Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"The Sensitive Ones Always Get Eaten ..."


The subject today is BETA Heroes and I confess to some bias on this topic. Whenever I hear about betas, that quote from the first ICE AGE movie always pops into my mind! The second visual is from BEDAZZLED. It's Brendan Fraser (whom I normally enjoy to pieces) wearing a disastrous red wig, crying like a little girl over the beauty of a sunset. This is my idea of a beta hero--so sensitive he's no longer a man.

However, I know there are plenty of women out there who disagree with me. They like a man who's in touch with his feminine side, who's not afraid to show his emotions or admit to a vulnerability. They want a guy who's secure enough in his masculinity to be a "Mr. Mom," to defer to his partner in all things.

Ok, I'll confess that I myself am a terrible beta. If my guy was one too, we'd just be such a pair of jellyfish. Perhaps balance is the key.

Does anyone remember the TV series COACH? I remember one episode when Coach's daughter's slightly effeminate boyfriend was explaining his theory of gender. We all have masculine and feminine traits, he said. Women are just 51% feminine/49% masculine. Men, he claimed, are 51% masculine.

At this point, Coach hitched the waistline of his trousers and said, "I'm a high 90's kind of guy myself."

I wanted to cheer! I love for men to be men. And insisting men emphasize feminine traits makes them less somehow. Give me an alpha everytime!

You however are free to disagree (in fact, I hope some of you will!) Have I misunderstood the Beta Hero? If you love them, please share why.

22 comments:

Heather D said...

Good morning Emily,

I am all about the Alpha!! I am way to wishy washy half the time to be the Alpha in the family and am thankful at times that my husband is a great Alpha. He takes control and that is fine by me. However there are times when the little alpha in me wants to come out and we butt heads. I blame this on my mother, by the way, who is a definite Alpha personality.

EmilyBryan said...

My DH, who is a devoted reader of my blog, informed me I'm not as much of a beta as I claim to be. I've apparently got "control issues!" He says it takes strength to balance strength. Men and women just have different strengths.

Smart man. Glad I married him.

Ashlyn Chase said...

I'm all about a beta hero. I don't see them as so sensitive they cry over a sunset. That's a waaaay too feminine. We're still talking about men, here!

To me, a pure Alpha can a selfish a**hole if not written right. If he has a reason to be that way--if he's in charge of lives and taking the time to be democratic will put those lives in jeopardy--go ahead, make him a dictator...but only when and where he has to be.

I like a hero who is laid back, listens, has a good sense of humor, and is able to compromise when necessary. Ah! I just described my husband. LOL.

You may be right that our experiences guide us. I was married to two totally selfish a**holes and see how well that worked out?

I like to know my heroines will live happily ever after, not bald from tearing their hair out.

Ash

Penelope said...

Hi Emily! I'm in Pittsburgh visiting my parents this week! I must admit I like alpha better than beta in my romance novels. Beta-men are OK as long as they turn alpha when it really counts...no wimpy, wishy-washy guys! But I do love Amanda Quick's beta heroes...they're super smart, wear glasses, and very intense. Sometimes they even have paranormal abilities. There is something very sexy about a brilliant man!

Genella deGrey said...

I like a beta who knows when to go alpha - *IF* you know what I mean.

That's what I call balance of talents.
;)
G.

Michelle Picard said...

I like to think of beta's in my romances as those quiet, mysterious types. Strong, but not yelling their opinions. The image is sexy to me. It doesn't cut out the possibility that they'll do the intelligent, dangerous or heroic thing when it counts. Hidden waters run deep and all that.

EmilyBryan said...

Ashlyn--I knew this topic would get a rise out of you! Admittedly, my description of a beta hero isn't entirely accurate. There is something to be said for the easy-going sort. But not all alpha's are sphincters either. Strong and decisive doesn't need to be synonymous with tyrannical.

Penny--Hope you're having a great visit with your fam! I would argue that intelligence is an alpha characteristic. (God save me from knuckle-draggers!) A guy doesn't have to have 20/20 vision to be able to see the problem and affect a solution. And intensity--definitely alpha.

