Is a Beta Better?
They say there’s a new man in town. I say his days are numbered!
A stereotype called the beta-male is roaming the streets. Unlike a former holder of the post, the alpha-hole, Mr Beta is not cruising to pick up a one-night stand. Mr Beta has likely got a leash in his fist with a yappy toy poodle attached to the other end of it, dragging him along.
Where the alpha-hole—he of the chiselled jawline and sculpted body—inhabits bodice-ripping, historical or Mills & Boon novels, Mr namby-pamby Beta mostly inhabits clean and wholesome/sweet romances. A genre that allows maybe the odd kiss, but no kissy-kissy: Hands-off, no foreplay.
Kinda reads like a children’s book, no? And yet, this genre is growing in popularity. Do lots of modern women, then, want chasteness restored? Are women wanting to grow back their hymens?
Sorry, it’s like saying sex is unnatural; like saying sex is a dirty word (and you can’t use any of these either in clean and wholesome).
Well, I say, gimme dirty, baby, baby! You know, like in the movies. Go ahead and leave a trail of clothes strewn here and there—jeans, T, bra and panties discarded haphazardly. Go ahead and knock the tchotchkes off the side table en route to the bedroom. But …
When you remove my bodice, would you mind very much not ripping it? And can you please make sure that the stuff you knock off the furniture is unbreakable? I’ve probably forked out a shitload for the threads and knick-knacks, so can we just leave them intact?
Hasta La Vista, A-Holes!
These demands do not speak to the alpha-hole, who, in all likelihood, lost some leverage when female protagonists grew balls and started wearing power suits.
It would have been around this time that beta-man gained a foothold because a woman on top needs a counterpoise.
Oh, beta’s animal instincts might prevail and he could well drag ballsy chick off to the bedroom. But he’d likely stop to pick up and fold each item of discarded clothing along the way. Before long, he’d become pussy-whipped. It follows that she’d get bored with him.
Ostensibly, then, her perfect match would be the alpha-male. A nice balance between the two aforementioned male stereotypes, he seems the perfect man for all women. But is he?
Cutting the Cookie-Cutter
There are some variations in what constitutes alpha and beta-blokes. Here’s the thing, though. They’re constructed along the lines of the fairy-tale framework with its cardboard cut-out characters. And that’s the trouble with stereotypes.
They’re continually revised and cleansed versions of the preceding one, with the original—the archetype—buried under it all. And the new and ‘improved’ versions can lack substance, or don’t display much of it.
Personally, beta doesn’t do it for me. I don’t want the kind of male character I feel the need to breastfeed. And alpha-male? Warrior. Stand-up guy. James Bond-ish. Knight in shining armour. Probably doesn’t fart. Well, I do, so I’d feel un-alpha and inadequate against him. Anyway, I don’t need someone to rescue me.
The A-Z of Male Protagonists
Some of the male characters in my books are alpha-holes, alpha and beta-males. But they’re caricatures to draw attention to the idiocy of defining people by a limited bunch of traits.
My male lead, on the other hand, is so much more because, like in the earliest uncut stories—the Greek myths—I want a complete person. Not a barbarian who acts on all raw thoughts, feelings and impulses, of course. But one who can admit to these aspects of character that moralism has shamed us for even having.
So. You can keep your alpha-holes and your alpha and beta-males. I want the whole bloody alphabet. Give me an alpha-beta-gamma-delta-epsilon-zêta-êta-thêta-iota-kappa-lambda-mu-nu-xi-omikron-pi-rho-sigma-tau-upsilon-phi-chi-psi-omega man!
Complicated? Maybe. But real, and that much more interesting.
*This was originally written as a guest post (‘The ABC’s of Male Characters’) for Jess: reader, writer, blogger, reviewer from Jess Bookish Life—https://jessbookishlife.wordpress.com/
* Check out Mr Real’s counterpart, Ms Real, in an earlier post—https://paulahouseman.com/female-protagonist