Monday, 4 November 2013

Dominance, Alpha Males and Sex in Fiction


I'm taking a deep breath and delving into a topic that has been bothering me for some time. It might be rambly, but stick with me, because I genuinely want to know how you all feel about this.

Since Fifty Shades of Grey, erotica and dark NA fiction has been on the rise. I know these things always existed, but they weren't so much in the mainstream.

Recently I've read/edited a bunch of books in the darker area of NA. I'm not a big erotica fan. I don't seek it out, but I also don't have a problem with it. But here's the thing... it seems to me that scary alpha males with borderline abusive tendencies are becoming more common - not just in NA, but in YA, too.

I don't want to delve too deeply into what women want from a man - what y'all do in your own bedrooms is your own business! ;) BUT, with the amount of people lapping up these books about men who attack when another guy so much as glances at his woman; who bark out orders; who utter the exceptionally overused phrase, "Tell me who you belong to/Tell me you're mine" - I gotta ask, what's the deal? Do women really want to be treated this way, or is it just that people are using books the way they are supposed to be used - as an escape?

I hear you saying, "If you don't like it, don't read it!" And I agree. But another thing I've seen a lot of lately is books which don't have any sign or indication of possessiveness, then suddenly, bang, the couple are going at it and the man is uttering those words I hate. Is there no way to write a hot sex scene WITHOUT dominance?

Before any erotica fans jump down my throat, I want to be clear. I don't have an issue with it.I'm not disparaging those who write or read it, I'm just trying to understand the scary alpha trend. I have actually read two books recently that have handled dominance without it being tacky and cringeworthy: Tears of Tess by Pepper Winters, and The Broken by Ker Dukey.

I've written an alpha male in Game On. Radleigh McCoy. He's very much the "wanting to be in control" type, but I didn't feel I needed to have him making Leah feel like she was inferior for that to be true. If he'd been all, "You belong to me," she'd have punched him in the face.

I get that for the majority of people, it probably is just an escape. But I really do have to wonder about young people who read these books as exploration. In my day, girls reached for Forever by Judy Blume - not books filled with bondage, spanking and mind games. Are they going to think this is the norm? IS this the norm, and I've just... missed something?! :p Books in this area often have weak female leads - ones who are scared of the guy, and rationalise staying with either, "It's okay because he's good in bed," or, "He only does it because he loves me." It's one thing to create characters who like it rough, but quite another to have a man pushing a woman to do things that terrify her because she's afraid the guy will leave her.

These aren't new thoughts. Not to me, or to anyone, because these questions are brought up over and over again. But since some books I read recently triggered this random mess of thoughts, I thought I'd share it.







37 comments:

  1. I wholly agree with your points here! Like you, I'm not a reader of Erotica, but there are no issues with folk who love it. I read Fifty Shades (but hated it for a whole other reason haha) and I get why it was so popular.

    But you are right: sometimes these stories glorify abuse. That's all it is. S&M and BDSM is not abusive, it's controlled and consensual and both parties enjoy it. What some of these erotica novels are doing is employing abuse instead.

    Using Fifty Shades as an example, Christian was possessive, jealous, violent, moody and wasn't remotely nice to her. He objectified his girlfriend and was never really apologetic, using his past as an excuse to behave like a moron.

    Just a personal opinion, but I must be one of the few women who didn't find Christian Grey's bossy, jealous, moody attitude attractive. I wouldn't last five minutes with a guy who wanted a simpering whelp of a girlfriend who did as she was told in and out of the bedroom!

    http://www.thegeekmemoirs.com/

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    1. I think there might be more people than we think who found Christian Grey awful lol, he scared the hell out of me!

      I agree completely. It's one thing to enjoy BDSM, but many of these books don't get it. They just seem to go straight for abuse and it's really hard for me to understand why they're so popular. :S

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    2. I think the problem is, many writers of BDSM fiction don't actually partake in BDSM sexual activity, so they only know what they've previously read.

      I have a friend who does BDSM. She's a 'dom', and her and her girlfriend are the sappiest pair of love-puppies out of the bedroom. Lord knows what goes on inside there, but my point is, many people assume that BDSM means a lack of cuteness, a lack of emotion. Not true! :)

      Rant over hahaha ;) good article!

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    3. Again, agreed! I think most ideas of BDSM comes from Fifty Shades, and I don't know for sure that it's totally accurate. I can't see how it would ever be about being emotionless - I mean - it requires a high level of trust, and that can't come with a person who is completely cold.

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  2. I really don't have much to add, I think you and Alex have covered this wonderfully.

    There's a fine line between mutually agreed control, and non-consensual abuse, and some current books seem to be favouring that.

    The only explanation I can give is that, as Alex said, the people writing these books aren't familiar with real BDSM , and are using inaccurate, fictional examples as their template, thus giving it a false perception.

