I was browsing for a romance novel a couple of days ago at Barnes and Noble, and I found myself hunting in vain through all the alpha male heroes for a hero I actually LIKED. I wasn’t having much success. The endless string of dominating, rude, selfish, thinking-with-his-prick “heroes” was annoying. I am well familiar with romance novels and their conventions, but that night, I just wanted something different. Or someone different. And I couldn’t find him in any of those books.
For clarity’s sake, I had better define what I mean by “alpha male” since there are many definitions and descriptions out there. The Alpha Male hero of most romance novels is absurdly handsome, usually powerful, whose hands are as good at pleasuring women as they are at beating someone to a pulp. Alpha Male heroes are usually emotionally repressed, arrogant, egotistical, and bad at genuine conversation. They tend to think they should dominate whoever they are around, and they view women as sex objects to be bedded as quickly as possible. They like to act in a sexually predatory manner, and are portrayed as dangerous (in the best way) to the ladies. They usually have some sort of dysfunctional past the author uses as a justification of why they are such assholes for most of the book. Alpha Male heroes are nearly always reformed by the end of the book because of the woman who captures their hearts and minds and helps them find their better natures.
I do enjoy the battle of wits and the humor and sexual spark of the best romance novels. I enjoy watching the relationship blossom, and I love a good sex scene. But having to wade through pages and pages of assholery on the part of the Alpha Male puts a big damper on my enjoyment of the book.
Where is the Beta Male in all this? I know, I know – the Beta Male is the object of scorn and derision in our culture. He is portrayed as everything from the loser guy living in his mom’s basement (though that’s also referred to as Omega Male) to simply the Nice Guy that everyone enjoys talking to at a party and nobody remembers afterwards. He is seen as lacking confidence, as being “boring,” and as rarely getting the girl.
This is an unfortunate box in which we’ve put male heroes (and real life men, too). The true Alpha Male type guys I have met have not been pleasant to be around. Few of them are good relationship material because of that self-centered, arrogant problem they have.
So what’s the appeal? Some researchers and anthropologists think women are “programmed” to seek an Alpha Male because we long for protection and to be provided for. I’m sure some women do feel this way – it’s what we are culturally conditioned to believe we need, even if it’s not really true in modern society.
But I think there may be another reason the Alpha Male holds such appeal. In romance novels, the Heroine has such beauty or wit or gutsiness or individuality that she is able to make that Alpha Male desire her. So great is his obsession that he becomes willing to change and be a better man. This is ultimate control and power – the ability to control a powerful person through simply being yourself. It is this myth that may be the most seductive thing about these stories – the idea that “just by being myself, some man will desire me so greatly that he will transform himself into my ideal just to win my approval and affection.”
Women in real life can rarely change an Alpha Male. This isn’t a bad thing, actually. Personal change and improvement should come, not to please another person, but because we are convinced within ourselves that it is the right thing to pursue. All our relationships do change us, for better or worse. But it is usually a disaster to begin a relationship with the hopes of changing the other person into what you want them to be. When the woman realizes she actually CAN’T change her Alpha Male, that’s when the relationship starts falling apart.
What I’d love to see in more novels is not Alpha Male or Beta Male, but real males. Real guys that stand outside and beyond the Alpha Male/Beta Male cliches. Flawed, yes, but maybe not in the stereotypical ways. It would be nice to read about heroes that know how to communicate, who do value women for more than just sex, who are socially conscious and…humble. Who are willing to listen and consider the ideas of other people, instead of acting brashly on their own. Back in March 2011, Heroines With Hearts blog had a similar discussion. If you read through the comments, you’ll see that many of them voice the same wish – for heroes that are a blend of Alpha Male confidence and action, but the genuine kindness and consideration and gentleness of the Beta Male.
What do you think? Alpha Male, Beta Male, or Real Male: What kind of hero do you want to see more of in romance novels:
A) Alpha Male all the way, baby! It’s just a story, and I can separate fantasy from reality, so let me fantasize about all that protection/providing and control/changing stuff because it sure feels great!
B) Beta Males rock! Nice guys don’t get enough credit. They maybe don’t have the pizzazz of an alpha male, but I am more attracted to gentleness and kindness than I am to macho chest-beating.
C) Down with Pigeonholes! Give me Real Males that are a blend of alpha male and beta male, or who defy classification. This is the 21st century, after all, so we value people being themselves, in all their glorious individuality and uniqueness.
Comment below, darlings!