By Mahpharah Khan
“After” by Anna Todd is a comedy first, romance second.
“After” was published in October 2014 after receiving much praise from its readers when it was posted on Wattpad, a site where fans can post their own fanfiction. The story follows Tessa, who is a freshman in college and meets Hardin, whom she falls in love with.
Hardin’s name was originally Harry, after Harry Styles. In 2013, the most popular fan fiction were those written about Styles. In their stories, they all described Harry to be rude, mysterious and misunderstood. He has a troubled past, therefore adopting an indifferent attitude because he has a heart of steel — nothing and no one can hurt him. He mistreats his love interest and others around him.
Everything is OK, though. He is ultimately forgiven because he is sexy, handsome and a sad boy who just needs a little love. It doesn’t matter if he was abusive and took advantage of girls.
“After” encourages us to feel bad for Hardin, even after all of the harm he has caused. This is obviously a major problem.
The description on Wattpad reads:
“Tessa Young is an 18-year-old college student with a simple life, excellent grades and a sweet boyfriend. She always has things planned out ahead of time, until she meets a rude boy named Harry with too many tattoos and piercings who shatters her plans.”
It is the traditional bad boy/good girl trope. This trope can be written well, but Todd fails to do so.
Not only do we get to read all about Hardin and Tessa’s s—y and toxic relationship, we get to watch it, too!
“After” was adapted into a movie and released in April 2019.
We first meet Hardin when Tessa returns to her dorm room after a shower. After she tells him to leave, he refuses to:
“Don’t flatter yourself, it’s not like I’m going to look at you,’ he scoffs and rolls over, his hands covering his face.”
Tessa actually gets dressed while Hardin turns away. This scene is written as if their interaction is funny. We are supposed to jokingly scoff and say, “Men, amiright?”
However, it’s not funny — it’s annoying and disrespectful. This is the first time Hardin shows that he does not respect Tessa’s boundaries — and it doesn’t stop. He believes he is entitled to whatever and whoever he wants.
Tessa then meets Hardin again at a party she goes to after her first week of college. She plays a game of truth or dare with her roommate and her friends, and Hardin happens to be a part of her friend group. Tessa is asked if she’s a virgin, and when she says she is, she’s judged harshly for it.
Not only are boundaries disregarded, cheating is, too. Tessa has a boyfriend, Noah, when she starts college. However, when she meets Hardin and begins to fall in love with him, she has no problem cheating on Noah. Tessa’s and Hardin’s actions are reckless, yet Todd condones this behavior. She has a large following as well — this means that teen girls believe that mistreatment and cheating can be excused because Tessa and Hardin are “in love” — they are soulmates. This is not only reckless by Todd — it is irresponsible of her.
In the movie version, there is a montage of Tess depressed and sad because she cheated on Noah and in consequence, they broke up. But all is well!
Tessa receives zero consequences for her behavior; her cheating is handled as a trivial matter. Five minutes after they break up, there is a montage of Tessa and Hardin having good times together. They laugh, talk all the time, and seem to have entered a relationship. This is ridiculous because Tessa and Hardin believe that their actions can be excused. They get a little slap on the wrist and cry a little. Then, all is well.
One of the most abhorrent scenes in the novel is when Tessa discovers that her relationship with Hardin has been an entire joke. After the game of truth or dare in the beginning of the novel, Hardin makes a bet with his friends to see if he could take Tessa’s virginity. This perpetuates the constant struggle women have when dealing with men. For centuries, women’s bodies have only been seen as objects for men’s pleasure. This is exhausting, hurtful and scary, and it does not seem to end, even in 2020.
The most disgusting part: Hardin shows his friends the bloody sheets and used condom from the first time they had sex. He manipulated Tessa and played with her like a doll. This conveys men’s consistent and common disrespect toward women.
And it is honestly ridiculous that Hardin’s character was based on Harry Styles. Styles is nothing of the sort. He is kind, compassionate and cares for others. He respects women and acknowledges his privilege as a white man. He understands that he does not face the oppression and severe criticism women have experienced for centuries. He is the epitome of who humanity should strive to be.
In a Rolling Stone interview from August of 2019, Styles said:
“I think ultimately feminism is thinking that men and women should be equal, right? People think that if you say ‘I’m a feminist,’ it means you think men should burn in hell and women should trample on their necks. No, you think women should be equal.”
Styles has taken the time to understand the kind of position women are in –– this is a display of his empathy. Hardin has not thought about any of this. Like Harry, he has been granted every privilege life can offer –– being a white man. Hardin does not reflect on this at all. Harry does; this is why Hardin is not an accurate representation of Harry. Not only does Styles acknowledge his privilege, he denounces hate of any kind toward women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and other marginalized groups.
“Of course men and women should be equal. I don’t want a lot of credit for being a feminist. It’s pretty simple. I think the ideals of feminism are pretty straightforward.”
Hardin undermines Tessa by playing a game, which ultimately means he believes women are the pawns in his games. Styles understands that women are human beings and don’t deserve to be treated that way. He has a largely female audience and when asked about it, he does not discredit us; he knows we are credible and intelligent individuals.
“’Young girls like the Beatles. You gonna tell me they’re not serious? How can you say young girls don’t get it? They’re our future. Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going. Teenage-girl fans – they don’t lie. If they like you, they’re there. They don’t act ‘too cool.’ They like you, and they tell you. Which is sick.’”