Columbine Fangirls and Mainstream Romance Fiction: A Comparison

Go to Tumblr, type in Columbine, and then stare into the darkness.

Or, actually don’t, because within seconds you will definitely see the gory suicide photos of the Columbine killers, and if you’re really unlucky, you’ll see all that gore surrounded by hearts and fanart and women describing the killers as “sexy” “godlike” “adorable”.

Male killers attract female fans and I think we need to talk about it.

Why are we talking about this? And why am I specifically hung up on the Columbine fangirls? I could have picked the Ted Bundy fangirls, Manson fangirls, Elliot Rogers fangirls…The scope of this phenomena is really unsettling.

I know. It’s weird that I’m obsessed with the Columbine fandom. It took me awhile to figure out what my issue was with them. Okay, crazy women are in the dark corners of the internet getting wet to dead school shooters, it’s fucked up, but so is a lot of stuff on the internet. Why is this the degeneracy that has wormed its way into my brain?

I’m bothered by these women because their unapologetic lusting after killers is considered deviant behavior, BUT the attitudes they hold towards romance and the male gender in general are considered very mainstream. These women have a lot in common with fairly normal women. Women who enjoy books like ’50 Shades of Grey’ or basically anything ever written by Johanna Lindsey. Women who like ‘bad boy’ books or seek out men they can ‘fix.’

The Columbine fangirls are doing something absolutely heinous. They’re glorifying, fetishizing, romanticizing violent and abhorrent males.

But like…so are a lot of writers/readers of the romance genre. They’re just not being as brazen about it.

The Columbine fangirls are outliers. They’ve taken the whole bad/broken boy thing to a level most of us never would. But they followed the same path.

The Columbine fangirls are the logical conclusion of a world that positions bad/broken boys as the most desirable. Women want them, and emotionally damaged males have a social script available to them should they have no other way to gain the power that our world tell males is so vitally important for them to have. We have to stop telling males their worth is in their power, whether that power comes from money, social standing, or fear.

Males without power are failing at gender performance. What do nearly all male love interests have in romance fiction? POWER. They are CEOs, Billionaires, Nobles, Princes, Knights. Never peasants or retail workers. Those are NOT the males we value. Males need power, or so they’re told. Desirable males have power, or so say so many women, if not directly, then indirectly, insidiously, making it even worse.

The romance genre is a PROBLEM. Not all romance. Some is perfectly healthy and fine. I’m talking about themes and trends that are far too common, but I’m perfectly aware not every single writer is contributing to the same harmful mentalities that create communities like the Columbine fandom, and not every reader enjoys the very worst common tropes.

Brace yourselves. I went and collected some darkness for you. I even made a Tumblr account. May God have mercy on my soul.

I have to explain the picture to those of you who haven’t lost your soul in the circle of hell that is the Columbine fandom. The first picture is Eric Harris (Columbine killer) in his Senior photo. A fangirl has photoshopped herself next to him. The second photo is a girl LARPing as Eric Harris. He wore a white ‘Natural Selection’ t-shirt and black hat the day he committed the massacre. She is not the only fangirl I’ve seen do this.

Okay, I have to stop ranting and get organized. Where do we see the Columbine fandom overlap with mainstream beliefs about romance.

1 ) The Wounded Puppy/Broken Boy

One of the biggest draws to the Columbine killers is this idea that they could have been “saved.” This is especially true for the girls who focus on Dylan Klebold, the more obviously depressed of the two killers. He writes a lot about being in love with a girl in his journal. Fangirls like to think if the killers had girlfriends who loved and understood them, they wouldn’t have done it.

First of all….No…Klebold had a close female friend who was really supportive of him. She was even unwittingly duped into buying some of the weapons used in the massacre. She went to prom with him three days before the massacre.

They weren’t the bullied outcasts they’re painted to be. Females everywhere weren’t retching in disgust at the sight of them.

Even if that was the case…nobody’s pussy is that magic.

You can’t love away severe emotional problems. And if you want to, that is a problem.

Let’s use that last point to pivot. I have some tea to spill on ’50 Shades.’

“I’m a sadist, Ana. I like to whip little brown-haired girls like you because you all look like the crack whore — my birth mother.”

Christian Grey, 50 Shades of Grey

Christian Grey’s emotional baggage is a huge part of the plot, and more problematically, a huge part of his appeal.

