Toxic Masculinity in Novels: Romance and the Overbearing Alpha Male

I’ll Save You, My Fair Lady….

This is a three blog series. Please read the first blog here.


In the previous blog I concentrated on the fantasy genre. While this particular genre can have some elements of romance contained within the story, the characters falling madly in love is a distant subplot. The romance genre is the kingpin for intertwining the characters with regards to matters of the heart. Like it or not, romance is a billion—yes BILLION—dollar industry and has been the number one selling genre for years. Readers swoon to hunky males gracing the covers with females in a state of undress. How much undercover business is within the pages often is determined by how many clothes seem to be missing. Despite the sigh-worthy need for that happily ever after, there is a darker side to romance novels and I’m not just talking the kinky side. Overbearing males who believe they know what’s best for the heroine litter the pages. When a romance novel gets popularized on the silver screen, sometimes those examples of toxic masculinity gets romanticized and normalized. Neither of which are a good combination.

Fifty Shades of Grey was a commercial success for E. L. James. Originally a fan fiction piece for Twilight, the book become a whirlwind triumph not only in books but in the movies. Tagged as “mommy porn” mostly by groups that believe romance isn’t to be taken seriously or should be no better than a back alley strip club. Like women should be ashamed of reading this type of content. To further this issue, men would have some notion that if a woman read a kinky and slightly erotic book, they were interested in performing the acts on the actual pages. The irony is no one asked a person who enjoys murder crime books if they are fantasizing about killing another being. However, Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t without its problems.

Back in 2015, I did a chapter by chapter breakdown of the book. I analyzed the storyline, the dynamic between the two characters, and sprinkled in a little bit of fact checking. Research is important, after all. The main problem I found with Fifty Shades of Grey was the relationship between the two main characters being portrayed as romance when the relationship is far from it. Christian uses domineering tactics to cow Anastasia. Beyond the contract, he controls her life by tapping her phone to getting her the job she wants and through that, he can keep tabs on her. All the while he’s the brooding man who has a dark secret. Just what a woman wants in life, right? A broken soul in need of healing no matter what the cost to her.

BDSM as a whole isn’t about hurting your partner or the submissive. It is a relationship of trusting and understanding that doesn’t develop overnight. The spanking scene toward the end of the book is a prime example of how not to have a BDSM relationship. Simply put—you do not harm your partner. He takes advantage of her while she’s drunk, gets violent when she’s with another man, and stalks her. In several points in the book she calls him a stalker. Yet, she is still drawn to him. Here’s a particular passage I’d like to highlight:

[Ana]”so why are you trying to change me?”

[Christian]”I don’t want to change you. I’d like you to be courteous and to follow the set of rules I’ve given you and not defy me. Simple.”

Christian is asking for her to be submissive not only during BDSM play time, but outside that box as well which is not what that lifestyle dictates at all. Mutual respect is a must.


This begs the question: Does the book industry have an obligation to strip toxic elements from the story line? These books are tailored to an adult audience and we should be able to distinguish between fiction and real life. So, in my opinion, they are no more obligated to do this than they are to stop any other genre from dancing into taboo areas. The domineering alpha male is rampant and too much of a cash cow. Remember, E. L. James had self-published these books before a sub-publishing house of Penguin UK gave her a contract. Money drives most business decisions.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out my own faults in writing these super alpha males. Although my book Rumpled Between the Sheets was loosely based on a fairytale, it is set in a modern setting where a man kidnaps a woman and forces her to work for him.

[Mary]”You—you burned my contract. I’m not going to stay here with you.”

[Benjamin]He growled and pinched his nose. “You’re not leaving and that’s final. I won’t allow it. You’re mine. Forever.”

When I initially wrote this book, I made the main character Benjamin beyond toxic. Whether something snapped inside or I was getting out the frustration of my own personal feelings, the only thing that dialed back the tone was my publisher. The male had to be possessive but not completely beyond redemption. Still, I was guilty of giving Mary bravado but clipping her claws. Justifying Benjamin’s harsh treatment of her at the end of the book didn’t lessen the fact that I dipped my toes into the pool of toxic masculinity.

Perhaps my misstep was due to the world building I had created in a fictional town called Beowulf Hollow. While this book had a small amount of paranormal elements, those snippets paled in comparison to the first book in the series Witches & Lycans. I, as a reader, tend to give a little forgiveness to the toxic alpha male when the paranormal subgenre is employed. Animalistic tendencies of werewolves or vampires, for example, are part of their nature where “normal” humans have more self-control. Regardless, just like the fantasy genre we could do with better equality and less damsel in distress yet still have a solid love story to swoon over.


Blood and Fire by R. Brennan


Blood and Fire

Release Date: April 18, 2016

Publisher: Roane Publishing

Keywords: Erotic, Romance, BDSM, Paranormal, Master/slave, Erotic Horror



College student, Francesca Morgan has finally met the Dominant man of her dreams. Kevin Stevenson is sexy, sure of himself, and knows just how to make her knees quake.


When he takes Frankie to her first fetish party, she is reminded being collared means her Master can do what he wishes with her, including offering her “services” for the evening to a sexy Dominant business associate he is trying to impress.


It doesn’t take long for Frankie to realize their host, Bartholomew Andrews is nothing like any Dom she has ever served. Aside from his devastating looks and heaping financial fortune, Bartholomew can read her thoughts, and knows just how to make her body react.


Can Frankie keep her wits about her and serve at his feet without falling for him, or will Master Amazing steal her heart and her soul in one steamy night of servitude?



Barnes & Noble:




About R. Brennan


Brennan is a full time IT geek, reformed gaming addict, and single parent of three living in Upstate NY where she shares a house in the hills with an two great daughters, and their completely adorable beagle, Digger.


She admits to a slight Twitter addiction and an undying love for all things pirates, rum, or penguins. She enjoys hearing from readers on her blog, and for the truly adventurous, feel free to stalk her on twitter.


Often NSFW — You’ve been warned.







A $10 Roane Publishing gift card



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Collide by Melissa J. Crispin



by Melissa J. Crispin

Publisher: Evernight Teen

Release Date: March 18, 2016

Genre(s): Young Adult, Fantasy


When the balance between Earth, Afterlife, and Heaven are threatened, the fate of the universe falls on a selfish girl who must sacrifice everything to save it.

Kayla has a plan. She’s moving to the city after graduation and Luke’s coming with her. He’ll eventually become a doctor, she’ll be a ballerina—and they’ll live happily ever after. That is, until dark forces, led by a sister she never knew existed, start hunting her down for a power she never knew she had.


When Kayla starts working with a boy named Alec to learn how to defend herself and to stop the evil from eliminating the worlds, she finds herself falling for him. Hard. Torn between two loves and struggling to do what’s right for Earth and Afterlife, Kayla must decide if she’s fighting to keep her life together, or letting it go to save everyone else’s.

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