A bumbling ditherer who can’t look you in the eye. A narcissistic nepo baby who sort-of killed a man. A cringey loser who shouts “fuck the patriarchy” like it’s 2013 and a selfish prick who responds "where were you" when his ex-wife tells him their daughter got racially harassed. There is everything to dislike about Kendall Roy from Succession, and yet. And yet. His stupid Loro Piana bomber jackets have me in a chokehold. The girls that get it, get it! The girls that don’t, don’t.
Of course, hot alpha females prefer Roman, and only deeply masochistic people could be Team Shiv, but Kendall has that self-absorbed “love me” quality I absolutely cannot resist, mostly down to Jeremy Strong’s hypnotic performance as the media heir-apparent.
I’m not the only one. Search “Kendall Roy edit” on literally any social platform and you will see the bizarre thirsty fandom that has sprung up for “babygirl” (the Ken-stans’ name for baby).
Which also begs the question: Why are so many traumatised, middle-aged male protagonists getting called “babygirl” by women and femmes online? According to Mashable, “‘He's so babygirl’ is the new ‘submissive and breedable’, a phrase used to describe when a man is so primally attractive that you want to provide for him.”
I reckon that’s over-egging it – the BDSM community has been using “babygirl” for ages, particularly for daddy dom/little girl dynamics. Given that everything on TikTok is supposed to be funny or stupid, I’d say calling middle-aged men “babygirl” is probably just an ironic nod to that. Kendall has the age and means to be a sugar daddy, but in vibe he’s more of a sugar baby. Even though Succession creator Jesse Armstrong is obviously a man, Kendall feels like he’s written from the female gaze.
Whatever’s going on with Kendall, there’s definitely some Freudian shit going on. So I reached out to psychotherapist Toby Ingham, author of Retroactive Jealousy, Making Sense of It to give some more nuanced insights into why Kendall is so ♡ ₊˚ ♡ babygirl. ♡ ₊˚ ♡
VICE: What do you think is behind the attraction by some women to men who are struggling, emotionally traumatised and a little problematic; like Kendall from Succession?
Toby Ingham: It’s the “help me - fix me” quality, alternating with power and possibility. Kendall is helpless, pathetic and needy and some people find this irresistible. At one moment Kendall reaches for the sky, the next he collapses into a pitiful self-destructive mess, compelled by his addictions, reaching for coke, speed, whatever is to hand. He rages, breaks down, smashes up his father’s bathroom then tidies all the mess away like a good little boy. He’s still a child underneath his adult corporate clothes. He acts out being a superhero man – the man his father never helped him become – but really, he’s empty [and] without authentic strength. For some women, this mix is intoxicating – they want to reach out, break through his facade and help him with his struggles.
Some women like the fact Kendall Roy acts like a moody teenage girl. Why?
They identify with his moodiness. They see their own teenage struggles being played out. They want to gather him up, press him against their breasts, have him feed there. The more they hold him the more they think they will grow themselves. When they fix Kendall, they will be making themselves whole. They will give him what they never got. They want to mother him and love him. They complement Kendall.
Is Kendall a narcissist, or a survivor of his father's narcissistic abuse?
He is both. He grew up in a world dominated by his father’s narcissistic self-interest, inflated ego and self-aggrandisement. His mother was unavailable, enjoying her wealth, prestige, and affairs. No one wanted to listen to Kendall Roy. So, he has become stuck within the narcissistic confines of his own stunted ego. He never learnt to grow, to individuate, to become himself, to become anything other than a prop that is occasionally important, on his family’s stage.
Why do some women call emotional, middle-aged men “babygirls”, anyway?
Baby girls are thought to have a wider range of emotional sensitivity than boys. Boys, it is said, have had to go through a tougher separation from their mothers while girls are thought of as having been able to stay with their mothers for longer. Consequently, their emotional needs got better attention. To call a middle-aged man a “baby girl” implies that they haven’t yet become men. Some women may be attracted to men like this because they think they will be the women to help these men grow, develop and become the potent men they could be.
In this BuzzFeed article, some fans say they lust after him because he's "sad" and "pathetic". Psychologically, what is going on there?
We are all turned on by different things. Some people are turned on by Kendall’s emotional disorientation, by the feeble states of emotional collapse that he goes through. The possibility that they might help pick Kendall up from a pathetic collapse fills them with near orgasmic thrill. It is irresistible.
Another middle-aged “babygirl” with female fans is Pedro Pascal, star of The Last of Us. Is this because we really want the antithesis of an “alpha man”? Is it a pushback against toxic male masculinity?
Kendall has one foot in the world of toxic masculine power – it is the world he grew up in, but he has another in something more emotional. That is not to call it healthy as he’s too emotionally labile. But for some viewers, the fantasy is that there’s the potential for a more balanced and healthier version of masculinity to emerge, which might help to sweep away toxic masculinity.
This is why Jesse Armstrong’s Succession is so powerful – it has given us truly memorable character studies. In Kendall Roy, we see a multi-dimensional example of masculine dysfunction. Kendall comes so close to greatness, and then falls to his knees, a little boy again. We see in him the never realised potential to find emotional stability.
Thank you Toby!