The Alpha Problem


May 15, 2013 by Kira Lyn Blue

alpha-maleAlright Paranormal and Urban Fantasy fans, who out there loves Alpha males?

It’s okay, you can admit it. I know you do. Well, I do. I love Alpha males whether we’re talking werewolves, shifters, vampires, or even just plain old normal humans.

However, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately in what qualifies as an Alpha male love interest in shifter fiction.

First, let’s define the Alpha Male lead. For simplicity, we’ll use the basic character traits of the alpha male as defined by Todd Stone in Novelist’s Boot Camp.

The Alpha Male Defined:
  1. He needs to appear and feel competent.
  2. He is goal-oriented and results-driven.
  3. He believes strength is the ability to take it in silence.
  4. He values loyalty to a comrade or team, but also places a high value on independence, individualism, and self-reliance.
  5. He values logic over intuition, reason over emotion, and action over discussion.
  6. He has a strong sex drive.

Now compare these points against the Alpha male leads you’ve read in shifter fiction, especially romances. Notice anything?

Please direct your attention to Item #4: The Alpha male values loyalty and places high value on independence and self-reliance.


So why do so many recent shifter novels have so-called Alpha male leads who are complete domineering jackasses who mop the floor with submissive women who put up with all the horrible behavior they dish out?


No, just no.

These types of characters are NOT Alphas. They may be dominant, but that does not make them Alpha males. Any man who feels the need to control, abuse, and bully people is harboring monstrous insecurities which preclude him from being an Alpha.

Do not give me some bullshit excuse about this being part of his nature because he’s a Werewolf. I’m not buying it and I don’t want a “hero” who treats women this way. More importantly, I don’t want a “heroine” who puts up with it.

I now direct you to a post by a fellow WordPress blogger, The Truth of Wolves, Or: The Alpha Problem. Shattersnipe’s well-written post exposes the myth behind the role of dominance and submission within wolf packs on which so many shifter cosmologies are based. While I don’t really have a problem with fiction being based on faulty science, many writers are taking this concept too far and giving us some truly terrible relationships. As Shattersnipe puts it:

“…the Alpha Problem: endless tracts of sexism, misogyny, female exceptionalism, rigid social hierarchies maintained through a combination of violence and biological determinism, inescapable mating bonds, and a carte blanche excuse for male characters to behave like cavemen (and for female characters to accept it) on the slender justification that, as alphas, it’s both in their nature and what’s expected of them.”

This, fellow blogizens, is not Alpha behavior and I refuse to accept it in a male protagonist even if he is a werewolf.

Yes, I get that we’re talking about monsters here. The beast is a strong metaphor for the dark side that lives within each of us. I get that. And I do LOVE books where the leads learn to get past the monster inside and find acceptance and true love. Accepting someone in spite of their flaws is a beautiful thing. However, it is NOT beautiful for anyone to be in an unbalanced relationship where their partner is controlling and verbally, if not physically, abusive.


Now, it’s an entirely different story if the woman’s love can help him mend his ways and gain control of his beast. That is interesting character development.

Unfortunately, fewer and fewer books seem to bother with this level of development. They take the shortcut and skip straight to the sex without bothering to have either the male or female really deal with any of their issues, and the couple ends up in a truly unhealthy relationship based on lust and co-dependency rather than love and acceptance.

A true Alpha male would never accept a woman who behaved like a doormat and allowed herself to be treated like property. The same goes for an Alpha female.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this because the cosmology I’m writing does have werewolves in it. I am not inherently opposed to the rigid hierarchy and dominance/submission aspects that have become almost synonymous with shifters in fiction, only the types of romances this has been breeding lately and the abuse of the term Alpha.

(I am thoroughly opposed to the one true mate concept, but that’s another post.)

I don’t think the Paranormal and Urban Fantasy genres are the only ones suffering from this trend of co-dependent relationships. The popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey can attest to that. I am disturbed by what this says about our culture in general and I know I’m not alone.

I had planned to include a list of shifter books that I think do Alphas right, but this post is already pretty long. So we’ll save that for tomorrow. In the meantime…

What shifter books do you think do Alphas the right way?

25 thoughts on “The Alpha Problem

  1. katemsparkes says:

    Wow. I’m glad I’ve never read any of those books; I’d probably have ended up with holes in my walls. *thunk* I stopped reading the Twilight series because Edward was such a stalker-faced controlling jerk, and that whole thing I vaguely remember about a werewolf nearly ripping a woman’s face off but she stayed with him because TWU WUV. Um, no. Just no. I’d actually be interested in seeing your list of ones that do it right, if you ever get a chance.

    My new series will have werewolves in it, but I didn’t even think about making them like that. They’re predominantly male, but there are females… I think I’m going try making their packs matriarchal, just to see what happens. Should be interesting, since they’re a different sort of werewolf, but still very monster-y… Not saying that females couldn’t be domineering jerks, but it will be fun to play with before I put them in there. 🙂

    Love the comic, BTW.

    • Tomorrow. We’ll do Kira-approved shifters tomorrow.

      I really wish I knew the actual source of that comic. I found it in a Google image search, but the artist name or site wasn’t available. If anyone knows, please tell me!

  2. Never realized it before, but the alpha male really has turned more into the abusive jackass that traditionally would die horribly. That might just be the horror genre though. It doesn’t make sense that this has slipped in as part of the norm for that type of character. Are there women out there that actually want someone like this?

