The vast majority of teen novels involve an uncannily copious amount of quirky girls falling in love with unrealistically perfect guys who are, of course, insanely attractive. These are obviously irrational portrayals of romance and men in general, but they are, nonetheless, consumed at staggering rates. The only question is why. Why do those of us who are of the female persuasion continually raise our expectations to unhealthy heights, just to have our hopes and dreams plummet to the ground in a fiery mass, much like the Hindenburg? There can only be one answer: We do it because we have been told that it is possible. The stories we read, the pictures we see, and the movies we watch have instilled in us from a young age the yearning for our very own knight in shining armor, white horse included, and anyone with enough sense to recognize the plethora of flaws in this logic is deemed nothing more than a bitter cynic and is consequently ignored. The catastrophic result of this outlook is that while on her quest for this nonexistent knight, a girl will overlook the loveable, though imperfect, knave that is standing right in front of her.
The stereotypical knight in shining armor is gorgeous, refined, courteous, at least slightly wealthy, and, quite frankly, imaginary. He always knows what to do and never says the wrong thing. He makes his girl feel safe and rescues her no matter what; he always catches her, never letting his damsel fall. He is everything that a girl could want, providing her with an endless supply of adventure while at the same time making sure that she never feels endangered. He is perfect in every way save one: he doesn't exist. This mythical man creates feelings of discontent in women and inadequacy in men because no mortal man could ever live up to his example.
In contrast, there is the average member of the male species; for argument's sake, we'll call him our knave. He's a generally good guy, but he's not perfect. He tries really hard, but every now and then he won't be able to catch you and you will fall. He doesn't mean to, and he will feel absolutely horrible about it, but it will happen. At first glance, he's not particularly glamorous, but once you get to know him, brushing the dirt away day by day, you will see that he's as close as reality gets. Perfection is not necessary; all that is required is that he tries, and the good ones will.
Although it is difficult to find realistic examples of men in the media, it is not impossible. In the writings of Jane Austin, the male leads are portrayed in a more rational manner than in most romance stories. For example, there is the case of Pride and Prejudice. In this novel, all of the male characters are flawed. First, there is Mr. Bennet, the loving, yet slightly indifferent father. Then there is Mr. Bingly, who is very amiable, although too easily dissuaded of his affections for Jane. Another character, Mr. Wickham is portrayed as a typical knight in shining armor, until he was proven to be nothing more than an inheritance seeker. And finally, there is Mr. Darcy, who is depicted throughout the book as prideful and unlikable, but as his true nature is revealed, you begin to see that he is not all that bad. These characters show a realistic blending of the stereotypes of both the knight and the knave.
What we, as women, need to do is to blend these two images together. I am not saying that we need to completely do away with the idea of finding a knight in shining armor, for it is not the idea, in and of itself, that is offensive. It is not wrong to want perfection; the problem comes when we expect it and will accept nothing less. We should not be forced to settle for a knave; we should realize that it is not really settling. To blend the two ideas is to accept and appreciate the humanity of the knave and yet still need someone to treat you well, like the knight. And that is not wrong; it's necessary.