Recently, I made my boyfriend go see a new romance movie with me. The movie is called After, which is based off an adult fiction novel series with the same name, After. I admit, yes I did read this problematic, cliche but yet-so-enticing series back in High School, so it was only a right of passage for me to go see the movie adaptation. The movie is about a freshman in college, Tessa who embarks on her first journey alone and moves to a college where she knows absolutely no one. Tessa is a goody-two-shoes who stays in on Friday nights to study with her Old Navy poster child boyfriend, Noah. Tessa is what one may consider perfect, due to her upbringing of her very cold, and perfect mother. Once Tessa sets out for her new journey in life, she meets a new man, Hardin Scott. Hardin is your typical, leather jack wearing, tattoo-covered, mysterious, bad boy. He is actually the poster child for a bad boy. Of course, Tessa finds him annoying and rude but, Hardin uses his douchebag charm to lure her in. ….How can one resist this smug face? Tessa cannot for sure.
Fast forward and Tessa and Hardin are in a complicated relationship where he is moody and unable to communicate his feelings due to his personal demons. Then we have Tessa who starts to step out of her shell, live her life a little, and even ruin her relationship with her mother because of her relationship with Hardin.
We can already see how this relationship is problematic; Tessa becomes Hardin’s emotional punching bag, but still sticks around. She allows it to happen because she “loooooves” him and he brings out a side of her that she’s never seen before. This is where I am going to start getting all critical theory and analyzing this film through a feminist lens.
Tessa succumbs to Hardin’s level and allows herself to become his emotional punching bag, taking him back every time he messes up. Tessa as a woman in today’s society feels the need to fix him and stay with him. After all, it is a woman’s duty to cater to her man’s needs. (sarcasm) Rivkin and Ryan discuss this ideology of women within a patriarchal society, “For the women’s movement of the 1960s and early 1970s the subject of feminism was women’s experience under patriarchy, the long tradition of male rule in society which silenced women’s voices, distorted their lives, and treated their concerns as peripheral” (Rivkin and Ryan 765). Women were put on this unrealistic pedestal to cater to men and be the perfect “Angels” for them. No man would ever want a woman who did not benefit his ego or emotional needs. So of course, Hardin wants her. We see this exact idea/theory play out in one particular scene where Hardin throws a huge fit because some other guy showed an interest in Tessa. He goes on a drinking binge and destroys his father’s mansion, only for Tessa to run to his insecure a** and comfort him. Yet again, she is the angel. But what is this “angel” I keep mentioning? Well, let me tell you.
Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar wrote a beautifully written essay entitled “The Madwoman in the Attic,” which is about their theory of the Angel and Demon within feminist critique. Both women talk about this “Angel and Demon theory” in regard to how a woman is either a demon or an angel. Society and literature works perceive women as either a perfect angel or a complete demon, which men obviously hate. If a woman were to not be perfect in a man’s eyes and cater to them, well she is a demon in their eyes. “…enshrined within her home, a Victorian angel-woman should become her husband’s holy refuge from the blood and sweat that inevitably accompanies a “life of significant action,” as well as, in her “contemplative purity,” a living memento of the otherness of the divine.” (817). We see this exact scenario play out in this film, where Hardin depends on Tessa as his holy refuge, and if she does not assist in that, then she is a demon. An example of this is, when Tessa, for once, sticks up for herself while they are at a bar after Hardin inflicts his insecurities on to her. The second Tessa grows a voice and some balls, Hardin instantly sees her as this demon and storms out of the scene. “The arts of pleasing men, in other words, are not only angelic characteristics; in more worldly terms, they are the proper acts of a lady” (816). How dare Tessa not be a proper lady and hurt Hardin’s insecurity.
I could go on forever about how problematic the love is between Hardin and Tessa, but we would be here all night. This film produced a great example of the Angel Demon theory and how society has built these ideologies on how women should be in a relationship. But thankfully now, in 2019, these ridiculous expectations of women are starting to die out. But if this were thirty years ago, this ideology of women would still very much be present. While this movie was okay and enticing to watch, it had many flaws. It romanticizes this idea that women need bad boys. This romanticization approves of the thought that if a woman is small, quiet and shy, a bad boy will reel her in like fresh bait. And that the bad boy wants these types of girls because it is easier for them to be crappy and continue on with their cliche bad-boy persona. A bad boy allows a shy girl to feel as if she needs him because he allows her to step out of her shell while still being his perfect little angel. She is complete and could not feel alive without her bad boy. So apparently, us women need bad boys in order to become angels.