Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Sexism of Beta and Alpha Heroes

So I've been noticing a trend. On a romantic writer forum I'm on, whenever the subject of #metoo or sexual harassment or sexual assault comes up, the subject is taken over by women sympathizing with men. Once the topic was taken over by a romance writer complaining how other romance writers objectify male cover models. And another time many romance writers talked about how their husbands were now scared to go to work because they worry about sexual harassment charges. 

To be perfectly honest, as the recipient of sexual harassment on an academic level to the point where six long years of work and my future was taken away from me by one man, I was a little floored that the conversation ALWAYS kept going back to how bad men have it. Well, floored and wondering where the sympathy was for the women, the majority of sexual harassment/sexual assault victims, was.

So, okay, yes, I'm here to point out one more sexism that romance Author's are overlooking: beta/alpha heroes. 

Sure, sure, in all writing we have seen some of the characters enough we call them names--Mary Sue, Bad Boy, etc. But calling male characters either betas or alphas is sexist, pure and simple. We wouldn't stand for a male writer to call female characters alpha or not. Oh, and most romance authors when talking about beta males versus alpha males seem to be referring to a weird 1970s and outdated anthropologist take of wolves. Or maybe they're talking about those desert baboons who do seem to have rather rapey male alpha leaders. I'm not sure, and whenever I've asked romance authors to specify, there's a strange silence with looks like I should know better than to even ask. 

So I'm not 100% sure what romance authors mean when they're talking about alphas versus betas, but from what I've heard it's incredibly sexist. Some label a beta hero as any male character who can express himself without fists or anger. Some label a beta hero as any male character who respects a woman to NOT to be sexually harassed and/or assaulted. In other words, sadly, some label a beta hero as a normal nice guy. 

I've read enough of the history of romance to know that the rapey, alphahole hero has been around for a long time. When I started reading romance, admittedly only a decade ago, it took more than five years to find a rapey, alphahole hero. Five years of reading about blissful relationships where a couple thought of each other as equals. Yes, I probably lucked out. But my point is that several romance books feature just men. Sometimes, really nice men too. 

(As an aside, many romance lovers have taken to reading queer romance because there is less of a prevalence of the alpha male in gay romance books. And, honestly, I adore queer romance books and (knock on wood) have not found one alpha male so far.) 

Anyway, in an age when justice, true justice, is (hopefully) around the corner, and men are reckoning about their behavior and treatment of women, isn't it time to reexamine the label of alpha versus beta? Isn’t it time we romance authors call out our own sexism? 

Lastly, in a Brene Brown book or lecture--sorry! I can't remember which--she was pulled aside by a
man who had an urgent question for her: When was she going to cover men and men's shame? And this part stuck with me when he told her he needed help not only for himself but for his wife and daughter because sometimes he just wanted to step down from the damned white horse and just be. So that's what I write. And that's what I've always written. Men who don't have to worry about their masculinity if they want to get off that damned white horse of theirs and just be real and authentic. 

So my other question for romance authors is this: besides examining the sexism in labeling men alpha or betas, can you please allow a male character to just be a human being? That's all women want. Why can't we let our fellas?  

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Just Listen...

I was disappointed in Matt Damon for saying anything at all about the #metoo movement. Sometimes, certain people need to keep their opinions to themselves and just listen. And in that vein, I read this article. I want more articles like this and to just listen.


Friday, December 15, 2017

Does a Feminist Romance Novel Need to be Structured Differently?

Plotting. And not the kind that takes over the world. Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!

I'm what some call a pantser, an organic writer, the writer who pulls things from the air. Whatever people want to call it, I usually have a story in my mind that I cannot articulate well until I put it on paper, er, the screen. I see scenes, usually in order, and write them down.

However, there's a lot to be said about plotting. I love plotting! I just can't stick to it all the time. My characters will sometimes convince me to write a different plot line or finally tells me something more about themselves that could change the theme of the book. Silly characters. :)

I have been in love with Jami Gold's blog/website FOR-EFFING-EVER! She has a series of FREE beat sheets to help with plotting, as well as many articles regarding plotting for people like me--pantsers or whatever. (I know I sound like a teenager, adding that whatever, but on a writer's forum there was an author who took offense to the word pantser. I mean no offense, and honestly, as you can see from above, I do have the plot in my head, but I just don't have it out on an outline. And pantser is a term most others use. Still, I'm open to other terms and, again, I don't mean any offense. Sorry!)

