The Rise of the Alpha: Fiction Vs. Reality

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A quick search through the Erotic Romance genre would lead one to believe that the “Alpha Male” is the living embodiment of all women’s fantasies. So much copy is devoted to this concept, authors and readers know what they are talking about, right? As an author devoted to realism within her fictional world, I simply must protest.

The Urban Dictionary defines Alpha Male in several different ways, but the one that seemed closest to the concept I think authors are attempting to convey with this title was: 1) the dominant member of a pack of wolves, and 2) any person with a dominating personality, causing the assertion of or struggle for leadership in almost any situation. I did leave the first definition in on purpose. Younger women may not understand what is meant when a man is called a wolf, but to anyone of a certain age it connects beautifully back to the Alpha concept. In pre-Feminist days, men were indeed seen as predators, but this was confusingly backhanded praise. Your wolf assumedly would protect you from all of the other wolves. This was an age, understand, where a wolf-whistle (See how the concept pervaded the culture!) or a smack on the ass was considered a high compliment.

Then, the Rise of Feminism! We could bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, never let him forget he’s a man! Uh-huh. This was a concept that was terrifying and confusing to the male of the species. A good male friend of mine tells me that being needed is extremely important to men. As a woman who had been called needy as an insult, I was confused to say the least. I think the confusion comes from this cultural collision. We as a species had gender roles so proscribed that they appeared to be instinct, until suddenly it was proven they were not. I could recount the reasons for the change for you, but I will let you research Rosie the Riveter and her impact on our culture. I wouldn’t want to take that journey of discovery away from you, if it’s not a familiar story. However, if we assume that my friend is correct, and men need to be needed, what did the Feminist need from her man?

Many angry men would quote “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” and use that as his excuse for douche-bag behavior until the end of time. You’ve all met men like this. They want to appear to be “Alpha” because they are secretly certain they are not. They have no concept of their place in the order of things, but they know what they wish was their place. The true feminist just wanted to be treated like a human being, and not a life support system for a vagina, or a baby factory. The sort of man who viewed us exactly that way became the one who lashed out at any sensible discussion of equality, and that was the beginning of the conflict.

On the other hand, we got Sensitive Man. He was amazing in our minds. He knew just what we needed, gave us all the emotional support of our women friends, and made love tenderly, just how we liked it. Unfortunately, men did not get an instruction manual on this. Add to this the fact that many women have no idea what they really want, and have never tried to explain it to anyone. I was recently asked this exact question, and was flummoxed by my inability to answer. Words failing me? Perish the thought.

So, should we assume that, as some have asserted, we as women covertly want to head back to those days, the days when home discipline was any husband’s prerogative? I suggest that we only want that in our fiction, where it’s safe. Many of the ladies who read about “Alphas” and are thrilled right down to their damp panties have never, ever met one, much less sat at his feet and attempted to serve him.

An Alpha in the truest sense is a transformative influence in the lives of those around him. People crave his approval. They don’t know why, and this is not just women, mind you. They seek to please him. This isn’t fiction. It’s an actual phenomenon. It’s scary to be caught up in it, especially when one has no idea what’s happening. An Alpha in fiction is like a dog we can domesticate. An Alpha in the real world is like a wolf. He may mate for life, or he may EAT your ass.

I do my best to bring you real people, but my perfect man is no Alpha. You meet one, in Switch It ON, but he is not my main male character. Jason Merrin would never claim to be an Alpha, although in many social situations he would appear to be. His buddy Joe is the Alpha, and you’ll learn much more about him in Switch It UP. Mad’s beloved Jase is a chameleon, a true Switch, someone who gives her what she needs rather than what she thinks she wants, whether that’s chicken casserole for dinner or a thorough hand spanking over the knees. Joe doesn’t require service, and doesn’t need to. He is, as the Alphas I have actually met, simply a leader. He warps the universe around him. Modern gals might be titillated reading about him, but they assume that by topping from the bottom, they’d have control of the situation. For most women, the Alpha should remain ensconced in fiction, lest the wolf devour them.          

Erotica or Pornography, and Why We Should Care (or NOT)!

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According to Webster’s, erotica are “works of art or literature that deal with sex and are meant to cause sexual feelings”, while pornography is “defined as movies, pictures, magazines, etc., that show or describe naked people or sex in a very open and direct way in order to cause sexual excitement”. So what’s the difference? Should it matter? If so, why?

As I believe I have mentioned on the blog before, America was settled by Puritans, the original Right Wing Nut Jobs, and it has had that Peeping Tom attitude about sex ever since. This country obsesses over this subject in a disgusted fever. Legislating morality is a waste of time, as every clergyman caught with his pants down could attest. Sex, and more importantly our reaction to it, is a large part of what makes us human. However, this attitude is the genesis of the popular debate: Art vs. Obscenity.

As beauty is said to be in the eye of the beholder, so too is artistic merit. I know what I think of as art, and your ideas may be different, but they are no less valid. It’s only in a legal context that we come against the serious problem of defining obscenity. “…I know it when I see it…” The quote is famous within this discussion, and I discovered I had no idea where that quote originated. Wikipedia says it should be attributed to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, in 1964, and I was surprised to learn that the entire quotation actually judged the piece in question not to be obscene.

The courtroom used to be the only place this conflict really mattered. Now, in the world of self-publishing, the court of public opinion can make or break an author. If one is writing about everyone’s favorite subject, S-E-X, multiply this a thousand times. How we define a thing does make a difference. If erotica cannot be taken seriously as literature, then pornography must be trash for the masses. *Insert eye roll here.*     

So what brought all this up? I obviously think erotica is valid as literature, and an important expression of the human experience. If not, I would certainly not be sharing it with you. I guess it’s about labels. Effectively labeling one’s work can enhance sales, and more importantly to the artist, get one’s work in front of more readers. Specifically, I happened to read a short novel labelled “Contemporary Romance” that my mind labelled “Pornography”. That got me to wondering why. At least 85% of the book was sex, graphically described. There was romance, of a sort, and a bit of a plot, but it hadn’t even been marked as an “Erotic Romance” as one might have expected.

Self-publishing has begotten some unusual and exotic genres, and has enabled authors to create their own and even play with the concept of what makes up “genre”. Who would ever have imagined 10 years ago the existence of the Erotic Romance genre, much less the wild popularity it has achieved? This is not to say that books that would have fit this category were not written. Frankly, when I was a young woman sneaking reads of her grandmother’s historical romances, it was for the sex!   

I learned a lot, most of it piquantly naïve. Imagine my surprise when I met my first “cock”! It was not nearly as romantic as the vaguely described “manhood” I’d been reading about. It was years afterwards that I could even type the graphic details without blushing, and I was a precocious reader with a good vocabulary of obscenity before I ever sat down to write it.

As a grown woman, and the author of Switch It ON, I am not sure it does matter. One man’s romance is another’s erotica, and still another’s trashy pornography. Whatever the reader enjoys is a perfectly acceptable form of artistic expression. And those who may be offended? They certainly shouldn’t destroy someone’s reputation with vitriolic reviews. Although I mentally categorized the “Contemporary Romance” differently, I still was able to enjoy it as I experienced it. I would review it favorably, perhaps adding my favorite caveat: not for the faint of heart. If one stumbles upon something “offensive” perhaps to simply note that it was not one’s cup of tea might be a lot more productive than slinging literary acid all over someone’s Goodreads page.

It’s entirely possible that I will be criticized for my judgment of critics, but luckily, I currently have no reputation, positive or negative! In my opinion, lively debate is positive. Character assassination is not. If you enjoy your stimulating reads, share them with the world. If your Puritan soul is scandalized, keep it to yourself!