Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Evolution of the Alpha Male

In the introduction to How Well Do Facts Travel?: The Dissemination of Reliable Knowledge (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010) Mary Morgan explains that sometimes accepted "facts" are false or unreliable. While the spread of facts is to be welcomed, that of false "facts" is more troubling:
Constraints on the travels of facts may be seriously detrimental to our well-being. Yet the free market may be equally problematic. The internet is such a free market, but one in which - as is well known - it is difficult to recognise trustworthy facts from untrustworthy ones, an age-old problem of open (or free) product markets that has lead to their habitual regulation, for example to prevent the use of poisonous additives to make bread white, or, in the case of travelling facts, to regulate the claims made for the efficacy of medicines.
Chapter 16 of How Well Do Facts Travel?, which focuses on the romance genre's alpha male, is by Heather Schell, and is available online (in a form which does not include the official pagination). That chapter and a recent post by Jessica at Read React Review about evolutionary psychology both emphasise the importance of examining one's evidence carefully.

Jessica's post raises some questions about the methodology used by evolutionary psychologists and was written in response to a recent post about the romance genre by evolutionary psychologist Maryanne Fisher (based on some research I've already analysed). Jessica also adds that "folks might be interested to know that several HQN authors, such as Sharon Kendrick and Penny Jordan, felt very positively about the study" by Fisher. I'm not sure that's an entirely fair assessment of what Kendrick and Jordan reportedly said: Kendrick's comment that "[Their] research into book titles shows that women gravitate towards ones which depict a loyal, fit, rich and sexy bloke. Funny, that! That would be as opposed to a commitment-phobe wastrel who plays around?" certainly isn't devoid of irony, and it isn't an explicit endorsement of the evolutionary psychology underlying the study's conclusions.

Nonetheless, Jordan's mention of
a bedrock instinctive 'feeling' within women that a man who is male and powerful enough to be desired by many women (ie not a stalker type) and who wants to commit himself exclusively, is the gold standard when it comes to the foundations for couple happiness
is not inconsistent with evolutionary psychology, which would explain such a "bedrock instinctive 'feeling'" by reference to the species' evolutionary past.

Schell's analysis of the romance genre's alpha male suggests reasons why some romance authors may find the evolutionary psychologists' approach to the genre attractive. Unfortunately, or perhaps appropriately given that it appears in a book about trustworthy and untrustworthy facts, Schell's account appears to contain some unreliable facts about the genre, including an assertion that "Harlequin [...] owns almost every romance publisher in North America, as well as Mills and Boon." I imagine that "fact" would come as rather a surprise to readers of single-title romances and romances published initially as ebooks.1 Schell states that
Before the early 1980s, there were not many facts about romance novels. [...] Romance novels had not received any of the attention that scholars had begun to direct towards other types of mass culture; there was thus no contention among academics about what these novels meant. Romance writers themselves weren’t engaged in any collective soul-searching about the meaning of their work, either, in part because the conditions of their labour weren’t such as to foster dialogue: Romance novels were written by hundreds of women working in isolation, without agents, connected individually to their publishing houses through correspondence and through the written guidelines to plot and character (i.e., the “formulas”) to which prospective authors had to adhere. The facts about romance novels in the 1970s were limited to industry-generated data about sales and distribution.
That situation changed dramatically in the 1980s, for two reasons: romance writers organised, and scholars began to write about the genre and generate facts about what it meant. First, in 1980, Romance Writers of America (RWA) was founded.
This account appears to overlook Peter Mann's 1969 survey of Mills & Boon readers (unless any information about readers counts as "data about sales and distribution") and any analysis of the genre published during the 1970s, including Germaine Greer's scathing attack on it in The Female Eunuch and a variety of articles about Gothic romances. Schell also leaves unmentioned the rather important fact that
The Romantic Novelists’ Association was set up in 1960 [...].

