Anyone who’s been following this blog for awhile probably knows that I’ll take a “beta” hero over an “alpha” hero any day, but that mostly I wish the distinction didn’t exist. Actually, I don’t think sociology upholds the dichotomy at all so outside of romance novels, the distinction really doesn’t exist. It’s arbitrary, unrealistic and damaging to everyone, regardless of gender. “Alpha” is shorthand for a certain kind of strength in heroes, an unambiguous, worldly, most often physical, but sometimes also economic power. And even when we talk about “beta” heroes, we talk about different kinds of strength: competence and kindness, for example.
But outside of sociological and feminist arguments against subscribing to socially-constructed and ultimately restrictive portrayals of masculinity, I think there are missed opportunities when we focus so intently upon strength. And it’s not just in heroes. I noticed the other day while perusing Amazon’s romance novel newsletter that whether in the blurb or the extent reviews, everyone is obsessed with “strong” heroines. I’m guessing this is code for all sorts of things: independence, smarts, competence.
But lately I’m also seeing ruthlessness, willingness toward violence, and selfishness. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself. In nearly every other genre, women are most often cast in the caring, nurturing, selfless role so having access to another narrative is bound to be empowering for romance readers and writers.