Friday, May 26, 2006

Alpha Females and Action Heroines

Someone recently posted this article about the alpha female, which set me to thinking on whether action heroines must necessarily be alpha females. While the article itself can't decide what an alpha female is exactly (unlike the alpha male who is instantly recognizable), a brief summary of some attributes follow:

Alpha female, like alpha male, depends on such a sense of innate superiority that she's probably not aware of her status. While she would be effortlessly talented and capable, she would need a reduced capacity for empathy, because otherwise it would derail her.... Achievement is the focus of alpha female's life; anything else is secondary. She does not obsess about relationships. She is dominant: if she married alpha male, there would be a bloodbath.

The toughest action heroine in science fiction must surely be Ripley from the Alien movies, and sure enough a bloodbath ensues wherever Ripley lands. But it is only when she arrives on the male-only prison planet in Alien 3 that the clash between alpha males and alpha female becomes evident. As to romance, there ain't any. Not for Ripley. Maybe her hair isn't long enough?

Can alpha heroines have romances? The only alpha heroine who came close was Trinity in The Matrix. And even though she finds love with Keanu ... erm, Neo ... he's hardly an alpha male. He flounders about like a lost puppy for much of the first film while being shown the ropes, and it's Trinity who comes across as the more powerful one:

And of course Neo dies in the end (sorry if that's a spoiler for some of you!). It's as if an alpha female or action heroine doesn't deserve to find true love. At least not lasting HEA love.

In futuristic or a action stories, sometimes the romance doesn't get the attention it deserves because there's so much else going on. The heroine's finding lost treasures, stopping the spread of killer viruses, or otherwise saving the universe and making it safe for mankind. Sometimes the romance has to come second to more important causes. But do you expect the romance to come first?


SpecRom Joyce said...

I always expect the romance and the external plot, whether it is alpha-action or not, to braid or dovetail. At least in theme.

What bothers me about action stories with romance is when the romance feels tagged on, so that the book can qualify as a romance.

Regarding an alpha heroine's romantic potential, I can think of a few. What if an alpha heroine is forced to consider a successful romance as her goal, with serious consequences if she fails? Then all the driving ambition that fuels her is centered on a relationship. I can just imagine all the conflicts as she must develop a new style of communicating, just like alpha heros have for years.

I am not a big fan of alpha heros. I find them one-dimensional and unattractive. I hope that as we develop alpha heroines in our sub-genres, we give them more facets and complexity.

Lynda K. Scott said...

In books published under the romance umbrella, yes I expect the romance to play a strong role in the story. However, movies? No. They're going to concentrate on the plot/action, imo, and I confess that leaves me disappointed.

On the Alien movies, Ripley actually had a tiny bit of romance in the second movie. You'll recall, I'm sure, her terrific battle to save the little girl and the Marine Lieutenant (I've forgotten both their names now) and she succeeds admirably even taking on the Queen Alien in the dramatic climax. But what happens? At the beginning of the third movie, both the little girl and the Marine are dead.

It appears in movies, at any rate, a strong female lead isn't allowed to have romance or maternal feelings. In books, most notably the In Death series by J. D. Robb, Lt. Eve Dallas has the very delectable Roarke for a romantic interest and he's fairly alpha himself. It's an interesting study on how two very strong willed personalities get along and the compromises they're willing to make to let the other be true to him/herself.

Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

Great post! My favorite alpha heroine is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She never flinched at danger, even her vampire lovers were not as strong as she was, yet she had a vulnerable side that made her human and lovable so the romance element was believable.

Skylar Masey said...

Lord, this sums up my heroine Zara Dior (from TAKE ME IN YOUR HEART) to a T. She's the daughter of the most decorated war hero on her planet, has reached the highest staus as a security officer, then became the best Voyager in the corp. However, when she meets the hero, she downgrades a bit. Because as you said Alpha and Alpha just don't mix, but man the sparks still fly!

And I agree about the action overshadowing the romance. I think in lots of action movies and novels this usually gets woven in as a subplot, instead of as a main thread.

But you can't exaclty have a hard-as-nails sword weilder go mushy at the drop of a hat can you? :0) [Imagine here--Red Sonja fighting a couple of minutes with Conan during their marathon duel, then fold because of their hubba hubba attraction.] See it just doesn't work!

Though they can have moments of weakness, which makes them identifiable. Without those, I think it makes it hard for readers to relate.