guy—intellectual, emotional, artsy, and cultured—on the other hand, is considered a sort of failed masculinity.

And we’re taught from early on—just like we are with women and femininity—that what society wants in our men is the former, not the latter.

The pressure to represent a sort of gendered perfection is on both women and men. And more importantly (at least, to the aims of this article), it must be noted that these gender ideals are imprinted on all of us.

Boys, while they’re being taught to play with trucks instead of dolls, pick up on the fact that women are supposed to be subservient and quiet. And girls, while trying on Mom’s high heels, learn that men should be domineering and violent.

A Crisis in Masculinity

The truth is we shouldn’t be asking why some women date bad guys. We should go to the root of the problem first.

Why are men socialized to be assholes? And why does society applaud and encourage that behavior in men, while stifling more enriching and healthy traits like empathy and good communication?

The problem, really, starts with the fact that what’s considered “masculine” in our culture is dominance, aggression, prowess, competition, abuse, restriction, argumentativeness, control, and violence.

Also known as being an asshole.

Men who are able to get in touch with their feelings (geez, and even cry every once in a while!) and be an attentive lover actually make better partners than the hegemonic hyper-masculine male because of that openness and sensitivity.

But we stifle those behaviors early on, the very first time that we utter to them that “boys don’t cry,” and punish our sweet guys by telling them to “man up,” implying that they’re less of a man when they emote or show an interest in humanities.

Thus, the message that we’re getting across (to men and women alike!) is that only domineering men are “real” men – the ones that you want to be or be with.

Opposites Attract

One of the most frustrating problems that comes out of the idea that people are only allowed to be categorized in one of two ways (as “feminine” or “masculine”) is that it pegs femininity and masculinity as opposite.

And because, culturally, we associate femininity with women and masculinity with men, then we’re also brought up to believe that men and women are different, that we do not share the same traits.

So what do we need in order to achieve balance in our relationships?

Each other.

Which means that who we’re with says something about who we are. Namely, that we are the opposite of whomever we’re dating.

That is according to this age-old idea that opposites attract, if I am dating a masculine man, then I must, in theory, be a feminine woman. I’m dating the masculine ideal, so I, in turn, must be the feminine ideal. He’s emotionless and physically strong, and I’m a damsel in distress – just like we’re supposed to be. We both win. And we achieve balance.

So while, on the one hand, women go for alpha-males because we’re socialized to believe that’s what we want, on the other hand, it’s because it says something about who we are. Think of the ideal, All-American image of the football player with the cheerleader. Perfect man + perfect woman = perfect couple. Perfect couple – perfect man = perfect woman.

So Now What?

Well, for starters, it would be great if we could re-conceptualize masculinity. We could also stop adhering to gender boxes altogether.

But since it takes a lot of time, energy, and participation to change culture, here are three things that you can do personally to question and call attention to this:

1. Distinguish between someone who is hegemonically hyper-masculine and someone who is abusive.

It’s kind of like squares and rectangles—someone who is abusive is adhering to the hegemonic mold, but someone who is “masculine” by social definition is not necessarily dangerous.

If you think that you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, then please redirect here.

But remember, just because they’re not abusive doesn’t mean they’re good for you.

2. Be careful with the gendered language that you use around children.

They are sponges. They soak up everything that you say. Tell the young boys in your life that it’s okay to cry, and that it’s not okay to act violently.

Even though the outside world is teaching them to adhere to gender roles, you can help them think critically about these messages and develop their own individualized sense of masculinity and humanity.

3. Be cognizant of your relationship choices and actively ask yourself if your partner is what’s best for you.

This goes for everyone, always, all the time. But within the context of this article— don’t accept that a male partner who is withholding emotion, telling you what to do, or unable to manage anger is just “boys being boys.”

Because it’s not. It’s “men being the men that they think they’re supposed to be.” Ask for more. From your partners and from yourself. Men are capable are so much more, even if society says they’re not.

I can’t tell you why you’re attracted to the kinds of people that you are. But what I can tell you is that our sense of gender roles and expectations is deeply ingrained.