They wanted respect for their genre. In her inaugural address, Miss Robins said that although romantic novels, according to the libraries, gave the most pleasure to the most people, the writers almost had to apologise for what they did. This had to stop. (Romantic Novelists' Association)
Schell then positions Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women (a volume of essays by romance writers which was edited by Jayne Ann Krentz) as "a multifaceted rebuttal of feminist criticism" of the sort to be found in Tania Modleski's Loving with a Vengeance. At the heart of that rebuttal is the
Alpha Hero. In an essay entitled “Trying to Tame the Romance: Critics and Correctness,” Krentz described alpha males as “the tough, hard-edged, tormented heroes … at the heart of the vast majority of bestselling romance novels.… These are the heroes who carry off the heroines in historical romances. These are the heroes feminist critics despise” (Krentz 1992b, 108–9). Note that Krentz defined the Alpha Hero in two contexts: as he related to romance novels and to feminist critics. Insofar as he would come to be used as the fact that definitively rebutted feminist criticism, the Alpha Hero was indeed the feminist critics’ enemy. She did not take credit for naming this hero, but suggested merely that he was “what has come to be known in the trade as the alpha male” (1992b, 107). In another chapter, Laura Kinsale cited Krentz as the source of the term and quoted an earlier definition of the alpha-male hero: the “retrograde, old-fashioned, macho, hard-edged man” (1992, 39). Kathleen Gilles Seidel, in the same volume, offered a slightly different origin story: “The term ‘alpha male’ came into use, I believe, because some authors were engaged in a struggle with editors about a certain type of hero and needed a vocabulary for the discussion” (1992, 178). Seidel liked the term in part because she saw it as “the only piece of jargon that has originated from the authors themselves” (1992, 178). None of these stories acknowledge the alpha male as a construct originating in a scientific community.
I'd like to quote Seidel in full and in context, because I believe she may be transmitting an unreliable fact. She writes that "what makes romance heroes romantic" is that "They surprise you, they unsettle you, they bring drama and excitement, but in the end they make you feel safe" (163). Her comments about the term "alpha male" appear in a footnote to that statement:
Which aspect of the hero is emphasized the most determines whether he is an "alpha male" or a "wimp." What interests me about this distinction is that, so far as I know, this is the only piece of jargon that has originated from the authors themselves, even though we are a close-knit community with astonishing lines of communication.
I view this lack of jargon as evidence of two things. First is the absolute sincerity with which we view our books. Glib, dismissive jargon does not feel appropriate. Second is that we view each book as unique. What matters to us is how each book differs from the others, something that jargon does not account for.
The term "alpha male" came into use, I believe, because some authors were engaged in a struggle with editors about a certain type of hero and needed a vocabulary for the discussion. (178)
There is, however, an alternative story of the romance genre's adoption of the term "alpha" which both challenges the view that it "originated from the authors themselves" and "acknowledge[s] the alpha male as a construct originating in a scientific community":
Although the modern Mills & Boon romance, tied to a specific formula, did not yet exist in the 1930s, it is apparent that Charles Boon did set down a few ground rules for his authors. Some have survived, and were passed down through the years in the firm by two names: 'Lubbock's Law' and 'the Alphaman'. Both still have an impact today. [...] The 'Alphaman' was based on what Alan Boon referred to as a 'law of nature': that the female of any species will be most intensely attracted to the strongest male of the species, or the Alpha. (McAleer 149-150)
In an earlier essay by McAleer we find the alpha male contrasted with the "wimp" (but note the lack of reference to Charles Boon):
The two main company guidelines for writers (still in use today) are called 'Lubbock's Law' and The Alphaman'. Lubbock's Law endorses the views of the literary critic Percy Lubbock, who argued that stories should be written from the heroine's point of view; that would promote reader identification and increase suspense and interest accordingly. The Alphaman', according to the Boon brothers, is based upon a 'law of nature': that is, the female of any species will always be most intensely attracted to the strongest male of the species, the alpha. In other words, the hero must be absolutely top-notch and unique. The wimp type doesn't work. Women don't want an honest Joe,' Alan Boon said. (275)
If McAleer's facts are correct, then it begins to seem unlikely that Krentz was, as Schell suggests, "the author who introduced the term 'alpha male' to the romance community" and Schell would also be incorrect in stating that "Feminist literary criticism was the original goad that prompted romance writers to seek alternative explanations of romance novels’ appeal, and, via a somewhat indirect path, led to their discovery of the Alpha Hero." Of course, it might be that American romance authors adopted the term entirely independently of any input from the Boons and the editors who'd worked for them at Mills & Boon. It's possible, I suppose, since for quite a long time after Harlequin took over Mills & Boon the company didn't have many US authors.

