I cringe every time I hear the term “alpha male.” That term gives me all kinds of feels, none of them in the slightest bit positive. Yet, every contemporary romance novel I’ve picked up since the first day I started reading that genre has featured the same cookie-cutter, disturbingly predictable, asshole alpha male type lead.
To be entirely honest, I’m sick of it.
I’ve never been into the alpha male types, myself. It’s something to do with the fact that they like to use their fists to solve their problems and that seems so backwards, redneck, Neanderthal, I’m-incapable-of-higher-thinking, completely NOT romantic to me. The last thing I want is a guy that hits first and asks questions later.
I’ve been down that road. I’ve dated alpha male types. They’re the last thing I ever want to get involved with ever again, in fiction or in real life.
The whole idea behind the “alpha male” mentality is that the alpha male is at the top of the totem pole. He’s better in every way possible than all the other guys he surrounds himself with. He’s got power, he knows it, and he’s not afraid to use it. Many contemporary romance novels (read: every single one I’ve read) have romanticized this feature in their male leads. Some of the lines I’ve read have truly disturbed me and, if I didn’t have this desperate need to finish everything I ever commit to ever, I’d have put down at least a dozen of them by now.
- “You’re mine. I own you.”
- “You can’t get away from me. I’ll find you.”
- “You can’t do this. You can’t break up with me. You’re hurting me, you know that, right?”
- “You want it, don’t you? You know you do. Tell me you want it as bad as I know you do.”
If a guy ever said anything like that to me, I’d bitch slap him so hard my hand would fly right off my wrist. I am my own person. I don’t belong to anyone and I’m not an object to be used, toyed with, then thrown away on someone else’s whim. I refuse to let myself be seen as anything less than human.
Yet, every single fucking contemporary romance novel I’ve read has featured lines so similar to what I wrote above that the characters make my skin crawl. I want to reach into the novel, shake the female lead, and slap some sense into her pretty little head.
It doesn’t matter how hard the writer tries to make me believe that a character is a “good guy” on the inside. The second he demeans any woman’s worth by attaching her to himself or another man in the “I own you/he owns you” kind of way, I’m immediately turned off. I can’t do it. Neither I nor any other women “belong” to anyone but ourselves.
The kind of romance stories I like reading are ones based on mutual respect. The woman respects the man, and in return, the man respects the woman. They are two individual people, fully capable of higher thinking and common fucking sense thoughts.
I try to understand why other women like these kinds of men, but I can’t. Sure, we all have our weak moments and need someone to pick us up, dust us off, and help us get back into the game. But does it have to be some ripped alpha male whose whole sense of self is based on how he compares to other men?
Let’s take a second look at those lines that I slapped together and my thoughts surrounding each comment.
- “You’re mine. I own you.” No, motherfucker, you don’t own me. I’m not an object and I’m nobody’s property.
- “You can’t get away from me. I’ll find you.” Come find me, bitch. I dare you. I know how many pounds per square inch of pressure it takes to break most of the bones in the human body. Do you? (Before anyone asks: It’s research! I swear!)
- “You can’t do this. You can’t break up with me. You’re hurting me, you know that, right?” I wouldn’t be hurting you if you didn’t hurt me, first. I don’t go out of my way to do harm to other people, but I’m also not about to sit idly by while others hurt me. That said, GET OUT OF MY LIFE.
- “You want it, don’t you? You know you do. Tell me you want it as bad as I know you do.” How the hell do you know what I want? Are you psychic? No. You’re not. Get off/get away/get the fuck outta here loser.
Additionally, every single one of those four basic lines that are in practically all contemporary romance novels have one thing in common: basic psychology. All four of those lines are worded in a very specific way, one that is meant to make the person they're directed at rethink what’s happening and reconsider what her choices were. It’s Abusive Assbag 101.
- #4 makes the woman rethink what it is she wants and whether she really wants to say “no.”
- #2 and #3 make her rethink her decision to leave, though they take different approaches. #3 uses guilt (“No, I’m not a bitch! I’m a nice person!”) while #2 uses fear tactics (“Oh no! What’ll happen if he does find me?”). In my personal case, I have no fear of being a raging bitch if it’s to save my own skin, and I don’t scare easily. I have big dogs and guns for a reason.
- #1, my personal least favorite, is worded in such a way to make the woman rethink her position in the world as an independent, free-thinking human being and consider the fact that maybe, just maybe, she’s a possession.
Ugh. My skin is crawling writing this.
Recently, I DNF’ed a bestselling series because of the author’s attempts at romanticizing abuse through her alpha male lead. He became violently jealous, he spewed some iteration of every one of the things I quoted up top at least ten times, and I ended up physically sick and unable to continue reading because of his actions. That book kept me up at night in the worst possible way.
What are we, as writers, saying when we romanticize abuse through alpha-male types in our writing? That abusive relationships are actually okay?
Abuse is more than physical. It’s emotional and it’s psychological, too. Just because the male lead isn’t physically abusing the female lead doesn’t mean their relationship isn’t an abusive one. Words and actions need to be taken into account when we create our characters. It’s one thing to have a bad guy that’s all “I own you,” but a whole other thing to have the male lead in a romance think that way, as well.
On that note, are we saying that we expect all men to be these caustic dickheads with short fuses?
I want a man I can have intelligent conversations over sushi with, a man that I can joke around with at the gym, a man that’ll have my back when I go toe to toe against people who view me as less because of those I choose to surround myself with.
I’m not about to waste my time on a guy who only views me as being worth anything if I’m somehow attached to him. My worth—JUST LIKE YOURS, GENTS—isn’t based on the people I’m around. My worth is based on who I am as a person, and I want a man who views both me and himself the same way.
Take it from women all over the world: comparing yourself to and basing your self worth on those around you is NO FUCKING FUN. It’s harmful and its damaging, and the effects can sometimes be permanent.
Am I saying that all alpha males are bad? No, probably not. Just the ones I’ve met and read so far. What I am saying is that I’m sick of alpha-holes. I’m sick of male leads who can only view a woman’s worth in comparison to himself. I’m sick of male leads who can only have worth if they’re better than all their friends in all the ways.
Damn it, I want a man who is perfectly okay with being my equal and not being the biggest, baddest, scariest jackass in the room. And I want to read about leading men like that, too.
How do y'all feel about them? Like 'em? Love 'em? Kick all their asses? I'd love to hear your opinions, so feel free to drop me a comment. (I don't bite, I promise!)