Last night I was rereading the Smart Bitches‘ BEYOND HEAVING BOSOMS because I was in the mood for nonfiction and a few laughs. I cannot recommend this book enough to people for their interesting and well-read insights on the genre, as well as their snarky-yet-intelligent examination of romance, feminism, and fiction.
The other reason I reread was to reassure myself I wasn’t alone.
Alone in what, you ask? You don’t even read romance! True, but tropes that occur in romance novels also occur in romantic storylines and I just wanted to make sure other women found the overbearing alpha male just as obnoxious as I do. Okay, so maybe no one else finds the alpha as obnoxious as I do, but it’s gratifying to know that THERE ARE OTHER PEOPLE who find this hero problematic.
Traditional alpha qualities include: obvious physical masculinity (tall, good-looking, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped), strong personality (confidence, competence, courage–lots of “c” qualities), and a protective nature.
None of these traits are inherently bad; in fact, I would argue they are good qualities. I myself like strong personalities. Obvious masculinity doesn’t go amiss with me either. (I like strong noses and evil eyebrows. …what?) Protective natures…I take with a grain of salt.
Feeling protective of those you love is to be commended! I am fiercely loyal to my friends and family and protective of their honour, but only when it needs to be defended. Which isn’t often. Mostly because my loved ones are that awesome. And can usually defend themselves.
I think there’s a difference between feeling protective and being protective. I have no problems with the former but have issues with the latter. Because being protective can manifest itself in this hateful phrase:
FOR YOUR OWN GOOD.
Excuse me while I RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGE. At the expense of sounding like Old Skool Locke from Lost but “You can’t tell me what to do!” I hated hearing that phrase when I was a teenager and I hate it even more now because I feel like it brings out the absolute worst character traits in the parties involved.
Agency? What agency?
When a hero tells a heroine that he’s doing something “for her own good”, my hackles rise. What, he feels like she doesn’t know what’s for her own good? Why? Is she too dumb? Too frail? Too feminine? What? I thought we were past the days when women were considered second-class citizens. She is perfectly capable of making informed decisions, thankyouverymuch! You can offer your input, but she will decide. But when the hero does something for the heroine’s “own good”, I see red. My feminist upbringing demands that the heroine stand up to the hero and prove him wrong. She is perfectly capable of doing things for her own good, thanks ever so!
Fie! I Defy You!
…except when she’s not. That’s the worst. The heroine’s response to “for your own good” can go a few ways. She may defy him on principle. I think I might hate that more. Look, lady, I’m all for you proving your independent ways, but I’m also keen on you making informed decisions. You may have the same knee-jerk reaction I do to the phrase “for your own good”, but please, please, please, don’t go around making reckless choices to prove a point. It’s probably for your own good that you don’t jump out of an airplane without a parachute. He might have said so first, but I certainly hope you come to that conclusion on your own. (And preferably before he even had to open his mouth.)
But you know what’s worse than worst? When she proves him right. It’s one thing to passively go along with what the hero tells you to do. I don’t like it, but some people are easily persuadable. Maybe this heroine is one. Maybe by the end of the novel she learns it’s time to grow a backbone. I’m all for it! Go, spine-growing, go! But when she objects to his (possibly well-meaning, if rage-inducing) concern and then does precisely what he warns her against…I have no words. The Smart Bitches call this the TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) Heroine and, you know what? You get your just desserts, lady. I have no pity.
A Man To Take Care of Me
Of course, I am probably more sensitive to this than most. I love the TV show Bones, but sometimes Booth rubs me the wrong way. I love the show and I love the characters (especially Sweets), but I especially love the Heart vs. Head dynamic between the two leads. Dr. Brennan, as brilliant as she is, is pretty stupid when it comes to emotions and social interaction. (I love her.) Booth is more heart than brains and the two of them balance each other pretty well.
Except when Booth gets kind of patronizing about it. It’s well-acknowledged by everyone on the show that Brennan is awkward (but she’s trying her best!) because she doesn’t quite understand the complexities of how other people feel. Okay, her deficiencies are acknowledged and addressed, yet sometimes still Booth persists in being condescending or dismissing her thoughts “because he knows better”. WHY, BOOTH, WHY? In an otherwise well-written show, why do you persist on being like this? It’s never quite said, but I swear, I can sometimes hear the words “little lady”.
(It hurts more because I like this show so.)
It drives me crazy when it doesn’t bother my friends. I understand that a lot of women have fantasies of a big strong man to protect them. There are reasons the alpha male (in both fiction and real life) is so successful. But what bothers me is that so many of my friends don’t notice condescension when it does arise. Sometimes they even think it’s sexy. GAAH! Listen, I know it’s nice to know your significant other is looking out for you. I even know the desire to feel “small and protected in his arms” because I’ve felt it myself. (Against my will, but I’ve felt it.) Those feelings and desires are absolutely valid because I believe all feelings and desires are valid.
But condescension? Being patronizing? Not okay. Those aren’t feelings; those are actions and I find them demeaning. Demeaning is not sexy.
I seem to be in a ranty mood this week! Sorry about that. But I think I’m starting to reach a breaking point in my reading.