An earlier date for the adoption of the term "alpha" (whether in the form "Alphaman," "alpha male" or "alpha hero") to describe a particular type of romance hero would not invalidate Schell's facts about the spread of the term in the US around the time of the publication of Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, nor its definition in that context. The Boons' version(s) of the Alphaman, based on their belief that the "laws of nature" which apply to many species of animals also apply to humans, may have differed from the alpha males created by romance authors who, Schell suggests, were influenced by evolutionary psychology, as evidenced by their references to 'cave days' and 'the ancestral hunter' in descriptions of the alpha hero. On the other hand, even if they weren't aware of Boon's term for him, it seems impossible that US authors could have remained unaware of the Mills & Boon "Alphaman" as a character type, since Harlequin had been publishing romances edited in in the UK by Mills & Boon for some considerable time before the publication of Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women.

Schell's focus on evolutionary psychology as the unmentioned source of the "alpha" hero, and her assumption that he emerged in response to feminist criticism of the genre, leads her to conclude that
once the battle with academic feminism was over, there simply was not as much need for the facts about sexual strategies. Even as the animal behaviour model gained ascendancy in American popular culture, the Alpha Hero’s star began to fade within the romance writing community.
No longer a staple in mainstream romance, the Alpha Hero survives primarily in the paranormal subgenre, in which, in his dual role of monster and lover, there is no doubt that he is a fantasy character and not a fact.
I suspect that many romance authors and readers would be rather surprised to learn that alpha heroes survive "primarily in the paranormal subgenre." Of course, it depends on how one defines the "alpha" hero. If one assumes an "alpha" hero must be based on cavemen and male hunter-gatherers, then perhaps that's true. But if the term "alpha" is being used primarily as the opposite of "wimp" (i.e. "beta"), or as a shorthand for a range of qualities which make him "absolutely top-notch and unique" then there is room for the term itself to continue to have relevance, even as the heroes to which it refers change over the decades.

I have the feeling, though, that Schell's real interest is in the "facts" of evolutionary psychology, and all the preceding facts (both reliable and otherwise) about the romance genre are given in order to provide background for her analysis of the ways in which evolutionary psychologists have attempted to use the romance genre as proof that their theories are correct:
the truth status of the Alpha Hero facts for evolutionary psychology is based on the facts’ freedom from the influence of human culture. If instead it was clearly understood that the romance community had adopted and perpetuated the Alpha Hero facts, then the heroes of romance novels might cease to embody the facts. The novels would no longer look like “a window into our natural preferences” (Salmon 245) – that is, a clear, transparent, unmediated view of our true selves, untainted by culture. Even if the Alpha Hero facts could survive, they would be messier, equivocal facts, tainted with human intent.
If it was the Boons, rather than Krentz, who popularised the concept of the "alpha" hero, Schell's case is perhaps even stronger, since McAleer provides clear evidence of the ways in which the Boons provided their authors with considerable editorial direction.

Has anyone else got some reliable facts about when or how the term "alpha" came to be used to describe romance heroes? Has the meaning of the term changed over time? And do you think the alpha hero himself is in decline, or has he just evolved quite quickly since the 1980s?
  • McAleer, Joseph. "Scenes from Love and Marriage: Mills and Boon and the Popular Publishing Industry in Britain, 1908-1950." Twentieth Century British History 1.3 (1990): 264-288.
  • McAleer, Joseph. Passion’s Fortune: The Story of Mills & Boon. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.
  • Morgan, Mary S. "Travelling Facts." How Well Do "Facts" Travel?: The Dissemination of Reliable Knowledge. Ed. Peter Howlett and Mary S. Morgan. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. [Quotations from unofficial version available here (pdf).]
  • Schell, Heather. "The Love Life of a Fact." How Well Do "Facts" Travel?: The Dissemination of Reliable Knowledge. Ed. Peter Howlett and Mary S. Morgan. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. [Quotations from unofficial copy available here (doc).]
  • Seidel, Kathleen Gilles. "Judge Me by the Joy I Bring." Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance. Ed. Jayne Ann Krentz. Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania P., 1992. 159-179.