Anyway, as you can tell from the above paragraph, yes, plotting a feminist romance is no different from plotting any other kind of romance. It's commercial fiction and there are a few requirements of the genre, like a Happily Ever After = HEA, or Happy For Now = HFN ending, as well as other plot points.

I love writing a HEA, which for me does not necessarily mean marriage, but it's understood the couple will be happy together. And that means, for a feminist, I won't work with certain tropes. (Tropes aren't a bad word. As it's said in the bible, there's nothing new under the sun, and trope just means there are certain plot lines that have been repeated enough we have definitions for them.) I won't have a hero (or heroine, for that matter) stalk his/her love interest. I won't have a hero (or heroine, for that matter) rape his/her love interest. I also won't write of a hero or heroine emotionally abusing anyone. Being a feminist means I believe in equality, so I write about the happiness a couple can have when they find equality and love.

For the next few blog posts, I'll break down plotting and what it means for a feminist. We have the HEA defined above, but what does the HEA mean to you? What tropes do you avoid writing/reading?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Drill Sergeant Hero

I've been noticing a trend in many romance books. I call it The Drill Sergeant Hero. This is the guy who not only knows everything, but orders the heroine to do as he wishes. Usually the Drill Sergeant Hero is ordering the heroine about to "protect" her or keep her away from danger, because she's just a woman and can't decipher danger for herself, you know. The Drill Sergeant Hero is usually some sort of expert, like a bodyguard or spy or something along those lines, so he knoweth from which he speaketh.

As an historian, I'm taking a guess that the tendency to "protect" women is a mostly Victorian myth, exacerbated by the Edwardian period (Did you know Jell-O salads and other salads were popular during this era because women were supposed to eat delicate, bird-like meals? I love salad, but...blech.). This idea to shelter women to such an extent that they become childlike and remain innocent until her marriage when she no longer counts as an individual because she becomes her husband's property.

Think I sound tough on the Victorians and Edwardians? Well, be my guest to check out the laws of that time, regarding women's rights to divorce, freedom from a domestic abusive partner, or even her children, which she could not have if she wanted to stop being beaten by her husband.

Anyway, the point is somewhere along the way, we contemporary people have confused the Victorian myths with the fact that women have been figuring out ways to protect themselves for eons. And they've had to protect themselves when they had very few rights to do so.

I think that's why I find the Drill Sergeant Hero so repulsive. I can't finish a book with this kind of hero. He makes me sad and mad. I'm never sure if I want to throw the book across the room or cry a little. Might be good to do both.

I like writing about men who are experts, but they're not going to degrade a woman to make a point. They aren't going to order a woman about because she's a fellow human being, and unless you're a real life drill sergeant that's not cool. Unless you have a particular drill-sergeant kink and request it, of course. :)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Diversity in Romance books...A Bad Marketing Tactic?

This post was on Carmen Fox's Facebook Timeline. She rocks and you should read her. Anyway, her findings were incredible. Here you go:

We’re trying to interest readers in our Sigils and Spells box set, which celebrates diversity. I employed my author alter ego to beat the drums and noticed something shocking. Engagement, i.e. likes and shares etc., was higher for my winter-themed romance set than for my urban fantasy diversity set.
Coincidence? Maybe romance simply kick UF’s butt? Or could it be something else?
It was time for an experiment. I posted two posts containing almost the same blurb—in one, I introduce Ali, in the other, I slip in that Ali is an Indonesian-American.Engagement was roughly 22% higher in the one that refers to plain old Ali without referring to his multicultural background. Maybe this was down to social media algorithms.
Then I rewrote the blurb with the name Alec instead of Ali. I got another slight but noticeable bump for Alec over Ali.
I ran both experiments on my pen name’s accounts, whose reach isn’t huge, and consequently, my sample set (Facebook and Twitter) wasn’t representative by any stretch of the imagination. Still, it makes you think.
We have strong titles in our set, and the stories remain our focus. We certainly do not preach. What we did do was naively think that setting events in true-to-life situations with true-to-life heroes would win the day. Readers would rush to support our set. After all, box sets are still going strong.
We’re not a charity. We didn’t set out to change the world. We’re just a group of authors who thought bringing a bunch of varied characters under one hat might be fun.
But in a world that actively encourages segregation of ideas, politics and religions, diversity is a lightning rod.
Again, small samples like mine are statistically insignificant. It is likely I’m reading too much into the results. Just thought I’d share my observation.

