Okay, it’s 2 AM and I can’t sleep and recent book trends have me thinking. (Thinking, if I’m being honest with myself, upset.) This post will be going on a posting schedule since it’s November and I am not posting anything on top of my NaNo meter so it will be easy to see, but that’s okay. It’s not a pressing question, except, well, it does bother me. It’s bothering me now, and I can’t relax, and if I can’t relax then I definitely can’t sleep. It’s not about the thoughts, really, it’s that my body doesn’ t know how to flip its off-switch, but, well, one really doesn’t help the other.
So, today for a NaNo break I picked up another YA to read. (YA are generally lighter reads than adult books, so they make for good brain-breaks). This one is paranormal romance. The first half was really quite fun and good, I could laugh along with one trope that is starting to annoy me–until the middle at which point the trope began taking itself seriously. Very seriously. And then I was no longer laughing.
The trope is this, and now here’s my question for the universe –
What is up with the (recent?) trend in romance of the Overbearing/Overprotective Alpha Male pairing with the Overly-Independent, I’ve-got-something-to-prove Alpha Female? (As if it’s the only possible pairing?)
This thought has been on my mind again ever since Mette Ivie Harrison and Shannon Hale put up their recent posts defending Twilight. Now, you need to know I like Twilight for what it is. I greatly enjoyed the books when they came out and I defended them for their strong points (and there are many). I think every book has its weaknesses and harping on its weaknesses and attacking and denigrating its author is both heartless and cruel.
However, Twilight isn’t the only book series to use this particular pairing, and it’s not even just a YA trend.
Off the top of my head, books that I’ve read in the last year or so to use this pairing:
- Twilight series
- A Discovery of Witches series
- Mercy Thompson series
- Beka Cooper series/(and reread the Lioness Rampant series)
- The Dreamer
- Graceling (to an extent)
- The Name of the Wind series
- The Medium
Okay, I’m going to stop here, it’s getting a tad depressing, especially as I realize I could keep on listing them out.
What is this trend? What does it mean? And why is it making me feel more and more claustrophobic the more books I stumble into that continue it?
My claustrophobia in large part has to do with my experience in Armenia. In Armenia, I was treated like an object. I was propositioned on the street. I was followed and harrassed. My words were walked over. I was treated like a child, like nothing I had to say or had to offer had any value or was of any worth. Not all men (and women) treated me like this, but that was the majority of my experience. One Russian intellectual became my friend simply because he treated me with respect, even if he respectfully disagreed with what I said. True, his respect was due in part because, though he was twice my age, he–nevermind. Maybe you can see where I’m going with this.
I don’t mind men who want to protect me. In fact, I value that compassion, foresight, and insight into the plight we often face as women. What I don’t appreciate is a man who lacks the ability to respect a woman enough to listen to her. If she says “no, I don’t like it when you do xyz to me,” even if it’s as simple as her saying, “I don’t like it when you feel you have to open every door for me,” then take that no for what it is. Respect that. If she expresses an opinion, listen to it and take it to heart, don’t dismiss it out of hand. Treat her as more than a body, more than an object to be owned and sheltered, more than possessed, more than a child. She is a free spirit. Let her be free.
I don’t mind women who are strong-minded or independent. I like women who think for themselves, who have opinions, and who aren’t afraid to be themselves in a crowd. What I don’t appreciate is women who have to stomp on others toes (including men’s toes who are just trying to help) in order to show just how independent they are. I dislike the tantrums, the childish tantrums, the sneering, the straining, the defensiveness, the bickering and picking a fight even when no fight is needed in order to come out on top. Sometimes, all you have to do is listen to the man and see that he really just does want to help and he’s not, obviously, a mind reader. Yes, you need to communicate.
The one (major?) time I threw a fit when a man wouldn’t listen to me, I was in Armenia and he was treating me like a child–no, worse than a child, because he had more respect for his daughter then he did in that moment for me. In fact, he spared no expense of telling me so to my face. Yet I needed him to listen to me, because what he was doing was very wrong and I needed to show him that because it was very important.
So what did I do? I stomped my foot, lifted up my chin, and dared him. I told him, “If you want to treat me like a child, I can become a little child. Will you listen to me now?” I was quite self-aware, even if I was profoundly frustrated–with him, with the situation, the over-and-over situation, and with myself, for finally running out of resourceful options and stooping to the level he wanted to put me in.
So when I read these books of young women behaving this way, especially when nothing really has been done to them where they should be treating the men with such disrespect, I can’t help but feel frustrated.
And I have to wonder about the authors. Why do they like to write about this sort of relationship? Why does this keep cropping up over and over again? Why do these young women with something to prove–to themselves, to the world–fall for men who don’t see them for who they are? Who won’t even listen to them? For one thing, the young women don’t even seem ready to have a good relationship with themselves, how can they ever hope to have a relationship that works with someone who won’t listen to what they want or how they want to be treated?
Also, my experience with the Overbearing Male sort in real life has shown me that they prefer to date and marry easy-going, submissive women who can admit to themselves they need protecting, not the kind who throw stubborn fits and ditch the umbrella in a hail-storm because they want to show that they’re “strong” and don’t need anyone but themselves.
So why does this keep getting written? Is it because this is where we’re at in the Feminism waves? As a gender-species, are we at this level where the New Woman has to still fight the Oldfashioned Man? Or is this the New Woman longing to be accepted by the Oldfashioned Man? Is this culture talking back to itself, begging for acceptance and love for who the New Woman is right now? Or is she just wrestling with herself? Doesn’t she know she could be happier if she stopped fighting so hard to prove things and just got to know herself better?
If a woman truly knew herself, she would recognize that she doesn’t have to be scared of her own weaknesses. She doesn’t have to be EVERYTHING in order to be worth SOMETHING. She doesn’t have to try to look feminine but act masculine in order to survive in the world. She can be timid and scared and still be okay. She doesn’t have to overcompensate for her fears or pretend they don’t exist. She doesn’t have to shout to be heard. Her strengths are varied and wonderful, and she doesn’t have to have specific strengths rather than others in order to be worth something to society.
And one of these days the Overbearing Male will learn that the best way to protect a woman is to listen to her. And I’m not talking about “listen” meaning “take her orders.” I mean, be a listening ear, then think about what she’s said. It’s also okay if she doesn’t want you to do something for her. Being female is a rocky existence. Half of the time, hormones are wrecking with our minds and emotions, forcing us to walk on unsteady ground. Half of the time, we don’t know which way is up and which way is down, what to think or how to feel. Being a woman is a frightening thing, whether we admit it to ourselves or not. We need someone to rely on, but each of us needs that protection in a different way. Protect us, but let us choose how we want that protection. Is that truly so much to ask?
And authors, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE explore a wide variety of relationship dynamics! Not all men act this way and not all women, either. It’s not even every woman’s “ideal” relationship. It’s not even all that desirable. It’s not even interesting to read about. I won’t go so far as to call it abusive as many people have been, no. Dysfunctional maybe, but not abusive. Let’s not mislabel things, shall we? I’ve seen my share of abusive relationships, thank you, and they are much much darker than this. Overprotective Male & Something-to-prove Female’s problems are quite pale in comparison.