Friday, August 12, 2011

Personalities--alpha, beta, or gamma?

Bruce Willis, Tears of the Sun
As we all know, a SEAL team took out Osama bin Laden. I believe it was also a SEAL team that shot the Somali pirates, the ones who took the ship captain prisoner. SEALs seem to be the supermen of our day—no wonder they’re featured in so many romantic suspense novels. I wonder what sort of personalities they have in real life. In books they’re always alpha males, tough and hard but with a tender side the heroine uncovers.
Attila and his Hordes Overrun Italy and the Arts
(Detail) Eugène Delacroix
So I googled alpha males. Try it. You’ll be surprised at all the advice on how men can transform themselves from betas (another name for lily-livered losers) into alphas and get all the hot women they want. (Alphas never chase women; women swarm to them.) Most of the advice struck me as how to turn wimps into jerks. There seems to be some confusion between being dominant and being strong and between confidence and arrogance (one site advises “never apologize”). From some of the descriptions and advice, I think they’re creating sociopaths. I kept thinking of a twist on Mae West’s words: Too much of a good thing isn’t necessarily wonderful.
The websites ignored the sensitive, caring side, seeing it as a weakness that needs to be wiped from the psyche. But there’s hope. According to a few sites, there’s another type, very rare: the gamma male. Having some of that tender side is what makes gamma males. Gammas seem to combine the strength of alphas with a little of the sweetness and sensitivity attributed to betas.
I think these advisers and men who want to change could learn a lot from reading a few good romance novels. The heroes of books are leaders because they’re smart, strong, and exciting but still good men. They lead through respect, not fear. “Bold” and “bad” are not synonymous. I don’t think women would find them so exciting if they weren’t decent guys with a sense of honor and responsibility, men who care about others. Those characteristics are as much a part of their attraction as the strong stuff. If that makes them gamma men, then let’s have more gamma men.
Real heroes, male or female, should be strong enough and confident enough that they don’t have to prove themselves. They can respect another’s knowledge or ability and work as a team, using everyone’s skills to the advantage of the team. It can be a woman’s skills as well as a man’s. If she’s the better marksman, let her pull the trigger. If she speaks fluent Urdu, let her do the talking. If he can calm the frightened child, let him be the one to hold it. That’s true confidence—when a person is comfortable in his or her own skin. That’s how I think of SEALs, and that’s how I hope to see heroes in books.

 Some of the new super-tough, kick-ass heroines leave me cold too. Where are their redeeming qualities? There should be something to like, something to smile at.
What do you think about alpha personalities? What’s your definition? Do you have any good examples of alphas, betas, or gammas?


Vicki Lane said...

The concept of a gamma personality is a good one. I've had guys in my writing classes writing alpha type protags who IMHO came across as jerks. I think women writing heroic men tend to write gamma types just because that's closer to most women's ideal man.

Ellis Vidler said...

I think you're right, Vicki. The gamma guys are much more appealing. I might have an alpha villain though. I don't know. Even then I'd want to give him something more. Women can be alphas too, but they're no more attractive than the men.

Polly said...

Oh, I like a soft side to my heroes. They're the characters I want to read again. The hard-nose guy leaves me cold. I also like the villain, no matter how bad, to have some thread of sympathetic character. Why is he the way he is? What made him that way. Pure evil to me is just as uninteresting as the goody-two shoe. Gimme Gamma.

Anonymous said...

I like sensitive heros in books but total tough guys in movies. The above picture of Bruce Willis reminded me of that.

Donnell said...

Oh, Ellis, I love this. Great explanations as always! Wow, I'm writing Gamma males. :)

Avery Flynn said...

Love this. I will now refer to my guys as Gamma heroes, much closer than total Alpha. Great post.

Ellis Vidler said...

After reading all those websites on alphas, I'm definitely for gammas. In that picture, Bruce Willis plays the leader of a SEAL team sent to rescue some people in Africa (can't remember which country--maybe Somalia or Rwanda). It was a good movie.

jo robertson said...

Great blog topic, Ellis. Thanks, Donnell, for pointng us here.

I really like the sound of those gammas! I suspect most of our hero-husbands are gammas.

VR Barkowski said...

Interesting post, Ellis.The whole idea of "personalities" alpha, beta, even gamma, is an issue for me. Real people aren't types, they're individuals, and the only thing I require as a reader is truth on the page. I'm not sure that can be achieved with any kind of type. But then I don't watch action movies or read traditional romance, either, so I'm probably in the minority.

Leslie Randall said...

I have a "gamma" male and a strong "gamma" female as hero/heroine.

As a result, they are negotiating their romantic relationship rather than having a battle of wills.

The are working together to solve a case both as amateur sleuths. She is an artist and sees the world differently. He is more of the logical type who needs evidence. (smile) But they complement each other well.

Obviously, I'm fond of them.

Nancy Lauzon said...

Great post. I prefer gamma males also, since some of the alphas out there are too aggressive. They make better villains. And I loved that movie with Bruce Willis, I think it was called 'Tears of the Sun.'


Patricia Deuson said...

What a complex question! Men and women are certainly different, which seems at least part of the reason alpha females don't [always?] ring true. Unless they're secretly good to their mothers.
But a hero's got to do what a hero's got to do. He might be too busy saving the world to show a sensitive side, or if he's the protagonist in a less high-risk novel, whom we tend to call the hero, he just might take a minute out to text his girl.
I do think, in real life, it's more than just brawn that make men stand up and face an approaching threat and there will be leaders, maybe even alphas - but not every man is born to lead. They just don't seem to know it.

Ellis Vidler said...

Patricia, I love your last line. Sooo true! I think we write a combination of what we think readers want and what we see as terrific guys. For me, that includes some sensitivity. By the way, Beauty and the Beast was my favorite fairy tale. It still is. Does that tell you something?