Joining us this week is author of the Heroes’ Saga, author Moira J. Moore. Moira wrapped up her series last year with Heroes’ Reward, and she’s planning on releasing her next novel, entitled Scribe in Shadows, in early 2014. To learn more about Moira and her work, you can check out her livejournal.
So Your Hero Is Useless With a Sword
by Moira J. Moore
Subtitle: A Light Post Turns into a Rant about Alpha v Beta Males
Thank you, Leia, for asking me to write this post. It’s an honour.
Warning: I really, really, really don’t like alpha characters or people. This is probably because all of the people who have tried to bully or control me were “alphas,” while the people who treated me with respect – the mature, admirable, fun people – weren’t alphas.
Note: We all know the whole world isn’t divided into just two groups, alphas and betas, but for the sake of convenience I’m going to pretend it is.
When Leia gave me a list of possible subjects for this post, I immediately glommed onto So Your Hero Is Useless With a Sword. If you haven’t read my Heroes series, you don’t know that the covers are some of, and I quote, “the worst covers in the world.” Aside from being ugly in general, three of the six covers portray Taro, the main male character, with a sword, despite the fact that he never used one and probably would have cut his own hand off if he tried.
Lots of books have misleading covers, it’s a common lament of many writers, but of all of the misleading stuff on my covers, Taro with a sword bugs me the most. That’s because an important part of his character is that he isn’t a physically imposing man, in any sense of the word.
Taro is five feet eight inches. He’s slight in build. Not only can he not use a sword, he can’t use any weapon, and he’d be creamed in a fist fight.
He doesn’t care. He’s got other abilities. The main character, the female protagonist, doesn’t care. What’s more, I created a society in which no one else cares, either. No one, male or female, thinks less of him because he can’t fight, because he’s of smaller stature, because he can’t frighten anyone. He is brilliant at his job. That’s all that matters.
And now, the alpha/beta dichotomy.
I designed Taro to be what I considered a beta male. His aristocratic title is merely honorary. He’s excellent at his job but is told where to go by his employer. He can’t do his job unless the main female character does hers. What power he has is a matter of charm and his skill. He isn’t in charge of anything and he never tries to control anyone else.
He’s very pretty and he likes to flirt. With everyone. However, he doesn’t sleep with everyone. He’s smart and resilient. He’s willing to consider the advice of others, though he doesn’t always follow that advice. He’s brave. He stands up to people who could break his bones if fists started flying. He has done some stupidly dangerous stuff because it needed doing. He’s had to get his hands dirty.
Before I began writing this post, I looked up alpha and beta online. I had a quick and dirty definition for “alpha” – a vain jerk who craves to dominate others – but nothing so simple for “beta.”
Well, wasn’t I in for a big surprise? It turns out I was totally wrong about what betas are. Men are either alphas – all powerful, useful, confident, masculine, – or betas – bitter, weak and, worst of all, feminine.
I have to admit that I read only about ten articles before I became so disgusted I had to stop. Also, most of the articles deal with people, not characters. However, while my experience with alphas in real life matches what I see of alphas in fiction, my experience with beta people is … I don’t know … imaginary.
I’m baffled by the traits that are considered positive and negative.
This is a short sample of the many attributes the various articles assigned to alphas and betas.
Alphas are aggressive while betas are passive.
I don’t like aggressive people. They’re trying to force others to do things against their will. How is this positive behaviour?
Passive doesn’t have to mean weak. Sometimes it’s better to roll your eyes and let things slide instead of fighting over every little thing.
There are a whole lot of options between aggressive and passive. One of my favourite tv characters, one I consider a beta, has a wonderful line: “I’ll never strike first, but I’ll always strike back.” Just because you don’t start things doesn’t mean you can’t end them.
On the other hand …
Alphas are always calm while betas frequently lose their tempers.
Apparently this is because alphas’ lives are wonderful while betas resent the fact that their lives suck. Tell that to the very successful, very senior opposing counsel who screamed at me in front of a bunch of other lawyers. My quiet responses, which amounted to “You do what you feel you have to do,” made him nuts. Which is the reason I gave them. And I ain’t no alpha.
And those really successful, well off partners in my firm? The ones who laughed when I called them ‘sir’ that first week? The ones who asked my advice, and took it? The ones who held meetings with all of the lawyers and the associates got to vote on things even though none of the money was ours? The ones who solicited everyone’s opinions and made decisions as a group? The ones who would find it hilarious if someone told them they were the alphas, the head of the pack? Well, I guess they all lost their tempers at home and survived the ass-kickings their spouses would have delivered upon them for acting like children.
This is my experience; alphas want control, and when they don’t get it, they freak or sulk.
Alphas are secure enough to take responsibility for their mistakes while betas try to hide them.
I can use personal experience to call bullshit on this one, too. I have yet to encounter an alpha who is willing to admit to mistakes and apologise for them. They consider that a sign of weakness.
That lawyer who screamed at me? Unfortunately, I had to deal with him again on another file. Out of the blue, he told me that he was taking heart medication that sometimes made him dizzy. This was not taking responsibility for his actions, this was not an apology, this was him shoving the blame onto something else. He was also letting me know that would be his explanation should I report him to the law society. If he had given me a decent apology, I would have felt some respect for him. He didn’t, so I didn’t.
I’m not saying all betas are mature in this area, but if someone is going to own up to a mistake and do something to fix it, it’s much more likely to be a beta.
When looking for a sexual partner, alphas go straight “for the kill” while betas try to get to know the woman first and build a friendship.
Don’t you love the violence inherent in the phrase “for the kill,” that whole predator/prey metaphor?
Trying to be friends first is bad. So. Don’t know what to do with that.
Last one (on my list, there’s actually a lot more):
Alphas don’t give a damn what others think of them (anyone who doesn’t like them is just jealous, anyway) while betas curry favour.
I haven’t noticed betas being desperate for the approval of others.
I agree that being too tightly controlled by the opinions of others is a problem, but so is not caring about anyone’s. Really? You don’t want the good opinion of people close to you? Isn’t there a name for something like that?
If you look up narcissistic personality disorder, you’ll find a lot of characteristics that sound like they belong to the traditional “alpha” male.
After all of this, I’ve decided to create my own definition of a beta. In recognition of all the beta people and characters I’ve loved, here’s my list:
– Will put their lives on the line for things that matter and when there are no healthy alternatives, but only for things that matter (ego doesn’t) and only when there are no healthy alternatives
– Are loyal but not to the point of being mindless lemmings
– Are more likely to do things themselves than delegate
– Are perfectly content to be alone
– Don’t need an audience or a posse
– Aren’t afraid to voice an unpopular opinion but…
– Don’t need to shove their opinions down other people’s throats
– Respect the rights of others
– Recognise the equality of others
– Can take charge when necessary and hand back control when it isn’t
– Can work well alone and …
– Can work well with others
– Can take responsibility for wrongs done and apologise
– Can laugh at themselves
– Can handle others laughing at them
– Can sometimes put the needs of others over their own
– Can let others think they’re right even they’re wrong, because sometimes it really doesn’t matter
– Physical attributes are irrelevant
– Respect respect respect
I didn’t give Taro all of those fine qualities. That would make him a perfect character, and we can’t have that. Perfect characters are boring. But he’s a beta and proud of it!