Please welcome writer and new Reads & Reels contributor, Natasha Lane!
I know there are loads of you who still love their “bodice ripping” romance and that’s great, but there are many of us who hate that stuff and even shy away from modern romance. If you’re anything like me, the very idea of “needing to be saved” by a man, is cringe-inducing. I far prefer characters saving each other or better yet, the heroine doing the saving.
So, when Natasha pitched her idea to me, I was all over it. And when I read it, I knew I had to have this awesome lady visit Reads & Reels on a regular basis. Not only is she a kick-ass writer, she’s a girl after my own heart!
Alpha Males & Damsels in Distress
A few weeks ago, I was reading a contemporary romance novel, when I had to close the book, put it down, and roll my eyes. Yes, I actually did this.
At this point, I was less than ten percent into the book when I read two sentences that caused the previously mentioned eye-rolling. Now, I’m not going to name the book (I’m classy like that, ya know?) and I’m not going to quote it directly in case the lines ring any bells. Essentially, the author wrote this in her two lines:
Women can say whatever they want. But we all want a man to be our knight in shining armor–our savior.
Yup and this sentiment was repeated several more times during the book. I wish I was kidding but I’m not.
What made this ordeal worse was the story itself was pretty good. I enjoyed the characters’ backgrounds, the main characters’ romance, and there was even some mystery for me to puzzle. Yes, the male lead was your typical alpha male (tall, muscles upon muscles, rich, almost without fault except his broken heart…) but the heroine wasn’t your usual damsel in distress (DID). Besides her “savior” comments, she took initiative and tried to handle things herself.
Still, reading this novel brought a question to mind.
Is the alpha male and damsel trope even necessary in modern writing?
I mean, think about it. A lot has changed since the feminist movement began. Women can vote, we’re active in the work place, we participate in the military, we often challenge the male gaze, and, well, the list goes on.
On the flip side, masculinity has changed a lot, as well. Guys wear eyeliner, get manicures, have their eyebrows done!
Who would have thunk it?
And stay-at-home-dads? Yes, that is now a thing and I love it!
So, then, why are books like this still being written?
It’d be nice to think this trope is limited to older romances or older authors but it’s found in young adult novels, too.
Actually, I have a few examples below.
And nope, I’m not going to name them. #Respectful!
Exhibit A: A teenage girl used to living in poverty one day finds out her estranged father has passed and left her a fortune. However, in order to acquire the money she has to go through several loop holes including a nasty stepmother and new step brothers.
In this novel, there are five male leads all of who are amazingly handsome, über rich, extremely talented, and pretty much get anything or any woman they want. Basically, these guys are perfect, except personality wise. They’re all douches (but only because they have such a painful past and they can’t help it…) yet that doesn’t stop the heroine from falling in love with one of them. Even after he makes a rape joke about her…
But, hey, he’s hot, so, that’s all that matters.
The heroine isn’t exactly a damsel in distress. She’s not really waiting for anyone to save her.
She’s independent, has personal goals, and spunk.
It could be argued there’s some emotional reliance on her part and she does have to be rescued at the end which could qualify her as a damsel. For the sake of time, I won’t go into all that.
Exhibit B: A teenage girl moves across the country to stay with her father. Being the new girl, she draws a lot of attention, especially from the hottest guy in school who’s family is a mystery to the whole town–one she intends to solve.
In this story, the guy and his entire family are model attractive. They come from money and are well-travelled. He’s also “protective” to the point he follows the heroine home “just to keep an eye on her” and is willing to damage the heroine’s property in order to stop her from associating with those he sees as unsuitable.
Of course, none of this stops her from falling in love with him. Throughout the novel, she obsesses over how to make him her boyfriend and maintain their relationship.
Okay, we have our examples. Let’s return to our question.
Does the alpha male and damsel trope have a place in modern writing?
Based on popularity, sales, reviews and ratings I’d have to say a painful ‘yes.’ The numbers don’t lie, lovelies.
Exhibit A has almost a five-star rating on GoodReads! The fangirling from the review section is almost palpable.
Exhibit B still has a loyal following several years after publication.
To add more fuel to this trope fire, these are two examples of many.
On a personal level, I’d say ‘no.’ In this era of women’s equality and changing masculinity, I don’t think it makes sense to produce media where the heroes are primarily muscled rich guys or the heroine is never equal to the hero and where she allows herself to be acted upon vs. taking some agency.
Of course, this trope has changed since its beginnings. We don’t have straight damsels in distress anymore. We have damsels in defiance.
They’re spunky and stubborn with a ton of attitude but there’s really no bark to their bite. Essentially, this tells women “have attitude, be independent but only in personality, never in action.” It also gives the idea that men love women who have nothing to back up all that sass.
But, now that we have one question answered, I’ve got a few more.
Why is this trope still so popular?
Why are we so in love with a man saving a woman despite where her own physical/mental strength lies?
Why do we design our ideal men as flawless beings whose value is primarily based on their physique and financial standing?
Well, to be truthful, I doubt anyone has all the answers to these questions; so, I’ll leave you with this piece of advice.
Read what you like and, if you stop liking it, put it down. That’s the power of a reader.
Natasha’s a friend of most things caffeinated, a lover of books (particularly fantasy), and a writer to her core. Her first fantasy novel “The Pariah Child & the Ever-Giving Stone” is set to come out this spring. You can keep up with her on the social media links below.
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