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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] 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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[identity profile] buymeaclue.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 01:28 am (UTC)(link)
All of that rings true for me, too.
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[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?

[identity profile] sovay.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 07:10 am (UTC)(link)
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._

The only book in which I have seen that dynamic (explicitly noted as such by the characters, too) played convincingly is Mary Gentle's 1610: A Sundial in a Grave (2003), and it helps immensely that the relationship is founded on equal quantities of kink and genderfuck.

[identity profile] sovay.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 07:28 am (UTC)(link)
I must have chucked the book at a wall before I hit that point (I was very annoyed at the portrayal of the Japanese character so far and I wanted to slap the hero. Multiple times. Often. And hard.)

It's late in the book; said by Dariole. By which point they have evolved a functional relationship, not for Rochefort's lack of trying to wreck it.

[identity profile] oracne.livejournal.com 2008-04-02 01:44 pm (UTC)(link)
I think this is a factor in a lot of paranormals with dangerous alpha heroes.