1 I also find the following description of single-title romances rather unsatisfactory: "Single-title novels can be longer, sometimes offering Dickensian casts and plots that span generations." It seems to me that if romantic novels contain plots (not simply "casts") which "span generations" they'd be classified as romantic sagas rather than as romances, since romances focus on a central romantic relationship (although they may also depict secondary romantic relationships between other characters).

The image illustrating human evolution came from Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Even though I'm convinced that romance fiction, if it is amenable to such strictures at all, is influenced by biological imperatives, I'm a bit skeptical that evolutionary psychology explains romantic fiction's use of use of the alpha male as a character. Very often, the alpha male is attracted to and marries heroines contrary to what evolutionary principles would indicate he should. In fact, I should think evolutionary psychology would have a difficult time explaining romance fiction , especially since, according to the explanations of the theories behind it that I've read, evolutionary psychologists believe that all mankind's psychological states were determined in the cave era. Despite Auer's cave bears, what possible evolutionary advantage led to romance?

  2. Your post is fascinating. Evolutionary biology aside, I suspect the appeal of romance lies in the fantasy aspect of romantic literature. An attractive, sexy male - one who can take on all comers - hard on the outside yet soft on the inside when involved with one special woman, the heroine, or, in the imagination of the reader...the reader herself (or himself).
    In my mind, a romantic fantasy is not much different from a work of science fiction or mainstream fantasy. Any story that transports us out of our daily life/routine is appealing, and for me, seems to stimulate the same arousal centers in my brain.
    What do evolutionary biologists have to say about superheroes? I view them as an extension of, or another branch stretching off, the alpha romance hero tree.
    Just like men fantasize about their version of a perfect woman, women fantasize too...that doesn't mean they believe the perfect vision of a romance hero exists IRL, nor does it mean they will search for that fantasy man, forsaking all others.
    In my opinion what women want is an intelligent, interesting, kind, competent man. Does an alpha hero possess these attributes? Yes, but these attributes are not unique to him. It's a bit of a chicken and the egg kind of argument.

  3. Fascinating post. I don't have any additional info re the use of the term 'alpha' vis-a-vis romance but it seems unlikely to me it was first coined as recently as 1992? Personally, I find evolutionary theories instinctively quite persuasive - but the unwarranted assertions about the romance genre are irritating.

  4. Very often, the alpha male is attracted to and marries heroines contrary to what evolutionary principles would indicate he should.

    In the article I analysed Cox and Fisher "propose that the books appeal to women because they address evolved, sex-specific mating interests" so they'd no doubt say that this is why the books show an ideal of success for women, even if it isn't the ideal mating outcome for men.

    Despite Auer's cave bears, what possible evolutionary advantage led to romance?

    I don't know, but the same question could be raised about many modern leisure activities.

    What do evolutionary biologists have to say about superheroes?

    I don't know, Julia. It would perhaps be interesting to see if superheroes aimed at men "address evolved, sex-specific mating interests" that men are presumed to have. Not that the target audience for superhero stories is all male, but I have a feeling that there's a perception that that's historically been the case. Certainly I've seen action/adventure novels described as the masculine escapist reading which is the counterpart of romance (which is seen as feminine escapist reading). Of course, there are male readers of romance, and female readers of action/adventure novels, and I'm not sure how those are explained by evolutionary psychologists.

    The ongoing research into what women actually find attractive is interesting and suggests preferences are affected by a variety of factors:

    Penton-Voak et al. (1999) found that women who were not using oral contraceptives (i.e. ‘the pill’) were more attracted to masculine male faces during the phase of their menstrual cycle when their fertility is highest (i.e. around ovulation) than they were at other times. In other words, when women are most likely to be able to conceive they appear to become more attracted to men who will father particularly healthy offspring (i.e. masculine men). At other times, however, women appear to be more attracted to ‘caring and sharing’ men who will make good long-term partners. Little et al. (2001) also found that women who consider themselves to be particularly attractive show stronger preferences for masculine men than women who consider themselves to be relatively unattractive do. Little et al. (2001) suggested that this link between women's own attractiveness and their preferences for men who are generally perceived to be unwilling to invest time and resources in their partners and children may occur because masculine men are more willing to invest time and resources in highly attractive women. (Face Research)

    The abstract of a recent paper from some of the the Face Researchers states that

    Recent formulations of sexual selection theory emphasise how mate choice can be affected by environmental factors, such as predation risk and resource quality. Women vary greatly in the extent to which they prefer male masculinity and this variation is hypothesised to reflect differences in how women resolve the trade-off between the costs (e.g., low investment) and benefits (e.g., healthy offspring) associated with choosing a masculine partner. A strong prediction of this trade-off theory is that women’s masculinity preferences will be stronger in cultures where poor health is particularly harmful to survival.

