Woman to Woman: The Alpha Male

On a day when the sharp scent of peppermint permeated the air (I’m not sure why it did), Kitty came to me with a request while I lounged outside.

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Kitty: Can we talk, woman to woman?
Me: Sure. What’s on your mind?
Kitty: Can we talk about boys for a minute?
Me: I’m pretty sure we’ll fail the Bechdel test if we do.
Kitty (unfazed by my remark): Would either Gandalf or Jordie be considered an alpha male?

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Me: Um, well, maybe Gandalf. Jordie . . . frankly no.
Kitty: Good. Then I will choose him as the companion of my heart.
Me: Huh? Why?
Kitty: I am alpha.
Me: Uh . . .
Kitty: Thank you for helping me clear that up.
Me: Uh . . .

I found this conversation timely, since I’d just finished reading Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart, which has an alpha male secondary character. While reading it, I wondered whether or not the concept of the alpha male has changed since the 1950s when the book was written. With Sigourney Weaver’s awesome performance as Ellen Ripley in the 1986 film Aliens, an increasing desire for strong female heroines ensued (hence Charlize Theron as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road; some men complained about her role, however, according to the Chicago Tribune). Has the fictional alpha male evolved consequently?

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Under Gandalf’s disapproving gaze; Sigourney Weaver as Ripley

First, I wondered about the universal characteristics of an alpha male. When I picked up another Mary Stewart book, also from the 50s—Madam, Will You Talk?—I found a description of a dude who is “singularly good-looking” and who “had that look of intense virility and yet sophistication—that sort of powerful, careless charm which can be quite devastating” (Stewart 11). Though he was not the alpha, this description seemed apt for alpha males on one level.

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I decided to compare that description with one found at this post at Romance Novels for Feminists, which mentions romance author Jill Shalvis’s view on the subject:

Rather than describe a male character’s characteristics in detail, Shalvis uses the shorthand “alpha” to signal to readers that the character possesses a certain type of über-desirable masculinity, a masculinity characterized by toughness, strength, and the need to protect those around him, particularly his girlfriend/spouse/mate.

So far, only women have given an opinion. What do men think? I found out at AskMen.com:

An alpha male has certain unmistakable characteristics. A natural leader, he is a pack-builder. He leads, provides for and protects his pack (his significant other, his buddies, his teammates, and so on).

the-alpha-male-gray-wolf-canis-lupus-jim-and-jamie-dutcherInteresting. In the young adult novel I finished writing months ago, my 17-year-old main character views himself as alpha, but meets a female (the other main character) who disagrees. He has to learn how an alpha really behaves. The AskMen article, “Signs You’re Not An Alpha Male,” vividly discusses this behavior. You can find that article here.

We’re used to fictional alpha males like James Bond; Dirk Pitt (Clive Cussler’s books); James T. Kirk; Batman; Aragorn; Odysseus; Beowulf; Green Arrow; Daredevil; Gaston; Jack Ryan (Tom Clancy’s books); characters Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Humphrey Bogart, Samuel L. Jackson, or Jet Li played; anyone from the Fast and Furious movies; Duke Nukem; Wolverine; Superman; Robin in Teen Titans; the Man with No Name Clint Eastwood played in westerns; Russell Crowe as Maximus or Jack Aubrey; Tony Stark; Captain America (Steve Rogers); Hal Jordan (Green Lantern); John Stewart (also Green Lantern), Thor; Black Panther; Frank Woods (Call of Duty); Nathan Drake (Uncharted); and many, many others. While some might be viewed as relics of a bygone era, others reflect the changing face of the alpha male.

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Cap, Bruce Banner, Tony Stark; Black Panther

In a Slate.com article, “Omega Males and the Women Who Hate Them” (click here for that), I learned about an omega man:

While the alpha male wants to dominate and the beta male just wants to get by, the omega male has either opted out or, if he used to try, given up.

Yikes! But I don’t want to get off on an omega man tangent here. Yet it shows an interesting backlash of sorts against those viewed as “domineering” (see the Romance Novels for Feminists post) alpha males.

Maybe that’s why James Bond received a reboot. According to this article by Paul Whitington at Independent.ie., “[Daniel] Craig’s Bond [in the film, Casino Royale (2006)] was young, confused and even vulnerable.”

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So today’s alpha male is strong, but tries to keep it real by admitting to foibles (i.e., Tony Stark admitting he’s a “piping hot mess” in Iron Man 3). Yet audiences are divided on the evolution of the alpha male.

But let’s get back to Mary Stewart. When I opened Nine Coaches, I expected to find an archaic viewpoint. Stewart, however, showcased an alpha male and a strong heroine, neither of whom is threatened by the strength of the other. I love that!