    • I think part of it is the horror genre. There is a certain expectation that a monster of any sort is going to have behavior problems and relationship issues. My beef is with the shortcut of calling someone an “Alpha” when he’s really just a jackass who doesn’t deserve the affection being offered to him. I am all for complex characters, but even monstrous Werewolves have to have redeeming qualities if you want me to buy a romance. The alpha wolf has to predominantly stick to the alpha definition I provided or learn to grow into it.

      • It’s still weird to hear more about werewolves and vampires in supernatural romance than horror these days. Poor things seem to have lost some of their ferocity. 😛

      • Oh noes! You just called werewolves and vampires “poor things”! Ok, fine, you’re right. They have lost some of their ferocity, thanks to the proliferation of PNR novels. There are some authors that still do an amazing job of blurring the line between romance, horror, and fantasy, though. I’ll talk about some of them tomorrow 🙂

      • Cool. I’m sure the vampires and werewolves will forgive me. At least the vampires because my second series will be about them. It’s fantasy and not romance, so more violence than trolling high schools for future wives. 😀

    • Oh, and to your question of are there women out there who want this… well, that’s not an easy question to answer. I think women with insecurities can tend to flock towards men who appear to be strong and dominant, but are actually bullies. Once they’re in the relationship and his protectiveness brings out domination, manipulation and abuse, their insecurities may keep them from abandoning him.

      While I don’t know how common this type of thing actually is, it is certainly common enough to have spawned zillions of books on it. I’m not saying the issue shouldn’t be written about, just not held up as a model of a romance.

      • It’s the held up as a model that has me confused on the whole thing. It’s almost like it’s becoming a mentality to aspire to.

      • See! That’s what I’m worried about. Why, why, why do writers and readers keep playing into this?

      • Because it’s what’s hot right now. The publishers see a market and want to run it into the ground before people move on. There are a lot of authors out there who are writing what’s popular for the sole reason of jacking into the current trend.

  3. Vagrance says:

    This is an interesting point (I came in because there were dog photos).

    I’m by no means familiar this subject but even I recognise this epidemic that seems to have struck the new breed of “Alphas”. This is the kind of garbage that New Zealand soap opera likes to recycle (and have gotten away with for a few decades).

    Real men control themselves. Pretenders try to control others.

  4. Aldrea Alien says:

    Posts like this seriously have me running through my MCs to see if they have such traits.

    • It’s not necessarily the end of the world if they do, so long as the characters deal with them realistically and learn to grow from it.

      • I should probably re-phrase that since it is, unfortunately, all too-realistic for insecure women to allow themselves to be treated badly by men. What I was trying to say is that it’s okay to have complex characters with negative personality traits, but if they’re main characters, I want to see those negatives dealt with not ignored or just accepted, especially if it means they treat their partner poorly.

      • Aldrea Alien says:

        For ages, I’ve jumped between wondering whether my MCs were alphas or a bunch of betas that just think are alphas.

        I mean, they tend to be strong in their own ways and protective, sometimes short with people but not really jerks, though some do intentionally try to distance themselves to keep people safe, is that an alpha trait? Is
        But the women they’re with … they always tend to be strong or become strong. I don’t write damsel in distress very well.

        This has made me rethink it all … again. But, I don’t know … maybe they’re not easily labelled?

      • That’s probable. You can have a very strong character who isn’t a stereotypical Alpha male or female. I think that’s where some books get into trouble. They confuse dominance with strength of character.

        I do think it’s natural for the love interest of an Alpha to also be strong. They kind of have to be, otherwise the relationship would be imbalanced and it wouldn’t be a true partnership. That does not mean the partner of an Alpha has to also be an alpha. Strength comes in many forms. I’ll be touching more on this issue tomorrow.

  5. melissajanda says:

    This is a disturbing trend, Kira. I recently starting reading a book on request and the author skipped the emotional development of the characters and went straight to sex. Whoa! Wait…what happened? I wanted to throw the book across the room, but unfortunately it was on my Kindle so I restrained myself. Anyway, I nominated you for another award! No obligation. You can find the details here if you are interested:

    • Thank you so much! I swear I’ll be getting to the awards soon. My Muse has me pretty distracted with other ideas at the moment and she’s a harsh mistress 🙂

  6. Hi Kira. Melissa (Janda) nominated your blog so I’m here to check it out! This is such a problematic theme, I think (bad) fiction sends out the wrong message to YA, who idolize these kinds of books. (And probably swoon at the sight of so-called “Alpha” males in their school, too.) Thankfully, I’m never interested in books like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, so I save myself some frustration and disgust, perhaps.

    Your post confirms that I’m not the only one concerned about this. Thanks.

    • Yes, I am much more concerned about this phenomenon in YA books. When I see it in adult literature, it’s just irritating. In YA, it makes me worry about our culture.

  7. MishaBurnett says:

    All love stories are fantasies, and what people want in fantasy is usually quite different than the sort of lifestyle that they find acceptable in real life. I don’t think that the popularity of Fifty Shades Of Grey indicates that the women who read it would put up with an abusive relationship any more than the popularity of Stephanie Bond means that those readers are likely to go out and kill someone.

    • Valid. There are some truly despicable characters that I’ve really enjoyed reading about. I love books that delve into the darker parts of the human soul. I enjoy complex and troubled relationships… in books. I’m also much more tolerant of dysfunctional relationships in books that are not primarily romance. I thought the relationship between Jack and Marla in Fight Club was fascinating. What I’m bothered by is this surge in relationships in romance novels that are imbalanced and unhealthy and never really improve. I feel like writers are saying, “Screw character development, let’s get the characters naked. Sex solves everything!”

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