Last week I examined the fairy-tale world of the perfect young man, who is portrayed as suave, witty, and handsome (“3 Terrible Male Role Models for Girls”).
Now let’s look at the role models our girls should be looking at when they begin to date. What kind of young man will prepare them best to navigate the stormy waters of modern relationships? I have a few suggestions from popular culture for great male role models for young women.
1) Ron Weasley from Harry Potter. Let’s call him “Mr. Nice Guy.”
Ron is a hot mess, both in the books and the movies. This teenage wizard is awkward, gaffe-tastic, and so bumbling that J.K. Rowling recently mentioned that she wondered if she should have put Ron and Hermione together. She shouldn’t wonder. Ron is tender and loving and he makes an excellent husband and father. He’s a nice guy.
But as a teenage boyfriend, he’s the best example of how mixed-up the dating life of a Mr. Nice can be. We grow up with Ron in the Harry Potter novels and movies and his generous and friendly personality becomes a disaster in his teen dating years.
Ron is pressured into a romance with fellow student Lavender Brown. She’s the worst nightmare of a girlfriend — possessive, overbearing, and infantile. She hangs on Ron in public, bestows sickly, sweet nicknames on him (Won-Won!), and has no time for conversation because she’s too busy trying to make out with him. Ron finds himself more and more trapped, unwilling to hurt her feelings but unable to bear her for another minute. He’s a classic Mr. Nice Guy.
This is a great male role model for girls. Lots of teenage boys don’t know how to navigate through relationships. They can find themselves trapped with a girl they’d rather not be with, and breaking up with someone like that is not easy. Hermione doesn’t reject Ron because he was with Lavender, even if her feelings were hurt while he was going out with her. A Mr. Nice Guy like Ron is worth the effort.
Finally, watching Lavender Brown act out her crazed romance is a healthy reminder to girls: Don’t be a Lavender Brown.
2) Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings. Let’s call him “Mr. Shy Guy.”
Sam is so terrified of asking Rosie Cotton out that he travels through Middle-earth, escapes Ringwraiths, almost gets eaten by a Balrog in the mines of Moria, kills a giant spider the size of a VW Beetle, sword fights with Orcs, and throws down with Gollum at the edge of Mount Doom before he gets up the courage to ask her out.
She immediately marries him and is a wonderful wife, and they have beautiful children together. Don’t make a shy young man travel through Middle-earth, escape Ringwraiths, almost get eaten by a Balrog in the mines of Moria, kill a giant spider the size of a VW Beetle, sword fight with Orcs, and throw down with Gollum at the edge of Mount Doom before he asks you out. Just ask him out already and save you both the trouble.
Shy young men are often the best prize of all, as they usually are intelligent, inquisitive, kind, and funny. They’re a lot like Samwise Gamgee: too insecure to get out of their own way. Sam is a great male role model for teenage girls who might need to widen their vision to see that the bashful sidekick might be the one they’re really looking for.
3) Neo from The Matrix. Let’s call him “Mr. Stoic Guy.”
Don’t laugh. Look at this young man. Can you glean the slightest emotion from that cliff wall of a face? Keanu Reeves, it has been said, has the emotive range of a potato, but this is not true. Keanu is a stoic. These men don’t emote. They don’t squinch up their faces and cry when they’re hurt. Sad movies don’t make them weep. They don’t make big romantic gestures with flowers and special mix tapes and they don’t show up and hold a boom box over their heads and play Peter Gabriel songs. They are unexpressive and remote. If a girl expects a man like this to flip a switch and turn into a talkative extrovert like Ferris Bueller, she’s going to be disappointed.
Yet the Neos of our species are worth every frustration and every effort involved in building a relationship with them. A man like this, once his heart is given, is completely committed. They mate for life, like the wolf, and their devotion is unswerving. Once they love you, they love you forever. (Which is why they don’t say “I love you” all the time. They said it once, and they meant it. Why bother saying it again?) The hero of The Matrix is a great male role model for girls who find they are interested in a stoic young man like Neo. Watch here as he is completely uninterested in kissing the smoking-hot Monica Bellucci. His heart is with Trinity, and that is that.
These male role models for girls show the diversity and the appeal of young men who don’t fit a romantic-movie model of a charming, witty, perfect date. They’re fumbling Mr. Nice Guys, incoherent Mr. Shy Guys, and puzzling Mr. Stoic Guys. They’re imperfect, and they’re wonderful.