  5. As you suggest, Julia, fiction may reflect fantasies rather than what people would prefer in real life, and readers don't have to worry that the rake will stop wanting to "invest time and resources" in his plain, plump bluestocking after the initial challenge has worn off, they don't have to worry about lack of resources since heroes are (a) fictional and (b) often rich.

    Another thing I think's worth mentioning is that from what I can tell (having read comments readers have made on romance blogs/websites) many readers change their mental picture of the hero's appearance to suit their own personal preferences.

    "Personally, I find evolutionary theories instinctively quite persuasive - but the unwarranted assertions about the romance genre are irritating"

    I'm certainly not ruling out the possibility that biological factors play a part in attraction. However, the research I've just mentioned from the face lab seems more persuasive to me because (a) the researchers have looked at people from a range of different cultures, rather than, as in the case of Fisher and Cox's analysis of romances, extrapolating from the preferences of a group of American women and (b) it seems more nuanced, and suggests that people's preferences are shaped by personal factors as well as by a range of social, environmental and biological ones.

  6. I, more often than seems reasonable, read books wherein the male authors kill the love interest.

    Perhaps this shows that the ideal mating outcome for men is that their beloved die...

  7. Perhaps this shows that the ideal mating outcome for men is that their beloved die...

    If one's determined enough to make something fit a particular theory, one can usually manage it. Your fact is problematic: it doesn't appear that this type of fiction depicts a great mating strategy, since dead women aren't going to be able to look after offspring.

    However, one could make this fit the theory if one allows for some cultural influence. In the paper that Fisher co-wrote with Kruger and Jobling about "British Romantic literature of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries" it's stated that there are two kinds of men:

    Cads are designed to maximize their reproductive success by having many short-term relationships without parental investment. Dads, on the other hand, maximize their reproductive success through long-term, monogamous relationships with women and parenting (Dawkins 1976). (306)

    In order to explain the problem of the dying love interest, I will first of all have to decide that such novels are written by/for "cads" who aren't really interested in "long-term, monogamous relationships."

    The "sex-specific mating interests" of these cads involve having sex with lots of different women, so the man has to move on from each woman, leaving her pregnant. Cultural pressures make it somewhat difficult for a man to do that without looking like a heartless Don Juan, so the fantasy solution is to have the beloved die spontaneously, leaving the cad free to move on to the next woman.

    Maybe an evolutionary psychologist would come up with a different answer for you, but since I'm not one, I'm just doing my best to use their theory.

    Incidentally, I think the research in that paper about eighteenth and nineteenth century heroes sounds like a scientific version of what's described in the Amazon product description of Bridget Jones's Guide to Life as

    a parlour game entitled Shag, marry or push off a cliff. The rules? "Each of the players suggests three names. The person on the player's right must then decide, if they absolutely had to shag one of them, marry another, and push another off a cliff, which it would be. It is usually best to pick three which are similar in some way."

    In Kruger, Fisher and Jobling's version they ask the women to

    read descriptive passages (200–300 words) of prototypical dads and cads assembled from British Romantic novels. Waverley, from Waverley (1814) by Walter Scott, and Valancourt, from The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) by Ann Radcliffe, represented dads. George Staunton from The Heart of Mid-Lothian (1818) and Clement Cleveland from The Pirate (1821), both by Walter Scott, represented cads. (311)

    Then, "In a forced-choice section, participants indicated which character they would be more likely to go with on a three-week road trip and a formal date, have sexual relations with, marry, and prefer to see engaged to their 25-year-old daughter" (311-312).

    Kruger, Daniel J., Maryanne Fisher and Ian Jobling. "Proper and Dark Heroes as Dads and Cads: Alternative Mating Strategies in British Romantic literature." Human Nature 14.3 (2003): 305-317.