    And like you said, this is unhealthy for younger girls and women reading these books, because they don't realize that relationships shouldn't be like that. In a way, it's like how men thing all women have massive breasts because of watching porn.

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    1. That's my biggest concern, and I hate that it sounds so preachy, but I really dislike girls thinking that in order for sex to be amazing, you must do as your man tells you. I don't think it's accurate in any way - and will no doubt lead to disappointment at some point!

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  3. I'd completely have the same reaction as Leah! But if grown-up women want to feel useless and unworthy, go for it - it's just not for me.

    I think the problem comes when these books are aimed at younger girls, who then think this is the right way for a relationship to be conducted. That's kinda worrying - girls who think they have to be dominated to by worthy of attention? A hundred years ago women were fighting/dying for the vote - perhaps it's time to start Suffragette-lit?

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    1. Agreed. LOL Suffragette-lit - that is genius!

      I guess all we can do as writers is fight back with strong female characters...

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  4. For adults it can be an escape. I really don't like seeing the alpha male in YA books, though, because teens don't know enough about the world and relationships to know that a REAL guy like this is bad news.

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  5. Interesting points Kyra. It surprises me you're seeing this type of alpha male written in YA books. That's not my genre so I don't read a lot of it. It does feel unhealthy because the whole idea behind the concept of consensual nonconsent is the idea that the woman has enough experience to understand exactly what she's consenting to. If it's a YA book with a YA heroine, it's completely unrealistic to think the female character would have had enough time and experience to be able to make an informed consent to that type of relationship.

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  6. I hated '50 Shades' for an entirely different reason. I actually liked Christian's character (until she made him a pussy). I didn't like hers. He told her upfront what he wanted, what he expected, and she agreed to be his, but then 'screw you' when she was to face the consequences. Bad submissive!! She really did need spanked, and that's what infuriated me.

    I hesitate to say this, but I'm going to. I'm submissive to my fiance. We live a pretty vanilla life on the outside, but the dynamic is there nonetheless. For BDSM lifestylers, it's not just a bedroom game. To call BDSM a bedroom game is pretty insulting, actually, because for most of us, it's not. He is in control; he owns me. I definitely belong to him. And yes, I find it deliciously hot when he reminds me of it :)

    As for the pseudo-BDSM in books, I agree with one comment that the author has never experienced BDSM before, so they're going on what they've read as example. But well-written dominant characters can be so hot, even if exaggerated. But you aren't talking about well-written doms, so I digress. I think trash novels depict BDSM irresponsibly. If there's no background and it's only BDSM in the bedroom, then I can understand why it comes across as abuse. Real BDSM is not abuse - it's consensual.

    I know I've rambled and I'm not even sure I've made sense. Bottom line: real BDSM is awesome, abuse is bad, novels that include BDSM can be awesome but only if well-written. I do admit, I love me some trashy, take-charge sex scenes in novels, but I know it doesn't compare to the real thing... It's much hotter when my fiance/Dom grabs me by the throat and growls in my ear.

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    1. Kudos to you for being so open!

      I think you pretty much summed up something I should have added - which is that BDSM is not the same as abuse. I wasn't trying to say it is, just that it is often portrayed so badly and usually on women who are meek and mope around after a guy who only pays her attention when she's tied up on his bed.

      It IS hot when it's done right - I can't argue with that! But most times, it's done in a way that sets of alarm bells.

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    2. It's a tricky subject, and I know why you worried over it before posting. On one hand, just the mere mention of BDSM (and maybe because of the way it's portrayed in novels) is offensive. On the other hand, you have the people who honestly know what BDSM is who think the trashy novels are offensive in the "Hollywood" portrayal of their lifestyle. It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't subject.

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  8. I don't understand the trend either. I would never treat a woman like that and don't understand why anyone would want that in a relationship.

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    1. I can understand if it's completely consensual, but many times in fiction it's sort of a grey area and appears very much on the lines of "dangerous". :S

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  9. I haven't read 50 Shades of Grey, but I'm curious to see what all the fuss is about. I heard somewhere that some women are into it because it's a fantasy: the fantasy of surrendering control. They're in control in their daily lives, and it can be tiring to have to be in control all the time. So maybe they think that an alpha male sweeping them off their feet is a relief, somehow. Now, I'm not speaking about MYSELF, seeing as how I'm very conservative and don't even like to wear V-necks because I think they're too revealing.

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    1. You can be conservative and submissive at the same time. I'm not trying to push anyone to be like me, but I don't like to wear V-necks either. ;)

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    2. I'm all for escapism and fantasy, that's all cool with me! But, it's the underlying hints of abuse that make me uncomfortable. :(

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  10. To each his own, but if I had a daughter, these books would be banned. It's hard enough for a young girl to understand when love becomes obsession and obsession becomes dangerous abuse. If an adult participates in that sort of relationship, that's their business. But for young girls to start considering this sort of dominance as "normal" leaves them wide open abuse.
    I always considered Craig in my "Healing Summer" an alpha, but to me what makes the relationship he has with Mollie sexy is that she, like Leah, wouldn't tolerate any level of abuse.

