For generations, women have been taught that the ideal hero of a novel – regardless of genre, but especially in romance – is the alpha male. You know the type: tan, perfectly muscled, ruggedly handsome, can go all night, likely to appear oiled up/sweaty on the cover.*
I’d like to challenge that stereotype. Actually, I am in most of my books (King Arthur, and Lancelot to an extent, being exceptions because of their existing characteristics).
Why? Well for one, I am so not attracted to the alpha male – it’s part of the reason I don’t like romance novels. Physically, I’ve always gone for what I call the “heroin chic” look: skinny, may or may not have muscles, usually tall. (I think it comes from too many years of hanging out with musicians.) I like someone who won’t crush me under his weight or break me in a passionate embrace. And yes, I like metrosexuals. (Style is important to me, okay?)
But more than that, I’m way more interested in what’s going on in a guy’s mind than how hard his abs are. Don’t get me wrong, I love a nice washboard as much as the next girl, but the idea of the testosterone-laden alpha male makes my skin crawl. Maybe it’s because I tend to be a dominating person, not the dominated. Maybe it’s because I want an equal, not a savior. Maybe I’m just odd.
I know part of it is because I don’t go all gooey for traditional male roles like solider, cop, firefighter, cowboy, etc. I’d rather see a poet, a college professor, an actor or an artist as a hero – someone with soul. Even a scientist with a conscience or a lawyer fighting for the poor or the environment would do it for me. Forget the stoic Spartan; I need to a guy who at least acknowledges his feelings, if he’s not in touch with them. I guess what I’m saying is that I need more than a hard body to get me going, and that thing doesn’t involve overt physicality or domination.
I believe there’s a whole audience of women out there who yearn for a man who stimulates their minds as much as their bodies. There probably are heroes out there who do both, but let’s face it: the typical alpha male usually isn’t too bright. He might be great at what he does – he might even save the world – but I don’t think he’s going to be providing sparkling dinner conversation.
My heroines are all highly educated (in life, if not in school) and they need someone who is able to engage in witty repartee and once in a while best them in an argument. This is a delicate balance because if their male counterpart isn’t well rounded, he can come off as an arrogant prick. I think this where emotional depth comes in, to tame down some of the intellect. The world may not need any more ripped Fabios, but we don’t need more Ivy League douchecanoes either.
This is not to say that intelligent heroes can’t be hot – yes, please, make them hot! But the typical alpha isn’t both. And it’s time for that to change. So while some authors are penning the next Hercules, I’ll be busy crafting Benedick’s [Much Ado About Nothing] heir.
*I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions to this rule. I just haven’t seen them.
What are your feelings on the alpha male? Do you like or dislike this stereotype? Am I totally off my rocker? Have you read books were the alpha has some depth? If so, let me know which ones. I’d love for an author to prove me wrong on this point!