Tsunderes, ice queens, female characters hiding their feelings with anger and cruelty, oh my! Whatever name you give it it’s a common trope all over the shop, from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew to Pride and Prejudice (come on, as if that’s not one big game of “It’s not as if I like you or anything, Mr Darcy”) to modern high school comedies from all cultures—not always specific to women and girls, of course, since the ‘bitterness masking embarrassing mushy feelings’ thing is rife in many forms throughout every genre, ranging from cute bickering to outright abusive behaviour. There’s something interesting and occasionally a little iffy going on with this archetype. What does is say about us as consumers that we love seeing this in our media so freakin’ much?
On one hand, it’s definitely wish fulfilment—especially where it appears in things like harem stories/games and romantic comedies where some degree of audience insertion is encouraged—we want to believe that, no matter how awful the person we like behaves, it’s all just a front to hide their True Feelings and beneath all their snarky bravado is a warm, loving caramelly centre that we are special enough to bring to the surface. Hell, the appeal of the ‘tsundere’ (a Japanese term, one who switches between two facets of their personality: ‘tsuntsun’, aloof or irritable, and ‘deredere’, lovestruck) has been full on explained with science:
“Essentially, when someone is consistently unpleasant towards you, it establishes a behavioural baseline that colours your expectations. When that person becomes more pleasant, even if it’s by a tiny amount, you interpret that as progress, which is psychologically stimulating.”
So, science says it’s more rewarding if someone is awful to us at first and then slowly gets nicer, making less of an impression than if they were nice the entire time (and, naturally, capturing our hearts more than if they were consistently a total ass). Fiction-wise, it definitely fits better into a romantic arc. It’s simply more fun and more interesting to watch an icy personality defrost, a golden example for creating (or at least creating the image of) deep, layered characters, and commenting on the human condition of burying our feelings and insecurities beneath protective layers. It feeds into the ‘everyone has hidden depths’ thing as well as the ‘she’s just playing hard to get’ thing, one of which is notably more problematic than the other. Continue reading