And it’s worth taking a closer look at. Your happiness and relationships you’re in are worth you taking a closer look.


Originally appeared at Everyday Feminism

Melissa A. Fabello is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism, a feminist blogger and vlogger, as well as an online peer sex educator, based out of Philadelphia. She is a second-year graduate student, working on an M.Ed. in Human Sexuality. She can be reached on Twitter @fyeahmfabello.


Photo courtesy of Flickr/grenade

About Everyday Feminism

Everyday Feminism supports people dealing with everyday violence, dominance, and silencing due to their gender, sexual orientation, race, class, and more. Through our online magazine and upcoming online school for applied feminism, we help people apply feminism to their real lives in order to work through issues, stand up for themselves, and live their truth. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter!


  1. PursuitAce says:

    I may have missed it in the many comments, but it needs to be said again. Bad boys are bad for a reason. They’re the ones doing most of the misogyny, sexual harassment, sexual assaults, and domestic violence. Just keep that in mind when you’re going for the next bad boy. I’d rather not pick up another badly beaten young women by the side of the road asking me that question that I just can’t answer. “Why did he do this?”

  2. Boy, threads like this actually make me appreciate the fact that I’m old! So, if I grasp today’s lesson, if you’re a ‘nice guy’ in your early 20’s , just hang in there, spend your weekends with ‘Rosie’ and her 5 sisters and eventually, in 10 years or so, when the girls are ready to settle down, they’ll be checking you out! No thanks. I think I’ll just be an ‘asshole and ‘get some’ now if you don’t mind!

  3. This whole article is absurd. The author of this article seems to be firmly determined to place to take put the responsiblity of women making bad choices in men and following consequences on the shoulder of men and society in general. If women are going for those not so nice gentlemen, (who are being referred to an orifice at the rear of a certain beast of burden), and are suffering as a consequence of it, then they have only themselves to blame. Society is not forcing or even encouraging them to do so, on the contrary, in lot of circumstances parents and friends warn the concerned lady about the consequeces of doing it.

    Nice guys must not trust what they hear from girls but what they do. The only solution for the guys is “caveat emptor” i.e buyer beware. A girl is free to do whatever kind of relationship they want which whatever kind of man she wants. She must face good or bad consequences for her decision. Guys do not have to care about it or feel pity for them. You are not born to please anybody but yourself. “They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind.”

  4. John Schtoll says:

    There is another reason some women choose “A$$holes”. They know the guy is an a$$hole and know he will act like it in public and she will get to play the victim and get to pour her heart out to her friends about how much she is hurt. One of my wifes friends is like this.

  5. I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur of stories written online, mostly because I’m a masochist and love to torture myself, I guess. Most of these stories (I don’t suffer through fanfiction, God, I don’t hate myself that much) are written by a younger demographic than me, teenage girls mostly.

    We have some seriously poisonous ways we look at dating in our culture. I wrote a story about a drug lord and a woman he hires as his escort. He treats her like crap. He hits her. He degrades her. He orders her bodyguard to beat her up when her bodyguard briefly left her side to attend his ailing wife. Seriously, he is straight up pure evil. And I have documented all the reviews asking me: “When is he gonna turn good?” “He must love her, I know it!” “When is she going to change him?” And these came AFTER he physically struck her . . . when she wanted to get off drugs. Because drugs were a way he controlled her.

    So i started putting all these reviews together ( proof–> ) and I got kind of sick to my stomach, reading all of them. These are teenage girls, convinced it’s still a love story when the man is physically assaulting the woman they want him to “love”. Because in our culture, women are taught that they can change men. With their love or some hogwash. Take an abusive man and through the power of sex and devotion, turn him into a loving dream man!

