The discussion of alpha romance heroes in marriage has taken a rather interesting turn into “feminism is a dirty word” territory, and my comment became so unwieldy, I decided it needed to become its own post. Such are the privileges of being a blog owner.
So, some disclaimers:
1. I’m a feminist, and I’m proud of the fact.
2. It bugs me when people treat the word “feminist” as an insult—especially when these are women who enjoy the benefits of what previous feminists have fought for, such as the right to vote, the right to initiate the dissolution of marriages, the freedom to work outside the home without being viewed as some sort of freak of nature, or the freedom to enjoy love and sex on their own terms.
3. It also bugs me when people use “radical man-hating separatist” synonymously with “feminist.” It’s akin to conflating “Christian” with “homophobic asshole,” or “Muslim” with “suicide bomber.” Sure, these splinter factions exist, but for the love of Baby Ganesh, these are huge, heterogenous movements, with significant doctrinal and philosophical differences between the many different sects, and the people you’re talking about constitute a minority. Stop defining something solely by its distasteful extremes. It does no honor to the people being discussed, AND it makes you look like an ignorant douchebag.
4. I love men. Oh boy, do I ever. Y’all don’t need any more TMI than I’ve dished out already over the past couple of years on this site, so I’m afraid I’m just going to have to leave it at that. I love men. Yesss I do, precious.
5. I love all sorts of dudes, but the ones I’m most attracted to, sexually and emotionally, are slim, androgynous and geeky to the point of dorkiness. To be frank: I love the girly men. (The same applies to the women I’m most attracted to, as well: I love the tomboyish girls with dyke-tastic haircuts and a swagger. I think androgyny and genderfuck are hot. And I can totally respect and understand that many people don’t. Chacun à son goÃ»t.)
I’m going to quote a particular commenter in particular extensively in this post. I won’t refer to her by name; those of you who’ve followed the discussion will recognize who I’m quoting anyway, and I’m honestly not attempting to kick her into the ground, because she’s being disagreed with vigorously as it is, and I can tell she’s feeling attacked; it’s just that her arguments seem representative a certain type of discourse that bugs the hell out off me, and I want to poke at these sorts of arguments in general, not necessarily at her in particular. So apologies for the lack of attribution.
So, here’s the bit of commentary that inspired all this blathering in the first place:
What concerns me is that the â€˜ideal’ world that some women want would have boys for men or at least those with teeny weenies, no chest hair, no muscles and itty itty schlongs that would never mess up or bother a delicate female HooHoo. And men who aren’t men, just beaten down creatures allowed to live in the presence of the Princesses.
And sex would be this vapid, super quiet thing with the woman totally in control at all times, because if the man dares get passionate, she’s being victimized.
(And in a different a little ways down…)
Even deeper, it’s now bad for a romance hero to rescue the heroine. How dare he be protective, or the least bit dominant! How dare he be stronger. How dare he be her superior occasionally! How dare he be better at anything than the heroine! It’s bad if he’s truly male, because that’s suddenly â€˜alpha’, which is why I find myself shaking my head when what I consider just plain â€˜ole men labled “alphasâ€. That is what I mean by boys versus men.
Holy flaming metrosexuals, Batman. Where do I even begin?
First of all, I’m fascinated by what we’re being presented with as the image of what constitutes REAL manhood. Skinniness seems to be a no-no. Also, lack of body hair. Also, sexual submission. And penis size was mentioned twice—which, in my opinion, presents an eerily accurate reflection of our cultural perceptions of where manhood lies.
I have to admit that I don’t buy into this manly man malarkey, and that men who don’t conform are somehow less or diminished. I’d almost say something like “Look, they have a Y chromosome and a cock and balls; as far as I’m concerned, that’s all a dude needs to get into the Boys’ Club,” but then I realized that my transgender friends would pummel me into the ground for displaying that much essentialist bias. Gender identity is tricky and fascinating, and I’m not going to propose to figure it out on a fuckin’ blog, of all places, but I just want us to ponder why we so strongly associate certain traits with manhood, and why they are desirable in and of themselves, and why we hold them up as some sort of requirement for membership.
See, for me, what are typically seen as unmanly traits, such as swishiness, a willingness to play with gender identity markers such as make-up and dresses, or a tendency for displaying affection to other male friends with culturally uncomfortable physical gestures (in America, that usually constitutes close embraces, holding hands and kissing) are signs of something else entirely. I tend to read those men as being so secure in their masculinity that they have no problems flouting these conventions; they have absolutely nothing to prove, so why not act as or wear what they wish, or actively poke at cultural perceptions of masculinity and femininity? Many of these guys are as puzzled and amused as I am by the use of words like “fag” or “girl” as pejoratives. Even if people don’t find androgyny to be a turn-on, why is it so discomfiting—even repulsive—to so many? Why do people care, even, when health isn’t at stake?
And most interesting of all is the conflation of certain effeminate traits—lack of body hair, slimness—with sexual submission and/or lack of sexual vigor. What does this say about the way we see femininity and feminine sexuality, and how we view sexual submission as somehow being less than sexual domination?
(OK, so here’s a LITTLE bit of useless TMI: I’ve slept with more than my fair share of slim, clean-cut boys, and lemme tell you, vigor is not even remotely an issue, especially the ones who are athletic in ways that place a lot of emphasis on flexibility and movement—you know, the runners, the dancers, the swimmers, the ones who play a lot of soccer or tennis, or do a lot of yoga. Our vision of athleticism has been colored greatly by football, weight-lifting and wrestling, I think, where bulk has come to dominate. Why is bulk considered manly, by the way? If Ability To Fuck Yo Shit up is considered a manly trait, I imagine people who practice the martial arts would be tops, and they tend to be slim and mobile.)
And really, is lack of hero domination a problem in romance novels? I mean, seriously? I see a trending away from extreme alphas in some sub-genres, but even then, romance heroes are still plenty assertive. Even Demon Angel, which was the last romance novel I read with an unabashedly good-boy hero had him pinning the heroine against a closet door and fucking her six ways to Sunday.
So, readers, I want your thoughts on masculinity and femininity. Let’s talk about feminism, and where it’s taken us, and why it’s a dirty word. Why you think girly men are hot. Why you think girly men are repulsive. And something I don’t have time to go into right now, but that I’d love to hash out as well: gender roles and acceptable flaws and virtues for heroes and heroines in romance novels.