To me a beta man is deferential (which can be very nice, but if problems arise, who gets the blame?) rather than decisive (which can be very comforting). And I'm all for peace, but a man needs to take a stand sometimes.

EmilyBryan said...

Genella--And I like alphas who are confronted by their weakness at some point in the story. You're right. Balance is key.

Michelle--Ever see John Wayne's THE QUIET MAN? He was definitely an alpha. Eloisa James is working on a quiet alpha right now. He's got a heart condition. He faints on the floor of the House of Lords from time to time. But he also fights alongside Wilberforce to end slavery. Moral certitude and strength of conviction are also alpha to me.

bookreviewsbybobbie said...

Hello Emily,

Well, I really love the Alpha heroes; their strength and their indomitable will is a BIG turn on, but I hate rude Alphas. It is possible (I think) to have an Alpha hero who has a tender side (sure, it usually embarrasses the hell out of him but its great!). I am an Alpha and so is DH; he has to tone his down a little (or should I say that he is more patient then I) or the two of us would be butting heads ALL of the time. That being said, we do have our Beta moments that seem to bind us together more tightly; it’s like a little bit of Beta glue to keep the two Alpha personalities together.

I guess I like an Alpha hero with a pinch of Beta thrown in.

A pure Beta male character is NOT attractive!

Great post, Emily! :)

EmilyBryan said...

I agree, Bobbie. In order to be a compelling character, a Beta guy has to have an alpha moment--something he feels strongly enough about to lay everything on the line.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Emily,

I'm a little late stopping by, but I love Beta heroes, though I don't like them too feminine. My heroes are more Beta than Alpha in my opinion. I could be wrong. But I like them more the still water runs deep kind of guys. When things get tough you find out how strong they are. Like Michelle said, when it really matters, they'll sacrifice whatever they have to. They also kiss like Alphas.

EmilyBryan said...

Hi Kathy! It's never too late to share your thoughts! Thanks for dropping by.

I think we may be at cross purposes semantically. I always though of the strong, silent type as the quintessential alpha--the guy so sure of himself he doesn't need to be a bully.

The stomping, loud show-off's aren't alphas in my opinion. They're trying too hard. Methinks they are overcompensating.

Anonymous said...

First of all, I'm a male romance reader and I'm very pro Beta, and I consider myself a Beta.

Speaking honestly, though, some of the so-called Beta heroes in today's romance novels may come across as "wimpy." To me, though, that's the problem with the writers, not the subject. I sincerely believe that it's up to the writer to to make a character exciting or virile, and too often nowadays they just don't seem to know how when it comes to Betas.

I'd like to point out a certain romance book written many, many years ago that didn't have this problem. In fact, in the book I'm referring to, it wasn't the "sensitive one" who got "eaten"--it was the other guy.

The book was "Rehearsal For Love" by Faith Baldwin, first published in 1939. (Faith Baldwin was at the time the super-seller in the romance market.) Now, the plot involves a young woman, Kathleen, who's torn between two men--Paul, a "sensitive" playwright, and Pat, a "self-made, dynamic contractor." This book was written long before the Alpha Man-Beta Man stuff came along, so they're not called such in the novel, but in modern terms Paul would be the Beta, Pat the Alpha.

Eventually Kathleen chooses Pat and they plan to get married, but then Kathleen learns that Pat uses shoddy material in his construction business. A subway he built collapses and many people are killed.

She calls off the wedding, but Pat keeps harassing her. She turns to Paul for help and consolation. And while their relationship grows stronger, she still can't get past Paul's supposed wimpiness.

In the climax, by coincidence all three in this triangle wind up in the same hotel, when a massive flood strikes. As the hotel comes crashing down around them, Pat panics and gets himself killed, while supposedly wimpy Paul acts the hero and leads people to safety. He even tries to save Paul, though he can't reach him in time. After this display of manliness he finally earns Kathleen's love.