The newest romance to hit theaters, ‘After’ based on the wattpad book by Anna Todd, appears to have a similar draw. Hardin is a “brooding rebel” according to the IMDb page. I haven’t seen it. I did see the trailer where Hardin is breaking shit and freaking out and the cardboard male trope inserted into this particular romance was fairly obvious.

Again and again we see it in romance; the male love interest is haunted, scarred, dealing with pain and inner turmoil, and the female protagonist loves/fucks it all away.

Men are people. They are human, like us. They are not projects.

Not only do we see ‘wounded puppy’ syndrome in both the Columbine fandom and mainstream romance, but we see it in real life. I’m willing to bet you’ve met a woman before who wanted a man she could fix, a man she could mold.

If we can hold men accountable for sexist attitudes and objectification, we women can be held accountable too.

The girls in the Columbine fandom want a broken boy that they can fix. And so do a great deal of mainstream romance readers. That’s a problem and it’s very telling about societal attitudes towards males in general.

Moving on..

2) The Bad Boy

The bad boy, the rebel, the outlaw. You’ve seen the trope, you know it.

Somehow school shooters have become a kind of modern cowboy, a sensationalized sex figure divorced from the violence that made him appealing in the first place.

I truly believe most of the Columbine fangirls are not thinking about the violence when they’re drawing cute fanart. Like the abomination below.

I first saw this in a Vice article. The same one that alerted me to the Columbine fangirls’ existence. It’s a good read. I don’t really agree with the whole ‘lusting for killers is a female right of passage’ spiel, but it’s an informative read nonetheless. Here’s a link:

My point is pretty simple here. Don’t write bad boy books. Don’t read bad boy books. Bad boys aren’t cute. Stop contributing to a world where dead school shooters have thousands of women who adore them. They didn’t get that out of nowhere. Bad boy=desirable is a fairly prevalent idea in the collective consciousness. Let’s all work together to get rid of this shit.

3) Special To Him

There’s overlap here with ‘wounded puppy.’ The difference is that the females who fall into this group are pretty ambivalent to the violence. Not quite as twisted as the ‘violence is sexy’ group, but not wanting to change the man either. The focus here isn’t on stopping the violence, but in being someone special to a person capable of violence.

My theory is that a lot of women actually get off competing with other women and winning. In ’50 Shades Darker’, one of Christian Grey’s old girlfriends stalks him. She breaks into his apartment. And…he gives her a bath…Ana, understandably, freaks out. But I think the author included this because Ana competing with another woman, Christian having access to other women, it’s some kind of a turn-on. There’s even a point where the ex-girlfriend/stalker confronts Ana and says something to the effect of ‘What do you have that I don’t?’

Obviously with the para-social relationships cultivated for dead school shooters that competition with other women factor isn’t there. But the urge to be special is still there.

If you’re reading my current rewrite of Time Storms and Tourniquets on wattpad, you might notice this is the route I went with Veronika. She’s drawn to Jake, despite his violence, because she likes feeling special to him.

Twilight is another good example of this. I still remember the blurb on the back cover that got me to pick up the book when I was 17. I didn’t think much about why this appealed to me so much back then.

The idea of being in love with a vampire that thirsts for your blood, and then he has to fight against the urge to hurt you…man, 17-year-old Jyvur could really get turnt to that idea. I’m definitely not immune to all this, so please don’t let all my salt fool you.

So, Twilight is a good example of “Special to Him” with a teensy dash of “Violence is Sexy.” Also, Bella is the only person immune to his powers and it’s never explained why.

(I also don’t think it was ever explained why Bella hallucinated Edward’s voice all through the second book, which isn’t really problematic….just like a plot hole that bothered me all the way up to book four. I never did finish book four. I was like twenty by the time that came out, and I gave up on it right around the time Jacob imprinted on a newborn baby.)

4) Violence is Sexy

The worst of the Columbine fandom are the self-proclaimed hybristophiliacs

They’re turned on by violence. This is the same mentality that leads women to write love letters to serial killers. Unlike the Wounded Puppy crowd they don’t want to save these males with the power of their love; they just want a violent dude.

Well, this crowd can’t possibly have anything in common with the mainstream romance crowd….

There’s a lot of abuse in the romance genre. From the aforementioned 50 Shades to many of the classics in the romance genre.

Here’s one that I found through the amazing podcast “Smart Bitches Trashy Books.” They do feminist readings of romance. Awful name for a podcast, but it’s better than it sounds.

