The Dominant Male, Yay or Nay?
My body says, “Yay!” My brain says, “Nay!”
I hope everyone is holding up through these crazy times!
First, a quick update on a Woman’s World, my 4th novel. My editor should have it back to me any day now for the 2nd and final round of cleanup. I made lots of corrections and some relatively minor changes to the first draft. I hope to have the final (ready to publish) version ready to download for signing up to my newsletter ASAP.
Gender Issues in Women’s Literature
Since I tend to tackle gender issues in my fictional stories, I wanted to discuss the strong attraction readers tend to have toward domineering male leads in fiction.
Many number one best sellers, from Stephenie Meyer’s, Twilight to Sarah Maas’s, A Court of Thorns and Roses, contain elements of dominant/submissive, male/female roles. These are just two examples out of the 1000’s of bestselling novels that fit this type of storyline.
Think of all the romance novels with the bare-chested man and the word “Alpha” in the title.
There is something extremely alluring about the strong male figure and the woman who is often a victim of sorts. They are over the top popular with many readers or at least a certain type of female reader — dare I say, the majority?
Here are some examples of current top sellers on Amazon…
Thankfully, the heroine in these stories often outgrows this type of harmful relationship. As the story progresses, she comes into her own — finding strength and power from within.
"I was not a pet, not a doll, not an animal.
I was a survivor, and I was strong.
I would not be weak, or helpless again.
I would not, could not be broken. Tamed."
— Sarah Maas, A Court of Mist and Fury
This marks the point where the main character is finally ready to let go of her abusive relationship. She’s coming into her own and acknowledging her inner power.
YOU GO GIRL!
What is it that is so mesmerizing about the strong male character and the inexperienced (a slightly nicer term than “naïve”) female character?
After all, who wants a wimpy guy? Most women want the strong man who can protect her.
Most women want the gorgeous man who can’t resist her, even though he tries so hard to do so. This inaccessible, out of her league, emotionally distant man becomes her obsession.
Deep down the man is also obsessed with her. This is wonderful and even spun off as romantic … at first. THEN…
He goes too far.
Think of plots like Fifty Shades of Grey and A Court of Thorns and Roses, etc.
There are possibly some scientific explanations. It’s hard to argue with the fact that women tend to be attracted to men who can provide for their offspring. Men who are wealthy and physically strong tend to be able to appeal to sexual partners more easily. This is basic Darwinian theory.
I didn’t follow these “rules” or what we call in the writing world, tropes. I reversed the roles in my first book, Of Lords and Commoners, on purpose. I wanted to tell the story of a woman who rejected the strong and wealthy suitor. The heroine, Vallachia, quickly becomes a vampire and she is much stronger than her love, Teller. She is the one who saves people.
Why Gender Issues are Important to Me?
Gender issues are a big inspiration for much of my writing. This most likely stems from my time living in Tennessee and in the Middle East. In 2000 and 2001, I was in the American Peace Corps. I was stationed in a small village in Jordan.
Most every young man I met asked for my hand in marriage. When I would get into a cab I would prepare myself for the exact same conversation …
The driver would size me up in the rearview mirror — concluding that I was foreign. “Where are you from?” He would ask.
“America.” Eventually I started lying, saying I was from Canada.
No matter which country I claimed to be from, the driver’s eyes would light up. “Will you marry me?”
“I’m engaged,” I lied.
Undeterred the driver would ask, “Will you sleep with me?”
“No.” Or in Arabic, “La.”
Then we could get on with a normal conversation about the weather and how it differed from America (because the weather is the same throughout all of America, right?).
I know, it was crazy! If only I had a dinar (a Jordanian dollar) for every time I had this exact conversation while in Jordan. I’ve never had that conversation with an American cab driver or any America man I’d just met.
Jordanian men didn’t ask me to marry them because I’m so stunningly gorgeous — in my baggy clothes, no makeup and often a scarf over my head. They simply wanted to marry any American so they could come to the States to get rich. Nothing about it was remotely flattering. The sex question came about because they are a sexually repressed country. Overall, American women are more liberal with their bodies than the average Jordanian woman.