Admittedly, this story is bit more "over the top" than a modern romance book would be (though admittedly I've come across my share of recent Alpha romances that are just as wild) it does demonstrate that a Beta story can be every bit as exciting as an Alpha. I think one problem is that Beta authors shy away from presenting their heroes in dangerous situations where they'd really be tested, the way poor skinny Paul is. At one point in the book he even says "I'm no athlete" and yet when danger strikes he's every bit as manly as the next guy. And in fact, in the climax, he shows his difference from mean old Pat, in his attempt to save his own worst enemy. If there were more books with this kind of plot, you might see a lot more popular Betas than you do now.

Just my opinin. Hope you enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

Typo correction: In paragraph seven of my above post I wrote "He even tries to save Paul" when I meant that "Paul even tries to save Pat."

EmilyBryan said...

Hey Anonymous, Thanks for leaving such an interesting comment.

IMO, if it acts like an alpha, it's an alpha. Notice you said "supposedly wimpy" about Paul. He's an alpha in beta disguise. Strength doesn't have to mean bulging muscles. It can be strength of character, of faith and be just as alpha as the hairiest knuckle dragger you ever saw.


Pat on the other hand, was hiding his lack of character with bluster and big talk--not my definition of an alpha at all!

Anonymous said...

Emily, you seem to be a nice lady and I don't want to sound disrespectful, but I disagree with your assessment of Betas. IMO, Betas are as different from Alphas as the sea is from land.

My contention is that a true Beta is someone who is not the football star or the handsome sheik or the musclebound movie actor. He's the little guy out there who never gets the prom queen, and even if he did he wouldn't jump in bed with her on the first date. He lives by respect and self control--which means it takes him a lot longer to find a girl than it would the hot blooded alpha. He's a man of morals who would never disrespect a lady, but ironically, for that very reason, he seldom gets respect in return from most women.

However, he's also a man who has faith that sooner or later he'll find the right woman and by George he always does. Usually the girl is a refugee from a jerk who didn't treat her right.

But most important of all, the Beta man is someone who rises above his own deficiencies. It might be a true physical handicap, like a birth defect. Or it could be the struggle to make good, and rise above his lack of good looks or social skills. And like Paul in the example I gave yesterday, he may even find it within himself the ability to be the hero when the need arises, or his woman is in danger.

The Beta man is neither the most handsome nor the most muscle bound of his peers. He's the nerd who's picked on in school who goes on to become the millionaire. Or he's the writer who pens best selling novels. But he's still every inch a true man.

Incidentally, in case you're wondering, I consider myself among those "nerds" who made good. I'm not a millionaire, but I'm retired military, a former ship's cook. (Whose ship, in fact, struck a rock and came close to sinking.) I've been happily married for 26 years--and I did win her over from an Alpha. With my lovely wife, I've successfully raised 3 children, all grown and out there pursuing their own careers.

Please don't take offense at anything I've said here; I just wanted to show that IMO the sensitive ones are not the ones who get eaten--they're the ones who know how to survive. The butterfly may not be a tiger, but it has its own set of strengths.

EmilyBryan said...

This is really interesting, Anonymous. Lots of the characteristics you ascribe to betas, I would class as alpha.

For example, faith. Someone who knows what they believe and can't be turned or tempted away from it is an alpha in my book. A beta, who by definition is weaker, more apt to rely on consensus of the group, is more likely to succumb.

Morals also is an alpha trait because it takes strength of character. Part of the appeal of Edward, the hero in the wildly popular Twilight series, is his insistence on protecting not only the purity of the girl he loves, but his own as well.

Alphas aren't always the handsomest, biggest or physically strongest. Eloisa James is writing a hero with a serious heart condition, which by definition, limits what he can do physically. But he speaks against slavery alongside Wilberforce when it was not a popular position. That's an alpha.

On the "sensitive" issue, I think the main difference between an alpha and a beta is the focus of their sensitivity. A beta is focused on his own feelings and frets over what others think about him. An alpha's concern is for others. He may not verbalize it, but his actions shout it out. IMO, one of the most masculine traits is caring for and protecting those who are weaker.