This book was….a problem. The guy hits her, rapes her, and all-around just never listens to a damn thing she says. It’s considered a classic of the genre.

Then there’s Johanna Lindsay. Her books have gotten better over the years. I will give her that. But a couple of her first books were…a lot. “Captive Bride” involves kidnapping, rape, and again, domestic violence. There’s even a kindly mother figure who jumps in to tell the protagonist that the man wouldn’t have hit her unless he loved her. “Prisoner of My Desire” was another adventure in misogyny and fetishization of male violence. My husband likes to call that one “Rape Castle.” It fits. The book begins with the villain hitting the protagonist’s mother and as it is usually done in fiction, the domestic violence is highly sexualized. Everything about the beating is sensual, despite the fact that neither of the women involved are enjoying it.

Virginia Henley is another author who has gotten better. Don’t read “Enslaved.” It’s as bad as it sounds. But I’m gonna give this lady some props for doing better. I was really impressed with “Infamous.” The main romance was very healthy, very consensual. And the baby at the end of the book was a girl. The baby is almost always a boy. In the aforementioned Rape Castle….I mean “Prisoner of My Desire” when telling others her newborn baby is a male, the protagonist cheekily adds “Could he have sired any less?” Any less….women are less…fuck that was on the nose.

Let me dig into my final point, and I’m going to circle back to the way we value men in our society: Power.

Seeking power is usually an element of mass shootings. So the fact that, to look at the romance genre, you’d think women can only get off to powerful men, I’m pretty bothered by that.

Mass murderers want power. They say as much in their manifestos, journals, videos.

Powerful men are idolized in the romance genre.

I’m really uncomfortable with those two facts existing in the same universe.

What’s my solution?

Write more romance with diverse men. Men who don’t have power, either financial or social. Let’s see more romance with broke, but hardworking dudes. Dudes with strong character, who aren’t total alpha males. Let’s see less Billionaire fiction. Less warriors as the male love interest.

I know I’m scattered. I’m throwing a lot out here, but I really do think it’s all connected.

Everything we do is, in part, a gender performance. Women contribute to the gender performance of men, just as men contribute to the gender performance of women, because it has historically been set up as a dichotemy, a binary system.

This is a systemic issue, but we can all do out small part.

Please don’t contribute to a world with fetishistic treatment of male aggression/male violence. It isn’t good for men OR women OR anyone else on the gender spectrum.

The Columbine fangirls are outliers yes, but they reflect a lot of very mainstream ideals. By looking at them, we can suss out the very worst of the guiding beliefs we hold about romance, and what it means to be a man.


  1. I absolutely agree, and this is well written.

    Some more examples: vampires as romantic heroes are an example of the Bad Boy (and possibly also Wounded Puppy) phenomenon. I’ve even seen a poster for a movie where the male romantic lead is a zombie. I suppose this is part of the same thing.

    I’ve seen a detailed book review of the Twilight series that shows, chapter by chapter, how the series literally trains girls to seek out abusive relationships.

    I’ve never read 50 Shades nor understood the appeal, and seriously can’t believe the “romantic” protagonist says outright that he is beating his girlfriend in order to get back at his mother. I mean, run away!!!

    One note about your use of the word “power.” I know what you mean, because you contrast humble, hardworking men with the typical romantic lead who is royalty, a billionaire, etc. That said. I think there is a sense in which men ought to be “powerful” to be attractive … they should be competent, self-disciplined, able to take care of their loved ones, able to fight evil, and though humble, should project a certain confidence. Perhaps one slightly less dark aspect of the phenomenon you are describing is this: women look for this competence and confidence in a man, but because of unfortunate societal conditions, almost no men display this … except the wounded, violent bad boys. Men have been told they ought not to be competent at all, so the good-hearted ones try not to be. The rebels don’t care.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey there,

      Thanks for reading. I agree, Twilight is another really problematic book. I think the fact that he was a vampire and therefore a danger to her was a big part of the appeal.

      I read 50 Shades because I like BDSM (that’s actually how I end up reading a lot of the worst romance. There’s not a lot of healthy BDSM romance. It’s pure erotica or bust :/). That book is awful. Grey crosses boundaries at every turn. It’s also just not sexy. BDSM should involve a certain dynamic, a power exchange, and the main characters just don’t have that dynamic at all. I have no idea why that series blew up.