    My personal experience with women has never been this. In real life, the women I befriend have absolutely no interest in men who are jerks (though most of them don’t have much interest in dating in general). That’s why my initial reaction to “ALL WOMEN WANT JERKS” is “Wow, bitter much?” But then I go back and I look at the reviews on this story that I wrote, and I see it. I see what men are saying. I see there are a whole crapload of girls out there who do this. I don’t know how many full grown, mature women do it, but damn, do teenage girls have some f”ed up views on how love works. Pick up any romance novel and it’s all there. I love reading romance but usually cannot because of all the poisonous crap that gets written down.

    I actually think the answer to this problem is more feminism–teaching girls what abuse looks like and how jealousy, possessiveness, and paranoia are NOT sexy in any shape or form. But in the meantime, I’ll just avoid all those types of people altogether and be happy with what I got– non-jerks.

    • @wanda
      “I love reading romance but usually cannot because of all the poisonous crap that gets written down.”
      You wouldn’t mean like that hyper-popular ’50 Shades of Gray’ series , would you?

  6. I’m not exactly sure what constitutes the definition of a “bad boy” these days, but I will say this: In my experience good boys, bad boys, middle-of-the-road boys, preppies, jocks, goth dudes, whatever–no man ever gets laid without paying a price. The same can be said of women. Every sexual encounter comes with a consequence for one or the other or both partners, no matter how casual the intent. I’ve caused suffering, experienced suffering, contributed to the suffering of someone I had no idea would be affected by an encounter–a boyfriend back home, a husband, a friend left alone on a night of promised catching up. NSA is not a reality. No Visible Strings Attached, No Seemingly Important Strings Attached: that’s more like it.

    Once a man reaches a certain age–let’s say manhood–he becomes more away of these things. I for one am not willing to spend the time leading on a perfectly decent woman I’m going to run from in the morning. No bueno. If a man–or woman–of a certain age can’t tell when a potential sex partner has un-shared longer term ambitions, or can tell but doesn’t care, that person is not an adult in my book.

    I can think of no better argument for legalizing prostitution. Unionize or go solo, but always know the cops will show up if things go wrong. Legalize. A person’s body and carnal talents should be his or hers to sell as he or her chooses. Period. Most of the rest of the world seems to think so. Why are Americans such damn prudes?

  7. wellokaythen says:

    [I don’t know if anyone’s said this yet. I haven’t read all the comments.]

    People may be getting the cause and effect backwards. Maybe it’s not that assholes/bitches are more attractive, it’s that attractive people are more likely to become assholes/bitches.

    On some level, some people are just inherently attractive, maybe even independently of how they behave. Maybe it’s physiology, symmetry, pheromones, psychic vibration, whatever. I know, being sexy is supposed to be about confidence, and everyone is supposed to be beautiful, and attraction is socially/culturally constructed, all the feel-good things we tell the young and impressionable, but some people are born good-looking. This will no doubt have a big effect on how they see themselves and how they relate to other people. Assholes/bitches are made, not born.

    People who know from a young age that they are good-looking are more likely to become arrogant. Being pretty or handsome doesn’t automatically make you a jerk, but you’re more likely to get away with being a butthead because you’re good-looking. You have some degree of privilege to be an asshole compared to less attractive people. So, maybe women are attracted to assholes because women are attracted to attractive men, and these attractive men have learned to become assholes as a result. Assholishness/bitchiness may be an indirect byproduct of the fact that the person is already attractive.

    You can see this phenomenon all the time on a very small scale. When a man who’s not conventionally attractive suddenly experiences a little success in the dating world, he may start to act a little cocky. Even just a little success can go to your head. You would think that a man like that would just be modestly grateful for his good fortune, but that’s not usually how the mind works. Just a little ego-boosting in your love life can make you super-confident, even overconfident.

    If this theory is true, then suddenly acting like an asshole will not necessarily increase your attractiveness. If you haven’t had much dating/mating success at this point, becoming a jerk will probably not help you much.

    Just a theory, anyway.

    • wellokaythen says:

      My message was a little heteronormative, now that I think about it. I wonder if there is a similar phenomenon within same-sex dating — men attracted to “bad boys”, women attracted to “bad girls”? How much is the dynamic there the same and how is it different?


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