I hope you won't be offended by these observations. It takes an alpha to romance the same woman for 26 years. Your military service is an alpha choice. Raising children to productive adulthood is not for the faint of heart.

Who convinced you you were a beta?

Anonymous said...

Hooooo boy, Emily, I hate to say this but you're probably not going to like my answer. Please understand I'm only being honest, not insulting. But you asked a question, and I'm going to answer it as truthfully as I can. I didn't take offense to anything you've said up to now, so I hope you won't be offended by what I have to say. As you may have noticed, I'm a good debater.

First off, I and I alone decided long ago that I'm a Beta, am proud of it and don't intend to change my "moniker." (LOL) Fact is, to be brutally honest, I think you are a Beta. Every word you've said on this blog and every example you've given, proves this. Not a single example you've given, on any of your posts in this thread, has anything to do with Alpha or "Alphaism." (Chuckle) They are all BETA examples, not Alpha. They're certainly not any Alphas that I have ever read. Maybe you THINK they are, but they are not, believe me.

For example: "I always though of the strong, silent type as the quintessential alpha--the guy so sure of himself he doesn't need to be a bully." That's no Alpha I've ever read--that's a Beta. I've been reading romances since the sixties, and believe you me, I have never seen an Alpha like that. Strong and silent? Heck, most Alphas I've read can't stop talking--they love to give orders.

"Eloisa James is working on a quiet alpha right now. He's got a heart condition. He faints on the floor of the House of Lords from time to time. But he also fights alongside Wilberforce to end slavery. Moral certitude and strength of conviction are also alpha to me." No, that's a Beta trait, sorry.

How many times have you seen Alphas in books who are treacherous, cheat on their girls, and even rape or beat them? Since the seventies I have read such things many a time, and I'll name some: "Captive Bride" by Johanna Lindsey. "Sweet Savage Love" by Rosemary Rogers. "The Wolf and the Dove" by Kathleen Woodiwiss, and don't even get me started on the late Charlotte Lamb, whose Alphas weren't above slapping their girls around just before they had sex.

True, the above books are bygone relics from the seventies and eighties--but they were the foundation for the romance industry as we know it today. And these "heroes" were one and all considered Alphas.

Emily, in the early nineties I was a member of the Romance writers of America. And all the writers I knew personally at the time considered such "heroes" as Alphas. I know an "argument from authority" isn't the greatest, but facts are facts, and that was what they were called. Before I left the club Beta men were just coming into being. (Considering how badly most Beta books are written, I'm surprised they've lasted this long.)

If for no other reason, than I don't want to be associated with the "bodice rippers" of old, I will never now or ever, ever call myself an Alpha. I'm Beta and proud. If the "Alphas" of today's books have been tamed, then they are Betas in disguise.

I'm going to continue this in another post; I'll be right back

Anonymous said...

Now I have to say regards this: "For example, faith. Someone who knows what they believe and can't be turned or tempted away from it is an alpha in my book. A beta, who by definition is weaker, more apt to rely on consensus of the group, is more likely to succumb."

Once again this is a Beta, not an Alpha trait. Alphas as a whole (at least in the books I've read) only have faith in their monstrous egos. I remember one book by Sandra Brown, and I can't remember the name offhand, the hero had sex with the heroine (who was a Bible student) while pretending to be either his twin brother or someone else. That hardly shows strength of character.

And about this consensus of the group business, that's confusing teamwork with weakness. From my own experience in the real life service, you can't get anything done through "rugged individualism"--you HAVE to have teamwork or you are in big, big trouble. There were many deaths in the Navy during the seventies because we had so many "individualists" who put their own feelings above others. It takes real courage to work together as a team, for you have to learn to get along with others you may not like. This is a sign of strength, not a weakness. (The Fighting Seabees, a John Wayne film from the 1940s, gives an excellent portrayal of how this works.)