      As far as power, I think we put a lot on men. And not all men are confident or take charge, just like some women are confident and take charge. I think men have a lot less wiggle room to perform gender. There’s more fluidity for women. And I think that by only using rich male love interests who hold a lot of social capital we turn men into objects. It’s financial objectification.
      But I think we’re talking about two different issues. I’m mostly talking about external power.
      Although if we’re going to talk about intrinsic power, I do think the gender script for men is a lot stricter than it is for women, and maybe we shouldn’t always expect men to be the rock of the family, the confident one who protects/ takes care of everyone.

      Thanks for reading. I enjoyed hearing your thoughts as always 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, definitely lots to think about here.

    Yes, we are talking about two slightly different things. The problem is that “power” has so many different senses of meaning, yet is also such a loaded word. Not all of us can be or need to be Navy SEAL types, but everyone wants their own measure of competence and confidence, their own little kingdom.

    I’m sure there is material for many more posts here. Good talk.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, so I’m specifically talking about power through financial and social capital. I wouldn’t really equate intrinsic character qualities with power, but maybe that’s just me.
      Maybe I’ll give the post a tweak to make it more clear.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So I know this is seriously delayed, but I’ve been thinking about your post a lot since I read it, which I figured was a sign that I should respond.

    You make some really excellent points, and your post is well-written and really interesting. I had no idea that Columbine fandom even existed, and it sure is… something. And I definitely agree that it’s important to interrogate the kind of media that we consume in a meaningful way, and explore what sort of interpersonal dynamics we’re holding up as ideal. While I have some quibbles, I accept your main point (as a generalization) – that the romance genre idealizes powerful men.

    With that said, however, I do want to push back a little bit. First, I think it’s important to acknowledge that there are plenty of people who read romance for the fantasy, but are able to separate it from their “real” life. Put another way – we can’t help what turns us on, even if intellectually, we know it’s problematic. One of our reviewers loves to read about alpha males, but would be the first to say that she would never actually want to date one. Second, I think it’s a little unfair to use “Whitney My Love” as a cornerstone of the romance genre, given that it was published in 1985, and the genre has evolved dramatically since then. And third – it really depends on the subgenre you read, but there are plenty of romances out there featuring sweet men who are good at listening and actively seek consent and don’t have massive shoulders. (Obviously, this does not apply to Vampire Romance, or Billionaire Romance, or Mafia Romance, etc – but it does apply to a lot of romances that are getting a lot of buzz and media attention, so that’s something?)


    1. Hey there, thanks for reading! I appreciate you sharing your opinion.

      “Whitney, My Love” is a tad outdated, so I’ll cop to that. It’s so shocking, I couldn’t not use it. But it is an old book and we probably wouldn’t see anything that egregious published today.

      I believe the fiction that we read has a much larger effect on our psyches than many of us realize. I think the trend of presenting bad and broken boys as desirable actively encourages many women in the real world to seek out partners with these traits. Sure, some people can separate the fantasy from reality, but there are so many women in tumultuous relationships with damaged men, and I think the stories they read have molded them to see this as normal.

      We’re also conditioning boys/men to be damaged/bad/broken.

      At the end of the day, this may come down to a fundamental difference in how we each view media. I believe that media both reflects and shapes our reality. I believe it has tangible consequences in the real world. Now if you’re from the school of thought that media serves an entertainment purpose only and doesn’t change or affect us, then I can see why we’d approach this from different angles.

      In any case, I’m always on the lookout for romance with sweet and respectful men, so if you have recommendations please lay them on me! 🙂


  4. Darn! I was the wrong kind of broken puppy. At least until college. I get what you say. Women seem to want that assertiveness in a guy. Fiction and a few outliers take it to an extreme.

    I have think it may be in our genes. Mating with the alpha male is the strategy of a large number of species, including primates.


      1. The question of whether a trait is genetic, epigenetic, culturally imbued or a freewill choice is often hotly debated. In reality, every complex psychological trait involves all of these mechanisms. Yet people get so wrapped up in their theories that neutral discussion is replaced by anger, hostility, and polarization.


      2. I think you’re on to something. Neutral discussion, taking it all in and conceding when the ‘other side’ has a point is always the best way to go about it. It stinks that discussions are usually more about winning than understanding the perspective of the other side.

        Liked by 1 person

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