What do you think of the alpha male? Got a favorite or a strong opinion on the subject?

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Can their love survive?

AskMen Editors. “Signs You’re Not An Alpha Male.” AskMen.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2015.
Grose. Jessica. “Omega Males and the Women Who Hate Them.” Slate.com. N.p., 18 Mar. 2010. Web. 24 May 2015.
Horn, Jackie C. “Evolution and the Alpha Male.” Romance Novels for Feminists. N.p., 26 Sept. 2014. Web. 25 May 2015.
Stewart, Mary. Madam, Will You Talk? New York: William Morrow, 1956. First published in Great Britain in 1955. Print.
—. Nine Coaches Waiting. New York: William Morrow, 1958. Print.
Whitington, Paul. “Film… From Craig to Connery: The Many Faces of James Bond.” Independent.ie. N.p., 12 Apr. 2015. Web. 24 May 2015.

Black Panther from Marvel.com. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Chris Evans as Captain America, and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner from news.doddleme.com. Daniel Craig as James Bond from fanpop.com. Sigourney Weaver as Ripley from oblikon.net. Book cover from Goodreads. Alpha male gray wolf from fineartamerica.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Must Every Heroine Kick Butt?

Before I get into the subject of today’s post, first, a little housekeeping. The winner of the $15 Amazon gift card to purchase Mary Quattlebaum’s newest book, Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods, is

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Akoss!

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Congratulations, Akoss!!!! Please send your email address to lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com or comment below with it so that I can get that ecard to you!

Once again, thank you to all who commented. Now, on with the show. . . .

300px-Sigourney-weaver-alien1Does a heroine have to be battle savvy in order to be considered a strong heroine? (I’m thinking of heroines in science fiction and fantasy stories, rather than in realistic fiction by the way.)

Don’t get me wrong! I greatly appreciate a heroine who can kick butt. I wept tears of joy watching Sigourney Weaver (above) as Ellen Ripley in the Alien movies. I championed Katniss Everdeen in Suzanne Collins’s young adult dystopian (and series) The Hunger Games (played by Jennifer Lawrence in the movie, below). I loved Katara and Toph in the Avatar series. I even said, “Woo hoo,” at Lara Croft’s antics in the first Tomb Raider movie. And I wanted to be Buffy, Storm, and the Black Widow.

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There are many, many YA heroines besides Katniss who are battle ready (like Katsa in Kristin Cashore’s Graceling) or, in many paranormal romance books, trained by hot instructors to battle the enemy with an arsenal of weapons. And then they later get to date the hot instructors. Good times.

3236307Awhile ago, I wrote a guest post for Hardcovers and Heroines where I whined about an old Lois Lane comic book, because my niece questioned the fact that Lois, the star of her own series, had to be rescued. That was back in “the day.” We’re in a new era of empowered female heroes with agency galore. Like Helen Parr in The Incredibles, we can have it all!

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Yet when I sat down to write the novel I recently completed, I evaluated what I wanted from my heroine. Having earlier begun a novel with a magic-wielding heroine (one to which I’ve since returned), I didn’t want to go the same route. So, I asked myself, and now I’m asking you, does every heroine have to have an edge—that sense of knowing that she’s armed and deadly? Granted, the idea has merit. I’ve mentioned in other posts that I grew up in a rough neighborhood. Even someone nerdy like me needed to look fierce, even if I wasn’t exactly Ripley. But most days, I looked about as fierce as a poodle.

Poodle_Ballerina_Wallpaper_mq8mvAttack, Fifi! . . . Oh forget it!

But I didn’t want my heroine to have the veneer of power. I didn’t want her to be a pushover, you understand. But combat trained? Nope. I wanted her to get by on her ingenuity, her MacGyver-like sense of scraping herself out of danger with whatever she can quickly grab (a rock for example). (Wondering who MacGyver is? Look here.) I also wanted her to fail most of the time, but still try.

Charles Yallowitz has a great post on female characters. In his Legends of Windemere series, his heroines are tough and plucky. But Charles is well versed in weaponry. Me? I wouldn’t know how to swing a sword properly if someone held a . . . well . . . a sword to my head. Yes, I know there’s a thing called research. Trust me. You don’t want me researching a sword thrust. I’ve cut my fingers on my own steak knives. Anyway, sword wielding didn’t seem right for my character. Making hard choices is her strength.

So, once again, I pose the question: Must a heroine kick butt to be viewed as a strong heroine? Please tell me what you think. Inquiring minds wanna know. . . .

Poodle image from scenicreflections.com. Sigourney Weaver as Ripley from alienfilmspedia.wikia.com. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss from rhsapinoso.wordpress.com. Graceling cover from Goodreads. Helen Parr from disneywikia.