As Carmen mentions, this may not be the most scientific test, but often small measures help us understand the big picture. And, God, I hope this changes.

I write diverse characters. Because I live close to Indian Country, I write about people I see daily--Crow, Cheyenne, Assiniboine, etc.  And I've been living in a bubble where I didn't realize that others wouldn't want to read about diverse characters. I do want to read about diverse characters. I really, really, REALLY want to read about diverse characters. (Yeah, I bought the book Carmen mentions in multiple formats.) So please read from authors who write them. Not just me, obviously. :) But if you do want to read my work, thank you.

OH! When I asked Carmen if I could post her findings here, she told me a story, which I have to share here too:
 BTW, I love the feminist romance angle. I had a chat with a friend the other day who says he’s feeling attacked by the increase of attacks by women who begin to blame all men for all the evils in the world. I said I hadn’t seen anything like this. He insists it’s out there. I said I don’t think that’s right either, but in light of my being a woman who has been under attack all her life, my sympathy with men has to wait its turn. Once I feel that men truly suffer more hardship than women, that’s the day when I’ll be happy to listen to him “nag,” which I believe is the verb men associate with this particular kind of conversation. He didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day. 🙂 

Isn't Carmen the best! Go buy her book. Help her out. And let's figure out how we can stop bias in our marketing plans. Or how to fight it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

In The Wake of Matt Lauer...

Matt Lauer was fired today after a complaint about "inappropriate sexual behavior." And it's apparently not the first incident. In the wake of sexual harassment/assaults finally being taken seriously, where will the romance genre land?

Bodice rippers--usually not by choice, "heroes" domineering and controlling female characters...doesn't this sound kinda familiar, fellow romance writers? I mean, I get it, and I've heard it from kingdom come that romance is about fantasy. And the last thing I want to do is ever analyze or sound judgy about another woman's fantasy. Like I've said before, whatever your kink, get it on. to phrase this? Okay, here goes: In light of recent events, could it be time to rethink many of the romance tropes, like the domineering/controlling, sexually inappropriate "hero"? Or am I sounding too preachy?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Treating Women Like Children

I'm not sure why spanking is in so many romance books. Of the books I've read, none feature a woman asking to be spanked. If that's what she's into, then fine by me. But the books I've read and never finished, usually feature a male character "teaching" or "punishing" a woman. So, then where are all the books where women "teach" or "punish" the men? Just curious.

I really wasn't going to start this article talking about spanking, but spanking is the biggest display of a man treating a woman like a child. Why on earth would an adult want to do this to another adult to "punish" them is beyond me. Like I already mentioned, if this is your kink, then so be it. But I'm talking about punishment, as if it's acceptable for a man (who is an adult) to punish another adult. Even judges call their work sentencing. Punishing is no longer acceptable language in most civilized society, but it is in many a romance book for a man to do to a woman.

But that's not even what gets me the angriest. It's the little things. Devil's in the details, they say, and I'd agree. It's the seemingly sweet book where the hero orders the heroine to do something, usually "for her own safety." Because she's an idiot or a child who doesn't know how to keep herself safe? Why would a man order a woman around in the first place? Does he think her mentally unstable? And if so, is ordering her about really the best way to approach a mentally unstable person?

Ordering a heroine about is insidious and ubiquitous and, honestly, sad. It makes me so sad when I read a well-written book and find the hero treating the heroine like she's a child, complete with ordering her about, shaking a finger at her, acting sternly. I love well-written books! But I can't read that. It makes me too sad, where I'd think of the hero and heroine getting a divorce later down the years when she finally realizes she doesn't have to be treated like a child. Yes, sad.

What are some of your pet peeves regarding heroes treating heroines like a child?