  8. Hi! It’s really gratifying to see my essay reviewed on Teach Me Tonight. I love this blog.

    You are absolutely right that I don’t offer a very thorough history of the romance novel. Pamela Regis and others have done such a good job that I couldn’t hope to do better, and I didn’t try. Rather than focus on "firsts,” I wanted to hit some of the key players and major moments. For instance, while it’s true that Romance Writers of America is a newcomer compared to the Romantic Novelists Association, RWA is huge. And their reach extends well beyond the romance writing community, influencing readers and academics; I mean, not only do they read the research on romance, they fund it.

    One of the challenges with the essay was length. Over 50 pages got cropped from the final draft. Granted, it’s much better for the rigorous editing, but the process was painful. The section discussing the alpha hero in historicals bit the dust. The paragraph describing chick lit got the axe. Many of the things you mention were points I agonized over cutting. However, you also put your finger right on a mistake I made: I left out the Mills and Boon Alphaman. I was rereading Natural History of the Romance Novel shortly after sending in the final proof of my essay and belatedly spotted Regis’ discussion of this. Argh.

    Anyway, do I believe that my own argument in this essay is a conclusive “fact”? Not really. It’s my best interpretation of the patterns I see. And for every romance novel that demonstrates some given trait, there will probably be a dozen others that don’t. Romance writers are a complex, multi-faceted bunch, and they write every imaginable approach to the love story. I mean, Laura Kinsale wrote over 500 pages featuring a hero with brain damage! J. R Ward killed her heroine!!! Who would have guessed they could get away with that?

  9. I'm really glad you've commented, Heather. I sympathise with you on the length problem. I have a tendency to write rather long essays, posts, and comments precisely because I can't bear to cut out details. Having to cut 50 pages sounds very painful.

    Anyway, do I believe that my own argument in this essay is a conclusive “fact”? Not really. It’s my best interpretation of the patterns I see.

    As I said, I think the existence of the Mills & Boon Alphaman strengthens your argument that the "alpha" as a type was shaped by a particular scientific tradition, and that the novels therefore can't be taken as "clear, transparent, unmediated view of our true selves, untainted by culture." In addition, the implication of the story McAleer relates is that Boon, who was male, was enforcing these preferences on his female authors, which again makes it problematic to see these texts solely as products of female desires and instincts.

  10. I don't think I dare say much here without doing a lot more background reading than I am in the mood for at the moment, but at the risk of stating the obvious, there are a just couple of things.

    Probably it's just me, and my general interest in other species, but I had always thought of the 'alpha' concept much more in terms of ethology than human evolutionary psychology. This was why I was always so irritated by the application of the term 'alpha' to fictional heroes who were merely rude, overbearing and arrogant in American 1980s category romance, because vanity and inflated self-esteem does not, in my mind, equal 'alpha'. The alpha individuals in many non-human communities are better classified as having charisma, being the ones entrusted by others with leadership because of their superior qualities, usually including some degree of age and experience.

    And the second point: do I sense a tendency to divide men (or people) into just two classes in some of these sources? 'Alpha' and 'wimp'? There are an awful lot of individuals who are neither! There is a hierarchical continuum, not from alpha to beta, but at least from alpha to somewhere around pi, rho or sigma... And the position of people on that alphabet of status does not depend solely on innate strength or intelligence, but can and does change according to age and condition.

    Sorry if both of those points are simplistic or off-topic.

  11. "Sorry if both of those points are simplistic or off-topic"

    I don't think they're either. In fact, I'd be very more likely to suspect that any system with "a tendency to divide men (or people) into just two classes" is simplistic.

  12. "Alpha male" is so nebulously defined that I have trouble parsing discussions about him because I'm not quite sure what people mean when they use the term.

    I can get pretty far by assuming first that alpha male = man of strength and second that the strength(s) being referred to are ones currently coded as masculine within mainstream American/European culture. I.e. financial security, athleticism, competence with violence, competence with weapons, sexual dominance and endurance. In some cases, as mentioned above, sometimes characteristics like bullying, pushiness, callousness, vanity, and "overly inflated self-esteem" are (imo, inaccurately) considered signals of strength. To me, those are signs of the kind of weakness of character that produces abuse. Especially if they're paired with a strong body.

