Paranormal Romance Books: Alpha Males, Strong Females & Consent
Updated: Mar 25, 2021
As a female author of romance books, I am incredibly aware that how I present my characters matters. The romance genre (and particularly paranormal romance?) can be criticized for its presentation of the alpha male hero as a throwback to more patriarchal gender roles, but is this criticism fair?
Once upon a time, the alpha males within romance books tended to be a main course of attractive man candy with a side of chauvinism; too often the romance’s happily ever after came through abusive scenes that would send any sensible twenty-first century heroine in search of a restraining order. These alpha males were often constructed through the billionaire trope, and the hero’s domineering and often alarming behavior would be forgiven by the heroine (and by extension the reader) because of the thickness of his wallet, his good looks, and some minor trauma in his childhood.
In line with this traditional alpha male trope, the heroines I was fed as a little girl were passive. In fairy tales and romance novels, alike, the heroines waited pliantly and suffered before they found happiness. All hoped for a man to ride in on his white horse or motorcycle (depending on the century of the story) and change their lives for them. More alarmingly, the women of these stories were portrayed as seemingly enjoying the abusive behavior of their would-be-husbands, controlling boyfriends, or kings.
The bad relationship was presented in these stories as… well, ‘good’, because it was a RELATIONSHIP, and little girls who are brought up to play weddings with pillowcases on their heads, and practice being mummy with their baby doll, are also brought up to expect a man to save them, to provide for them.
But as society has become more equal, and women’s treatment, opportunity, and education has advanced, women’s expectations for their lives, careers, and relationships have elevated. Given this societal shift, it isn’t a surprise that the presentation of women within romance fiction (a genre usually written by women, for women) has changed.
After nailing that presentation at work, I don’t long for a re-telling of Rumpelstiltskin, or Rapunzel, or Cinderella when I search for a new e-book. I’m with my heroine Dr Ana Jones in The Guardians’ Trust: Ana when she thinks about these fairy tales. No way should a heroine marry a ruthless maniac just because he’s king!
While romance books published in the 1980s and 90s tended to present heroines as passive, with events happening to them as they wait for the alpha male hero to act, the romance books I have read in recent years have tended to present women as strong, active, and as a balancing foil for the alpha male.
By definition, an alpha male is strong and powerful. He’s possessive – but, unlike some critics of the romance genre, I don’t believe this has to make him the old-fashioned chauvinist that was the male hero of many of the romance books I read as I moved into adulthood. Likewise, while the stereotypical view of a romance heroine predicts the female lead will be passive to the hero’s dynamic behavior, weak to the hero’s strong, I don’t believe this character type is now the norm.
Rather than a competition of wills, a patriarch determined to quell the feminine heroine, there now seems a more concerted effort by romance writers to write characters that complement each other in a balanced way – a heroine who knows her mind and kicks ass when required.
Yet, despite these modernizations, it is worth noting that the cliché of a woman changing her man (disturbingly?) remains. An alpha male may still be written as the brooding bad boy, if – and here’s the caveat – if, the heroine acts as a catalyst for change.
The issue of consent is at the heart of debate when considering the presentation of women in romance books.
Let’s be clear. No means no. Coercion and rape by the ‘hero’ have absolutely no place in a romance book. I have been a reader of romance novels for many more years than I’ve been a writer of them, and a lot of the early romance books I read included ‘bodice ripping’ scenes of domination and contained very dubious consent.
When I first looked into getting published, I saw notes on publishers’ websites about consent. Several publishers felt the need to state that rape scenes were not accepted. One publisher went so far as to point out that if a woman woke to find a man by her bed in the night, this event would not lead to consensual sex. Too true. It would lead to injury – hopefully his!
The fact that publishers of romance books feel the need to point this truth out in black and white on their submissions guidance pages highlights, rather alarmingly, that publishers still receive manuscripts that contain these disturbing and illegal tropes. Paranormal romance novels often contain hyper masculine characters, but there is absolutely no excuse for violent sex scenes dressed up as consensual acts.
When writing The Guardians’ Trust series, I was very aware of the issue of consent. In book five, Cat and Aderyn’s story, the hero asks the heroine clearly for her consent, and she gives it, verbally. There is no ambiguity. What follows is a steamy romance scene between an alpha male who respects women and a self-possessed female heroine who knows her mind and makes an informed choice. Sex is consensual and pleasurable, regardless of a character’s XX or XY chromosomes.
Consent is sexy.
I have discussed the alpha male in a precious blog (Paranormal Romance Books & the Alpha Male | Beth Linton) and in that post I discuss the character of Maxen from book 8 in my paranormal romance series. Maxen is an alpha male worthy of any contemporary romance novel. He loves motorbikes, heavy metal and ladies; he’s good looking and has a hot swimmer’s body. But when it comes to his relationship with his arranged, fated wife, Maxen falls hard; he uses contraception without request; and he asks verbally for consent. What’s more, Maxen manages to make all of these things sexy.
Like Aderyn, Maxen is a modern alpha male and their heroine counter parts are as every bit as strong as they are. In Maxen’s case, it is very definitely Megan that sets the pace of their relationship, likewise, Cat challenges Aderyn when he crosses the line. She doesn’t accept any poor behaviour just because she loves him.
I love to read romance novels but that doesn’t mean I switch off my twenty-first century self when I sink into a bubble bath to enjoy the latest book boyfriend I’m dating. I want a steamy romance novel where the modern alpha hero uses contraception without request and asks verbally for consent. I also expect to read about a strong, intelligent heroine that I can admire and get behind... rather than pity and urge towards counselling.
If you enjoyed this blog you might also enjoy Heroines That Kick Ass | Beth Linton.
To find out about my novels click here and visit my books page where you can find the blurb for the first five books in the romance series.