Monday, March 28, 2011

The Meaning of the "Alpha Male" In Today's Romance

It's been a while, but as always it's great to be back on the Island, especially after such a long winter.

During the trip over on the DIK jet I was pondering about a topic near and dear to many a red blooded female's heart. Men. Specifically the "Alpha" male and how we identify him in today's romance?

But first I'll define him according to a reference source:

Definition from

A domineering man; the dominant member in a group of males, esp. animals

Etymology: from first letter of the Greek alphabet, often used as an adjective to describe males and females of species who rank first in a group

I have to comment that what initially got me thinking about Alpha's in today's romance was reading a post at EH On Books And More, where she quoted Author Sondrae Bennett's thought regarding "A Gentler Alpha".

"I’ve been reading romance novels practically my whole life. I got sucked into the world of charming heroes and heroines from the very beginning. Every time I picked up a book, I fell in love. I still today remember some of my favorite heroes I read about years and years ago.

It wasn’t until much later that I started hearing terms like “Alpha Male” and “Beta Male”. It took me awhile to spot the difference as I never felt the need to categorize the heroes I read about. I certainly fell in love with heroes from both sides of the coin. But I didn’t always like what I saw. Heroes were classified as alpha for being (pardon my language) complete dicks. I didn’t understand it. That wasn’t my idea of a perfect guy. I like to think I would never fall for that guy in life, so why would I fall for him in fiction? But the idea of the “alpha male” was something that appealed to me. Someone who could protect unequivocally. So when I started writing Arctic Winds, I thought about all the things I liked and wanted in a man and created Jason, my version of the alpha male."

© Sondrae Bennett

I agree with Sondrae, the Alpha males that appeal to me are written as "gentler" in that he (they) are:
  • dominant - not not a controlling jerk
  • have good manners
  • are respectful
  • are redeemable
  • they will protect and defend their female/male love interest, but not smother him/her

When I think of an Alpha in movies, Daniel Day Lewis', 'Hawkeye' in "Last of the Mohicans", comes to mind. He was the uber strong, dominant, love interest of Madeline Stowe's, 'Cora'. The rescue scene during the massacre, and certainly the kissing scene were examples of his determination to protect her, and his powerful sensual aura - his possession of her. Make no mistake, Cora was no weak minded prissy female. She was strong of mind and spirit, and made her presence and opinions known.

Author (and previous DIK contributor) Katie Reus was kind enough to share some time with me recently over at Book Lovers Inc. to talk about her recent publication "Dangerous Secrets". IMHO Katie characterizes extremely appealing Alpha heroes for her novels and Adam from Dangerous Secrets is certainly a prime example of a hot Alpha. This is what Katie said about her Alpha heroes:

I love alpha heroes and I hate that stereotype that alphas have to be jerks so my guys might be domineering and stubborn, but they always put their lady first.

Book Lovers Inc. © Katie Reus

So, there is a common thread here, basically these guys are decent and I as mentioned above redeemable, because I don't think Alpha's always start out being likable, especially when there is a history of conflict between him and his love interest. Or he is "tortured, angry guy". However, over the course of the narrative, his true nature is revealed, he remains potent and powerful, but gradually shows compassion and caring for his lover making him redeemable in her/his eyes as well as ours.

There are so many excellent authors who write appealing Alpha males in romance, and IMHO Beth Kery is certainly one of them. Marc Kavanaugh, the hero of Beth's most recent contemporary romance publication, "The Hometown Hero Returns", demonstrates strong Alpha qualities, and certainly IMHO you can find prime examples of Alpha males in the heroes characterized in any of her novels. I asked Beth to describe an Alpha male in her own words, and here is what she said:

"The alpha male is the leader of the pack. He's smart, decisive and forceful. He's maleness distilled. Everything about him makes a woman feel gloriously feminine by sheer contrast."