    To use a bad metaphor: the doggie that barks at everyone and must *constantly* make threats and bluster is not a good doggie. It's an insecure/crazy/badly socialized doggie that will maul you one day.

    For a long time I conflated the two groups of characteristics (strengths considered masculine and insecurities considered strengths) and hated the Alpha. I've figured out two things since then, though. First, that I can rationally see the appeal of a hero who has characteristics that our culture(s) consider signs of masculine strength, as long as he doesn't have the insecurity shit. Second, I do like men with strength, I just really am not moved by the strengths associated with masculinity traditionally.

    I like emotional resilience, verbal dexterity, insight, commitment to justice, empathy, loyalty, intelligence, sexual openness, care-taking skill, someone who's mature enough to be unashamed of enjoying life and being silly, etc.

    Taking a good, hard look at myself I really like a sort of... Alpha Geek character in my fiction. Like the Doctor from Doctor Who. Someone who has excellence but succeeds through their non-gendered wits and humanism rather than their masculine gendered gunplay or their overwhelmingly muscled body or whatever.

    So, yeah. Nobody wants someone without attractive characteristics, it's just that different characteristics are attractive to different people. And so... placing all that one finds sexy in the Alpha box and everyone else in the Loser box (or hating on the Alpha, as I have done) is just... very narrow and absurd.

    So I've dropped my knee-jerk dismissal of all Alphas, but the Alpha still doesn't do anything for me, because he's strong like "a man." And the sort of strength I want to see is... well. It's ((waves hands)) around. In Megan Whelan Turner's pairing of Eugenidies and Attolia and Barbara Hambly's Antrgy and Joanna, and all the fantastic (relation)shipper hetfic about the various Doctors and companions. And Fringe's Olivia/Peter.

    Hm. Now I just wonder how to get more of that in Romance.

    Oh, well!

    ((goes back to reading Donna/Tenth Doctor fics))

  13. *Antryg

    **Yeah, the Doctor can be an asshole in a very Geekboy sort of way, too. I suppose I find that kind of jerkishness more tolerable in much the same way that a reader who likes "masculine" strengths is willing to put up with masculine weaknesses (like having a dude with awesome abs who's also non-communicative and has no clue about feelings)

  14. "Nobody wants someone without attractive characteristics, it's just that different characteristics are attractive to different people."

    You may well think so (and I'd agree with you), but from what I can tell (and I admit my reading of evolutionary psychology is very limited, and has been confined to articles about the romance genre), the evolutionary psychologists seem to focus on a particular set of characteristics which they think are deemed attractive by most women. I'm not sure what conclusions they'd draw about women who don't find that particular set of characteristics attractive.

  15. According to Psychology Today, that non-peer reviewed Evolutionary Psychology loving and popularizing magazine of infernal nonsense, Evo Psych practitoners struggle to explain the existence of lesbian and bisexual women:
    In the third edition of his textbook Evolutionary Psychology: the new science of the mind, Professor David Buss (University of Texas / Austin) asserts that "1 to 2 percent of women" are lesbian or bisexual ("What about lesbian sexual orientation?" Box 4.1, p. 137 in the Pearson International Edition, 2009). He implies that this figure has been generally valid over time, a finding which he acknowledges poses an as-yet-unsolved mystery for evolutionary psychology. Popular accounts of homosexual behavior often suggest that these behaviors make evolutionary sense because the people practicing these behaviors make better aunts and uncles than heterosexuals do, a theory first advanced by E.O. Wilson back in the 1970's. However, studies published in the past twenty years have provided little support for this hypothesis, and have often directly refuted it, particularly for male homosexuals (Source)

    If only I could figure out what label they'd apply to us geek/beta-sexual women, I could then observe their pitiable confusion over us, too! Unfortunately, I think they've opted for erasure in our case, since a geeky girl with a geeky boy can be considered a pairing of the unfortunate losers of the mating race rather than an expression of genuine preference.

  16. Angel, did you leave a comment this afternoon which has now disappeared?

  17. Yeah. I thought maybe it got lost in moderation because I included a hyperlink in it?

  18. I'm not much of a geek woman (I like the term beta-sexual though!) but I've discovered that Blogger has set up a new spam detection system and since they didn't send out an email to notify blog owners about it, your message was sitting in a new spam folder I didn't know we had.