oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)
Oyceter ([personal profile] oyceter) wrote2008-04-01 04:53 pm

Alpha male or stalker?

I found "Alpha Male or Stalker?" on Colleen Gleason's (author of the Gardella vampire books) website.

I'm sure I've written about my problems with romance heroes (and shoujo manga heroes, and I would say kdrama heroes except I have luckily managed to avoid most of the bad heroes) many, many, many times already. I'm also not the right audience for that question, given how very sick I am of alpha heroes in general, not just alpha heroes who are actually stalkers.

Most of this is because I am tired of reading romances about women's fears of sexual desire and how they get over that fear by giving control up to the hero. I am perfectly fine with this in real life, but as a trope, it's horribly overused, and I would like (the legitimate and socially enforced) fears of sexual desire to be solved in another way. Preferably one in which we get to see the heroine in control.

I do think that one can have control by giving it up, but since this is portrayed in the majority of romances I have read, I'm not particularly interested in it, and I think its popularity Says Something. What, precisely, I don't know, but this is reason #345987 why I want "Romance and Feminism 201: Yes, We Know Romances Can Be Feminist, Now Can We Talk About If Most of Them Actually Are?" For the record, my current answer is a tempered "no," at least from what I've read. But my current answer is also changing as the genre changes, and getting back into romances after a year or two of not reading them has been very interesting.

Anyway, alpha males. I found myself disagreeing with many of the details in Gleason's article, though the general gist of it works: he's a stalker if he's pursuing her against her will. Of course, like Gleason, I find the problem lies in that last phrase; my definition of "against her will" seems to be notably stricter than a lot of romances' definition. Much of this is because of the prevalence of date rape, and the uses of "But she didn't really mean 'no,'" "But she was asking for it," "But she smiled at me," "But she really did want it," and etc. as a defense for rape. As such, some of the techniques Gleason details really don't work for me as a reader, though more as a question of degree. Frex, "letting the heroine cue us in." I read vagueness and mixed signals as the societal pressure on women (particularly upper-and-middle-class white women, who star in the majority of romances) to be nice and not cause conflict. Getting me into the hero's POV doesn't work if he's justifying actions that I'm finding stalkery, and I give much less weight to intent than to action. I'm sure most stalkers think their actions are perfectly justifiable, and people in general are pretty good at convincing themselves that they're doing something in someone else's best interest, no matter what that someone else actually says.

So when I read about the pursuit of a heroine in romance, I want it to be very clear that she does, in fact, welcome the hero's attention. As in, if she says no, even with a smile, I want him to stop. A little persuasion works for me further in the relationship, when the two have already established a friendship, but when it's the lust-at-first-sight scenario, particularly if other power imbalances are involved (class, gendered situations, race, age, occupation, etc.), I'd much rather the hero err on the side of caution.

Of course, this is me. And of course, this is me, now. I know that when I was younger and much more confused about sexuality in general, I did like the forceful hero more. And I am not generalizing my own experience; mine is tied into that old trope of women afraid of their sexuality, but again, that's just me.

And I'm leaving out romances that are intentionally dark and disturbing, which brings me to the current spate of paranormal romances. I do find the fantasy element a way to get around the alpha hero (though I still want more female werewolves and demons and vampires and etc). I suspect this is partially how historicals were used in the past; actions that would be slappable for a contemporary hero are ok for a medieval one, frex.

But! Enough about me. What do you guys think about alpha heroes? When do they cross the line? What elements make them work or not work?

Also, discussion about alpha heroes in dramas or manga is also highly welcome (though please no giant sweeping statements about Asian societies or psychoanalysis of the audience)!

ETA: Part 2

[identity profile] takumashii.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 12:15 am (UTC)(link)
Have you read the Twilight books? I remember people around LJ snarking a lot about the first one... Those crossed a line for me, to the point that I put the third down in disgust and couldn't finish reading it. (As a YA librarian I felt some obligation to read them just because they're so popular...) They had struck me as anti-feminist and stalkery before, but at the point where the boyfriend is sabotaging the heroine's car in order to keep her "out of danger"/ prevent her from seeing a platonic male (werewolf) friend, I couldn't take it any more. And I found it more disturbing, not less, that the hero is a vampire, because people do get away from abusive human boyfriends, but getting away from an abusive vampire boyfriend would be almost impossible.