Before you get offended, let me explain what happens if a woman becomes pregnant out of wedlock. Her family would disown her for disgracing them. She would give birth to her child in prison … alone.
This is a great improvement compared to 40 years ago when the unwed pregnant girl would be put in a pit and stoned to death (after being raped numerous times).
Keep in mind that birth control is illegal for unmarried women.
The Sheet Test
Girls also have to pass the Sheet Test. This is where the groom’s family examines the newlywed’s sheets the morning after they’re wed. And there had better be blood on them — evidence that the girl was a virgin. If the sheets turned up blood-free then the man and/or his family are highly likely to annul the marriage. No other man would be willing to marry her. Thus, condemning her to be a burden to her family for the rest of her life (that’s if they didn’t disown her).
So, Yes. Many Jordanian women are highly motivated to be with only one man forever. In general, American women don’t face these types of norms, especially the younger generations? The sexual freedoms that we have in the U.S. are unheard of in Jordan.
I grew close to the family that I lived with. When I wasn’t attempting to teach English to 2nd graders (I’m sure I learned more Arabic than they learned English), I spent my time with the daughters of the house. The family consisted of 11 children, 5 girls and 6 boys. This was considered a blessed family, as they had more boys than girls. The children ranged in ages from 28 to 5. But the most important to me were the 3 girls who still lived at home, Fatima, Khadijah and little Ayat.
These three lovely ladies are my motivation for writing a Woman’s World. Hence the reason why this book is dedicated to them.
In honor of challenging the allure of the dominant male, I based A Woman’s World on a Jordanian-type culture but reversed the roles. The ugliness of it becomes glaringly obvious when the shoe is on the other foot.
Fatima and Khadijah were betrothed to their 1st cousins. The majority of marriages in the village were arranged between cousins. Practicality being the main reason — a cheap bride, the good-ol’ family discount.
You see, dowries can be quite expensive for young men and their families. Plus families tend to have many son’s and most can’t afford dowries for all their boys. Understandably, men don’t want to work half their lives in order to save enough money for a wife. So the best thing is for their son’s to marry their cousins — for free.
One of the hardest things for me was watching these young ladies cry themselves to sleep. Being forced to marry a relative was the last thing they wanted. Depression runs high for women in these types of cultures. Women’s futures are laid out for them. They will become mothers and housewives, nothing more. They have no voice and are not allowed to choose who they marry, let alone a career.
So this is an example of a society ruled by dominant males. This is the price of letting men have absolute power over women.
Taking all this into account, why are women still taken with such men?
Many of us would say that we don’t want to be dominated in our daily lives, yet many of us are drawn to it in our fiction. I’m totally guilty of this.
I would venture to say that women tend to be attracted to dominant males because it was bred into us over the past 2,000 years. With the rise of Christianity, came the fall of strong female leaders. Prior to this, societies had female rulers and powerful religious leaders. A high priestess could out rank a priest. Think of ancient Egypt . But early Christian history is a topic for another newsletter.
For 2000 years strong outspoken women have been burned at the stake, quite literally. Which women survived in this new society? Soft spoken, docile women or the ones who learned to keep their mouths shut, AKA our ancestors.
Just as many women are attracted to dominant males, many men are attracted to quiet, shy girls. An outspoken woman who controls the conversation and curses like a sailor may be less attractive to the opposite sex. The girl who laughs at his jokes and lets him do the talking, is likely to be more appealing.
As always, there are exceptions (what statisticians call outliers). They are a minority, for example, a man who’s drawn to the loud woman at the party.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree?
Why do you think the “alpha male” themes are so popular in fiction?
Do you like that Of Lords and Commoners didn’t use the tropes of the industry? Why or why not?
As always I look forward to hearing from you.
Best wishes and stay safe!
Lynne Hill-Clark, Psy.D.