© Beth Kery

Right on! "The leader of the pack." And while he certainly is a must in say a shapeshifter story when we are talking paranormal romance, I think that we see and expect Alphas across the romantic spectrum. "Makes a woman feel gloriously feminine by sheer contrast," a feeling I certainly enjoy when reading a well written Alpha characterized in a book. How about you?

Other traits or colloquialisms that I often associate with Alphas for whatever reason are:
  • a deep voice
  • an accent or drawl
  • a manly man
  • confident but not arrogant
  • a sensual 'aura'
In the m/m genre, I'm always fascinated by the dynamic because, while I've not read as many as others I have found there is often two strong Alpha males in the relationship. Am I wrong?

Then of course there is the Alpha female competing with the Alpha male for dominance, however that is a whole other post. lol I think it is important to mention that whatever the dynamic a strong minded intelligent partner is the key to making the relationship work in a good romance.

So, can it be argued that the term "Alpha" is a misnomer in today's romance? It would be nice to think the more sophisticated reader of today's literature has lost appreciation for the neanderthal, "Alpha male" of yesteryear who dragged the screaming virgin by the hair off into his cave and proceeded to initiate her to the pleasures of the flesh without so much as a, by your leave (or something like that). LOL

Thoughts? Opinions?

Tori and I will be back tomorrow chatting about the wide appeal of contemporary and category romances, but for now, one of my cool Alpha males here on the Island has just brought me a nice cold drink with one of those little umbrellas in it. ;)  

"It's fun to be here on the Island isn't it Tori?"



Grace Elliot said...

The whole Alpha male thing can be very confusing. I'm a historical romance girl, and so for me, alpha male are straightforward dominant men. However I recently got into a cross purposes discussion with a paranormal fan who sees Alpha Males are something specific to that genre (pack leader of the like!) It took us a while to work out why we were confused cos neither of us understood it meant something different in our favourite genres!

Lea said...

Hi Grace:

I agree, it can be confusing and it's taken me a long time to reach any kind of an understanding about who/what he is in today's romance.

When I've written reviews previously I've often flipped off the term Alpha when describin a hero without really giving careful thought to what it meant. Now I'm far more careful because we can still find the 'jerks' out there.

I also totally agree there are subtle differences in him given the genre. Your example of historical and paranormal romance is excellent because the males characterized in the stories are inherently different.

Thanks for your great comment!

Chris said...

Agreed, they MUST be redeemable. :) One of the things I really like in m/m romance is there can be that dynamic between two alpha men, trying to hit a balance that works for them.

Lea said...

Hi Chris!

That is what I've noticed too about m/m and it's good to hear that someone who reads mainly the m/m genre has noted the same thing.

Thank you!


Blodeuedd said...

Oh, my mind is blank o_O Alpha..alpha. Well all the things you said Lea ;)

Lea said...


Good answer. Thank you for stopping by!

I hope things are good over in your part of the world. ;)


Tracy said...

Great post, Lea.

I personally want to see my alpha males on the non-jerky side. I think there's that fine line between alpha male and asshole and I don't want my heroes to be on the latter side of that line.

Katie Reus said...

*Sigh* Last of the Mohicans. Total yum. Lurve that picture! ;) You already know my feelings on alpha males (love your blog topic!) and I agree with Tracy. Sometimes it seems like it's a very fine line btwn alpha and asshole. Usually I can forgive a hero when he's being a dick if he consistently puts his lady first and above everything and anyone else. Often it boils down to motivation, but if a hero is cruel or a jerk just because, then the book becomes a DNF for me.

Sondrae Bennett said...

I'm so glad you liked my post on EH!

Great post on alpha males and I do think the ideas about whats alpha male and what acceptable have changed from the bodice ripper days. Even though the extremes still do exist.

Mary G said...

"A Gentler Alpha". Love that. Years before I met hubby and read about alphas, I told my mom I wanted a Kleenex guy - strong but gentle. So neat to have this described for me. Great post lea & I love your list.

Mary G said...

BTW I love Beth's description, which would explain why I love her book, heroes and writing so much.

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