Recently Libby Gruner wrote an essay on the Twilight books (http://www.literarymama.com/columns/midlifemama/archives/001962.html) which I found really insightful and evenhanded to both sides.

I actually really like alpha males when the book or manga can make me forget that in real life there are stalkers and abusive relationships - a lot of manga are sufficiently cracktastic that I'm not exactly thinking, "Heroine, watch out! Those are warning signs!"

I'm sure you've heard of the theory of romance novels as a romance not between a man and a woman, but between "the reader and herself"? I feel like maybe some of the attraction of alpha males for me is that so often it feels like my intuition is stalking me, trying to tell me something, trying to get me to listen, and I'm all, "Nope, not listening, la la la I can't hear you" until circumstances force me to admit that my intuitions were right all along, happy ending. But that doesn't exactly change the fact that the topmost, most literal layer of the story is often justifying some absolutely appalling behavior.

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[identity profile] nestra.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 12:58 pm (UTC)(link)
[livejournal.com profile] elynross just posted about the first two of those books.

[identity profile] meganbmoore.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 12:15 am (UTC)(link)
Hmm...I think it depends on the alpha in question, really. I've noticed that when I don't go "hell no" it's either because the female in question is also rather alpha, or because...well...often, he's not that bright(which almost translates as "any male with "Kyo" in his name when it comes to manga," at least in my reading experience) or because he's alpha because wants to protect, but also gets that you don't smother or infringe. Angel(Buffyverse) and Chul-Soo(Fantasy Couple) are both good examples of this. Chul-Soo is very alpha and initially annoying, but you learn soon enough that he mostly just wants to take care of people, but doesn't want to restrain or controll Anna or his nephews. Angel is very much "me man, me save damsel" alpha, but he respects Buffy and Cordy, and knows that they'll both do whatever they want no matter what he says, and he wouldn't care about either nearly as much if they were different. Shuri in Basara can be annoyingly alpha, but he also respects Sarasa very much, and he gets that she thinks and acts for herself and that he can't control her(and never makes more than token attempts of that out of habit, which she does break him of) he just wishes that she'd stay where he can protect her. Not because he thinks she can't take care of herself, but because he wants to take care of her.

I think it mostly boils down to whether the alpha towards the female comes from frustration/respect(whether he realizes it or not) or out of lust, and how much she does or doesn't put up with it. Most shoujo romances lose me because it's basically an alpha guy chasing and walking over a doormat, or a doormat crushing on an alpha guy who either has a girl on the side, or is hung up on an ex. If the girl stands up for herself against the alpha and doesn't let him walk all over her, then I assume that he's like that because he respects and wants to take care of her and doesn't know how else to show it(not, mind you, that that always works for me, but when it does, that seems to be the case), not because he just lusts after her, thinks she'll be easy to control, etc.

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[identity profile] nojojojo.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 12:27 am (UTC)(link)
Yeah, I pretty much disagree right down the line on that article. Getting me into a stalker's PoV doesn't make him sympathetic to me; it just illuminates his particular mental defect in a way that makes me want to call a shrink. (Then again, I am a shrink; maybe that's it.)

But then, I've never quite grokked the traditional-romance concept of alpha male. My idea of a dominant man is one who's strong, and strength does not equal "inability to control oneself" in my eyes. That's weakness. Men who can't control themselves make me think "crackhead", not sexxay.

Being tempted to lose control is hot, yes. Nearly giving in is hot, yes. Being pushy, being persistent, all that -- works. But the point at which the control breaks is the point at which the line is crossed in my eyes. And loss of rationality counts as a break in control, I should note. The point at which a guy starts ignoring the heroine's expressions of disinterest, blatant rejections, or even mixed messages, becomes the point at which the testosterone has poisoned his brain. Like crack.