    And I don't read those sort of books with the whole "I own you" slant because quite frankly no one "owns" me. I'm married to a strong, masculine sort of man but he knows damned good and well if he ever treated me like those men treat some of those women in these books, it'd be divorce court.

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  11. I occasionally read some BDSM. I'm not thrilled with certain aspects of these books, such as inflicting pain (not my thing in or out of fiction); but one thing that might be a draw is the hero's complete focus on the heroine. Often these men put off their own sexual pleasure and focus on the hers. And they're very skilled and very in tune with their woman's responses. I doubt that's real life for very many women.

    I also think the the better-written books, though they may blur the lines occasionally, show consensual acts. If she has a safe word that he's willing to abide by, is it really abuse? Isn't that what BDSM is all about? A safe way to let your lover push your limits.

    As far as wanting a controlling Dom of a man, that depends on whether or not you're a sub. If you're running to divorce court, chances are, you're not. ;)

    Great post.

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    1. I think that's a really good point about the man focusing on the woman - I'd say that would be a very good pull!

      Books that focus on BDSM are fine, but I'm talking about books where there is no mention of BDSM, it's just men being cruel and the woman thinks it's okay. :)

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  12. I agree that the problem is when this crosses into YA. (Personally, I think it's creepy at any age, but that's me.) ;)
    Adult women, in healthy relationships, understand where fantasy veers from reality. But young girls are seeing this as acceptable behavior in men, and in real life it isn't. Someone controlling isn't doing it because 'they love you so much.' It's about control and it's not romantic. It can be very dangerous.
    I love that you mentioned Forever by Judy Blume. To me that is still the closest thing I've read to a realistic portrayal of teens in love having sex. Most teens don't stay together forever, but she did love him and she doesn't regret being with him (and he loved her and was good to her.) The breaking up hurts, but life goes on.

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    1. Can you imagine giving modern teens a copy of Forever? I'm sure they would think it was terrible and cheesy lol! But dammit, I wish there were more books like it!

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  13. I would feel sorry for any man who thought I belonged to him. I'm quite the liability. :P

    Seriously, though, I agree. Another thing that annoys me is when these angry alphas are that way for no reason--or worse, we're given some kind of generic cop out! Ugh...

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  14. Great post, Kyra! It's funny, I was JUST telling a friend about this trend in literature of the "mean male" and how I didn't understand it. I'm probably the last person on Earth who hasn't read FSoG, but it's because of the exact scenario you describe here. I don't mind the sex, but I do like the H&h to care for each other, to be kind/considerate of each other. To me this trend is disturbing as much for what it says about us now as for the message it's sending to our children. <3

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    1. I agree! That's part of what I don't understand - do all women secretly want a mean guy who will act cold all the time, most especially in the bedroom? I don't get it!

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  15. I definitely have read some books that border on abuse, or even cross the line in a way that tries to make it seem hotter because that abusive line was crossed. I don't like that.

    I can't comment on 50 Shades because I couldn't bring myself to read past a certain point. It's just not my kind of book. I've read erotica I've liked, though I don't read it often, but I prefer scenarios where both partners have their dominant moments. For me personally, dominance is fine as long as it's consensual and partners take turns in the dominant role. That's just what I like.

    I won't tell an author what to write, and adults have every right to have their escape in whatever way works for them. As for seeing it in YA though, I hope young girls have enough exposure to healthy relationships to know what's acceptable and what isn't, but odds are, plenty of them won't have that.

    Great post!

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    1. Thanks!

      I think balanced dominance is maybe what's missing from some of these books.

      It's the crossing of the lines that concerns me the most. There is a massive difference between agreed dominance and the guy just being an asshole.

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  16. I just saw you mention this on Facebook and remembered you were going to post it - so here I am, having just read it! :) I completely agree with you on that "I don't get it" thing. I guess I find confidence in guys attractive, and a certain amount of cockiness is pretty entertaining as well, but abusiveness is not sexy. And I don't mean the sort of BDSM where it's consensual and both partners are fully into it and educated about how it works, etc.. (not that I'm into that either, but I have nothing against other people being into it).

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    1. This. That is exactly how I feel. :D

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  17. I don't get it either, except to say that perhaps the women who read that kind of fiction are escaping into a fantasy where their male is strong and in control. It's good to let go on occasion and I guess because it's fiction, it's safe. But yeah, I still don't get it ;)

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    1. Fantasy is not a bad thing at all! :D But those lines of dominance and outright cruelty get crossed a little too much sometimes. :(

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