ClitLit – Women, Romance Fiction and Patriarchal Discourse

April 21, 2010

Anxious Alphole Masculinity – Quick Shots

Apologies for the length of time between posts here – I have this whole real life which often interferes with my academic writing. (And, indeed, other interests in academic writing – Thomas Middleton, for one; Georgian theatre, for another).

But enough of that – I have some more Simone de Beauvoir that I want to ponder. Specifically, this quote:

“No one is more arrogant toward women, more aggressive or scornful, than the man who is anxious about his virility.”

This is a really interesting point, and one that I hadn’t thought of, to tell the truth. There is a real trend among the “alphole” hero – the Dante from The Italian Boss’s Mistress of Revenge, for example – to assert his sexuality in a very active way that really makes me recoil, because it is practically rape. He then treats the woman terribly and she, for some reason, gets off on it.

I’m usually – and still am – very concerned about the woman in this situation, because hello, sexual assault, and this is not cool. You can wave the ‘it’s pretend’ flag all day long, when you encode someone with such behaviours as ‘heroic’ in fiction with such an intense moral hierarchy (the good get what they want, the bad suffer) as romance fiction, then there’s a problem. But problematic as this is, this is not today’s point.

To what extent is this (repellent) alphole hero emasculated by the heroine in romance fiction? His sexual desire for her is very different to the desire he has felt for any other woman – she ends up converting him to solid monogamy, case in point, when he has generally been sleeping with anything that moves beforehand. To what extent does he treat her terribly because of his anxious masculinity, because he is afraid he is no longer virile because he no longer to desire to do anyone, any time?

I would contend that an alphole is just an arsehole, end of story. But I am not a romance author, and so I don’t know if any romance authors really think about endowing their heroes with this kind of anxious masculinity. It is an interesting way of humanising the alphole… but I also find it a problematic way of excusing him.



  1. I understood the story of the woman converting the alpha male to be a bit more sinister: the ‘taming’ of the male is understood by him to be something undesirable and unnatural. This makes it difficult for me to understand what the attraction of the fantasy is: Woman sees ruffian barbarians doing whatever (and whomever) they please and suddenly feel the urge to turn him into something she can show her mother?

    Consider the gender-swapped version of this story: a woman dares to want a free life without children, so the man needs to seduce her in order to make her more docile.

    Comment by onlythesangfroid — April 21, 2010 @ 1:00 pm | Reply

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jodi. Jodi said: New on ClitLit: Anxious Alphole Masculinities. […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Anxious Alphole Masculinity – Quick Shots « ClitLit – Women, Romance Fiction and Patriarchal Discourse -- — April 28, 2010 @ 7:56 am | Reply

  3. You can wave the ‘it’s pretend’ flag all day long, when you encode someone with such behaviours as ‘heroic’ in fiction with such an intense moral hierarchy (the good get what they want, the bad suffer) as romance fiction, then there’s a problem. But problematic as this is, this is not today’s point.

    I know it’s ‘not today’s point’ but I’ve seen a couple of posts I think you might find interesting on the topic of ‘forced seductions’ in romance and ‘rape culture’.

    Comment by Laura Vivanco — April 28, 2010 @ 11:05 pm | Reply

    • Thanks Laura – will definitely check it out! I was following the debate about rape culture in regards to the Alex Knepper article over at AAR, and it was interesting to see just how polarised views were on the issue (and just how terrifying some of the views held were…)

      Comment by Jodi — April 29, 2010 @ 8:07 am | Reply

  4. The subject of masculinity is one that is not spoken about in our culture. We have stupid hollywood images and we have the imature gigglin teenager attitude of exism and male domination. We have feminist backlash and the awful “war of the sexes” that pitts us against each other. We are diffeent in some ways and the same in some ways and nobody is better. We drastically need a mature exploration of ender roles and their level of adequacy in our lives. There are books and writers who explore this with intelligence and maturity. (I like David Deida) and all is not lost. The comment about virility was in part correct as well. Virility can be a self esteem issue or a health issue quite apart from dominance or maltreatment of women. I don’t want guys who suffer from this unfortunate condition thrown in a bag with the abusers of the world. That said the men who doubt their “masculinity” and who have it confused with dominance will inded be the abusers. Virility is certainly tied to a sense of masculinity and worth but I think you get my drift. Let us keep our selves on point: Let us show a mature interpretation of masculine and femenine and let us turn the war of the sexes into the coming together of the sexes. Hell we don’t need to be the same.Our differences make us attracted to one another. Hell we don’t need to dominate each other… we don’t need to abuse and we don’t need anything other than to appreciate each other and ourselves. Educating our society is a heavy task but we are on it.

    Comment by virilitytraining — April 30, 2010 @ 11:05 am | Reply

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