I especially hate Christine Feehan for this. I've only read a couple of her "Carpathian" novels (they were so alike that I figured I didn't need to read more), but both contained heroes who -- never mind stalked -- raped their heroines. One of them wept and apologized throughout the rape, complaining that he just couldn't help himself... as if that was supposed to make it OK! First time I've ever literally thrown a book across the room.

[identity profile] magicnoire.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 12:34 am (UTC)(link)
both contained heroes who -- never mind stalked -- raped their heroines.

EW! Now I am infinitely glad I never picked up those books!

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ext_7025: (why not?)

[identity profile] buymeaclue.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 01:27 am (UTC)(link)
Getting me into a stalker's PoV doesn't make him sympathetic to me; it just illuminates his particular mental defect in a way that makes me want to call a shrink.

Yah, right? She's going, "Show me his desperation!" and I'm gong, "...right, more evidence for the restraining order!"

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[identity profile] oracne.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 01:37 pm (UTC)(link)
You have identified a line I won't cross, either.

[identity profile] laura-holt-pi.livejournal.com 2008-04-03 05:11 am (UTC)(link)
But then, I've never quite grokked the traditional-romance concept of alpha male. My idea of a dominant man is one who's strong, and strength does not equal "inability to control oneself" in my eyes. That's weakness. Men who can't control themselves make me think "crackhead", not sexxay.

Same here. To me, a strong man must be master of himself. I've had two real-life stalker types, one a stranger who was out to terrorise me, the other a friend who became obsessed with me and expected me to melt into his arms when he cried and said he couldn't control his feelings for me. I had no respect for him at all. Real men don't behave that way.

[identity profile] cicer.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 12:46 am (UTC)(link)
I absolutely hate alpha heroes in fiction. I tend to hate alpha men in any type of story and find it hard (if not impossible) to sympathize with them or like them, but my disdain of them doubles when it's a het romance story.

I totally don't understand why this particular trope appeals to so many straight women. If the popularity of romance novels and the like is any indication, lots of women love the idea of being aggressively pursued in ways that I find really creepy. Many's the time I've read a so-called 'romance' story and thought 'If any guy ever tried that with me, I'd call the cops'. I just can't relate at all, since I find the whole concept of 'alpha men' really repugnant, both in fiction and in real life. But I appear to be in the minority here.

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ext_7025: (happiness)

[identity profile] buymeaclue.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 01:43 am (UTC)(link)
The other thing, I think, is the--fantasy of being so special and so loved that you're safe with this angry, violent, aggressive guy. It's the same reason some people (mostly the ones who shouldn't) get big nasty-looking dogs--the egoboost of knowing that they're on _your_ side and everyone is impressed/afraid, but you don't have to be, because you're just _that_ _cool._

With, maybe, a side of the whole savior's complex thing?

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ext_6428: (Default)

[identity profile] coffeeandink.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 01:55 am (UTC)(link)
I read your response before I read the article, and the article is even worse than I'd thought. It basically replicates the sexist paradigm where women have to be in control of men's sexuality. Men aren't responsible for noticing signals; women are responsible for giving them. Men aren't responsible for stopping themselves; women are responsible for stopping them. And, of course, this is generally taking place in both a real-world and fictional context in which men *actually* have the control--socially, legally, and physically--that women are *ostensibly* responsible for enforcing.

Also, I do not have words for how much I hate the romance genre's adoption of the terms "alpha hero" and "gamma hero." They are bastardizations of evolutionary science which naturalize cultural and highly charged behaviors. Humans are primates and primates are pack animals -- but primate dynamics differ from primate species to primate species, let alone from the canine dynamics usually referenced. "Alpha dog" and "alpha bitch" are not synonyms.

[identity profile] lady-ganesh.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 02:02 am (UTC)(link)
Well, you know, I was all set to be open-minded, because I sort of like the handsome devil wooing the reluctant heroine.

...and then I started reading the essay, where the author talks about how it's okay if the handsome devil breaks into the heroine's house as long as he suffers some kind of consequences from it and...no. Oh hell no.

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[identity profile] yeloson.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 02:19 am (UTC)(link)
So, as a man who rarely reads/watches romance stuff, but has crossover w/manga and asian dramas?

