What’s happened to real alpha males?

When did “Alpha Male” in Romance become synonymous with “total asshole douchebag”? Men like that aren’t attractive in real life, why would they be in books? Okay, so books are fantasy, and there’s always the appeal of the bad boy. But who fantasises about being treated badly by a git? And alpha male and bad boy are not even the same archetypes anyway.

What an alpha male is to me.
A leader, possessing natural authority. He’s intelligent. Charismatic. Attractive – literally, not in the physical sense. He doesn’t have to be good looking, but he can still have magnetism. He’s motivated, driven, possibly quite intense. He gets stuff done. He usually has a healthy sized ego. Confident, assertive, ambitious. Demanding of high standards — mostly from himself. A man of his word.

None of this precludes being kind, gentle, forgiving, patient, funny, witty, sensitive, romantic, or having a sense of humour. Nor does it mean he can never show pain or weakness. It doesn’t mean he can never apologise or admit to being wrong. Hell, admitting being wrong and apologising are signs of strength and good character.

What alpha males seem to have become.
insensitive, bossy, arrogant, moody, broody, unpredictable, demanding, stubborn. Egotistical, greedy, selfish and, frankly, stupid bullies. None of that says alpha to me. That says insecurity covered by what they think is strength. Repellent, not attractive. Intimidation in place of natural authority.

A real alpha male isn’t bossy, he’s just the boss. People follow him because he inspires loyalty and faith. A real alpha doesn’t need to assert his power, it’s apparent when he walks in a room. He doesn’t abuse, intimidate or bully those weaker than him, he protects them. A real alpha male is a knight.

That’s the kind of alpha male I want to read about and see getting a happy ending. They deserve it. The douche-bag guys? Screw them, nobody deserves to put up with their BS.

13 thoughts on “What’s happened to real alpha males?

  1. Very true. I hesitate these days to describe any of my characters as alphas, even the former army officers because they have endeering traits like respect for their mothers (or grandmothers, depending on which they were raised by). Yes they can be sometimes be a little growly under pressure, but who isn’t?

    1. I think it’s maybe a case of all characterisation is eventually stipped of its nuance and becomes caricature. It’s like Flanderization of an entrie character archtetype rather than just an individual character in this case.

      1. Hmm, maybe it’s a case of writers striving against each other to write the ultimate alpha, rather than writing characters who develop into leaders rather than followers. I’m thinking of my Mr Singh for a start.

        1. Like there’s an alpha arms race and the writers keep upping the stakes until one eventually turns around and says “Oh my god, these guys are dicks!” 😀

          And development is an issue there of course. If he’s “the ultimate alpha”, where does he have to go in the story? Surely only “down”? Which could be fine if that’s the point of the story, but if he starts out as a git, there should be awareness in the story that he’s a git and everyone shouldn’t be fawning over him for it.

          1. Precisely. I have a character who edges over into being a git at times, but the point there is that he’s answerable to bigger gits and will eventuably walk away from the whole situation.

            Likewise I want to write a story in which the loner alpha character suddenly has his role taken away from him, and he’s going to act pretty gittish at times until he finds something new to do with his life. But that’s the whole character development thing again.

            Or conversely what about all the characters who could be leaders one day, but are still learning? I have a very quiet, polite teenager who’s heir to a massive amount of responsibility. The only way he’s going to be any good is to learn each part of his role before he starts throwing his weight around.

            1. On that last one, my character Zach in Higher Ground, that’s very much the way I think of him. He’s very clever, he’s got leadership potential in him, but he’s young,still a bit sheltered by life. It’s an emergency that makes him step up and become a leader. He still has to figure out how to do it, he’s not suddenly brilliant at it, and he’ll hopefully never be an arrogant, moody bastard. But I definitely thought of him as an alpha male in training.

  2. Sometimes I think the term gets used so often as sarcasm people forget what it really means. Or they get so focused on this idea of the wild animal alpha having to fight off young males to keep his leadership they forget that humans have a little more complexity to them.

    1. People definitely take it too seriously and treat it as some kind of character template as opposed to a broad idea to start off with. A character still has to be an individual.

  3. I don’t think the alpha male works as an archetype – its too vague, saying nothing about what makes them top dog.

    That doesn’t mean that the alpha male position has no part in stories – the first Toy Story is essentially about Woody losing his position as the alpha male of the toys, what he’s willing to do to get that position back, and his regret at what he does.

  4. I have to admit to pulling a face whenever I read the words ‘alpha male’ and maybe it’s because I’m so sick of reading it only to find the man described is exactly what your “what alpha males seem to have become” list is made up of.

    I’m currently writing a book about werewolves – because why the hell not, right? – and so I have a literal alpha male character. I’ve been doing pretty much all I can for him not to be a total jerk. It’s kind of tricky, actually, because I want his to be a quiet sort of leadership (which has worked quite well; his pack members are all way louder, more pushy, and bigger jerks than he is, which is a dynamic that’s quite a lot of fun to play with) but I don’t want to be all, “Oh, look how sweet and kind he is all the livelong day!” So it’s been tricky – and really interesting, honestly – to give him flaws that have nothing to do with his alphaness and to make sure he does have qualities that make him a good leader.

    I have no idea why people seem to have started viewing massive jerks as alpha males. It just really doesn’t make sense to me at all.

    1. Sounds like a good dynamic, and realistic that the other pack members are like that, because they have more to prove and more to gain. Quiet authority is still authority.

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