So I classify the Beta Man as a "team player." You want to know where all the Alpha men wound up on the ship? Peeling spuds and washing dishes--I know, because I had to boss around these "rugged individualists" when I was a ship's cook. If they couldn't get along with anyone else, the galley was the best place for them. (And I always saw the same guys over and over again.) No, joining the service is a Beta decision. Heck, back in the old days it was Alpha types who tried to stay out of the service!

For that matter, I would argue from experience that Betas do not fret, though they may cry over something without being ashamed of it if they really have deep emotions over something, such as a baby's birth or something like that. But even in books they don't fret or cry stupidly at least not the ones I've read.

I'm going to recommend a couple of beta books you might enjoy. Most Beta books are usually bad, but here's a couple of ones I like that might give you a better perspective: "A Liberated Man" (1990) by Diana Whitney (Silhouette) and "High Heaven" by Quinn Wilder (Harlequin, 1989)

Emily, I'm a Beta and I'm never, ever going to call myself something I'm not. By the same token, you have the right to call yourself Alpha, and I respect that. But I do sincerely believe you are getting the two mixed up. I may be wrong, but I'm also honest. (Another Beta trait.)

Once again, please don't take offense to my opinions: I was doing my best to try to be honest without being hurtful.

You know, the funny thing is I was studying this site and some others to do some research for a book I am almost finished writing. Part of the story deals with identity, and how people perceive each other, and the way they see themselves. I simply wanted to see how people view Beta types, and lo and behold I get into a three day debate! But thanks for allowing me to put some points across.

EmilyBryan said...

I'm not at all offended. I really need to get my critique partner into this discussion because she's all about the Beta.

But I think we're talking past each other, Anonymous. Looks like we each have different definitions of what constitutes an alpha or a beta personality.

I freely admit that I'm a beta, a total wuss. That's why I married an alpha and have an alpha agent to fight the fights I can't.

Nobody would defend those 80s style heroes with the rape and violence. Those are NOT what I think of when I talk about an alpha male.

I know the type you're trying to convince me is alpha--the swaggering, braggart type. If he was really all that, he wouldn't have to keep telling everybody. We'd see it for ourselves. When things turn badly, their inner beta breaks out with a whimper.

The thing is, I think we all possess alpha and beta traits. Which we choose to express determines who we are at any given moment.

If you're thinking in terms of characters, you'll notice that every Beta hero has at least one Alpha moment (witness:your Paul/Pat example)

Alpha is as alpha does. Physical appearance doesn't matter. Eloisa James assures me her hero with the heart problem is an alpha. Inner strength is greater and more lasting than outer strength.

Anonymous said...

Emily, I'm going to have to bow out of this discussion because quite honestly it's consuming a great deal of my spare time. It's been fun, but it's causing me to get behind on my research and other projects. I enjoyed our debate, and I think we both got something out of it. I'd just like to leave you with this thought:

Now that you've revealed that you're really a Beta, please do not ever, ever call yourself a wuss, and especially do not label yourself a "total wuss." Rubbish. If you could go toe-toe-toe with the likes of me, you're no wuss. If I've said it once, I'll say it a thousand times:
A BETA IS NOT A WUSS!

You belong to a grand tradition in which I would include some of my childhood heroes, like Roy Rogers, Jimmy Stewart, Gene Autry, or fictional characters like Charlie Chan, or even Spiderman--Betas one and all.

These are the heroes that don't make a big deal out of themselves, but when the chips are down, they come to the rescue. They're the little guys with perfect manners that hide an invincible strength behind their modest demeanor. They are the tall, the strong, and the proud--they just don't act that way until they're pushed. But when their buttons are pushed, they leap into action.

So hold your head up high, keep your chin up and be proud of yourself.

Adios, amigo! (Or is it Amiga for girls? My Spanish is a bit rusty.) In any case, your husband must be proud of you, so always be proud of what you are, fellow Beta.

EmilyBryan said...

Thanks again for dropping by, Anonymous. Enjoyed your comments.

Still love my alpha heroes.