I -always- have the red lights going off in my head when I see it, but this probably is mostly because I've helped at least 3 friends out of DV-ish situations, and so alpha male behavior = "shoot him now" in my head.

That aside, I think for me, the biggest problem is that the fucked up behaviors are rarely or never identified as deeply problematic- they often end up "earning" love.

It's the way in which these stories don't lead to people getting a better or healthier sense of boundaries, but rather just being lucky that someone rescues them from fucked-up-ed-ness.

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[identity profile] coraa.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 02:36 am (UTC)(link)
I used to really like alpha heroes, and now I really don't, and I do think for me -- and I don't want to generalize this, I do mean for me -- a lot of the change had to do with my becoming comfortable with wanting and not-wanting things myself, rather than having to have someone make it okay for me to want something.

It's unfortunate, because one of my pushbutton tropes is werewolves, but so many werewolf books with sympathetic werewolf characters are of the 'alpha male pursuing his mate' variety. I wish I could find more werewolf-centric paranormal romances (or, really, paranormal romances period) with female supernaturals, and without alpha heroes.
ext_12512: Hinoe from Natsume Yuujinchou, elegant and smirky (STS Suki come-hither)

[identity profile] smillaraaq.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 02:51 am (UTC)(link)
If you don't mind short-story length instead of novels and f/f pairings, I can think of a few lesbian werewolf stories that might fit the bill...

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ext_12512: Hinoe from Natsume Yuujinchou, elegant and smirky (we-sha-sha-shake)

[identity profile] smillaraaq.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 02:48 am (UTC)(link)
I don't mind alphas in general, so long as there's more depth to the characterization than just slapping on a few alpha-ish traits and expecting that will make him irresistible to readers.

Stalkerish rape-means-I-love-you alpha bastards paired with reluctant blushing virginal doormat partners who need a big strong man to take over and tell them what to do, OTOH, is just a guaranteed turnoff for me, in both het romance and yaoi. I like to see two strong characters together -- they don't have to be strong in exactly the same ways, but there needs to be some sort of balance there. I do understand there's all sorts of subtext underlying the popularity of rape fantasies, but that's just not a trope that particularly works for me. About the closest I can get to that is an appreciation for seeing really tightly-wound reserved characters losing their control, not even necessarily in a sexual context -- scruffy!Norrington, Hakkai going youkai, Fake's Ryo or Due South's Fraser getting pushed to the point where the anger and violence under their usual nice-guy facades come out, all push that sort of narrative button for me. In a sexual context, that sort of feral loss of control coming out works best for me when it's NOT just handwaved away as OK-because-he-loves-you, he-can't-stop-himself stuff: I want to see both characters perfectly aware that they're playing with fire, and it helps a lot if the partner who isn't the one losing control is clearly instigating it and willingly accepting or even getting off on the risk, rather than just passively being swept away despite their objections. Basically I want to see it treated as edgeplay and an exploration of trust and acceptance in extreme circumstances, confronting the darkness with open eyes rather than just excusing it as not really being edgy Just Because. It also helps a lot in those cases if that partner has enough strength, be it physical, supernatural, or simple force of character, that I feel like they COULD take a stand against the one losing control if they needed to.

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[identity profile] seajules.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 04:37 am (UTC)(link)
I can't say I ever really liked the romance/manga version of "alpha male," and after having a few stalkers, I tend to loathe their fictional counterparts. Unless said fictional counterparts are presented as villains, which only seems to happen in BL manga (Tokyo Babylon/X/1999's Sakurazuka Seishiro and Yami no Matsuei's Muraki Kazutaka are prime examples).

Even if the heroine/love interest isn't a doormat, I don't like what passes for "alpha male" in fiction. Even if he matures in the course of the story, I tend to hold that early behavior against him, and will only grudgingly concede, "Well, I suppose he makes Character That I Like happy." I won't go looking for the sequels, though.

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[identity profile] ide-cyan.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 06:25 pm (UTC)(link)
ObCross-reference: Joanna Russ's essay "Somebody's Trying to Kill Me and I Think It's My Husband: The Modern Gothic".

