Interview: Dr. Carole Lieberman On "Bad Girls"
For me, analyzing the media is even more fun than watching it. I don't want to be just a passive viewer - I want to know what makes it tick, and what it can do for me. So I sat down for a chat with self-described "media psychiatrist" Dr. Carole Lieberman, whose major focus in her work is described on her website as "the psychology of showbiz and the influence of media." Exactly the kind of stuff I spend far too much time talking about.
Dr. Lieberman and I discussed her new book, Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them and How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets, as well as gender issues within the media and the real influence it can have on our lives.
What inspired you to write this book? What interested you about the subject?
Primarily what inspired me is the fact that the "dating jungle" has gotten more ferocious, more savage. People who are in the dating world, whatever age, are finding it harder and harder to find true love. There are a number of reasons for that. There certainly still are more "bad boys," but there are "bad girls": women who have had dysfunctional relationships with their father.
The biggest problem in the dating world is that there are more and more families who have gotten divorced. The children who have grown up as children of divorce are terrified of intimacy, and that is a big factor in why the dating world has gotten to be more savage. Oftentimes, when a girl's parents have gotten divorced, she doesn't see her father as much, so she has this impression that she isn't loveable. If she had been more loveable, her father would have stayed.
Another factor is the glamorization of "bad boys" and "bad girls" in the media. At the end of each chapter I list celebrities to illustrate the types. I'm not trying to turn "good girls" into "bad girls" per se, but to wake "good girls" up to the realization that there really are these specific kinds of things that attract men and keep men.
Walk me through the science behind it. What research did you do?
That was a major undertaking. I didn't take the stories from my patients. Of course that contributes to a general knowledge, but I specifically interviewed over a hundred men who had these experiences. The interviews were about three or four hours long, if I had follow-up questions I would follow it up with emails for the most part. In that time, these men went into tremendous detail about their relationships with "bad girls" - details about their emotions, how it affected them emotionally.
I had actually defined the twelve different types beforehand. After I did all the interviews and I had them in the different categories, I then looked at all the men I had interviewed in that category. There were commonalities and then commonalities in the women. So I was able to put together, then, the descriptions of what made the women the way they were and why the men were attracted to them. Although a lot of these men have been with more than one type of "bad girl." The bad girls were doing the choosing. It's the women who choose. It's the "bad girls" who go after these sitting ducks.
How long did it take you to complete the book?
It took about a year and a half. It's different in a sense that there's more research involved. I'm trying to get at the truth to try to explain things. I'm always thinking about the reader - not just entertaining them but how they're going to get this. I do, of course, try to be very literary about it, not just like a psychology textbook.
You're also known for your work in and regarding the media. What brought you to that particular field?
I was always interested in writing. I was choosing between a career in writing and performing, and medical school. Before I went to medical school, I knew that I wanted to be a psychiatrist, and a psychiatrist who used the media, not just sitting in my office. I wanted to help more people than I could ever help in a million years in my office.
I'm interested in the effect of media - analyzing the media. Analyzing movies and TV shows and so on. I've been a big anti-media violence activist.
There are lots of interesting issues that involve gender and the media, including amongst the fans. Since we're talking about women and relationships, I'm curious about how a lot of the fans who are invested in romantic relationships on TV shows are women, particularly young women.
There's a big hunger amongst women for love. I can say that there is this general starvation amongst people, including that age group. The younger someone is, the more likely they are to have been a child of divorce [and] the more scarred they are. Those are all signs of the starvation that's out there.
You've gone on record with the idea that violence in video games has a negative impact in the real world. But would you also allow that the media can have a tremendous positive impact?
Absolutely. The problem with video games is most of them are violent. Movies and TV shows - I'm not against that. I just want people to use them for good.
What would you say is the role of the consumer or parent in the equation?
It's fifty percent parents for not being more vigilant and fifty percent the media.
Do you think the media has improved in recent years?
It's very variable. It gets better in one place and it gets worse in another.
With all the ventures that you have, do you have a preference amongst them? How do you balance everything?
The writing and television, trying to promote the things that I believe in. I just try to keep all the plates spinning. It's not easy.
My thanks to Dr. Lieberman for this interview! You can learn more about her at her website.