KATHRYN HAYES CONTEST!

KATHRYN HAYES CONTEST!
Looking for published & self-published submissions.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Sexual Evolution of the Alpha and Beta Male

by Lisbeth Eng

A romance novel hero is a writer’s perception of a sexually attractive male. Though true love involves nobler emotions, sexuality is largely governed by biology. Human beings are essentially animals, albeit ones with large brains and opposable thumbs. What drives us to mate is the primal instinct to procreate and pass on our DNA to the next generation. We are genetically programmed to seek out partners who will help us produce and raise healthy offspring.

In designing our hero, we should consider what traits our heroine would find appealing. If we look to science for clues, numerous studies confirm that hormone levels subconsciously drive attraction. For the female, her monthly cycle and the complex and conflicting needs of producing offspring trigger her choice of mate. During her most fertile period, a woman is attracted to a man she perceives as physically powerful and virile – the alpha male. His children will inherit genes for survival in a perilous world: the strength and dominance needed to combat danger, especially from competing males. Yet during her less fertile days, studies have shown that women are drawn to men with nurturing, “feminine” qualities – the dependable nice guy – the beta male. There is an evolutionary, biological basis for this, too. Unlike many of our more distant animal relatives, human babies are helpless for years after birth. Having two devoted parents increases their chances of survival. The mother benefits from having a long-term partner who will share in childcare responsibilities. A less aggressive male may be more likely to stick around and help, rather than to wander off and prowl for opportunities to pass on his genes to as many other females as he can.

So why do most heroes of romance novels fit the cliché of the alpha male? He is almost always muscular, tall (honestly, how many five and a half foot heroes have you read?) and of high social status (all those Regency marquises and contemporary tycoons). The proverbial strong, silent type. Is this because we romance writers assume that is the sort of hero our readers (most of whom are female) idealize as the perfect man? Do the hormone levels of the writer and what day it is in her cycle influence the temperament of her characters? Are female writers who are past their childbearing years more likely to write beta males? (Sorry, guys, but the vast majority of RWA members are women.) Perhaps a study could be done to correlate the hormonal cycles of female romance writers with their most “fertile” writing days!

A well-written hero must be flawed, so where does the alpha male most likely need improvement? Romance heroes often harbor a haunting secret or past misdeed. The dark, brooding alpha male needs the nurturing female to tame his wild side, to heal his wounded psyche, to humanize him and thus satisfy the heroine’s maternal impulse.

But what about the beta male? As discussed above, studies have proven the attractiveness of nurturing males. There are certainly women who find the warm, open, caring man an appealing partner, yet he seldom appears in romance novels. Must every hero be moody and aggressive?

I propose that we abandon the alpha and beta stereotypes and create the supreme hybrid: the gamma male. (If you’ve forgotten your Greek alphabet, that’s the letter after alpha and beta.) He would be physically powerful but sensitive and considerate. His strong hands could disable any foe, but give a soothing back rub, as well. A man to fulfill every desire – to stimulate a woman’s urges any day of the month.

To substantiate my hypothesis, I need your feedback in the polls at the right. Please select your candidate for the archetypal alpha, beta and gamma heroes. If these choices do not exemplify your ideal, feel free to comment with your own selection.

BIO:

Lisbeth Eng’s first novel, a World War II romance entitled In the Arms of the Enemy, is due to be released by The Wild Rose Press in 2010. An English major in college, Lisbeth has also studied Italian, German and French. Lisbeth is a native New Yorker and has worked as a registered representative in the finance industry for the past 25 years. Visit her at www.lisbetheng.com.

10 comments:

  1. I love all your perceptions. You did leave out one gamma male and he is the prototype for most all of my heros - Gerard Butler. He can be strong and fierce, yet be moved to tears. Love a man who can show a great range of emotions.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Lisbeth, my dear Lisbeth. I agree whole heartedly. At least my sane side does, but I think (and I am probably giving something away about myself) that the Valkyrie in my own soul seeks like kind. I.e. Ronin on Star Gate Atlantis or Methos in Highlander (who lived BEFORE the age of chivalry) and thinks nothing of cutting off a woman's head (when she's been bad in the series) Unlike Duncan who was sexier but much more sympathetic.

    I guess it’s all the variations, the mixes and the what-we-really-want decision that we all have to take into account.
    That being said, your post is delightful informative and on target.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hmm... I'll have to add some Gerard Butler movies to my Netflix list!
    Thanks for stopping by, Paisley.

    Lis

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks, Patt! I don't think I like the cutting off the woman's head part, but it does bring to mind that Shakespearean reference to "cutting off the maidens' heads versus cutting off their maidenheads", or something to that effect. (For those of you out there who don't know what a "maidenhead" is, look it up.)
    It's funny you mention Valkyrie because I reviewed that movie on my WWII blog (www.lisbetheng.com) back in February. (Nothing to do with alpha, beta or gamma males but I might as well give myself a plug. :))
    Glad you like the post!
    Lis

    ReplyDelete
  6. Both amused and informed and cannot get enough of your wry sense of humor - but in point of fact you've got a great idea. The man with arms of steel and a heart of gold. He'll battle to the death for his love and then press a cool cloth to her fevered brow. The perfect man to go with the great heroine - who can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan (where have I heard that before)? Knowing Gunther as I do (ahem), I know that your evolved man is presented perfectly!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I like the idea of a hybrid hero, the best of both worlds. I've been calling such a creature a B-Alpha but Gamma is a lot smoother. Like Goldilocks with the third dish of porridge, more often than not Gamma Guy is "just right." ;)

    Thanks for the fun and informative post.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks, Hope and Lise, for your comments!

    Lis

    ReplyDelete
  9. Lisbeth, great post, I enjoyed it! I like to make my alpha hero struggle with his softer side, it's quite something to watch.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I love the Gamma man. He seems to fit me the best. This is a great post explaining the difference between the alpha and beta guy.

    ReplyDelete