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[identity profile] sarahtales.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 09:44 pm (UTC)(link)
I sort of liked the way she said there should be consequences for a hero's bad behaviour, but - the examples were distressing on several levels. For one thing, I usually laugh when I'm nervous - which should not be taken as encouragement.

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ext_7009: (Damian - Muse)

[identity profile] alex-beecroft.livejournal.com 2008-04-03 10:22 am (UTC)(link)
I loathe the 'alpha' male too; all he makes me want to do is pull out the shotgun and shoot him in the kneecaps. My reaction is so strong that there has to be an element of irrational fear about it, because you know sorry, but I don't want to be pursued against my will or swept off my feet into actions I didn't want to take. And God knows, that's been the female condition for most of history, so I suppose it makes sense that a lot of us have learned to like it. But my absolute keynote in a hero is respect - he has to respect his partner enough to believe that 'no' means 'no', and be strong enough in his own self-control and principles to back off as a result. I don't like animals, even if they come in human form.

[identity profile] pinkpolarity.livejournal.com 2008-04-03 12:03 pm (UTC)(link)
(here from MF)

I don't care for romance novels, but I was prepared to give the essay a chance anyway because I do like "alpha" men both in fiction and IRL, and I'm pretty subby as far as how I like intimate encounters to play out. That essay, though... eesh, do NOT want! My idea of "alpha" isn't someone who persists past the point of reason, and the only thing that would make that behavior worse in my eyes is to have him be apologetic/getting punished but still getting the girl/showing from his POV that he's desperate because he loves her so much. To me, that says he can't read her signals (and I dislike heroines who are so indecisive/insecure that their friends/family/potential suitors "know what they want and need better than they do") and then he's not strong enough to stand by his own decisions. Can't think of a bigger turn-off than that particular combination, short of a guy who asks "do you like this?" every step of the way.

What I like in a fictional "strong guy" (and it doesn't have to be a "hero"-- actually, heroine/villain pairings are a big kink of mine in fiction) is where the story makes it very clear that they're equals, that they both see themselves as equals, and where it's also clear that the heroine knows herself and her sexuality and *wants* him to be dominant and "take charge"-- and the "taking charge" should also be fairly clearly a sexual/courting scenescript, not an indication that he's going to run her life on a daily basis. That he reads her signals of interest correctly as permission (and I prefer seeing that from her POV, seeing her deliberately drop hints, and seeing her internal monologue that shows what she's looking for), and that his behavior isn't "what women want", but is very aware of what this woman, specifically, wants. I want to see how they're both strong, self-aware people, and any ceding of power is clearly shown as a free choice.

As for actions which cross the line, it depends a bit on who the guy is. Villain characters trying to set up a situation so that the heroine can screw their brains out and still have plausible deniability can get away with behavior I wouldn't tolerate from a hero character (having the heroine kidnapped, for instance). But even in that situation, it has to be clear to the reader that this seemingly non-consensual act *is* consensual, and both parties know this. (The poor hero is probably completely in the dark that the heroine has the hots for the bad guy, though. :) Of course, what's "clear" to some readers won't be to others. I once went out of my usual preference for writing equals to fill a fest request for an adult villain male/teenage heroine girl pairing, and I intended the fic to be "dark"-- she, rebelling, lusted after him, but wasn't really prepared for the reality of having sex at all, let alone losing her virginity to her father's worst enemy. She consented, but I tried to make it clear that he was manipulating her, and would, after she'd outlived her usefulness, simply discard her. Some readers thought it was "fluffy romance", though, and assumed I'd meant them to live happily ever after and therefore the villain was "OOC". So what I thought was "clear" certainly wasn't to that reader.

[identity profile] stefanie-bean.livejournal.com 2008-04-03 01:04 pm (UTC)(link)
This is kind of an amusing article by Gleason, who as "Colette Gale" (http://miladyinsanity.wordpress.com/2007/01/10/7-questions-with-colleen-gleason/) has written a Phantom of the Opera based "erotic" novel. Among other things, the Phantom not only stalks Christine, but in practically the very beginning of the book ties her up on an empty stage and proceeds to invade orifices with his fingers.